The Beer Option
Brewing a Catholic Culture, Yesterday & Today
- ISBN: 9781621384144
- Published By: Angelico Press
- Published: October 2018
R. Jared Staudt’s The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday and Today is based on the following idea: “Beer opens a door to many elements of Catholic culture: its history, social and economic influences, and even its spirituality” (2). To show that beer indeed helps to understand Catholic faith and culture, Staudt mainly focuses on the Benedictine monks and their brewing tradition, using the Benedictines’ attitude and relation towards beer as a point of departure to illuminate central tenets of Catholicism.
Thus, the purpose of the book is to foster the renewal of Catholic faith and culture and to provide an extension to Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option (Sentinel, 2017). As Staudt writes: “The Beer Option calls for a renewal of culture by finding God in the ordinary things of life and ordering them to Him, including beer. It does not offer a technical look at brewing, even if such elements are touched upon occasionally. Rather, it situates beer within a narrative of Catholic history and culture, examining beer as a microcosm of culture more broadly” (5).
The Beer Option consists of four parts, each of which contains four chapters. The first part, “A Catholic History of Beer,” starts with an analysis of the social role and importance of beer in the ancient world and the Bible. Based on this, Staudt sketches the history of monastic brewing, arguing that “the [Benedictine] monks helped to make beer the staple drink of northern Europe and a central element in the growth of Christian culture. . . . Beer played an important role in their overall work of building up culture during the Dark Ages and laying the foundations for a new flowering of Christian culture” (29). Although, as Staudt argues, there was a time of decline and fall of Catholic brewing that relates to the reformation, Napoleon, industrialization, and prohibition, Staudt is able to show that today one can observe a renewal of the monastic brewing tradition which goes hand in hand with the renewal of the Benedictine life: “The Benedictine life has survived many challenges through the centuries. Monastic brewing, though almost extinct in the last two hundred years, has undergone a remarkable rebirth . . . [that] may also help rebuild Christian faith and culture more broadly” (58).
The second part, “Beer and Culture,” argues that we should understand beer and its role in human life not only as an expression of human culture in general, but particularly as an expression and symbol of the Catholic faith. Beer, contends Staudt, is not only a delicious drink, but also is a powerful symbol which codifies the core elements of a Catholic worldview: “Beer is one means by which the fruits of the earth are enjoyed to praise God, to bring cheer into man’s heart, and to lead one into genuine fellowship. . . . The fact the Benedictines created modern brewing demonstrates that Catholic culture can be most fully appreciated with a view toward the eternal” (111).
The third part, “Experiencing Beer,” presents a categorization of different tastes of beer before it analyzes the economics of homebrewing as a good example of how to work against the grip of global capitalism. Once this is done, the role of beer in Catholic evangelization is emphasized and clarified: “The point is, evangelizing through beer does not focus on the beer, but on the message and fellowship facilitated by gathering over a pint” (159). The last part, “Beer and Cultural Problems,” reflects on drunkenness and temperance, beer versus marijuana, and on the problems of a consumerist culture.
Staudt’s The Beer Option is an excellent book. It is a pleasure to read, illuminating, and a good introduction to the Catholic faith. Staudt successfully manages to show that brewing and drinking beer responsibly can be understood as a symbol of virtuous and spiritual human engagement with God’s creation. I recommend the book to anyone interested in Catholicism or the cultural history of beer.
Benedikt Paul Göcke is professor of philosophy of science and philosophy of religion at Ruhr-Universität Bochum.Benedikt Paul GöckeDate Of Review:October 6, 2021