Ale brewed by American monks in Italy hits US

Eating often comes after the praying and brewing for a group of Benedictine monks in the hills of Umbria.

The brothers have been making craft beer to help make ends meet and fix up their centuries-old Italian monastery, and their brew is finally available in the U.S.

The Belgian-style blond and dark brew is called Birra Nursia.

Most of the monks at the Norcia monastery, built upon the spot Saint Benedict lived, are American, and in fact, it was their group who actually breathed new life into the ancient monastery in 2000, after a long  period of disuse.

They have bills to pay to keep the imposing, historic site running and ready to receive pilgrims--and beer helps the bottom line.

And the business for the brothers also turns out to be a bridge to the sometimes unreachable.

It draws the thirsty to the monastery and opens easy avenues for dialogue. Benedict, often called the father of Western monasticism, preached work and prayer, and prayer through work.  The monks pray eight times a day.  And are silent for all but 20 minutes.

While there are no drinking games in their environment of reverence and quiet, the craft brew becomes part of the daily social break, and their time for rest and relaxation.

Sub-prior Father Benedict, the number two at the monastery, from New Canaan, Connecticut, says, "Many people are afraid of religion, afraid of priests and monks, but they are more than happy to talk about beer!  So a little conversation starts about beer.  They taste the beer, and before you know it, the habit gets to them!  And they start asking questions--why did you become a monk?  What does it mean to become a monk?  And pretty soon, it becomes a spiritual conversation."

The brothers of Norcia are industrious. They put out a CD of their favorite Gregorian chants that topped classical, traditional charts.

Now they've got the beer. Right now, they produce 12,000 bottles a month, and their goal is 15,000.  In the USA, you can get it shipped to your home.

They want it to be a hit, but not too much so, because they want to be self-sufficient, without having to hire outside hands.

Nivakoff adds, "we make beer from beginning to end. It's all monk made. We label it, we bottle it, we taste test it, just to be sure."

Brewing beer is a longstanding monastic tradition.  The beer is an alcoholic beverage, it is also a Lenten beverage and  provides sustenance for them during Lent when the monks keep to just one meal a day.

Their next project could be Scotch, because it's just another malt, but for now the brothers won't be drawn in for now.  They say, it's about making their beer even better.  And as they see the beverage as a bridge to the community, it is also a way to have something of themselves reach their families back in America, families missing those beloved brothers living their life of prayer, in a distant corner of Italy.