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Aug 23, 2021
Originally published on August 23, 2021 6:14 pm

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to a remote corner of southern Germany where there's a nun who brews some of the best beer in a region that knows good beer. This summer, NPR's international desk is bringing us to overseas destinations we might long to visit. And today, NPR's Rob Schmitz takes us to the foothills of Bavaria. That is where Sister Doris has been brewing her malty concoction for nearly five decades.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS TOLLING)

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: The church bells strike 11 in the morning, and Hermann Zausinger has decided he needs more beer. He's a farmer, and by midday, he's worked up a thirst.

HERMANN ZAUSINGER: (Speaking German).

SCHMITZ: "My farm has vegetables, a fish pond, a herd of sheep," he says. "I grow everything for myself, except for beer."

(SOUNDBITE OF CRATES CRASHING)

SCHMITZ: He's just emerged from a brewery, and he plops four crates - 80 bottles - into the trunk of his car, smiles and proclaims an oft-repeated phrase from these parts.

ZAUSINGER: (Speaking German).

SCHMITZ: "Beer is Bavarian bread."

ZAUSINGER: (Laughter).

SCHMITZ: It seems that every town in the southern German state of Bavaria has a brewery, no matter how small. And it's brewed by all sorts of people. And before you judge farmer Zausinger for his morning beer run, consider who he bought it from - Sister Doris Engelhard, a 72-year-old Franciscan nun. She claims to be the world's last nun brewmeister (ph), and woe onto anyone who would argue that title. Sister Doris has strong opinions about her beer and when people should drink it. In short, always, especially during Lent.

DORIS ENGELHARD: (Through interpreter) During Lent, fasting is difficult for me. Eating one meal a day is tough. But beer is liquid. It doesn't count as food when you fast. A strong beer gives me strength.

SCHMITZ: Sister Doris has made her strong beer for nearly 50 years. She's the master brewer at the Mallersdorf Abbey brewery in northeastern Bavaria. The cloisters were founded in the 12th century and are home to 400 nuns.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR BANGING OPEN)

SCHMITZ: Dressed in a simple gray apron and wearing a white coif over her gray hair, Sister Doris takes me into her brewery in a vast cellar beneath the cloisters, and she fiddles with a pressure valve on the side of a tank full of beer that towers over her.

ENGELHARD: (Speaking German).

(SOUNDBITE OF HISSING)

SCHMITZ: "We've got to build pressure by one bar so that the beer has a decent amount of foam," she tells me. Sister Doris brews two types of bock and a helles beer. When I ask her about other types of beer, she waves the idea away with a flick of her hand as if she's heard this before.

ENGELHARD: (Through interpreter) I only brew beer that I drink myself, so if the other sisters want to drink a wheat beer, they'll have to buy it themselves.

SCHMITZ: Bavarian beer, she explains, has around 5% alcohol content. It's different from North German beers, which have much more alcohol.

ENGELHARD: (Through interpreter) Beer has the least calories of all alcoholic beverages. A nice glass of red wine is the equivalent to a liter of my beer.

SCHMITZ: When she says this, she notices a puzzled look on my face, and she pats her belly.

ENGELHARD: (Through interpreter) Beer makes you thinner. I only look like this because I eat too much chocolate.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORK POPPING)

SCHMITZ: Sister Doris pours me a glass of her helles lager. It has a fresh malty taste, slightly hoppy, and it goes down smoothly. It's a fantastic beer, and she tosses back a glass for herself, too. You can only buy her beer here at the Mallersdorf Abbey brewery, where she sells it herself.

But not for long. She says she's going to retire soon, and she's looking for a successor. But after she retires, the beer's label will remain the same - a picture of the world's last nun brewmeister dressed in her habit, wearing a broad smile, about to drink her best version of Bavarian bread.

Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Mallersdorf, Bavaria.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOVE'S "MY POP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.