After my trip to Brau Beviale in Nuremberg, Germany (watch this space for the video in a few weeks), I decided to spend a few days in one of my all-time favorite countries, Belgium. The greatest allure, of course, is its brewing culture, rooted in centuries-old tradition. Belgians, in large part, have the monks to thank for that tradition and many in the brotherhood are still brewing at Trappist monasteries.
Soaking in the Belgian beer vibe got me thinking about another recent trip I took and how I've yet to post anything about it. (It was in early July, a month that turned out to be quite dizzyingly surreal for those of us at Beverage World for reasons I needn't expound on in the blogosphere).
On a long holiday weekend in New Mexico, my wife and I decided to check out a Benedictine monastery, on the grounds of which the brothers run a small brewery. The two beers brewed are available commercially (with the help of a contract brewer), mostly in the U.S. Southwest, as, appropriately enough, Monks' Ale and Monks' Wit.
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert is quite literally an oasis in the desert. Finding it involves a journey of Indiana Jonesian proportions. Once we found the exit for the brewery/abbey off of a rural highway--driving through thick plumes of smoke from New Mexico's summer wildfires--the destination was still 13 miles away. Doesn't sound like a lot, but I neglected to mention that it's 13 miles on a dirt road on the side of the mountain…with no guard rail!
As we crawled along at about nine miles per hour we reassured ourselves that it would be fine as long as it didn't rain. Much of the state was an inferno because of the lack of rain, so what chance was there that we'd happen upon a summer shower? Spoke to soon, of course, as the sky quickly turned gray and the first few liquid specks began to dot the windshield of our rental car. (When I picked up the car at the Albuquerque Airport rental office, the rental agent gave me a kind of "Are you sure?" look when I said I wanted a compact car. I thought he was just trying to upsell me to an SUV. Oh well, live and learn.)
Needless to say, we got there in one piece and it was quite a charming compound. Since it's so remote, fuel has to be pumped on site. The monks even grow their own hops. The community is pretty much the picture of self-sufficiency. We were greeted enthusiastically by Brother Bernard and the lay staff, general manager Berkeley Merchant and brew master Brad Kraus, in the brew house, who let us hover over them as they brewed.
As an added bonus, just as we were about to leave, a bell rang and the brothers quickly assembled in chapel to commence a 10-minute Gregorian chanting session. Did I mention this was in the middle of New Mexico?
The point of my story is that it's a story. That's what the beverage business is about, stories and journeys. The story behind a product is often as appealing as the brand itself and is often what distinguishes one product from another in a cluttered marketplace. And it's critical to lead consumers on that journey to discover the story, which, ultimately, translates to brand loyalty.