Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
Sometimes in a job like mine, something comes along that fills a need you weren’t even sure you had.
Such was the case when a local distributor started coming around with beer from an importer called Uplifters Spirits. The Uplifters portfolio is small but full of some of the most exciting classic German Ales and Lagers I’ve tried in a very long time. The subtle bitterness and pinpoint grassy character of Schonramer Pils along with the smooth, bright, fruity nature of the Hopf brewery’s Wheat Ales made me take notice of what Uplifters Spirits had to offer, but it’s been the beers of Klosterbraueri Reutberger that I’ve really been taken with.
From a tradition of brewing stretching back some 300 years, the beers of the nuns of the Reutberg Kloster continue to impress, even if it’s tough to pin down just who is producing the beer today — but more on that later. First, the important bit: what the beers are like.
Export Hell is lush, with a sweetness to its malty character that makes it feel much bigger than 5.1% ABV. Those who find old school Lagers a little nondescript would do well to try Reutberger Export Hell.
At 5.2%, Export Dunkel isn’t much stronger than a traditional Schwarzbier, but there are significant differences. What separates Export Dunkel from a standard Black Lager is the smoothness of its mouthfeel, and the emphasis placed on allowing the yeast character from the Export Hell to carry through with the addition of some wonderful chocolate and toffee notes. The roasty acidity found in Schwarzbier isn’t present in Export Dunkel, which contributes to its easy-going nature.
The most recent arrival from Reutberger is the Josefi Bock. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the Reutberger cloister, and this strong Lager is brewed yearly in his honor. Unlike the Export Lagers, Josefi Bock more than lives up to the strength expectations of modern drinkers; at 6.9% ABV it’s even a bit strong compared to other Bocks. The 50/50 split of dark and light malts used gives Josefi Bock just enough sweetness while allowing the exact right amount of hoppy bitterness and alcoholic heat to come through, keeping the beer from feeling cloying.
Now for the weirdness. It is said that Kloster Reutberger introduced Bavaria to the Export Lager style, wherein a Helles or Dunkel Lager is made to be stronger for the sake of travel, but that’s the kind of claim that often can’t be proven. Despite Reutberger’s website stating that the cloister was founded in 1617, the Uplifters Spirits website notes for Reutberger Export Hell claim it was first brewed in the 1400s.
Information on the history of brewing at the Reutberg cloister is patchy, though much of the fog can be chalked up to my less-than-competent German. What is generally accepted is that initial brewing began at Reutberg in 1677, after the nuns established an early tradition of enjoying a good brew after a hard day of farming work during the cloister’s first few decades. The ensuing 336 years have seen various closings and re-openings of the Reutberger brewery, including its purchase in the mid-1920s by a brewer’s co-op.
At this point in my research I was starting to worry about how ‘all-in’ I’d gone on the Reutberger beers. The easiest way for a brewery to lose ‘credibility’ in the eyes of beer geeks is for any aspect of its authenticity to come into question — and regardless of how much I enjoyed the beers themselves, the murkiness of Reutberg’s history would keep many folks from giving them a try.
I reached out to Andy Gabel, local representative of Reutberger’s distributor here in Virginia, with hopes that he could clear things up for me. His response was one I’d anticipated but nonetheless was glad to hear: today, Reutberger is a tourist destination/resort in addition to the cloister itself.
The brewery is located within the cloister, with a brewmaster and his apprentice employed by the nuns to make the beer. This is a common arrangement for many monastery beers, especially the bigger Belgian ones — you can read up on some of these practices in my column on Abbey and Trappist Ales — where the brewing operation grows large enough that it makes more sense to have a more ‘commercial’ brewing operation installed and overseen by the monks (or nuns in this case). What was nice to hear was how involved the nuns of Kloster Reutberger still are in the beer-making process; part of the grain bill for their beers is grown and harvested on the property, with the nuns participating in the farming, bottling, and packaging.