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The Past Lives of Thirsty Monk's 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.

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.

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.

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