Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson
S. Eliot begins The Waste Land by describing April.
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
We often experience April as cruel because
it may be the most ironic month of the year.
April begins with a day dedicated to
foolishness. The roots of April Fools’ Day and April foolishness are
not known with certainty. Some scholars attribute the idea of April
Fools’ Day to English author Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer is the same writer who connected Valentine’s Day with
One English source from 1769 traces the idea
of April Fools’ Day to the Bible and the story of Noah and releasing
a dove from the ark after the Flood.
The irony of April often arises from its
placement as a month of transition for winter to spring. Though
spring begins in March, it is typical for April to be the month when
spring really sinks its roots and begins growing.
New life makes itself evident by sprouting
out of the muddy ground which has been dormant all winter. In many
places April showers irrigate the soil so it will produce flowers in
During April the darkness and cold of winter
give way to the signs of the new life of spring.
April’s transitional threshold from winter
to spring is mirrored in the liturgical passage from Lent into
Easter. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues to
Easter Sunday. The dates of Ash Wednesday and Easter, and Lent, vary
from year to year. Many people begin April struggling to discipline
themselves with a Lent practice they have chosen.
Lent is not only about giving things up. It
is a season about being honest with ourselves, with other people,
with spiritual life. During Lent, people take an honest,
insightful look at who we really are. Lent is about reflecting on
what we hold onto which holds us back from becoming our truest
selves. We look ourselves in the eye and recognize what we do not
Lent is a time to be intimately personal in
Some people decide to give something up for
Lent while others focus on starting a new practice. People might
choose to set aside alcohol or chocolate, caffeine or nicotine which
they believe holds them back. Other people follow a schedule of
physical exercise or mindfulness, writing or other creativity each
day during Lent.
Lent is, in some ways, a season of spiritual
life pushing new life up from dormant land.
On Easter, which is often in April, the
sacrifices and disciplines of Lent are transformed into joyful
celebration of new life.
It is not unusual for people to decide to
stop drinking alcohol, including beer, during Lent, which is another
ironic aspect of April.
I understand people can experience craft
beer as something which distracts them from deeper spiritual life.
That distraction is not something I experience.
My appreciation for craft beer and brewing
is more in line with how monasteries and monastic orders relate to
beer. Monasteries which brew beer see it as a central part of their
hospitality for others. Many monks enjoy beer and enjoy sharing it
with people who visit them.
The first Lent beer was brewed by Paulaner
monks at Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Munich. They arrived in
Munich from Italy in 1627 and soon began brewing beer for their own
consumption. The Paulaners were concerned, however, about whether a
strong brew with such delightful qualities might be too much of an
indulgence during Lent.
They decided to ask the Vatican for a
special dispensation to ensure that they could continue to brew and
drink it with a clear conscience. The monks dispatched a cask of
their Lent beer to Rome for the Pope to try it for himself.
It may have been because the monks’ cask was
tossed and turned on the journey across the Alps and heated for
several weeks in the Italian sun, so it turned sour and undrinkable.
Or it could have been because the Pope and the Cardinals in Rome
were more accustomed to the subtle taste of wine than the robust
favors of strong beer. Whatever the reason, when the cardinals
tasted the much-praised brew from Munich they found it unpalatable.
The Vatican decided the brew tasted so vile
it was probably beneficial for the souls of the Munich monks to make
and drink as much of it as they could. The bitter beer was a
testament to the piety of monks who were willing to drink it during
Lent. The Pope, with great admiration, blessed the brewing of this
new Lent beer style.
Celebrate the irony of April the month. It
is a month which begins in foolishness while encompassing the cold
winds of winter and warm breezes of spring, the sacrifices of Lent
and the joy of new life in Easter.
Remember the Paulaner monks who continue to
brew their pious beer today. Raise a glass or two to their
hospitality and creativity.
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. 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