Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

Beer & Carols

Beer & Hymns
 is not a complicated concept. It is, as the name suggests, a gathering of people who enjoy drinking beer and singing hymns.

There is strong history in Christian tradition of converting drinking songs into hymns. People have been known to take popular drinking songs and rewrite the words to create hymns which are easy to remember. John and Charles Wesley who sparked the Methodist church and Salvation Army bands turned attractive melodies into popular hymns.

Even the music of the "Star Spangled Banner," amazingly enough, was based on a traditional drinking tune.

Beer & Hymns builds on the traditional relationship between drinking beer and singing memorable songs.

Like porters and stouts and many other enjoyable things in life, it began in England.

The first Beer & Hymns started its life at a Greenbelt Festival in England in 2006. People attending the festival were invited to raise their pints and join in singing some hymns. Beer & Hymns spread to the United States in 2012 and began gathering in Hong Kong last year.

It is not complicated to start a Beer & Hymns group. Most groups meet each month. The key things to include are a location which is welcoming to both beer and hymns, a group of musicians to accompany the singing without overpowering it, a standard format or structure to guide people, a strong selection of hymns, and plenty of communication to encourage people to participate.

Many groups plan a special gathering in December for Beer & Carols.

I have attended a couple of Beer & Hymns events, but do not have a great deal of personal experience with them. I asked a friend, Pastor Keith Anderson, a few questions. Keith is a pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia and has written books I appreciate, including The Digital Cathedral and co-written Click2Save with Elizabeth Drescher. You can reach Keith at his website.

I started out asking Keith about the spiritual significance of beer. I agree with him that the most spiritually significant thing about beer can be the conversations it engenders. In the time it takes to sip a pint of beer, good and meaningful conversations can happen, relationships can be strengthened, and community formed. In a culture that is always running from one thing to the next, sitting down and sipping a good brew can open up the space simply to be and to be together.

Keith’s church hosts a Beer & Carols night each year. When I asked him why beer and hymns, or carols, work well together, he said, for him, they contribute together to a feeling of community and celebration. He explained they lift their pints high and swing them when they sing. They clink them together after a song. He believes the beer may encourage some who do not usually sing to do so with gusto. An important part of their Beer and Carol experience is the location— the local pub. Usually we only sing those songs in church, at home, or caroling. It is unique experience to sing those carols in such a public space, where we might typically have dinner or hang out with friends. It reminds them God is everywhere— and that we can have fun too!

Finally, I asked Keith about his own personal favorite beer and carol pairing.

He explained his favorite pairing for Christmas would be his favorite Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas, and Christmas beer, Samuel Adams’ Old Fezziwig.

Good King Wenceslas is based on a real life person, Wenceslaus the First, the Duke (not king) of Bohemia who lived in the early 900s, who was known for his kindness and charity and faith, so much so that he was later beatified and made a saint. One of the verses goes like this:

“In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;

Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian folk, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

It is his favorite carol because it is about showing mercy and caring for poor people. Keith loves how the Good King’s footprints left warmth in ground, in which his page could follow. Old Fezziwig, which is a rare find, even around Christmas time, has spices including cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel, which warm body and soul.

There are two Beer & Hymns groups in Southern California hosting Beer & Carols this year. All four of them will begin at 7:00 PM.

Beer & Hymns Orange County will host three Beer & Carols events this year. On Sunday, December 2 the first will be held at Slidebar in Fullerton. The second will be held on Sunday, December 9 at Knuckleheads in San Clemente. Their third Beer & Carols will be on Sunday, December 16 at The Wayfarer in Costa Mesa. There is more information at the Beer & Hymns Orange County website.

Beer & Carols in Temecula will be held at The Bridge on Third in Temecula on Sunday, December 16.

I encourage you to, no matter how you choose to do it, enjoy your favorite beer and carols this month.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg is a recovering attorney, executive, and university professor. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at StrategicMonk@gmail.com, and he writes a blog for the Contemplative channel on http://www.patheos.com.

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