Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

I appreciate the art of craft brewing. I enjoy tasting craft beers, and talking with the people who brew them. There are many different kinds of beer, and each has its own distinct flavor. Each craft brew has a story, and I am on a craft brewery pilgrimage to listen to as many of the stories as I can.

Some of the stories are about how the beers came to be. Some are about how people began brewing, and why they continue. Some of the stories are about the people I meet along the way, friends and fellow pilgrims.

I first met Bryan Berghoef through his books. The first time I saw the cover of Pub Theology, I knew it was a book I wanted to read. Our connection has grown and deepened since then.

As a pastor in Michigan, Bryan began Pub Theology about five years ago. It has continued, and expanded, this year as he moved to the District of Columbia to begin a new church in Washington.

Bryan is attracted to craft breweries because of the way they reflect their local communities. Craft breweries tend to be regional, small-scale production operations that concoct their own unique styles of beer. often using local ingredients and flavors which reflect who they are and where they come from.

It is a challenging time in craft brewing, as new breweries proliferate in many parts of the country. There is often more competition for business, and more of the creativity that produces great beers.

He encourages people to try new local craft beers at Pub Theology.

Bryan tends to favor darker beers like porters and stouts. A favorite is the Firestarter Porter by Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City, Michigan, a porter flavored with chipotle and chocolate. As he describes it, "the smokey, chocolatey taste hits you initially, and there’s a bit of fire on the backside that makes it delectable." He also recommends porters and stouts that are barrel-aged in either bourbon or whiskey barrels. Lately he has begun exploring more Belgian-style ales and sour ales, and the jury is still out on those.

Bryan's favorite beer-food pairing is good, spicy Mexican food with a nice pale ale or IPA.

He would also pair a Cat Stevens album in summertime with a nice wheat ale, or perhaps some Cowboy Junkies with a good, thick stout in winter.

Pub Theology began with a desire to gather people together to talk about things that are important to them, while enjoying a good, locally-crafted beer. For Bryan, Pub Theology is about discussing the deep things of life – relationships, philosophy, justice, meaning, ethics – and how God might (or might not) fit into the picture.

In addition to beer-food and beer-music pairings, I asked Bryan whether there were appropriate beer-theology pairings. Is some theology more "hoppy?"

He thought that the diversity of responses to a given question on a night at the pub might reflect as much about participants' diverse choices of beer as it does their theological background. In addition, some heavier questions might best be paired with a lighter brew, or they might all just sink into the cloud of unknowing together. Seriously, he recognizes that there is something about a craft beer that has multiple layers, texture, and nuance, and helps create a new experience each time you try it. He thinks that good theology should aspire to the same.

Bryan is contributing to the richness of both the faith community and the craft brewing community. Bringing more awareness to people in the faith community of how enjoying good beer is not in any way opposed to one’s desire to live a full and faithful life, helps people recognize again that the two can and do work well together. He is convinced that nothing beats the pub for good, deep conversation. In addition, a local brewery is a great place to support, because it 1) is local, and 2) has some of the best and most unique flavors around!

Bryan's goal for pub theology is to continue creating settings where people from diverse perspectives and traditions can come together and share their thoughts on what matters to them in conversations. He finds that the more we engage each other, the more we realize that we have far more in common as fellow human beings that we may have realized. Many of our stereotypes about what a Catholic is, or a Baptist, or a Buddhist, or an atheist, or a Muslim, are simply just that: stereotypes that do not hold much water when we get to know someone face to face.

Bryan is especially happy that his books have helped other people begin to cultivate conversations in their own towns and neighborhoods as well. His book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, tells the story of how he came upon the idea of pub theology and how his initial group started, as well as a number of stories and actual conversations at the pub, and how the experience has shifted his own theological perspectives. His ebook, Pub Theology 101: A Guide to Cultivating Meaningful Conversations at the Pub, is a how-to resource that helps people walk through the steps of getting their own group started, and includes hundreds and hundreds of discussion topics that he has used in over five years’ worth of gatherings. It’s available for $2.99 for Kindle.

The bottom line is that people have been having great conversations over beer for centuries, and Bryan is simply one of many who are happy that we are tapping into the tradition again.

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Lloyd is making a significant contribution to the craft brewing community in Southern California. First as an avid consumer, and also as someone who has been active in online marketing since 1996 and who has garnered an extensive audience. He is dedicated to promoting American craft beer with social media efforts that reach tens of thousands, if not more. Lloyd is approached on a regular basis with questions specifically about craft beers, and waitresses in restaurants often ask if he is "the beer guy."

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