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Abbey's Beer Business Booming, but Brewmasters Hard to Find

March 26, 1996|From Associated Press

CHIMAY, Belgium — Wanted: brewmaster. Position offers: job security, spiritual peace and unlimited access to some of the world's greatest beers. Only candidates prepared to vow lifetime celibacy need apply.

Father Thomas, a sprightly 66, is last in a line of brewer monks who have made strong Chimay ales here since 1862.

"It's a great job, we really should be able to attract some youngsters," says Father Thomas, the very picture of a merry monk with rosy cheeks, balding crown and spreading waistline.

The abbey beer business is thriving, selling around Europe, in North America and Australia. But attracting recruits to the monastic life is not easy. There are only 21 monks left in an abbey built to house dozens.

Most are elderly and only Father Thomas is still actively involved in the brewing process, supervising local lay workers.

Although he confesses to an occasional tipple, Father Thomas can only rarely indulge. "I'm diabetic, I can hardly drink it," he says with a wistful smile. "The abbot put me in charge of the brewery because he knows I won't drink too much."

Chimay is one of six Trappist monasteries still making beer. Five are in Belgium and the other is over the border in the Netherlands. Chimay is a relative newcomer, opening in 1850.

Today the brewery is ultra-modern--huge steel kettles have replaced the burnished copper of old, and a computer system Father Thomas calls "the brain" regulates the brewing process.

"We make a hand-crafted beer, but we make it scientifically," says Father Thomas.

Brewing is more than a tradition for the monks; profits from the business are used for the upkeep of the monastery and missions it runs in Africa.

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