Taipei (Taiwan News)—Monks from a monastery in Norcia, Italy auctioned beer in Taiwan over the weekend to raise funds to rebuild an ancient church that was destroyed by earthquakes in 2016.
A magnitude 6.2 quake in central Italy on Aug. 24, 2016 partly damaged the home of The Monks of Norcia, but a second magnitude 6.6 quake that ensued in October toppled the Basilica of St. Benedict, and damaged the brewery, said the head of the monastery Father Benedict Nivakoff.
Father Benedict Nivakoff, the head of The Monks of Norcia in Italy. (Taiwan News)
The monastery dates back to the fifth century, and is built on the birth site of St. Benedict, the patron saint of monks in Europe, and his twin sister St. Scholastica, will cost an estimated EUR 7.5 million (US$7.98 million) to rebuild.
In the aftermath of the quake, Taiwan’s ambassador to the Holy See Matthew Lee (李世明) visited the monastery and donated a large undisclosed sum for reconstruction, which encouraged the monks to launch a fundraising campaign in Taiwan, said Aaron Turner, founder of Chalice, the monastery’s local beer distributor.
Taiwanese have been generous donors, one man from Tainan City, who was not even Catholic, donated nearly EUR 20,000 earlier Sunday, said Turner.
Two of the 12 limited edition bottles of beer were auctioned off at NT$18,000 (US$581.67) each at an event on Sunday afternoon in Taipei, while the highest bid price per bottle reached EUR 1,000 on Saturday.
Before the quake halted the monastery’s beer production for six months, the standard 330-milliliter bottle beers produced by the monks were being sold for around NT$280-300 at Italian restaurants in Taiwan, where it was first introduced in June 2016.
Father Benedict Nivakoff, the head of The Monks of Norcia, Italy pours some Birra Nursia Blonde to guests for taste tests. (Taiwan News)
The monks brew a 6 percent alcohol light beer called Birra Nursia Blonde that is marked with a citrus scent, and a 10 percent alcohol dark beer called Birra Nursia Extra that is richer in flavor, said Nivakoff.
According to Turner, the monks are not profiting from beer sales, and only earn enough to sustain their lifestyle.
Asked why monks prefer brewing beer over red wine, Nivakoff explained beer can provide nutrients during their long 40-day fasts, and Belgian and German beer are especially high in nutrients and calories.
The Monks of Norcia were trying to make cheap beer for their own consumption when they first started brewing in 2012, said the 37-year-old Nivakoff.
Some of the monks were experienced home brewers before joining the monastery and were sent to the Belgian monastic breweries Achel and Westvleteren to learn the craft.
Prior to the quake, four monks were working full-time to produce 12,000 bottles per month, which is a relatively low production volume for a brewery.
There has been growing interest in recent years for specialty beers, and the integrity of the monks attracts consumers to buy their beers “because they want to make sure the beer has nothing fake, synthetic or chemical in it,” said Nivakoff.
"We have left the world for God," said Nivakoff. "Our interest is not to make the most money but the best beer."
"Unlike other monasteries where some of the production is outsourced to other beer manufacturers, The Monks of Norcia make their own beer from start to finish," said Turner.
Since the brewery equipment was not damaged by the quakes, Nivakoff hopes to finish rebuilding the brewery in the next three to four months.
Despite being built on a historical site, the 15 member monastery was founded by three American monks in 2000, and most of the monks are currently from the U.S. including Nivakoff.
The EU and the Italian government have both pledged to offer assistance to rebuild the historical buildings, but there is no concrete plan yet, said Nivakoff.
He estimated it will cost 30 million to 40 million euros to rebuild the damaged church alone, and to finance the reconstruction the monks will continue to launch fundraising campaigns in the U.S., EU and other parts of the world.