By David Nilsen
When Vince Luecke studied to be a priest as a young man, he never imagined that when he eventually worked at a monastery it would be as a brewmaster rather than as a man of the cloth. St. Benedict’s Brew Works is a small brewery that operates at the monastery of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, among the low hills of Dubois County in southern Indiana. It’s the only brewery in the United States to be housed on the grounds of a women’s religious community, and the idea might never have gotten off the ground were it not for Vince’s winding career path.
He attended nearby St. Meinrad Seminary in the early 1990s and spent a year as a Jesuit novitiate before ultimately beginning a career as a newspaper editor in 1999. Trips to Belgium and Germany in the early 2000s opened his eyes to the possibilities of abbey breweries, and when it came time for him to open his own brewing operation over a decade later, he approached the Sisters of St. Benedict about his idea to brew beer at their facility, Monastery Immaculate Conception. After some initial trepidation, the Benedictine order voted to allow the project to move forward.
St. Benedict’s Brew Works opened in October 2015, and has already become the local go-to establishment for good craft beer. The heavily German influenced area has taken a liking to Vince’s clean, classic brews, particularly the Sister Mary Kolsch. German businessmen in the area have told Vince his example of the beer—a style native to Köln (Cologne) in southwest Germany—is “spot on.”
The sisters themselves occasionally partake of Vince’s libations, with the Sister Betty Blonde being a particular favorite, named after a friendly and energetic nun who was proud to lend her name to the beer. “I don’t like beer, so Vince made me the easiest beer he could,” said Sister Betty Drewes. “I love it,” she added with a smile. She’s not alone, as the easy-drinking ale has become one of the brewery’s most popular offerings.
While the brewery is only two years old, the monastery itself is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding this year. Founded in 1867, the community and efforts of the Sisters of St. Benedict are thriving in the small town of Ferdinand. The group of about 140 nuns work and minister in the surrounding communities, and host retreats and events at the monastery. The Kordes Center, their guest lodging facility, is available for groups and individuals who want to get away for a few days to seek peace on the lovely property, and lodgers are invited to join the sisters for Mass, prayers, breakfast, and tours of the monastery.
The most prominent fixture of Monastery Immaculate Conception is the chapel, which sits at the top of a hill in the center of the property. The imposing but graceful structure was completed in the 1920s, and features spiral staircases in the turrets, a majestic dome, and lovely stained glass windows. The beautiful property also includes a prayer labyrinth, stations of the cross in a lovely garden walk, and several shrines.
Whether you’re seeking beer, prayer, or both, this southern Indiana gem offers a rewarding and peaceful afternoon or weekend. In September, Vince is planning an Abbey Beer Fest, with hopes of introducing the region to the world of monastic beers, both those from established European abbey breweries and from the handful of fledgling American examples. In early December, the brewery will be partnering with the Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce to put on the annual Brew Ho Ho beer festival in the aptly named town of Santa Claus, just south of Ferdinand.
Throughout the year, Vince also leads two-day brewing retreats, in which he walks attendees through the process of brewing beer, and also teaches Biblical parables relating to brewing ingredients.
St. Benedict’s Brew Works is truly unique among Hoosier craft breweries, and well worth the drive into southern Indiana farm country. You can talk with Vince at the bar, and if you time it right, you might even get to share a pint with a nun.