The Biblical Brew Off is Back!

Team Moses and Team Jesus are back and facing off once again to see which congregation’s beer reigns supreme.  But this year they also have to reckon with the women of the newly formed Team Eve. As before, each entry will be blindly evaluated by qualified judges according to BJCP standards. The team with the highest average score will be declared the winner.  There will also be a people’s choice- each person in attendance will get to vote for their one favorite beer.

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But this is not just about bragging rights.  Each team will be competing for a charity.  Representing my parish of St. Tim’s, Team Jesus will be competing for North Light Community Center.  Team Moses from Rodeph Shalom will be competing for HAIS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). And Team Eve, made up of women from both congregations, will be competing for the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network.  The purse will be split with 50% going to the winner’s charity and 30% to second place and the remaining 20% to third.  That way none of these worthy causes will walk away empty handed.

It all takes place this coming Saturday, May 7th at Rodeph Shalom (615 North Broad Street).  Doors open at 7 pm.  Advance tickets are only $25 and can be purchased here. That gets you unlimited samples of the different beers, BBQ from Deke’s and a commemorative pint glass. We’ll also have custom growlers, t-shirts for each team and amazing baskets filled with beer and other goodies to bid on in a silent auction.


The only way to win this basket filled with rare beers from Vermont is to come to the Brew Off!

We hope you will join us for what is sure to be memorable evening of friendly competition, food, fellowship and of course beer.  Best of all, every penny we net goes to benefit those who are homeless, hungry and who have had to flee from war and persecution.

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Thanks to Brian Biggs (who draws the logos) and Home Sweet Homebrew for all their support!

“Exclusively Normative Activity”

Several years ago I was with a colleague at a party and asked if I could get him 0515ee2ca88543194691633a4c155ac8a8de29-wmanything from the bar.  He declined, stating that he didn’t drink.  I asked him, “Why?”  He paused for a moment then said, “Because I don’t like myself when I do.”

“Because I don’t like myself when I do.”  What an honest answer to a rather direct and inappropriately personal question.  To this day I’m not exactly sure why I asked it.  It could have easily been construed as a dick move.  Fortunately my friend was able to set this aside and still give a forthright answer.

This past summer, while attending the General Convention of the Episcopal Church his words came back to me.  After Thomas Palermo was tragically killed by a car driven by a very drunk Episcopal bishop, we spent a lot of time examining the relationship between alcohol and the Church. The special task force that was assembled put forth several resolutions, some of which went a bit too far in limiting what are often very positive and creative connections between the two.  But out of all the heartfelt and painful stories, all the expressions of grief, guilt and outrage, one phrase leapt out at me, namely that a big part of the problem was that drinking is an “exclusively normative activity.”

Exclusively normative activity?  What in the heck did that mean?  At first all I heard was jargon that I really didn’t understand.  That changed few nights later when most of the clergy attended their seminary alumni dinners.

The next day as I listened to various folks recount their evening what really caught my attention was not the fact that there was a lot of booze.  After all these are alumni gatherings and as such are not just celebratory reunions… they are also fundraisers.  Alcohol was an indispensable part of the asking equation.

Instead what caught my attention was how hard it was to find a non-alcoholic alternative.  One person said they had to get up and ask for a glass of water since there was only wine on each table in addition to the open bar.  At my gathering there were soft drinks at the bar and pitchers of water on the table, but even so, it was pretty clear that you were supposed to drink booze.

Then it hit me. Drinking on such occasions is not only accepted, it is expected.  And therein lies the problem.  If you choose not to drink, well then there must be something wrong with you.  You are marginalized and made to feel like an outsider.  In other words, drinking is exclusively normative.

In that moment I finally understood why I had so brashly asked my friend about tee-totaling.  It was a party but he wasn’t drinking.  And so, rather than just accepting his answer as totally valid, I made the operative assumption that there must be something wrong with him.

The problem is that I am hardly alone in my unconscious attitude.  If the Church is ever going to be the sanctuary it is supposed to be, we have to systematically become aware of, challenge, and dismantle the assumption that drinking is the only normal choice.  We have to get past the point where when we see someone who isn’t drinking we automatically wonder why they aren’t.

Recognizing and redressing this problem doesn’t mean we must therefore demonize booze.  But especially in the Church, we have to do better.  The Episcopal Church is founded on the principle of “Via Media.”  We must continue our commitment.  We must find a way to create some middle ground where everyone can feel comfortable and  regardless of whether you are imbibing or abstaining, no one stops to wonder what is wrong with you.

