Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

A year ago I wrote an April Fool’s column.

It was funny, and made a few people laugh. I got to thinking about writing another this year, until I realized things which used to be April Fool’s jokes have become everyday life.

 Maybe it would be better to be serious.

Some people think it is unusual for me to be serious about brewing craft beer. When I show them my column they have quite a few questions about it. Some of them are confused, or concerned, because they do not think it fits with the serious spiritual work I do. There are people who are not sure I am serious about craft beer at all. Other people are not serious about brewing or beer, and think writing about it is a waste of my time.

 Cultural Significance of Beer

Beer has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Born and raised in the state of Wisconsin, beer was always there. The state was home to many local breweries, though the beer they produced had similar qualities. Almost everything was based on German pilsner.

I have learned that German immigrants brought their brewing experience and skills with them to Wisconsin, and other states. They were free to experiment with innovative ingredients, and corn was more plentiful than wheat or barley. They created the American pilsner which has become the standard for large, industrial breweries.

There was an attraction and romance to beer because it was, if not completely forbidden, at least tightly controlled. Beer and brewing were a strong commercial presence everywhere I looked, though some people viewed them as disreputable.

I remember when, before I was a teenager, an adult at church saw one of my friends wearing a t-shirt advertising a beer company. This adult told my friend that it was not possible to be a “good Christian witness” while wearing a beer company T-shirt.

Growing up and leaving home, I went to school in Wisconsin, so beer remained present.  While I had never been a big beer drinker, I came to the realization I did not really like the beer with which I was familiar. I did not stop drinking beer completely, but I was definitely not passionate about it.

A visit to England opened my eyes. I knew there were different kinds of beer in Britain, and wanted to try some of the exotic sounding options. I ordered my first “bitter” and woke up to the possibilities of beer unlike the American pilsners of Wisconsin.

 Spiritual Aspects of Beer

I work and write about spirituality and spiritual practices. My blog is on the Spirituality channel at patheos.com. People bring their questions about spirituality and leadership to me, and we work together to find solutions.

My own spirituality has been shaped by my relationships to people in monastic communities. Monks have taught me a great deal about spirituality and about leading organizations. I have also learned a good deal from monks about beer and brewing.

There are reasons beer many believe is some of the best in the world is brewed by monasteries. There are long historic associations between brewing and monks, so they have had plenty of time to discover new insights and develop innovative approaches.

Beer also has a great deal to do with monastic hospitality. In addition, brewing is a contemplative way of working.

Monks practice paying attention, being aware. The process of brewing is not complicated. Brewers combine ingredients with creativity and patience, paying attention to what happens. It includes periods of waiting to see.

The Belgian Trappist monasteries which produce some of the best beer in the world limit the time and effort they put into brewing. Their brewing work must fit into the rhythm of their days, which include reflection, prayer, and rest. They do not exert themselves to make as much beer as they could, do not strain against monastic time. While they could generate greater profits, the balance of their days is a higher priority for them.

Brewing beer has spiritual lessons to teach us.

Craft Beer Community

The community which exists around craft brewing and craft beer draws me.

While not every visit or each conversation is the greatest I have ever had, I cannot remember having an unpleasant experience in a craft beer tasting room. Though I enjoy some beers more than others, each time I have tried a new brew or a new brewery I have learned something.

Craft breweries are places I can bring friends together and talk honestly. Tasting rooms are opportunities to spend time with friends of longstanding and make new ones.

People ask me questions when we visit craft breweries, and not all of them are about beer. They seem to be places where people can relax, reflect, and take deep breaths. A tasting room in a good brewery is like a comfortable rocking chair or watching a fire in a fireplace. People may laugh or cry, ask insightful questions, take a new look at what is important to them.

April is an excellent month for a serious visit to a new tasting room.

Greg Richardson is a leadership and organizational coach, and a spiritual life mentor, in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg is a recovering attorney, executive, and university professor. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at StrategicMonk@gmail.com

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