For more than nine centuries, the Oelenberg abbey has maintained the great monastic tradition in Alsace.
In 1046, Heilwige de Dabo, Countess of Eguisheim, mother of Pope Leo IX, founded a priory of canons regular of Saint Augustine. This was on the hill (Berg), along a stream (Oelen).
After many vicissitudes, in 1825 the monastery returned to the hands of a large group of Cistercian “Trappist” monks, returning from exile. They came from Darfeld, Westphalia, where they had found a temporary refuge after many wanderings.
Very prosperous in the 13th century, the monastery was ruined by wars in the 14th century. Its decline was accentuated until the 16th century. In 1626, the abbey passed to the Jesuit college of Friborg en Brisgau, then in 1774 to the university of this same city. During the Revolution, the abbey buildings were sold to a Mulhouse industrialist. Sold in 1821 to a priest, the former monastery then became a boarding school for young girls.
The monks put the agricultural domain into operation. They experienced difficult times: a famine in 1846, fires, epidemics. Yet the prosperity of the monastery continued. Intense activity reigned there. Œlenberg founded a monastery in Germany, in the diocese of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1862: Mariawald, near Heimbach. At the start of the 20th century, the abbey had 200 monks: 80 priests and 120 lay brothers. Oelenberg was then a very famous religious, intellectual and economic center.
The First World War would destroy all this development: the buildings were bombed and the monks had to disperse. Reconstruction was difficult. A group of monks of German origin went to live in Austria in 1925, at Notre-Dame d'Engelszell, between Passau and Linz, on the banks of the Danube. And they brought this ancient secularized Cistercian abbey back to life. Oelenberg experienced a second destruction in 1944-45, as bad as the previous one. The diocese of Strasbourg and its faithful generously contributed to the reconstruction, while monks from Zundert (the Netherlands) came to support the very tried community which regained life and hope. The abbey was slowly reconstituted and to this day occupies a small community of Trappist monks, with a population of less than ten religious.
The Trappists, who occupied the abbey from 1825, built a brewery in 1852 after digging cellars in the hill.
The brewery was annexed to the mill in 1855.
They decided to brew a table beer for the needs of the community, and also to deal with the poor quality of the wine which the monks rightly complained about.
At that time, vast cellars were dug in the clay under the monastery.
The brewery is in the center of the courtyard, on the right.
Initially, the monks took advantage of the low production to temporarily transform the brewery into a laundry room and thus the sheets regularly took the place of the mash in the copper boiler. In 1854, the brewery was listed under the name of Stadler, then around 1870 under the name M.Dietrich (surname of the brewer or of the Father Abbot.)
A new brewery and a malt house were built in 1894 in the courtyard of the convent, on the plans of Father Ignatius, for the sale of beers in barrels to individuals. The abbey delivered beer in small barrels, mainly to the countryside. Barley and hops came from the property of the abbey. The production, which did not exceed 2800 hl, was consumed mainly by the monks and their hosts, as well as by the sisters of the neighboring community of Altbronn. During the summer, a stagecoach connected Lutterbach to the convent and many Mulhouse residents came to taste the abbey's bread, cheese and beer.
The "Klosterbrauerei Oelenberg" probably ceased its activity during or shortly after the end of the 1914-1918 war.
As the newspaper "Gebweiler neueste Nachrichten" ("Latest News from Guebwiller") of April 15, 1933 recalls: "One of the most popular monks of the abbey for decades was Brother Anselme who died in the early 1930s at the age of 88. He was known and loved far and wide: before the war, Brother Anselme brewed the very good and very pale beer of the Oelenberg monastery, and after the war he was replaced by Brother Müller."
We have testimonies from visitors to the abbey, around 1904, which state that "the brewery is newly organized and, the brewer mastering his art, we drink a truly splendid beer": being from Germans, this testimony is all the more impressive. (Sources: Mérimée base, see also: Documentary history of Mulhouse industry (1902; page 798).