The world’s eighth Trappist brewery serves beer in Von Trapp style.
By Evan Rail
Fans of monastic beers had to get a start on their travel plans upon hearing about the arrival of the world’s eighth Trappist brewery, Stift Engelszell, which opened this past summer. Located in a remote corner of Upper Austria, Stift Engelszell lies halfway across Europe—a good 500 miles—from the traditional Trappist homelands of Belgium and Holland, in a scenic valley straight out of “The Sound of Music.” With an annual production scheduled for just 2,000 hectoliters (about 1,680 barrels), Stift Engelszell is easily the smallest Trappist brand, cranking out less than half of what Achel brews, and just a tiny fraction of what is produced by giants like La Trappe and Chimay. A few tips for your trip:
How to Get There: The nearest big city is Passau, a cool university town about 18 miles up the Danube (and across an irrelevant, now completely unused border) in Germany. Rent bikes in Passau and cycle to the monastery’s village of Engelhartszell: The well-paved bike trail follows the river through breathtaking scenery of soaring hills and swooping valleys, though the easy-to-pedal trail itself runs flat. And from late April through early October, daily passenger ferry boats make the journey on the water.
What to Expect: A beautiful setting, meditative calm and the air of long-established spiritual practice—but no pub or café, at least not at the abbey itself. (Bars and restaurants in town stock other local beers, but the monastery production has been too small to regularly supply anyone else.) To sample the wares, your best option is picking up some bottles and a block of cheese at the monastery’s own shop, then picnicking on the riverbank. What to Drink: To slake your thirst, try Benno, the monastery’s hoppy, saison-style golden ale, about 7% ABV. Fans of strong dark ales should try Gregorius, whose pronounced Dutch cocoa flavors belie its 9.7% ABV. Both are made with local hops and an addition of local honey (though neither is meant to be a “honey beer,” per se). Gregorius has been pouring in the United States since late last year; Benno arrives shortly.
What to See: Originally built in 1293, the abbey is home to amazing architecture, most of which arrived courtesy of a Baroque-era rebuild. Art geeks can gawk at the main chapel’s massive ceiling fresco, a vintage-1957, Cubist-style depiction of the nine choruses of angels by the Austrian modernist Fritz Fröhlich, which makes a marked contrast to the circa-1760 statues of angels and the main altar’s Gothic-era crucifix, which dates from 1147. If you stop for a snack at the Klosterkrämerei café across from the church, you might even get to chat with one of the monks over a beer.