Holy Beer Club Batman!

A church-based beer club?  Was I out of my mind?  I could not find any others in existence.  I knew that the idea could not be all that original yet where they?  To that end I want to share with you the surprisingly easy process of getting it all together.

I have always believed that if the Church is going to have any chance at continued relevance it needs to connect with people where they are.  While this is sometimes simply a matter of bringing Church out into the community (not surprisingly pubs definitely make this list) it is also a matter of creating opportunities for people to bring their lives and interests into the context of Church.  It seemed only natural that the love of beer should fall into this category.  It was in this spirit our club, dubbed The Franklin Society (from his famous quote, “Beer if living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”) was conceived.

Anyway, when I presented the idea to our parish board (called a Vestry) they had no problem with it.  In fact, it was first suggested by a vestry member one of our meetings.  But when I announced it to the whole church in our newsletter, I was expecting much more resistance and concern.  I was surprised to find only two such responses.  Sadly, one person was so upset that they withdrew from the parish.  The other had some questions which I was able to answer satisfactorily.  In the several years of our existence the group has attracted new members, some of them from the parish, others from the community.

But the real question seems to be, where does the Almighty stand on the subject?  Well there are no overt Biblical references to beer but plenty to wine and a few to “strong drink.”  But to cut to the chase, the prohibitions and restrictions that are so often used to attack alcohol all have to do with getting drunk as opposed to drinking.  Only in a few special cases (like Sampson- see Judges 13) is drinking altogether prohibited.  But if we think about it, these biblical prohibitions against drunkenness make sense since nasty things (like murder and rape) tend to happen in the stories as a result of influence of alcohol.  Those of us (myself included) who have had a few too many, can most likely point to a number of things we have done under the influence that we later regret when sober.  Yet the casual and social drinking of alcohol is mentioned without condemnation many times and receives the tacit endorsement of no less a personage than Jesus himself as seen in his first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

This leads to a very simple yet profound understanding, namely that God wants us to embrace life.  Pleasures like food, sex, dancing and alcohol (including beer) are gifts of God given for our enjoyment.  The trick is coming to understand the correct context and quantity in which we might partake of them.  The old adage, “All things in moderation” proves to be a very sound theological principal.  Given that we take great pains to make sure that no one drinks too much at our meetings (thus allowing for responsible behavior and safe driving) our church beer club is not only not contrary to the Bible, but in fact it is in keeping with our spiritual journey.

I know this has little to do with beer per se but I wanted to share with you all the joy of The Franklin Society and the process by which it came to be.  I would love to see more such clubs springing up in months and years to come.  If you manage to start one or have questions about the same, please let me know.

BTW- our logo (courtesy Brian Biggs of mrbiggs.com) is serving as the wallpaper for the blog.

The crew after a whole grain brewing session (we made a Tripple) and were instructed by homebrewing icon and all around cool cat, George Hummel (center in slate blue shirt) of Home Sweet Homebrew.

Love, Misanthropy and Metal

So as I promised some of these posts will deal with music and as warned, they will not always deal with beer.  Anyway, a few years back I went death metal festival (The Cool Tour) to see one of my favorite bands of that genre, As I Lay Dying.  Not surprisingly they are named for William Faulkner’s book which friend and author Kirsten Kashock praised as, “The best smelly corpse book ever written.”  Anyway, there were 7 or 8 bands on the bill and none of them (as would be expected from hardcore and death metal) could be described has being particularly happy or positive.  Indeed, even As I lay Dying are Christian yet still sound distinctly menacing.

Yet, much to my joy, the night held some rather ironic surprises.  The first was when I saw a young man wearing a shirt which read “Unbutu. When you feel pain, I feel pain.”  For those of you who are not aware the word Unbutu is an African principle which refers to the interconnectedness of humanity or as it has been put, “I in you and you in me.”  To see such a sentiment expressed in such a setting in which most of the bands were adorned with skulls and sang about violence and death, was a serendipity.

Yet this was nothing compared to the delicious irony I found in the stage speeches from perhaps the most menacing band of the evening, Acacia Strain. Image

Halfway through their set the singer stopped and went on a rant about how much he hated people… not any one group but humanity as a whole.  He went on to express that he hoped that humanity would be wiped out very soon.  Indeed, his sentiments are well summed up in the pic above.

Strong words but consistent with their act and so not at all surprising.  But what he said next caused me to do a double take.  After two more songs he stopped to dedicate their last number to a friend who had just died earlier that day.  He went on to describe this woman- her kindness, her compassion, and how much she meant to him.  He then described how hard her death from breast cancer had hit him when he heard about it a few hours before.

I was moved… both by his story and by the fact that this man who had just before claimed the universal hatred of all humanity was honestly broken up about the tragic death of someone who died too young.   It just goes to show that life can always  surprise you and that people are are much more than what they seem on the surface..

The International Alliance of Beer Geeks, Dublin Local #11

There is nothing quite like the sense of joy and affirmation when you meet a kindred soul. You know what I mean, someone with whom you have an instant and significant basis for connection.  Many things can form such a bond… allegiance to the same sports team, love the same food or same music…. an appreciation of fine art… any of these things can facilitate a conversation that turns complete strangers into fast friends within a matter of minutes.  The love and pursuit of good beer definitely falls into this category.

