GASTONIA, N .C. – When I heard about it, I jumped in the car and drove out to Gastonia.
I was not alone.
By noon Thursday, an admittedly early time to be drinking beer, the Brixx on Cox Road in Gastonia had already sold about a dozen glasses of Belmont Abbey Dubbel. They could only get a small torpedo keg of it, which holds roughly 50 glasses of beer.
They ran out by 5 p.m.
“We’ve never run out of beer that fast,” said Mark Labuskes, the general manager.
Highland Brewery in Asheville makes it. It’s amber-colored. It’s potent. It has a hint of caramel flavor. At 6 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a little stronger than regular beer (Coors Light has about 4 percent ABV). Most everybody who was drinking it at Brixx on Thursday afternoon liked it.
“It’s not your normal Bud Light or anything,” said one customer.
So, what’s the big deal?
For one thing, it’s rare. The Belmont Abbey Dubbel surfaced last fall during homecoming at Belmont Abbey College. Since then, it’s sporadically turned up at bars. When it arrives, it’s an event. And it doesn’t last long.
And then there’s the namesake.
“There's a long tradition of monks brewing, particularly in Germany and in our monastery, which traces its roots back to Bavaria,” said Abbot Placid, the abbot at Belmont Abbey. “A friend of the college had the idea to have Highlands Brewery do a beer with the Belmont Abbey label. And I believe the brew master there was interested in trying some Belgian-style beers, and that's how it all started.”
Other monasteries have partnered up with breweries lately. St. Joseph’s Abbey in Louisiana teamed up with Abita to create Abbey Ale. The monastery gets a quarter every time somebody buys a 22-ounce bottle. Trappist Westvleteren 12, constantly rated as the world’s best beer, is made inside the walls of the St. Sixtus monastery in Belgium, and only sold occasionally. In December, the monks needed money to repair their roof, and sold it in the United States for the first time, at $85 for a six pack. Some places sold out in minutes.
Several monks from Belmont Abbey went to the brewery in Asheville to help out with the beer’s creation but didn’t actually give them the recipe. The brewery is giving money to the monastery in return for the name.
At least two monks at Belmont Abbey are home brewers: Abbot Placid and Brother Tobiah, who took me down into the monastery Thursday afternoon to show me what he was working on. There, in the basement, were several brown bottles full of beer. They were slowly being conditioned on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator. It’s a hobby, he says, not a homage. And good luck getting your hands on actual Belmont Abbey brew.
“That's not beer for sale,” said the abbot.