I am a twenty-year-old male university student, and I like beer. Surprised? There was once a time in my life where I swore off worldly pleasures like alcohol, but recently my moral framework was changed to a point where I believe it is right and true for Christians to drink beer. To paraphrase Hans Rookmaaker: beer needs no justification.
A friend of mine gave me a copy of a worksheet called “Ministry Cooldown Suggestions.” It highlighted prayer, Scripture, close community, solitude and sleep as effective methods of stress relief after Christian ministry. To the bottom of the list, she and I decided to add, in large letters, “BEER”. My friends and I find that beer drinking is an essential part of our Christian walk and part of our weak attempts at obedient aesthetic life.
I should note some conditions on my opinion of drinking before explaining what my close Christian community finds delightful and comforting in a pint. First, Christians should not get drunk. Scripture makes it clear that a servant of God must control himself with the guidance of the Spirit. The goal and result of our drinking must be praise and wonder at the marvels of God’s grace. One cannot praise and marvel while one is passed out.
Secondly, Christians should not drink beer that is of poor quality. The sinful phenomenon of excessive consumption is often found in tandem with beer that tastes awful. These types of beer do not contribute to aesthetic wonder, because they provide little at which to wonder. Their tastes range from facile to revolting, they are made cheaply with poor quality ingredients, and therefore, they must enlist the help of cheap advertising tricks such as images of scantily clad women or the “Lowest Legal Price” to lure young men like me to buy their beer. I pray that God gives us strength to resist these temptations.
There are a few men and women with whom I deeply enjoy sharing a pint of beer. They are part of what Andy Crouch (in his book Culture Making) calls my “twelve”—the Christian community with which I share my cultural ideas for critique, trial, advice, and resources. I do not think any idea, whether cultural, theological or philosophical, comes into existence by the work of an individual, and the following sketch of Christian beer-drinking is no exception.
I think drinking a pint is similar to Biblical interpretation in various ways, only one of which we will note here: context is king. Beer in itself is good, but beer in the right context is a wonderful blessing straight from the hand of God. Let’s consider some different scenarios.
You and your friends go out to a sports bar to watch the game. You have a few overpriced beers over three hours, and you say very few words to your friends, other than cheering with them and commenting on the performance of your team. By eleven o’clock, the bar is packed and servers run frantically, balancing heavy loads of food and drink. People begin to yell to carry on conversations, and the only thing wondered at in the bar is the athletic event. I don’t believe this is the best cultural context within which to enjoy beer. I am sometimes interested in having conversations about things other than sports highlights. I am also a university student with limited financial resources, and Saturday nights at a sports bar regularly cost around $45. I can’t afford this, and if we consider some alternative uses of this money, we will find a much richer and more cost-effective way of enjoying beer.
I deeply enjoy drinking Wellington Special Pale Ale at Artisanale Cafe in Guelph, my hometown. On Saturday mornings, I love browsing the attached bookstore, getting a coffee at around 10:00 and doing homework for a few hours, then ordering a cheeseburger and pint for lunch.
Wellington Special Pale is a great beer for many reasons. It is made 15 kilometres from where I live, and is one of the best beers produced by any microbrewery. It costs roughly the same as a pint of domestic beer at the local sports bar, but has a much richer taste. It is a beautiful dark brown colour, which is surprising, as it is supposed to be a pale ale. It has a complex taste, which I think hints at roasted walnuts. Wellington S.P.A. has the perfect combination of bitterness and smoothness, so that it does not seem weak and at the same time is pleasant to drink. It goes very nicely with the locally grown and grass-fed beef cheeseburger. I can get a coffee in the morning, a pint of Wellington, and a cheeseburger for $25, which is about half the price of a night at Boston Pizza. I don’t get to spend time with close friends, but I do get a surprising amount of studying done. I also get to meet the people who sit near me, most of whom are quite friendly, and I get to spend time in and support one of my favourite local businesses.
Although Artisanale is a good context for drinking beer, I think there is one more we should consider, one that has more potential for developing the kind of Christian communities that could be relevant and effective as Christ’s body on earth. Finding your favourite type of beer is important. Mine is Steamwhistle Pilsner. It is simple, smooth, and overwhelmingly good beer. It consists of only four ingredients: spring water, barley, hops, and yeast, and it is made in Toronto, which means by purchasing it I support a local brewery, not some massive international conglomerate like Molson. It has the perfect combination of body and smoothness, with very little aftertaste. A pint of Steamwhistle is just about the best drink I can think of to end my day. The men who own Steamwhistle brewing care about heritage and quality, something evident in the packaging of their beer, which comes in beautiful green glass bottles with a painted logo, meant to “celebrate an era of quality craftsmanship.”
Great beer is only the first part of the community beer-drinking experience. You also need to find some close friends, many colourful blankets, candles and a room. Take a blanket and spread it out on the floor. Light candles around the room, with a group of them collected in the middle of the floor. Put on some music (I suggest Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, or anything by Sigur RÃ³s.)
With your friends, head to the kitchen and make a large plate of nachos, using the freshest ingredients you can find. After ensuring that your beer is cold, gather everyone into the room and sit on the floor, using blankets and cushions as padding. Toast the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way, and enjoy the richness of his world. You will find this richness in the taste of the beer and nachos, the softness and comfort of the warm room, the laughing and shining faces around you, the wisdom and truth of the words spoken, and the power of a community animated by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.