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Jessie O'Brien's picture

The Past Lives of Thirsty Monk's Barry Bialik

thirsty monk barry bialik

Barry Bialik, the founder of Asheville, North Carolina’s Thirsty Monk, leans heavily on his intuition. It wasn’t until researching his past lives that Bialik’s desires came into focus, including the unplanned decision to open a brewery.

“Before the Thirsty Monk, I’d never brewed beer, I’d never worked in a restaurant and I’d never bartended,” Bialik said. “Throughout my life, I have been pulled toward things that I didn’t have an explanation as to why I was pulled towards them.”

A quick history of Bialik’s zigzagging journey displays how much he followed this mysterious pull.

“I never felt like a kid,” he says. ”I was an old soul my whole life. When I was 13, I started a little computer business and kept business cards under my bed.”

Bialik was wise beyond his years in part because he never had the opportunity to settle into a steady childhood routine. He grew up in Brooklyn and often moved due to living with a single parent and suffering through housing struggles. At one point, he attended four different high schools in three years.

“Housing offers baseline stability, so I early-admitted to college,” Bialik says.

At that point, Bialik was a 14-year-old fledgling journalism student who wanted to escape the constant uprooting. He almost began a professional career writing for a computer magazine. It was on the subway ride to his third job interview with the publication that Bialik realized it wasn’t what he wanted, so he made knee-jerk move to Anchorage, Alaska where he ran an alternative magazine. He moved to Austin, then Seattle, before he just as impulsively landed in his current home in Asheville where he runs Thirsty Monk and is chair of the Affordable Housing Committee. (Bialik’s other business Compact Cottages has built over 80 affordable homes.)

“I went [to Asheville] on a week-long vacation and put an offer on a house on that first trip,” Bialik says.

thirsty monk branded glassware on a table

Belgian Beers

Bialik opened the Thirsty Monk taproom in downtown Asheville in 2008 at the onset of the craft beer boom. Thirsty Monk began brewing their own beers a few years later and the recipes were quickly recognized for their sophisticated flavors. The brews, such as Abby Blonde and Brother Noah, named after Bialik’s kids, received numerous accolades, and new locations in Denver and Portland have opened in recent years.

“I always had an affinity for Belgian beer,” Bialik says. “It’s something about the yeast; it’s living. It’s what makes the Belgian beer more unique and it’s the same yeast that was used in the 12th century.“

He was also drawn to the history that dates even further back to the sixth century and combines the unlikely worlds of the holy and hedonistic.

thirsty monk exterior
Bialik's past lives can sometimes lead to swift decisions: Such as when he opened Thirsty Monk in 2008 after buying a house in Asheville on his first trip there.

“Beer was invented by monks. [Monks] drank a low-alcohol table beer, but it mainly was brewed as a revenue stream for the monastery,” he says.

Monastic doctrine urged monks to support themselves and the monastery by working rather than begging for money. In addition to beer, monks made jam, butter and bread.

“The top monastic breweries that we still get [in the U.S.] like Chimay and Westmalle, they are all from Belgian monasteries,” Bialik says.

But Bialik’s interest in the history and admiration for the flavors was the extent of his connection to Belgium’s vivacious brews—at least in this life.

Past Lives

Bialik discovered he once lived in a monastery himself.

“I have always had a spiritual side,” he says. Bialik often read about ancient civilizations and religions, so when he came across a book about past life regression, it sparked his interest.

“Past life regression is a great way to tap into skills, to bring context into what you're doing with your current incarnation, and to clear up things that are holding you back,” says Bryn Blankinship, a past life regression therapist who has done sessions with Bialik. She included his particular experience in her recent book The Limitless Soul.

Bialik understands some people might find his beliefs odd, but he is comfortable and open about his experience. It was his strong sense of smell and taste that helped illuminate his memories from the Middle Ages. During his first session, Bialik was walking down the halls of his past lives, the warm, vivid sent of grain gave clues to his former self: A French a monk in Southern France in the 1500s. Though Bialik wasn’t brewing beer, he was a baker.

thirsty monk food and beer flights
Bialik's past lives parralel his current life as he perfects beer recipes for Thirsty Monk, which has led to a sense of community and spirituality within the pub.

“He was happy, meticulously perfecting bread recipes and serving the other monks,” Blankinship said. “This parallels his current life where he perfects beer recipes for the pub and has led to that sense of community and spirituality.”

Other characters associated with Thirsty Monk made appearances in Bialik’s past lives as well. Those who believe in reincarnation say that souls often travel in packs. It’s an explanation as to why the common sentiment, “I feel like I’ve known you forever,” sometimes comes up when people meet for the first time. This is what happened when Bialik met Thirsty Monk’s original head brewer Norm Penn, who was a patron at Thirsty Monk when it was just a taproom.

Today, his past life research inspired an award-winning recipe. The Past Life Amber Ale recently won the bronze medal at the 2019 U.S. Open Beer Championships. The beer is named for his partner Shelley Ratterman and nods to their former lives together.

“The Past Life [amber ale] is a representation of my favorite style,” Ratterman said. “It’s a little dry and a little bit sweet.” She said the depth and complexity of Belgian beer represent past life exploration, which adds a layer of depth and complexity to our present life experience. And the brewery itself is an extension of Barry’s former life.

“There is something about Barry's perspective on the Monk. What he is trying to create is more than beer or profit. It is wanting to give people an experience, the soulful experience of something deeper,” Ratterman says.

Thirsty Monk will continue to play up the alchemy and mystery of past lives. The beers will soon be rebranded and each brew label redesigned to resemble a tarot card.

“When we make decisions, we are not just leaning on our current life,” Bialik says. “If you acknowledge and recognize your past lives, you are leaning on them as well. Once I got this past life framework, it helped explain everything else.”


thirsty monk barry bialik

All Photos Courtesy Thirsty Monk

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