Friday, November 11, 2011

Enough is enough

Collee was an apple man. He grew them, picked and packed and shipped them himself from his several hundred acre orchard in the Shenandoah Valley. He brought Carrie and me an apple ladder and pointed toward a small grove where he kept his heirlooms; smokehouse, maiden's blush, and a variety of pippins. We strapped on pickers' vests, deep barrel chested leathers for collecting as you climb up into the trees. After we nearly toppled from the weight of it all we staggered back up to the farmhouse chomping on an apple that contained the nectar of the gods. I offered one to Collee and he refused: "I've had my last apple," he told us. "Every week for 60 years I've delivered apples to market. I would place a peck in the cab and eat as I drove. One day it occurred to me that I had eaten near a million apples. I surmised that that was all the apples God intended a man to eat. I quit then and there. Haven't had an apple since."

I brewed beer. English style ales. It is a relatively simple process, one you can learn, and was a great source of "real" beer in an era of PBR, Bud, and Corona piss. I never had a fail or any of the horror stories associated with brew your own. When we moved south I gave the works away. There were nothing but piss beers in Florida at the time, Sierra Nevada had to travel a great distance to get there, and so like Collee, I told myself I had had my last beer. Then we arrived in Maine. There is a vital micro brew industry here and it was easy to reconnect with a product. There are five breweries within 5 miles of where I live and we have visited them all. They make good beer.

I read an article in which a bar (Ebenezer's, Lovell, Maine) was mentioned as the best place in the country to sample Belgian beer. A perfect excuse for a day trip. We went and challenged the boss to tell me why my cost point was about to jump by a factor of three, and what all the fuss was about? He asked what our taste preferences were and when we told him we didn't appreciate fruit in our beer he offered that Coke nearly killed Belgian beer. The demand for sweet changed the brewers style in an attempt to keep up with the market BUT, there were many traditionalists that were making historic beers. The Trappists were the gold standard. This became one of those days. I'm sure this is old news to some of you, it brought us to our knees. We drank incredible beers and American crafters have learned the art.

I've done some research and I came upon this article which brought my attention to the economics of the enterprise. I am not moved to take on the cloth, but I appreciate the life lessons containing in the following quote:
"St. Sixtus brews just 60,000 cases of beer a year. The famous Westvleteren 12 sells for about $33 a case, the blond 6 is the cheapest at $23 for 24 bottles. That makes enough money to cover the costs of maintaining the abbey, where 28 monks work. There's also a little extra to help the needy. The brewery currently is running at maximum capacity. And the monks are not interested in raising prices or production, because that would require hiring more outside workers (they have three) and working with distributors."
An intentional community coming together, creating a great product, making enough money for themselves and those less fortunate, that is an ethic we can all learn from.

As we enter the gift giving season consider these other representative samples of great product being produced at other monasteries:
Trappist jams which distributes a variety of products from around the world.
Fruitcake, cheese, bourbon and fudge from Gethsemani Farms
Fruitcake, truffles, and honey
Simply divine cookies
Some of the world's finest liquors are crafted by monks.
and this story featured vinegar produced in the Hudson Valley

I am sure you can add others, please do, and any other examples of successful small scale commercial enterprises that suggest an alternative to business as usual.

1 comment:

  1. Here's our version in Virginia