“In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe and the Cross can all fit together.” – GK Chesterton From ancient Mesopotamia through to our current Trinity Western University students, there have been few things as consistent as our culture’s enjoyment of beer. From Trappist monks in monasteries to hipsters in dive bars, beer has always been and arguably will always be a staple of our society.
Little is known about how the ancient Mesopotamians enjoyed beer. From what we do know about ancient Mesopotamian culture it is likely that beer was part of one of their debaucherous pagan festivals. From Biblical times we know that while drunkenness was condemned, wine was certainly a part of Jewish culture and Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine. In medieval times it was commonplace for monks to brew beer in order to provide hospitality for weary travellers as well as to drink themselves.
It was during the industrial revolution that the beer culture in North America really began to take off. Breweries began to operate more like factories and lager beers were produced cheaply, efficiently, and in larger quantities than ever before making the lager the “working man’s beer” and also making it a cheap way for people to get drunk. Incidentally, this is around the time the modern Christian rejection of beer culture became more commonplace. As alcoholism began to rise in North America, different strategies like the prohibition emerged and the issue became more and more polemic and polarised.
Thankfully, this generation has begun to reverse this polarising trend with the emergence of Craft Brewing. Much like the indie music movement, beginning in the early 90s craft breweries began to emerge as an alternative to large-scale corporate beers brewed for mass consumption. Breweries began to emerge that cared about brewing as a beautiful art rather than as a commodity by which to maximize profits. These new beers brewed to be enjoyed, savoured, and critiqued like fine wines, not pounded back like an addiction.
This movement is one that ought not to be avoided by the Christian seeking to engage with and transform culture. There is a conversation beginning on either side of these two polarised sides. Trinity Western University began allowing their students to consume alcohol in 2009; the very next year Yellowhead Brewery in Edmonton asked a priest to come and bless the brewery like they would have in the past. As Christians, we ought to be involved in these conversations and seek to redeem beer culture for Christ wherever we can. And what better way to enjoy the conversation than, as C.S. Lewis said, “Over beer, tea and pipes.” Cheers.