What’s in a craft beer? Visiting the “new” Monroe Street, NE (Brookland) I was astounded by the number of craft beers available at a local pub. Likewise, walking down the street passing two different liquor stores I saw displays of small-batch bourbons and even… this really threw me… multiple brands of craft-designed rye!… a liquor I thought all but extinct. Searching the Post’s digital Style section, it seems this renaissance of craft liquors has been gaining steam for some time. This could be a very good thing. Why?
The Church has a long history with craft-made brews of all sorts. In Rome we used to prize a hand-made green sambuca made by monks of the Castelli Romani. For centuries, the monasteries of Belgium have set a gold standard in beer production. After the Germanic invasions, wine production only continued in Gaul (France) because the mass required the use of quality wine.
What’s behind this Catholic love of all things distilled? Put simply… they’re very human.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 356) tells us:
Of all visible creatures… man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake. (cf Gaudium et sees 24.3) and he alone is called share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life.
Genesis presents an escalating process of creation by which everything was made with a useful purpose (Gn. 1:28-31); everything except man. Man was created by God in an act of freely chosen love for its own sake. Made in God’s image, we exist beautifully for our own sake, with a capacity to freely love others for their own sake. In addition, like our creator we can make beautiful things with love for their own sake. Greatest among these is life itself (see the linked talk by St. John Paull II on this topic). Somewhat further down the chain but no less true, we can make “things” with love for their own sake… we call these things “beautiful.”
Whether it’s a monk perfecting a centuries-old process of growing hops for beer… or couple of thirty-somethings learning to make wine in someone’s basement, there’s something especially human about pouring time, talent, humility and love into making something beautiful for its own sake. Is this perhaps what we detect in our craft beers, bourbons etc.? Something different and more truly human than mass-produced machine-made mediocrity? To be sure, many produce and consume these delicacies for all the wrong reasons… a reminder that we should drink with prudence temperance and responsibility… but keeping focused on the true good and beautiful, the growth of these new more artistic drinks may indeed be a reason for all of us to raise our glasses and say, “Cheers!”