Holy tongue in cheek?

213px Beerbottle stbernardus tripelI have a confession to make. Until a few years ago, I didn't know a Chimay from a Pale Ale. But though I'm much more of a beer dilettante than a regular consumer, I was still amused by an Associated Press writer's wry take on the 27th Great American Beer Festival. I hope you are, too.

This is a very artful piece of writing, and it's hard not to chuckle throughout. At the same time, the writer's wonderfully bent perspective may obscure another significant reality -- that the guys marketing their brew are more likely to be playing off belief than buying into it.

The lede makes that clear (interesting the way the writer moves from Genesis to Judgement with the flick of a keyboard):

In the beginning, there was a long line for Judgment Day ale.

Shortly after the doors opened on the 27th Great American Beer Festival, a crowd congregated at the booth offering that and other pours from The Lost Abbey of San Marcos, Calif., where the tap handle is a Celtic cross and the legacy of beer-brewing monks endures.

Standing under a banner promising "Inspired beers for Saints and Sinners Alike," proprietor and former altar boy Tomme Arthur had a confession: He's using God to sell some beer.

"It's the oldest story ever told -- the struggle between good and evil,"said Arthur, 35, a product of Catholic schools in his native San Diego. "There is a battle being waged between those who make good beer and those who make evil beer.''

Not to sound hopelessly medieval, but here is a caveat.

True beer lovers know that beer-brewing monks aren't just a legacy, a sentimental memory. As John W. Miller noted in an article last year in the Wall Street Journal, monks still make some of the finest brew on the planet.

Monastery breweries can be very big business.

As the article continues, the writer gently tugs at our leg - all the while reminding us that if there is any piety here, it is of the Chaucerian kind.

Yet perhaps surprisingly, God could be found at last week's Great American Beer Festival -- in the crassly commercial, in homage to religion's long history in brewing, in needling faiths that turn a suspect eye on drinking, and (if the prophet of home-brewing is to be believed) at the bottom of every glass.

While alcohol and religion don't always mix, no less a figure than Benjamin Franklin once said: "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

I'm not going to ruin the article by quoting too much of it. Note the quasi-religious way that brewer Brock Wagner speaks about St. Arnold Brewing Co. And catch Jeremy Cowan, whom the writer describes as "the marketing mind behind He'Brew (the chosen beer)."

"I am passionately Jewish,'' Cowan said. ''I don't get as caught up in the legal minutiae. I'm more fascinated in the project of Judaism as a civilization. This is the way I participate."

This sentiment illustrates, in a nutshell, one of the article's themes -- that many of the brewers have an attitude towards faith that is unorthodox, to say the least.

Parenthetically, you might want to check out the website for the Lost Abbey to see how brewer Tomme Arthur and his crew take a playful but syncretistic approach to faith.

Some readers may have found the implications (using God to sell beer) of this article offensive.

It is certainly thought-provoking, bringing a light touch to a serious idea -- the ancient tension between faith and commerce.

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