Monk-Brewed Beer

I can’t imagine anything more German than a monastic brewery. (A lederhosen-wearing alpine milk farmer taking a stroll through the Berchtesgaden National Park and eating a breze to the sound of cowbells would probably do, but I wanted to write about the beer monks today.)

Andechs Abbey, situated in Bavaria at the Ammersee, is home to the Klosterbrauerei Andechs — a brewery run entirely by monks. I’m no beer drinker, but this was too good to miss…

This weekend, I joined a group of Valentin’s friends on a pilgrimage from lake Starnberg to the Klosterbrauerei, which literally translates to “Cloister Brewery”. I was initially hesitant to accept, having established a reputation for saying yes, after only understanding half the German. This has led to a number of unfortunate scenarios, most memorably a three-day bike ride through the Austrian mountains, during which I almost expired. (see below)

The Scenic Route – 2019.

This was a picnic in comparison, an idyllic and mercifully flat 14km route between two beautiful lakes. The trail passes through open farmland, well marked with signposts and orange cows, for those after the full Bavarian package.

The Church

Kloster Andechs is worth any 14km. On the approach along Pater-Coelestin-Weg, we emerged from woodland and there it was, turrets peeking through distant tree coverage, ancient and defensive. It had something of the Mont-Saint-Michel about it, the site being originally home to a 12th-century castle. Perched on top of a hill, it was as if a giant had picked up a handful of Baroque buildings and placed them there for safe keeping.

Approach to Kloster Andechs

We made the ascent under high sun, climbing the steps to the main church, which is definitely worth a look, flamboyant and decorated with astrological frescos. The midday bells are deafening, even dramatic enough for Munich-born composer Carl Orff, buried inside.

The Main Church


As a child, I was indoctrinated with ClassicFM radio station, my mother clearly attempting some sort of mind play in my early development. For years I resisted, switching the car radio to HeartFM or anything where the advertisements weren’t for life insurance or funeral care. She was playing a long game, but to give her credit, she won out in the end. I now find myself “voluntarily” listening.

In school orchestras it didn’t get cooler than playing Orff (perhaps sadly on retrospect), bashing your way through Carmina Burana in the flute section (decidedly less edgy than the brass). If nothing else, it’s one to bellow in the shower, and taking influence from German Medieval poetry, it’s the perfect soundtrack for the drama of Kloster Andechs:

Carl Orff – “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana (Beatriz Youtuber)

Steins & Stones

After a socially-distanced stroll, we went on to an eatery at the summit, where the beer-drinkers sampled buckets of the local brew — Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel which, besides being a joy to say out loud (all those plosives!), has been in production here since the 15th century. Embracing my role as philistine, I ordered a lemonade, and was charmed to receive it in the same bucket receptacle. I keep wanting to call them “steins”, as is commonly referred to in the UK. Bizarrely, this seems to be mean “stone” in German, and an easy way to puzzle a Bavarian who is more likely to call it a “Maß” or “Maßkrug.” This conjures a whole new series of linguistic misfires, as it roughly translates to “measuring jug”… An accurate translation.

Maß : The Pitfalls

There’s definitely skill involved in persuading drink to enter mouth rather than pour straight down around the sides. In fact, drinking anything bubbly in such quantities is problematic — Roald Dahl’s BFG after Frobscottle comes to mind. Explosive gas aside, I could get used to these.

There was just one thing missing during the visit; I was disappointed not to spot a drunken monk. Eyes peeled for a flap of robe and confirmation of the German stereotype, I was finally rewarded by my partner ordering baked potato “with a side of potato salad.” I know I’m not supposed to generalise, but if that’s not German, I don’t know what is.

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