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The modern day view may find it unusual that a monastery brews beer. Yet this can be explained more easily when we take a look at the history of monasteries.

In former times, the brewing of beer, just like the baking of bread for example, was part of the daily household chores. This was true above all among the more rural cultures in the south of Germany. Beer was brewed either for own consumption at home or jointly in the village brewery.

Some of these village breweries are still operating even today, especially in Franconia and the Upper Palatinate. Also a monastic community is a large, joint household in economic terms. It stood to reason, therefore, that the monks also brewed beer for their own consumption. It can be safely assumed that the seven Benedictines who were sent to the new Andechs monastery from Tegernsee in 1455 also brought with them extensive knowhow in brewing techniques.

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Monastry Beer Culture

Saint Benedict

From times immemorial, monks have been cultivating hospitality in the Christian tradition. St Benedict put this ancient monastic tradition in a nutshell. In Chapter 53 of his Rule of Saint Benedict he writes: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest, and you received Me’” (cf Matt 25:35). And so the guests at the monastery also came to enjoy the monastery’s beer. One impressive example of monastic beer culture was the Benedictine monastery in St Gallen. There still exists an old plan for this famous place, which is considered to be the typical, ideal design for a medieval monastery. On the other hand, it is obvious that it was never completed. This plan shows the outlines for no fewer than three breweries. Each of these breweries mashed a different beer, so there were three different beer qualities to choose from: a simple, thinner beer for the poor, pilgrims, and guests; a normally brewed beer for the monks; and a particularly strong beer for the abbots and high ranking guests. Clearly, the concept of a beer’ quality in those times was closely linked to its strength. The more alcohol a beer has, the better it is. Over the course of time, this concept has changed.

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Monastic quality – born of centuries old experience

In contrast to household brewers, brewing monks were the first “professionals” of their trade. In most cases, they could dedicate themselves exclusively to the craft of brewing. In some cases, they were brewing every day and so could gain more experience and skill than, say, a peasant who boiled his beer only every four weeks in the village brewery.

In the Middle Ages, it was primarily the monks who could read and write, with very few exceptions. They wrote down their observations and experience in the brewing of beer and also passed these writings on to other monasteries. Experience became knowhow, and in this manner the foundations were laid for modern and efficient food production. What holds true for beer also holds true for a great many other monastery products like bread, cheese, sausage, and spirits. The Benedictines, therefore, have continued food production and specifically the brewing tradition over the centuries, cultivating and refining the art of brewing and beer recipes. Beer has therefore been brewed in Andechs since the Middle Ages, in all probability after Albrecht III, Duke of Bavaria, of the House of Wittelsbach had founded the Benedictine monastery on the Andechs mountain.

The monastery brewery in the possession of the Abbey of St Boniface in Munich

Since then, the Andechs monastery can look back on a distinguished line of outstanding cellerars, above all since 1850, when it came into the possession of the Abbey of St Boniface in Munich. Like no other, Pater Magnus Sattler (†1901) has left his imprint on the economy. He modernised the monastery and outbuildings and laid the foundation for the successful continuation of the economy. In 1871, Pater Magnus converted the brewery to steam power. In 1893, the cask barn and storage hall were renovated, followed in 1894 by the brewhouse. Pater Augustin Engl (Prior 1900–24) and Pater Maurus Rath (Prior 1924–52) introduced other measures, including in 1906 the malt house. This was followed in 1925 and 1958 by new filling facilities. In 1968 the malt house was closed, and Brother Oswald Eser, the last brewer from the Andechs monastery, went into retirement.
The brewery was also suffering from a lack of space at the Holy Mountain. The Abbey was then faced with the question either to close the brewery or venture on a new building. Prepared to take the risk, the monastery together with the visionary Pater Daniel Gerritzen (Cellerar 1968–86, Prior 1976–82) ordered a new building (1972–84) at the foot of the Holy Mountain, and the monastery brewery was given the space to develop. Following the filling building in 1974, the brewhouse with fermentation and storage cellar started operations in 1984. Pater Anselm Bilgri (Cellerar 1986–2004, Prior 1994–2004) expanded the sales organisation. In 1990/91 the bottling facility was renovated. At the suggestion of Abbot Odilo Lechner, light and dark Weissbier types have been brewed since 1993 and 1997 respectively.

The present

The decision in favour of the new brewery building in the 70s and 80s was not based ultimately on the awareness for social responsibility. The brewery also preserved and created new jobs that were important to the monastery. Since this time, all of the brewery’s installations are undergoing a continuous process of modernisation that modifies them to the findings of today’s brewing science. This long term investment policy pursued by the monastery creates a beneficial working environment, safeguards a high beer quality, and exercises a positive impact on our environment. As a consequence, the Andechs monastery brewery again received EMAS certification (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme).