Content Warning: Alcohol (obviously).
By Cole Hartin
As we move out of the season of Lent, away from our sober fasting, and into the celebratory season of Easter, many of us will be emerging from penitence to take joy in the delights that we have, for a time, set aside. Meat, chocolate, coffee, and alcohol seem to disappear from many a diet during the 40 days of fasting. On Resurrection Sunday, however, they are enjoyed with a vengeance.
In light of this, I thought there would be no better time than to offer a few priestly principles for enjoying the queen of beverages, beer. Below you will find sage wisdom mixed with some idiosyncratic insights, so take each with a grain of salt (which, as it happens, should never be added to beer).
- God created beer for us to enjoy, not to abuse.
Wine remains the empress of beverages if only because our Lord has endued it with a special nobility in creating it in likeness to blood, and then elevating it in his own ministry to be the eucharistic host. But this is the vocation of wine; it is serious stuff, and even the enjoyment of it calls for studied attention.
It’s true that the psalmist tells us that God has given “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15a, KJV) but this is only because he was never acquainted with beer. Beer has a much lower calling than that of wine, but it is a worthy one still.
Henry David Thoreau has suggested that water is the only drink for a wise man, and King Lemuel’s mother does advise kings to stay away from strong drink (Prov. 31:4). They both make fair points. Beer is a brawler (Prov. 20:1) when taken in too great a quantity. And despite his theological genius, Luther was wrong to advise Jerome Weller to drink a “generous quantity” when scrupulosity got the better of him. There is a danger to drinking beer.
But that is not all there is to say. Just as a little wine is good for the stomach (1 Tim. 5:23), so beer, in moderation, is good for the gut and the heavy heart (Prov. 31:6). For, at the end of the day, beer is a little blessing, but it is a little blessing that should be enjoyed in moderation. For most Christians, to enjoy a little beer is almost a duty. But for some, especially those who are prone to drunkenness or have struggled with alcoholism in the past, it is only prudent to abstain. Beer warms the heart the way fire warms the limbs; but to imbibe when one has a history of alcoholism is akin to tending a fire when one is soaked in gasoline.
And this is to say nothing of those who have lost interest in beer altogether and are only interested in one of its components, alcohol. To drink beer only to achieve a state of inebriation is not to enjoy it, but to use it as a means to a forbidden end. God is not mocked; drunkards will not inherit his kingdom (1 Cor. 6:10).
Therefore, let those who have not ears to hear turn their attention elsewhere. The rest of this essay is aimed for those who can drink in good conscience.
- Unless accompanying a meal, beer should never be taken before prayer.
Beer is not a breakfast drink. Nor should it be had at lunch often, though the odd lager or porter may make a good companion to a noontime grilled cheese or reheated stew.
Beer is best suited to the evening meal, which, other than Fridays and during Lent, ought to include meat (or a vegetarian equivalent to meat). Something hearty, in other words. Concerning this I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my judgment. With or without flesh, beer belongs with supper, if a drink other than water be wanted.
Otherwise, it is most fitting to enjoy beer after Evening Prayer, when the sun has set or is going down, when the children are snug in their beds, when fire is needed not only for warmth but light. Because of its soporific effect, if beer is drunk too early, it pushes off prayer and clouds the spirit. But after the Evening Office, when one is winding down on a winter’s night, a barley wine is just the thing. Nothing beats a crisp pilsner on the first mild night of spring.
- Beer must always be drunk from a fitting vessel.
If one does not have a glass, it is better not to drink beer at all.
To fully enjoy beer, it is necessary not only to taste the frothy brew, but to enjoy the color and aroma as well. This is next to impossible with a bottle and not worth trying with a can.
Take a breath, open the bottle, and pour, slowly, the malty nectar into a clear glass.
Any glass will do, really; I have been known to drink beer from a Mason jar. But better glasses can be had.
Setting aside the times for novelty glasses, at the very least one should have three in stock: a stemmed chalice, an English pub glass, and pint glass. Trappist ales must be drunk from a chalice, pints of lager and pilsner from a tallish pint glass, and porters and stouts from an English pub glass. One can build one’s collection from here.
Now there are exceptions to this principle. For instance, cans are tolerable when helping a friend move and bottles are suited to camp fires on the beach.
- God works all beers together for good.
Each style of beer is worthy of appreciation. In the interest of time, I will list a few of my favorites, but this is all subjective. My tastes tend toward darker, malt-forward beers, but not everyone is as virtuous as me.
Stouts should be as dark as the night, with head as dense as the foam on a good cappuccino. Stouts shine in colder weather but can be drunk all year round. A good stout should drink like liquid velvet, with a dense and creamy mouthfeel. It should have deep roast notes and be reminiscent of dark coffee, cocoa, and vanilla.
In the summer, there is nothing quite like an IPA, or even a double IPA. To me the ideal has to be crisp, fresh, have some tropical notes, and finish with a bracing (but not overpowering) hoppyness.
Brown ales call to me in the autumn. Some have a similar flavor palette to stouts, others have lighter-tasting notes and body, preferably with a touch of sweetness. Think nuts, caramel, brown bread. Light should be able to just pass through a good brown ale.
- Beer is not precious, and should not be treated so
Beer is not champagne. It’s not even wine. It’s beer. True, there are fancy beers, and these can be fun excursions, but beer is like bread. It’s meant to be a staple, an everyday delight. It should be enjoyed, savored, but should never be the object of one’s deep contemplation.
This means that for all of the good craft beer has brought, one should not turn up one’s nose when presented with a can of PBR or a bottle of Budweiser. It may not be a memorable brew, but it is delicious, nonetheless. Cheap beer is sui generis, a thing of itself. Church coffee, with its copper-penny taste leeched from the percolator, is not real coffee, but nothing else should be served in church fellowship halls. Something similar should be said about cheap beer. It’s not real beer but serves to wet the gullet on occasion.
Let each beer be enjoyed in its proper place.
- Beer must always be paired with another good thing
If you want to drink alone, find yourself a nice dram of scotch. It will have the complexity that a thinking woman or man is looking for.
But beer is meant not to be the object of contemplation, the star of the show. It is an accompaniment. A red ale will elevate any old cheddar, and a crisp lager will enhance the mundanity of chips (potato or corn). Stouts seem to lend themselves to serious conversation, the accompaniment, in this case, being a friend. A winter warmer pairs well with a good or even a bad film (action, romcom, anything but horror). You may have your own favorite pairings.
Drink in company, or accompany your drink, that is the point to remember.
While I could go on to offer more guidance about beer (I’ve said nothing about how to choose a pub, for example), I’ll let this list of six (the number of humanity — for beer is a very human drink) suffice. Now a disclaimer: I am not a brewer. Nor is my knowledge of beer encyclopedic, but I follow my tastes (as you should yours), and I hope this might lead you to some edification and deliciousness as well.