Sister Doris Engelhard begins most days with mandatory choral prayer at 5:30 a.m., along with the other Franciscan sisters of Mallersdorf Abbey in Germany. But on Sundays she is excused, and instead rises at 3 a.m. to craft beer—nearly 80,000 gallons annually.
For 45 years, Sister Doris, 65, has dedicated her life to God and beer. She is now the last nun in Europe who is an active brewmaster, but she was not always alone in her profession. “There is one other sister who is also a master brewer in Ursberg, not far from Augsburg,” she says over email through a translator. That nun no longer runs a brewery, however. “She is a bit older,” says Sister Doris, “and this brewery now employs another master brewer.”
There was also a nun-run brewery in Schönbrunn, close to Dachau, but it closed down about 30 years ago. The sister who had been the brewmaster there, according to Sister Doris, now spends her days caring for the elderly.
Sister Doris started on her own path into the tiny sorority of brewmaster nuns when she came to Mallersdorf—a remote Bavarian village—in 1961 as a student in a school run by the abbey. Her mother was ill, and the nuns took care of her. “The sisters made a real impression on me. And I knew early on that I wanted a religious life,” she explains.
She always felt that she had an intimate relationship with God. “I have experienced God as a close, constant companion—in fact, I assume this is how every human experiences it, regardless of whether or not they believe in the one God,” she says. “I also think that God receives my prayers and accepts me just as I am, without needing my adoration or worship. Otherwise he wouldn’t be God. I need him, not the other way around.”