And on the 8th day

I will never forget the first time I homebrewed.  I was well aware that when we tasted it the results would likely be less than spectacular.  In fact, given the cost of ingredients (around $110 for 10 gallonms worth of materials) and the many, many hours of labor that went into it, I am quite sure that it would have been both more economical and better tasting to spend another $20 or so and just go and buy four cases quality craft beer.  But as I thought through the experience of brewing and bottling I realized that the pay off for homebrewing is much more ineffable.

As I watched the yeast swirl in the carboy of IPA, I was struck by the realization that I was watching something living (Virginia Madsen’s poetic monologue on wine in Sideways comes to mind).

In fact this process of brewing became a spiritual experience for me as I came to understand that I was taking part in the miracle of creation.  This is a two-fold joy in that we not only creating something new, unique and living, but also something that would be shared with only a few people, most of whom are people I know very well and care about.  So, while the produce of our “Church Basement Brewery” may be less than professional from the standpoint of taste, I still look forward to that moment in February when in one moment we all share something unique… something that was created out of the bounty of the earth and came into being because of our divine impulse to both create and in turn, find joy in that creation.  So, even if it the taste in only mediocre, it is still our creation.  May we look upon it and know that it is good.


Giving thanks for hospitality

As we approach our day of Thanksgiving… a time when we welcome family, friends or even strangers into our homes to sit together at the table, I am reminded of the importance to hospitality.  Offering hospitality is not just a matter of good manners, it is in fact a matter of great spiritual importance.  Indeed, it one the primary, yet consistently overlooked values in Judeo/Christian Scripture.  In biblical times offering people food and shelter was more than just politeness, it was the law of the land.  It is so central that the violation of the hospitality code could provoke the wrath of God.  The famous story in which God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with homosexuality… no the great sin that incites God’s wrath is not the mob’s desire to gang rape the male guests whom Lot took into his house, it is the utter disregard for the hospitality code their action demonstrates.  One was honor bound to take in strangers and offer them food and shelter for the night.  To not only refuse hospitality but worse, to violate the shelter that had been offered was as bad of a social (and sacred) offense as one could commit.

Anyway, getting back to both the present day and to beer, there are few places where this ancient ideal of hospitality is seen in our culture anymore.  Certainly the idea of welcoming a total stranger into our home seems crazy and given the realities of violence, drugs and theft, it is sadly rather understandable.  Yet there is still one bastion of hospitality left… the bar.  It is there that complete strangers engage in conversation and offer a gesture of friendship by buying rounds for one another.  Please note, I am excluding the pickup scene, yet even so it is not at all a rare phenomenon.  Most of us have been on both the buying and receiving end.  I have experienced it all over the world as well as in my neighborhood.  Where else can you go and have someone with whom you’ve done little more than exchanged names or a hand shake or even just a friendly nod shell out $3-6 for you?  Nowhere else comes to mind for me…  In fact in some places, like Ireland for instance, it is can even be considered rude NOT to buy a beer for the person who just sat next to you, especially if you have struck up a conversation.  So the next time you sit down at a bar, take a moment to engage the person next to you and buy them a round for when you do, you are not just being friendly, you are also partaking in one of the most ancient customs in existence and doing your part to affirm and strengthen the bonds of our common humanity.  That way wherever you are and whoever you are with this holiday, you can still find a sense of family and belonging.

Getting into the Spirit

Kudos to my friend Don Russell, aka Joe Sixpack.  Don is a great beer writer and one of the creators of Philly Beer Week   Anyway, in his last weekly column entitled, “Eat, Drink and be Generous” Don wrote the following:

“WITH THE HOLIDAYS approaching, my thoughts are on eating good food with great beer. As usual, I have a bunch of suggestions. But first, I want to make a pitch to support those who don’t have enough to eat.

This season, I’m partnering with Philabundance, the city’s food bank, to drive hunger from our community. It’s a very simple program that I’m calling Eat, Drink & Be Generous, and it works like this: The next time you buy a sixpack, I want you to plunk down an equal amount to help buy food for the needy.

Just head to and click on the Philabundance link.

It doesn’t matter how much you give, whether you’re matching a $6.99 sixer of Yuengling or the $35 you just laid out for a pick-a-six selection of exotic imports at your local deli.

The point is: Whatever you think of beer, it is a nonessential item, at least when compared with the loaf of bread or gallon of milk for a family who cannot afford groceries.

Donating some of your beer money so someone else can eat is a reasonable and generous gesture, a neighborly step toward building a better community.”

To go straight to the Philabundance site and make a donation click here.

Way to go Joe Sixpack for reminding us all about what the Holidays are supposed to be all about- gratitude!

Those who dwell in darkness…

So this is a little bit of a digression for me since this column is a bit of a rant.  Yet what I witnessed several years ago left me so appalled that I had to write about it.   I had been out at a black-tie fundraising gala at the behest of my wife (who ran the event).  Now when it was all wrapped up she took her staff out for a drink (she is a great boss as well as a great wife).  We walked across Broad Street to the swanky Capital Grill.  The six of us carved out some space at the bar and ordered (in case you care I order Oban 14, neat).  Not being terribly interested in the group’s conversation which was focused on the various donors and how the event went, I began to people watch.  The bar was filled with lots of the beautiful people but what really caught my eye was a group of ex-frat boys who looked to be in their mid to late 20’s.  Now before you speculate, let me state that this had nothing to do with my sexual preferences.  Rather it had everything to do with what was clutched in their hands… bottles of Miller Lite.