I Rise to Offer an Amendment

“I rise to offer an amendment to resolution A158.”  Thus I began my plea to ensure that Amendment 2the Episcopal Church did not effectively ban Theology on Tap, Pub Theology, The Biblical Brew Off and other beer-centric programs that are so near and dear to my heart.

Let me explain how I found myself standing on a podium defending beer-based ministry in front of 1000 people. It started back in late December when now former Bishop Heather Cook struck and killed a bicyclist while drunk.  You can read more about the details and my thoughts here.

The result was a great deal of internal discussion. While there were many questions about complicity and failure in her election process, the more important issue centered around about the role that alcohol play in our common life as Episcopalians.

With General Convention on the horizon there was a bit of hyperbole and handwringing with some even calling for Convention to be alcohol free.  But in time the online fervor started to die down.  However a special legislative Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse was formed to ensure continued engagement.

This Committee produced two primary pieces of legislation.  The first had to do with acknowledging and repenting of our complicity in creating a culture that enables substance abuse and can be hostile to those in recovery.  The second focused on establishing policies and procedures meant to ensure that our parishes are safe and welcoming places for all people including those who are in recovery.  This was a very thorough piece of legislation that covered a whole range of circumstances.

The trouble was that it singled out “Theology on Tap” by name as a program that could not use reference to alcohol, bars, etc., in promotional material or advertising.  (Disclaimer: TOT is copyrighted and owned by the Roman Catholic Church.)  While this requirement would bring our related programs in line with other church activities, it would also effectively kill them.

This was the crux of my argument to strike “TOT” from the resolution.  Unlike a “wine and cheese party” which could easily be re-titled as a “garden party” or the like, there is no way to remove the association with alcohol from such beer/bar based programs. If the legislation remained unchanged it would have halted one of the most creative and effective means we have for reaching out to those who might otherwise feel alienated from the Church.


Thankfully the amendment passed overwhelmingly, in part thanks to the support of many people from the Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse in moving the amendment.  To ensure their support we added additional langue to the amendment in order to ensure that any such gathering have fellowship, conversation and evangelism as their primary purpose, as opposed to simply being drinking clubs.

I will share more about this collaboration and what I learned  in a coming installment.

We got to get back to the garden (beer garden that is)

Last weekend my wife and I were trying to find a suitable location for the after party that will follow my brother’s wedding reception.  Since many of the guests will be from out of town, or even out of the country, we wanted to find somewhere that really represented our fair city.  We thought about the usual iconic restaurants, bars and hotels but then she was struck by a flash of inspiration.  And so after dinner that night we headed down to the new Independence Beer Garden.


downloadWhen we arrived at Sixth and Chestnut Streets (directly across from the Liberty Bell) you could see even from a distance that the place was packed.  The main hall was simply too noisy so we walked around the outskirts to try to find some open space to sit and enjoy our beer.  Finding nowhere where there were just two empty seats I spotted a grouping of six Adirondack style chairs occupied by only four people.  I asked if the two empty seats were taken and were told they weren’t.


For our first round (I had Yards IPA on nitro and she had Ommegang Wit) we spoke only with each other, discussing the merits of the venue.  But as our beers were running dry one of the young women seated in the group complimented my t-shirt which read “Fizzy Yellow Beer if for Wussies”.  With the ice broken we turned our chairs into their group and began to talk.  Turns out  all four were originally from Ukraine.  Two now live in Philly and two were down visiting from Brooklyn.  Soon they were pouring some of their pitcher (Yards Love Stout) into our empty glasses.  We reciprocated by buying the next round.


Beer brings people together.  I have written before about beer’s capacity as social lubricant and about the potential that the bar has to make friends out of strangers.  This holds true even here in the United States where we tend to prefer reserved tables or sitting with as much space as possible between ourselves and the people on either side of us at the bar.


Yet in Europe and many other places around the world the social potential of beer reaches its apex in beer gardens and beer halls.  They are of course largely the same as the average American bar.  People still go there to drink, to let off steam, to talk politics and sports and to make friends.  The major difference is in the seating.  Beer gardens and halls tend to feature long tables, often seating a dozen or more.  As such our concept of personal space goes out the window.


Think about it, a group of three or four people couldn’t possibly hope to keep such a table all to themselves. As the place fills up, people inevitably come and fill in the extra space.  The sense of isolation that some Americans value so highly is simply impossible in such a gregarious setting.  Moreover, the beer garden is not simply a place to dash into for a quick round.  It invite you to sit and stay, often for a long time.  It’s allure is furthered by music and games, be it ping pong, shuffle board, bocce or even giant Jenga.


