It’s easy to scoff at the idea of beer playing an important role in the Church’s history, but as it turns out, Christians can learn quite a bit from not only brewing beer but drinking it too (responsibly, of course).
Or so argues regular Denver Catholic columnist Dr. R. Jared Staudt in his new book The Beer Option (Angelico Press). Staudt takes a deep look at the life of Benedictine monks, who, many years ago, invented beer as we know it today and continue to brew in different parts of the world today. More than just the history of beer, Staudt dives into what beer and brewing can teach us about Catholic culture and how the Benedictines can teach us how to use our gifts and talents to bring glory to God.
We asked Dr. Staudt a few questions about his new book, how beer is different from marijuana and more.
Denver Catholic: So, what exactly is “The Beer Option”?
Jared Staudt: Rod Dreher wrote a bestselling book called The Benedict Option, proposing the life of Benedictine monks as a model of cultural renewal. I propose the Beer Option as an extension of it by looking at the history of beer from a Catholic perspective, which was invented as we know it by the monks, and by exploring what beer can teach us about culture. The Beer Option looks at how the little things of life all need to be ordered toward God as part of the spiritual renewal of our lives and communities.
DC: What role does beer play in Catholic culture?
JS: Beer is a work of culture, something that we make using the fruits of the earth: water, barley, hops, and yeast. The last 40 years have seen a renewal of brewing, as we’ve moved from just 40 to over 4,000 breweries in our country. This has strengthened local economies, including the home economy with homebrewing. The Benedictines have also returned to their own tradition of brewing with dozens of breweries run by or affiliated with religious communities throughout the world. Many Catholic groups have used beer to evangelize, such as Theology on Tap and the Catholic Beer Club. I was surprised in my research by how many connections there are between beer and the Catholic tradition, including the lives of many saints, such as St. Columban, St. Hildegard, and St. Conrad.
DC: What can we learn from monks who brew beer?
JS: I find it fascinating that monks, who leave the world behind for a life of prayer, could be among the best brewers in the world. Yet, I think it may be that they have the right perspective, ordering their work to the glory of God. They put their prayer into their work and make high quality products, but without becoming too attached to them.
DC: The State of Colorado and several others have legalized marijuana. How is the use of marijuana different from drinking beer?
JS: Many people ask me this question and I have a whole chapter on it in the book. Drinking in excess is a real problem in our country and we need the virtue of temperance to govern how we drink. I situate Catholic drinking within feasting, fasting, and friendship. Marijuana, like other drugs, are not meant to be consumed in the context of a meal and are not ordered toward our health, like we see in moderate drinking. Marijuana is more like excessive drinking in that it undermines our use of reason, pulls us away from friendship, and leads to serious health issues.
DC: You’re leading a pilgrimage to France and Belgium this month. How will your new book tie into that?
JS: I’m very happy to be able to take pilgrims through the Beer Option first hand. The pilgrimage “Saints, Monks & Beer” is a holistic experience of Catholic culture. We’ll be visiting beautiful churches and art museums, spending time in prayer at monasteries and the tomb of many saints, and will be sampling monastic food and drink. We will see how beer fits into the traditions and beauty of Catholic culture, learning directly from the monastic brewers themselves.
The Beer Option
The Beer Option is available to purchase on Amazon and angelicopress.org.