I just don’t get it, not even a little bit.  Why, would anyone, who had the taste to come into such a nice place, choose to drink that when so many better option were available?  If you are calorie conscious there are some decent light beers out there- Sam Adams, Light Ship or even Amstel Light.  Heck if calories are all you care about then Guinness only has 105 of them.  Given this I struggle to understand why people still choose to drink Coors, Miller or Bud?  One experienced beer rep, who has worked for Bud, Hook and Ladder and now reps for the amazing beers of Great Lakes, told me that it had little to do with taste and everything to do with price.  I suppose that made sense… a 22 year old wants to get as much beer as possible for their dollar because they don’t have that many dollars to spend.  When I was in college we bought and drank  Old Milwaukee, AKA “Old Swill” because it was $20 a keg. Ok, I am dating myself with the price but the point still holds.

But- while finances may excuse those of limited means, it in no way could be used to justify the blue labeled horror that was clutched just ten feet away.  If you can afford to go into the Capital Grill for anything other than to use the bathroom, then you can afford to drink real beer.  Moreover, you should know to drink your beer out of a glass and not straight from the bottle, especially in a high-class restaurant.

What should we, knowledgeable beer lovers, do in response?  How do we help people come to understand that there are much better options available than what they normally drink?  To such a question, I have no real answer, other than to lead by example and, one by one, introduce our friends to the joy of real beer.  As with any sort of evangelism it is this one-on-one, no pressure approach that works the best.

I have seen this work first hand.  When we first started our beer club at church, The Franklin Society, one parishioner, Larry, came to the first meeting.  He confessed that he had only every drunk cheap beer.  In fact, his mainstay was Milwaukee’s Best- AKA- “The Beast.”  To his enormous credit, he tried everything we put in front of him, from stouts to IPA’s to Belgians… some he liked, some he didn’t .  But the point is he tried them all and over the years has been one of our most faithful members.  From time to time he will buy some craft beer to drink at home, but more often than not, he stays with “The Beast.”  That’s fine by me…. after all who I am to tell anyone what they should drink.  What is important is that Larry keeps on coming and trying new things each and every month.  I guess what really bothers me about those guys and their Miller Lite is that I doubt they had ever even tried any craft beer.  Even though they had the option of expanding their world they refused to ever venture outside their narrow milieu.  Yet it doesn’t have to be that way.  Larry is living proof that you can, even after a lifetime of drinking cheap mass produced beer, that you can indeed broaden your universe.  His story gives me hope, even for those guys at the Capital Grill.

Beery Vestments

In exploring the confluence between God and beer I have generally focused on finding and/or bringing the divine out into the “secular” world of bars, concerts and beer fests.  But I think the Church can learn something from reversing the process as well.

The story begins during a very hot nine days in early July in the city of Indianapolis.  I was there attending the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  This once every three year gathering  is primarily focused on governance.  Ten deputies from each diocese and all the bishops gather to deliberate and legislate.  But as with any large convention there is also a hall of vendors looking to sell stuff to the convention goers.  It was there I began a conversation with custom vestment broker by the name of Trevor about an idea I had for a stole.  For those who are not fluent in church-speak, a stole is a long piece of fabric, usually decorated, that is worn draped around the neck of the clergy person.  In theory it represents the “Yoke” of Christ.

In any case I already have a lot of stoles- I have green ones, white ones, red, ones, purple ones and blue ones.  I have fancy hand embroidered ones from the 1800’s and I have simple plain polyester ones.  So you might well ask what the heck did I need another stole for?  Well, the idea first came to me late last summer when I was privileged to officiate at the wedding of Neil and Lindsay Harner.  Neil is the co-founder and former co-editor of Philly Beer Scene Magazine.  We had met during the Opening Tap of Philly Beer Week 2010.  We struck up a conversation and exchanged business cards.  Some months later Neil contacted me about officiating at his wedding the next summer.

Now just so you know, I do not run a wedding chapel.  If you want me to officiate at your wedding you have to agree to meet with me 4-5 times, not just to plan the service, but so that I can get to know you, learn about your families and your relationship.  My goal is to help the couple identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they might enjoy the happiest and healthiest marriage possible.  For those of you familiar with the Roman Catholic tradition of pre-marital counseling, think of what I do as a personalized and individual Pre-Cana sessions.  Anyway, being a beer oriented couple, the wedding took place at Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA.  Neil actually wrote a nice article about it for the magazine which you can read here.  And I must say it was really neat to do a service surrounded by taps and brew kettles.  Anyway, the beer themed wedding got me to thinking that it would be pretty neat to have some beer themed vestments. But when it comes to sacred imagery Christianity is all about the wine so there are none to be had “off the rack.”

Which brings us back to Indianapolis.  I spent about a hour explaining to Trevor what I wanted, which included explaining what  hops looked liked, we came up a detailed written design and rough sketch.  Several weeks later Trevor sent the me design sketches from the artist in England.  After re-working them a bit (I had to impress on the artist that I did not want grape vines at all. Church people always default to wine.) we settled on a final design (which included hop vines, barley and a chalice) and I placed the order.  The result can be seen in the pictures below.

Because of its unusual theme I would not use this stole for routine Sunday worship. But  I do look forward to breaking it in at my next beer wedding, if not before.Detail of the hops and chalicea single hop on the back o the neck