Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson
I was born and raised in a home state where
beer is an essential part of the culture.
to at least one of the major industrial brewing companies and a
large number of local breweries, beer is part of life in Wisconsin.
I remember, when I lived there, the state traditionally had the
highest per capita consumption of both beer and brandy in the United
It can be a challenge to explain to people
who are not from Wisconsin how the culture shapes us. Beer is its
own category, somewhere between soft drinks and alcohol.
The student union at the University of
Wisconsin, of which I am a proud graduate, boasts a room with a
mural depicting the battle between beer and wine.
My appreciation for beer and passion for
craft brewing were shaped by growing up in a beer culture.
Another significant influence on my
understanding of beer and spiritual life was being raised in a
church with a conservative theology.
My church pushed against the tide of beer. I
can remember people telling me, more than once, it was impossible to
be a “good Christian witness” while wearing a T-shirt with a brewery
label on it.
I recently talked about this cultural
tension with Jan Lynn, a friend of mine, over a few beers. Jan, who
helps churches learn to communicate more effectively, was raised in
a church similar to mine. Her experience, though, was not in
Wisconsin and not in a state with a strong beer culture.
In the church in Jan’s background, like
mine, spiritual people did not drink alcohol at all. Many people
considered drinking a sin, or at least a temptation for others.
She grew up with the perception beer had a
reputation as “common,” which meant people only drank it to get
drunk. Her concept of wine, however, was it was higher class and a
little more justifiable. After all, wine is referenced quite a few
times in the Bible and Jesus miraculously transformed water into
Jan’s understanding of beer and its
spiritual life began to shift in the 1990s. Beer became more of an
artisanal beverage with careful crafting which harkens back to its
Jan tells me she honestly had never thought
about the spiritual life of beer before we started talking about
beer and monasteries a few years ago.
I met Jan through one of the Craft Brewery
Pilgrimages I did a few years ago. We get together every so often to
talk about the similarities, and differences, between beer and wine.
Not every conversation we have is a
reenactment of the battle between beer and wine.
Jan’s appreciation for beer and its
spiritual side, particularly in building community, has grown. She
would probably still say, if pressed, wine is more spiritual than
beer, which has a more earthy spirituality. Cocktails are probably
still sinful, though.
While my tastes differ from Jan’s, I
appreciate what she has to say about beer’s earthy spirituality and
how it strengthens community.
It can be easy for us to take beer, and its
spiritual side, for granted. One great place to go for some
introductory background is an hour-long documentary from the
Discovery Channel about How Beer Saved the World which is available
on YouTube and Vimeo. Another good introduction
is The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey and Mike
I have come to see the spiritual life of
beer more deeply as I continue to explore.
Thank you for joining me on my journey of
Greg Richardson is a spiritual leadership
coach and 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,
and he writes a blog for the Contemplative channel