Friday, May 30, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI Loves His Beer

It is not clear from this press clipping whether the Holy Father actually ordered 185 gallons (!) of this German beer for his household or whether it was delivered as a gift from the brewery. Either way, it appears that Pope Benedict XVI loves his beer. God bless him!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Politics of Beer

Beer isn't political. But beer companies certainly can be. As soon as I started this blog, I was made aware of several instances in which beer companies had been openly supportive of some very unsavory activities. For example, Miller Brewing was taken to task by the Catholic League for its support of some homosexual advocacy and the appropriation of its logo to an advertisement what was openly offensive to Christians. Thankfully, this particular controversy ended with Miller doing the right thing by publicly apologizing.

The Boston Beer Company, brewer of Samuel Adams products, was directly involved in promoting the incredibly crass "Sex for Sam" publicity stunt hosted by radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony which ended in a couple being arrested for seeking to copulate in a vestibule of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. While the radio station pulled the show and suspended the hosts, to my knowledge the Boston Beer Company has never indicated any regrets over its direct promotion of the sacrilege. My own request to their customer service department for clarification went unanswered. [Update: But thankfully, I'm wrong. Jim Koch did indeed apologize for his participation.]

A reader of this blog sent me information on Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's support for The Womens' Health Specialists, a notorious abortion provider in northern California. Sierra Nevada stood by its support for this death mill, sidestepping the fact that WHS murders innocent human beings with the typical refrain that they do a lot of good things too (see here and here.)

On the other hand, another reader (Ray from MN) noted in the comboxes that:

If you accept nominations, I would like to nominate beers from the Summit Brewing Co. of Minneapolis.The Chairman of the Board is as Catholic, and as Pro-Life going back many years, as they come (well, he is a convert) and their beers are well rated in secular contests.

I am thrilled to hear that Summit is run by a solid Catholic. In fact, I think I will try to contact him for an interview for this blog. Ray is right that Summit products are absolutely top notch (their Winter Skäl and Winter Ale are particularly good) and as a nod toward drumming up more business for them I think I will begin the grueling process of purchasing and sampling a variety of their offerings to be reviewed here (it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.)

Okay, back to the bad guys. Miller products don't interest me anyway and they ended up doing the right thing, so if you must drink Miller beer then you can buy their products in good conscience (the only pang of conscience one might have is whether it's really fair to call Miller Lite "beer".) But Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada products are top flight and represent some of my favorite beers. This is harder. What is a Catholic to do? Well, in the face of Sierra Nevada's unrepentant support of a notorious abortion provider, I think they need to face a Catholic boycott. If you agree with me, let them know that you're not buying their stuff any more. The Boston Brewing Company's involvement in one scandal may or may not be sufficient for you to decide that you need to skip their products entirely. At the very least, it puts me on the look-out to see what else they might be involved in. [Update: But as mentioned above, they did the right thing on this one. So that leaves just Sierra Nevada.]

This raises the much larger question of a Catholic consumer's responsibility in the face of corporate behavior that runs directly counter to Catholic moral teaching. In general, I would say that we can't really be responsible for everything that transpires in every company with which we do business. Still, if Catholics en masse got serious about not supporting that which runs counter to our faith, it could make a significant difference in what companies do and don't support.

I'd really like to hear from you in the comment box. Please let us know how you make these decisions. What are your criteria for doing business or not doing business with a company that behaves in ways like these?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hop Shortage? Grow Your Own!

If you appreciate good beer but don't brew your own, you may not be aware that there is a significant worldwide hop shortage that is driving up the price of hops, the main bittering and significant flavor component in beer. I just priced one of my favorite bittering hops varieties, Magnum, and found that in the past year this has jumped from around $1.00/oz. to a whopping $7.00/oz., a 700% increase. Brew Your Own magazine has a good article on how things got so bad, but the main question for homebrewers is, what can you do about it?

Well, one alternative is to change the varieties of beer you brew. There are lots of beer styles that use less hops or use hop varieties that are in greater supply. But another great way to face the hop shortage is simply to grow your own. I have been growing my own hops for several years, but until this year I have not been serious about cultivating, harvesting, and drying them for significant use in my own brews.

I'll be posting several more times on this as the season continues, but right now is planting and training time. First, planting. Hops are propagated from rhizomes, chunks of their robust root systems that send up spiny shoots called bines. Rhizomes are still available from a number of sources on the Web, including And if you get them out soon, you still have time to get some hops started this year. Plant the rhizomes in cultivated, weed-free soil to which you've added some good organic fertilizer or compost. Above are three new "hills" that I've created on my place, with Liberty, Mt. Hood, and Nugget hops. I also have Cascade, Chinook, and Willamette planted elsewhere.

Then, when the hop bines appear above ground, you will need to train several of them onto some sort of vertical support, so that the vines can grow out to a length of twenty or even thirty feet and then set the hop cones which will be harvested and utilized in beer. On my place I have set a tall pole in concrete out in my garden area and each year I run lengths of baling twine down to stakes in the "hills" of hops. I train three or four hop bines onto each string and let them climb. (You might want to wear gloves for this, since hop bines will sting your hands and arms a lot like stinging nettle.) Cut off all the rest of the emerging bines so that the root system puts maximum vigor and productivity into just a few bines. Keeping the hops well watered will help ensure a good set of cones.

As the season unfolds I'll talk more about harvesting, drying, and using homegrown hops. An excellent resource on growing hops, as well as utilizing other garden-raised produce in your beer, is The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs. I'll be reviewing this book in more detail in another entry, but the book covers not only growing of hops, but also barley (including how to malt the barley yourself, which I definitely want to try sometime), and other herbs and spices that can be used in beer for bittering and flavor.