While visiting my brother in New Mexico recently, he surprised me with a day trip to Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery near Abiquiu, New Mexico. Located within the Chama Canyon wilderness, it is 75 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We took Forest Road 151, a 13 mile dirt road off of US route 84. Once we arrived, it was another half- mile hike on a stone trail to reach the monastery.
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert opened a small brewery, Abbey Beverage Company, in 2005, and was the only monastery-run brewery in the United States. Their main beers are Monks’ Ale, Monks’ Wit, Monks’ Dubbel and Monks’ Tripel, which are brewed under contract by Sierra Blanca Brewing in Moriarty, just east of Albuquerque. The small brewery located at the monastery itself brews experimental small batch beers, including Monks’ Dubbel Reserve and Monks’ Tripel Reserve, which are both brewed with native hops (subspecies neomexicanus) grown at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.
At both breweries, Abbey Beverage Company, which is 84% owned by the monks, directly controls the entire brewing process. The monks, through Abbey Beverage Company, are also directly responsible for sourcing all ingredients and packaging materials at the breweries.
Abbey Beverage Co. currently distributes to Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas, with plans for expansion. Their current brewing capacity is 2,900 barrels per year.
After we arrived and checked in, we were greeted by our guide, Brother Christian Leisy, a 33-year resident of the monastery who is the cellarer, business manager and chief fundraiser.
We took quite the hike along some muddy roads to get to the small, modern brewery. Brother Christian and I chatted about brewing, and I was surprised to find out he had been to Philadelphia and was quite familiar with Monk’s Cafe, the Belgian Cafe, and the Iron Abbey, among several other Philly beer spots.
The brewery at the monastery opened in March of 2011. It contains a half-barrel micro-brewing system, which is planned to expand to a 5 or 7 barrel brewing system in the future. Brewing in this facility began in March 2012. For now, it is a pilot brewery, but will slowly expand in capacity and operation to develop new styles of beers and produce specialty and seasonal beers by brewmaster, Brad Kraus, and the monks.
Located in the brewery is a small tasting room where we were served samples of 6 beers. I especially enjoyed the refreshing Monks’ Wit, as well as the two reserve beers. Beers on tap, growlers, glass, bottles, 6-packs, and cases can all be purchased at the tasting room. Interestingly, each beer label displays an artistic photograph of one of the monks from the monastery, including Brother Christian himself.
On the way back from the brewery, we stopped by the experimental hop garden where they are growing several new varieties of native New Mexico hops. The garden has the potential to grow over five acres. They will continue using the hops in the reserve beers brewed at the monastery.
If you’d like to visit the brewery and tasting room, prior appointment is necessary at least 48 hours in advance. You can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or go tochristdesert.org/Abbey_Beverage_Company/ for more information.