A Bronx Priest Walks Into a Local Brewery…and Decides to Grow Hops for Them in His Parish Garden

 	The Reverend Andrew O'Connor of Holy Family Church in Castle Hill has a new endeavor: growing hops in the churchyard to make a Bronx beer. He is in the churchyard displaying growler bottles, which seal in carbonation.  

The Reverend Andrew O’Connor of Holy Family Church in Castle Hill has a new endeavor: growing hops in the churchyard to make a Bronx beer. He is in the churchyard displaying growler bottles, which seal in carbonation.

Written by Corinne Lestch for The New York Daily News

A Bronx priest known for creating his own clothing line has a new trick up his sleeve: Artisanal beer crafter.

The recently opened Bronx Brewery has found an unlikely partner in Rev. Andrew O’Connor of Holy Family Church in Castle Hill, who is reserving space in the church garden to grow hops, a seed that flavors beer.

“One hops yard takes three years to grow, so if we get wet hops that go directly into the brew, it will make a nice fresh beer, which is prized,” said O’Connor, head of the parish for nearly five years. “So that’s the advantage of growing locally. People like things that are made in the Bronx.”

O’Connor, the fifth of nine children in an Irish-Catholic family from the Midwest, found the six-month-old brewery online a few months ago and contacted its owners. He was already a fan of the New England Brewery and Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, and a proud possessor of a new growler – a special beer bottle that seals carbonation.

He met the Bronx brew masters in December.

“He pulled up on his Vespa with his growler, and we knew he was an unorthodox priest,” said Chris Gallant, one of the brewery’s chiefs, laughing. “We thought, ‘this can work.’”

Gallant, who currently buys hops from a valley in Oregon, ordered 20 bines upon which to grow hops for the Holy Family garden, which sits between the rectory and the parish school. The bines (similar to vines) can grow upwards of 50 feet, and wrap around fences and walls.

In keeping with O’Connor’s many endeavors – he imports cloth from Guatemala to make clothing, and cultivates beehives to make honey – he will employ from his own 900-member congregation, the majority of them Latin American, to start planting hops next month.

“We find that a lot of people come from foreign backgrounds, and I like the idea of planting a garden,” said O’Connor. “That’s what we’re hoping to build on by doing this hops yard. The intention is for the parish to get a taste of local living.”

And fulfill O’Connor’s love of suds, which harks back to the days when monks brewed beer in Belgium.

“There’s a lot more to be done with beer,” he said. “It has immediate satisfaction. And the religious connotation is wonderful, too.”

clestch@nydailynews.com