Another important difference from the traditional American bar is that the beer garden isPicture 632 usually a family friendly environment.  In my travels to Germany in particular, this was a place for everyone to gather, to eat, talk, play and of course drink.  It is not considered at all incongruous to have children playing just because the men (and some of the women too) are hoisting liter mugs of beer. (FYI, my daughter is only holding that mug for the photo op)


philly-fergies-beergarden-lg_636_400_85_s_c1Thankfully, this time honored tradition of drinking and community is finally catching on here, particularly in Philadelphia.  Several years ago Frankford Hall helped to get the trend of an outdoor beer garden going.  But this summer, spurred by a newly exploited loop hole in the law, a number of “pop up” beer gardens have appeared all over the city.  Some are in very public places like the Parkway in front of the Art Museum.  Others, like Fergie’s “Beach,” (above) are in open lots next to established bars.  But I am not here to opine on the legalities but I hope they are here to stay.  Because I enjoyed meeting my new friends from Ukraine and it might never have happened without the blessing of the Beer Garden.

Paolo and His Magical Bag of Tricks or Our Trip to Baladin part 3

The kids stared at their empty soda bottles and just put their heads down.  My wife’s expression showed that waiting was getting old.  I tried to keep the optimistic grin pasted on my face and silently prayed to God and that Melane’s boyfriend would show up. Baladin (59)

My white knight rode into the piazza on a scooter.  Brandishing aviators and bedecked in a Felix the Cat t-shirt Paolo came forward to meet us.  Like Melane he spoke excellent English.  He was warm and friendly as we told him our story and offered him the tokens of homebrew and t-shirts from the parish beer club.  But nothing could have prepared us for how gracious and generous he turned out to be.

After talking for a while he told us he was going to take us on a tour.  We got in the car and followed him on a 10 minute drive out of town to the industrial brewery.  He buzzed us through the gates and into the empty parking lot.

Baladin (19)Once inside we had to don the obligatory hairnets and booties.  This finally gave my children something to do.  Now I have been on many a brewery tour and I know when they are being given by rote.   You know the spiel, “Here’s the fermenter… over there’s the mash tun… there’s the bottling line… yada, yada, yada.”

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In contrast, Paolo took over an hour to highlight, not just the basics for the benefit of my family but also to explain in detail what steps Baladin was taking that were unique or innovative.  There were also many samples drawn directly from the tanks.  Yum! Of note was the beer, NationAle, which represented Teo’s dream of the first beer to be made from all Italian ingredients.

Baladin (40)From there we headed back into town for a visit to Cantina Baladin.  Like Dogfish Head’s brewpub in Rehoboth, Cantina Baladin was where Teo started it all.  It was both his brewery and his bar until his growing fame allowed him to expand.  Yet although it is no longer really open to the public, it is still an active site for brewing and for Teo’s artistic expression.                                                              The kitchen (seen below) has been decorated to look just like the kitchen from his childhood including paintings of his family.


Baladin (46)But the real magic here was in their casks.  There was an extraordinary array of beer in wine casks.  The same beer was being aged in 40 different white and 40 different red barrels, each wine carefully chosen from all across Italy.  I was tempted to book a room in Casa Baladin (their boutique hotel) next door so that we could stay and sample them all.  But the hour was growing late and Paolo had already been more than generous with his time.

After a quick tour of Casa Baladin (each room is completely different), we headed back to the piazza and to the table where we first met our savior more than three hours before.  After a quick picture and a warm goodbye he headed back to his scooter and we to our car.  Although we would take the highway back we still had a long trip ahead.

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The next year I had to good fortune to see Paolo again.  This time I only had to travel 20minutes to see him during Philly Beer Week at the newly opened Alla Spina.  He remembered me and even complimented up on the beer we gave him.

At a time where everyone is rushed and so few the virtue of hospitality, Paolo, Melane and the crew at Baladin really bucked the trend.  They could have easily dismissed us as tourists who they would never have to see again and sent us on our way.  But they didn’t.  Instead they bent over backwards, going so far as to come into work on their day off and treated us like royalty, not for any gain, but simply because they wanted to make sure a family of strangers was treated well.

And so in the end  I am actually grateful that Google Maps sucks.  If it had told us that it would have taken five hours to get there we probably never would have gone.  And so while I will never put my whole trust in their estimations ever again, I am grateful that on that one Sunday in July they managed to lead me to Baladin.

