Southern × Craft × Culture

Journal

Monks Philosophy

The Spirituality of Beer

Written by Bill Fowler

You might think that being part owner of a beer and wine store is fun.

You’d be right.

You might think that guys and girls that work at craft beer stores sit around and sip beer all day.

You’d be sort of right.

You might also think that craft beer, due to it’s higher alcohol content, is a slippery path to intoxication, alcoholism and therefore a danger to people that enjoy it, their families, and even the very fabric of our society.

You’d be mostly wrong.

Beer contains alcohol. Alcohol, like most things in life (donuts, microwave popcorn, airplane glue, hang gliding), when experienced in excess by people who were brought up without a proper sense of decorum or common sense, is certainly dangerous, but there’s a cultural component here as well.

Here in The South we have a tendency to judge things in binary form. You’re either Alabama or Auburn, Coke or Pepsi, white potato salad or yellow… teetotaler or sloppy drunk. We’re a region of extremes that leaves little room for neutrality and moderation.

I think it’s time we found some balance in our perceptions, especially when it comes to beer. Beer deserves our attention and not as an intoxicant, but as a product of craftsmen/craftswomen who take pride in what they do. And taking the liberty of speaking on behalf of these people, they’re frankly a little tired of being labeled alongside the likes of Bud Lime and Colt 45.

Why? Because beer is important. Beer is the most ancient of beverages. Beer does’t require multiple steps or an advanced chemistry degree to create. Simply mix up some water and grains in an open container and sit it in the sun for a week or so and soon, the natural yeasts that float around in the air will munch on the sugar in the grains, producing alcohol.

The resulting product will no doubt be something pretty nasty, but technically, you’ll have a very rudimentary form of beer.

Experts say that Egyptians were the first to perfect this process many thousands of years ago – and it’s kept us entertained ever since. So, there’s a certain unearthly mystery in this process of water and grains becoming something else.

A heavenly transformation that our ancestors thought was magical; a sign that God (or the interpretation of God) had a role in the process. That may seem like a big jump from fermented goop to God, but our forebears didn’t think so.

Fast forward to Europe somewhere around the late 400s AD. Suddenly the creation of beer is much less mysterious and has now become an established part of life – even vital to survival. Water supplies were ever dubious. Bad water meant disease, which meant death.

Beer, specifically that made by the local Christian seats of power and influence (abbeys) were literally the stuff that kept the people healthy and nourished, both spiritually and physically.

This tradition of beer as spiritual nourishment is still alive and well in the 21st Century.

Even the most obnoxious beer nerds will agree, some of the best beers in the world are produced by real working monasteries with names like Orval, Westvleteren, Westmalle and Chimay. The men that create this beer are true Craftsmen. They brew, eat, sleep and pray. That’s it.

How can you not have an amazing respect for the dedication these guys have to their craft?

So, yes, beer is awesome and we typically enjoy it most when we’re around people we like, being happy and having fun. And yes, owning a store that sells it can be a lot of fun too, but there really is a higher aim to all of this.

The beer we stock and sell is serious business and important to the people that make it. An as you can tell, even a spiritual calling for some.

Within this environment, quality matters more than anything. Also, there’s an utmost respect of the power of beer, both physically and metaphysically. Fun and happy can really only take place once the quality and dedication are established by the craftsman. It’s a very spiritual, almost theological idea.

The next time you’re in, ask about the Trappist Beers. Take a few home. We stock several and they’re worth your interest if you’ve never had them.

You can definitely taste the effort these men put into their craft.  The important, spiritual craft of beer-making.

 

 



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