Certainly Ireland is known for its beer… Guinness is practically an emblem for the country.  And yet the beer selection here is surprisingly limited.  When I first came 2001 I found only the Irish staples- Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, Killkenny, Beamish and Murphy’s.  Carlsberg was often seen as an import and Heineken could also be found but that was about it.   When I came back in 2005 a number of industrial American beers like Bud and Coors Light had begun to make an appearance but little else had changed.  But this time around (2011) I wanted something more.  In the last six years I have gone from a guy who loved good beer and knew a little about it to a full on hardcore geek.  Although there is certainly nothing wrong with Ireland’s tried and true staples (indeed the experience of having a proper pint in a local pub is one of the great joys that it offers) I wanted to see in advance what Ireland had to offer besides its tried and true staples.

Fortunately the Beer Mapping Project allowed me to do my research in advance.  Indeed, it showed me that a nascent craft beer scene was beginning to emerge.  There were two brew pubs in Dublin, one of which, Porterhouse, had several locations (in fact just last month I was thrilled to find their Wrasslers XXXX Stout on draft at a local restaurant, Agiato). 

But in terms of a craft beer bars, there seemed to be only one- Against the Grain.  

Located at11 Wexford Street, just south of St. Stephen’s Green, this pub is the most recent venture of the folks who founded both Bay Brewing and the Oslo Bar and Salt Box in Galway.  What drew me was the fact that they boasted most of the craft beers that Ireland had to offer under a single roof.  I was also interested in getting a firsthand account of how the scene was developing.

Bottles of TNP and STB

I was not disappointed.  The bar boasted a large selection of 20 taps including 1 cask on beer engine and 90 some odd bottles from around the world (including the nearly impossible to get Tactical Nuclear Penguin and the even harder to get Sink the Bismarck, both from Brewdog. Of course the price tag of 60 and 80 Euros respectively allowed me to resist the temptation.

The barkeeps- Paddy (yes- that was his real name) and Sebastian- were friendly but a bit preoccupied with the lunch rush.  After that thinned out we were able to really set down to the business of discussing beer.

What really fascinated me was that they both told me that neither of them was into craft at all until they took the job at Against the Grain.  They rapidly became converts and now were both total hopheads.  I suspect that having Sierra Nevada as one of their taps probably helped.  Indeed, it was their only American tap.  Although they had fair access to German and Belgian beers, most US craft products had not yet reached them.  It was really heartening to hear a couple of guys who were into a style of beer even though they actually could get very much of it.

After talking about their histories and tastes, I asked them about the Irish beer scene in general.  Basically they described a small and closely knit community of beer lovers which included the brewers of the brewpubs, the staff from the beer bars and their growing number of regulars.  After having done quite a bit of reading and even hearing a magazine piece on the subject of micro brewing as it is known here, I am struck by how similar Ireland seems to be now to what I understand the US was like 25-30 years ago.  They have an uphill climb since the juggernaut of Guinness has been joined by an increasing presence of Bud and Coors Light in many of the urban pubs.  However, I am convinced that the craft scene can still succeed.  The proof is right there in Paddy and Sebastian.  It is also there in the fact that Against the Grain is a commercial success despite the fact that it occupies what one Dublin reviewer called the, “corner of death” since a large number of bars had come and gone in rapid succession at the same locale.

I am sure that the next time I come back to Ireland I will find a lot more craft beer.  I look forward to seeing what kinds of styles and innovations this first wave of brewing rebels will come up with in the years to come because although having a great pint of Guinness will always be one of the defining experiences of Ireland for me, it will be nice to have so other good choices being served on the taps beside it.

“Hey Padre, gimme some of them ashes”

It was Ash Wednesday and it also happened to be my sexton’s birthday.  So after the noonday service he and I walked two blocks down to my favorite local lunch spot, The Henry James Saloon.  Needless to say, I was still in my full clerical garb complete with a big smudge of ash on my own forehead from the service.  So we are sitting there me with my Yuengling Lager (a Philadelphia staple) and him with his Bud (may God forgive him).  Across from us are four women, obviously there on their lunch break as well.  Anyway, there we are, chatting and suddenly one of the women calls out, “Hey Padre… Padre.”  Needless to say I quickly knew she was talking to me (When one is wearing clerics it doesn’t take long to realize that you attract a lot more attention from strangers than if you were in civilian dress).  So I asked how I could be of service.  Her response was classic Philly, “Gimme some of them ashes.”  She explained that by the time she got home from work and picked up her son, took care of supper and homework, she would not have time to get the 7 o’clock service at her home church.  I apologized and told her that sadly, I did not bring my container of ashes (in this case a small metal box) with me so I could not oblige.  Yet she was not to be deterred… she thought for a moment and then pointed and said, “Well gimme some of your ashes then.”  Bold as brass she was and it knocked me for a loop.  I must have looked as confused as I felt because she felt that it was necessary not only to repeat herself, but to point straight at my forehead.  At last I understood, though I was still not exactly sure how I felt about the whole enterprise but I could see no reason to deny her request.  I stood and went over to her and asked her name.  I then licked my thumb, put it to my forehead and with the residue, made the sign of the cross on hers while saying, “Margie, remember that you are dust and to dust to shall return.”  Although the whole enterprise was a bit half-assed in my opinion it was clearly valid enough in hers.  It must have been because two of her three friends asked me to do the same.   Just goes to show that people are always looking for the sacred, even, or perhaps especially, in the alehouse.