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Teo? He just left!…. or Our Trip to Baladin part 2

I write this the day after a doozy of aDSC_0054 snowstorm.  At present it is a balmy 7 degrees outside with a wind chill of minus 14.  After several hours digging out cars, etc, I found myself thinking fondly of the featureless agricultural plains of Piedmont.

That is no small statement because after about an hour of travel, my already frustrated family was getting near the end of their collective patience.  My son’s DS was dead and he had no car charger.  My daughter was tuned out with her iPod.  My wife was staring straight ahead and trying very hard not to look at me. After one or two missed turns the sign for Piozzo mercifully came into view.  The five minutes or so that it took us to rumble down the side road seemed to go on forever.  Eventually we pulled into the piazza at the center of town and there on our left was Baladin.

Baladin (3)The awning stretched out over a dozen tables which were largely filled with folks enjoying the a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I was so overjoyed and relieved that we had actually reached our destination that I almost sprinted out of the car having to catch myself in order to allow my family time to creakily emerge from the car and stretch.

They settled around a table while I went inside to get us all drinks and to see if the owner and brewmaster, Teo Musso was around.  As I mentioned before I had been carefully planning this beer pilgrimage for months and so had tried to leave little to chance.  I had emailed Baladin weeks before to let them know I was coming with the hopes of arranging a tour or even, a chance to meet Teo himself.  Moreover, I had not come empty handed.  I brought with me some t-shirts from our church beer club and a bottle of our homebrew that I had carefully carried and protected for three weeks and through four countries. Baladin (9)

Upon entering the bar I was greeted by Melane.  After returning her greeting I asked if she spoke English.  Her reply was priceless, “Yes” she said patiently, “I speak English, and French and German and a leeetle bit of Italian.” Her smile was just as charming as I explained that we had come from the US and had driven from Cannes that day with the hopes of a tour and the chance to meet Teo.

“Oh.” she replied, “Teo?  He just left.”

I was utterly crestfallen.  It now appeared that we had spend the better part of a precious vacation day driving so we could order a couple of beers and a sandwich.  Melane must have read the disappointment on my face because she quickly said, “Let me see what I can do.  My boyfriend is Teo’s assistant.  Maybe he can come in.” Baladin (12)

We chatted a bit more and I ordered a Nelson for my wife and a Nina for myself.  The children got some of their house made lemon sodas.  Although the drinks were all quite tasty- the children insisted that we try their sodas- it did little to cushion the blow when I shared the news that Teo had gone.

While we waited we chatted with our waiter and I ordered a different beer this time opting for a Wayan.  As I sipped it I wondered if this trip would go down in family lore as the great beer fiasco.

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To be concluded next week….

Turkey, Pumpkin Pie and Growlers?


We love to cook.  Carefully choosing the recipes, going shopping for the right ingredients, prepping, rubbing, marinating, setting the table.  It all comes together when we sit down around the table.  Of course Thanksgiving (especially for 14) requires even more than our usual amount of organization and effort.  But not to worry, we’ve got it in hand.  From the organic turkey that I just started brining to the pies my wife started putting together last night, we have it down to a science.

1298392524-beer_vs_wineBut then it comes time to plan the beverages.  I know that many people prefer wine.  It still has a stranglehold on fancy meals the way beer has a lock on the ballpark.  But I want beer and I want it to truly compliment the meal that we have worked so hard to create.  In fact, I want it to pair so well that it might seduce a few of those wine drinkers away from their Zinfandels and Rieslings.

The problem is there are not obvious pairings for the traditional array of turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.  If you’re having pork or sausage then a good German Helles or Dopplebock turkey1is the way to go.  Brown Ale or Porter with your burger.  A biting IPA or even a Imperial Russian Stout to go with that rich and spicy chili.  But turkey, green beans and sweet potato casserole?  That’s not so obvious.

The best source of advice on pairing food and beer can be had from Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and author of the monumental work, The Brewmaster’s Table.  He recommends Bierre De Garde (which like Saisons tend to vary wildly within the limits of the style).  Having tried it myself on several occasions I can agree with himi that it’s a good choice.

growlerPersonally, I am hoping for a growler of Burton (English Style) IPA from the new Barren Hill Brewery to pair with my turkey.  Balanced and understated in terms of hops it should go nicely with the earthy flavors of the meal while biting through the fat of all the butter and gravy.

What about you?  What beer best complimented your Thanksgiving?  Please let us know.  In the meantime, let me wish you and yours a blessed and safe Thanksgiving.