“What Good Wine and Beer I Have at Home”: The Spirituality of Brewing Beer

(Note: We are taking a break for the next three weeks from our series on discipleship. We’ll conclude it the week of January 11.)

Yesterday was the Commemoration of the death of Katie nee von Bora Luther, the patroness of all pastors’ wives. Luther said of her, “I would not trade my Kate for France and Venice for three reasons: (1) Because God has given her to me and me to her. (2) I have seen, time and again, that other women have more faults than my Kate. (3) She is a faithful partner; she is loyal and has integrity” (from Table Talk; Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1035). Luther might also have said he wouldn’t trade her for all the other beer baronesses in the world since she was the brewer in the Black Cloister. For this reason, Lutherans consider her the patroness of home brewing as well. Although as the sainted Lutheran theologian Eric Gritsch wrote, Katie, because of the size of her brewing operation, might be considered the forerunner of microbrewers even more than home brewers (Gritsch, https://ericwgritsch.org/archives/archives_beer_brewing_and_economic_health_with_katharina_von_bora_in_the_luther_household. As a home brewer myself (Kent), I can identify with Katie not only as the mother of the Reformation but as an accomplished home brewer.

Luther clearly thought that the one he called the Morningstar of the Reformation was an accomplished brewer. In a letter to Katie in July of 1534 he wrote, “What good wine and beer I have at home, and a beautiful lady or—I should say—lord as well” (Ernst Kroker, The Mother of the Reformation, 101; for other quotes from Luther on brewing see https://redbrickparsonage.wordpress.com/tag/katharina-luther/). Brewing beer for the Black Cloister and for her dear husband was clearly a significant part of Katie’s vocation. So, one would expect a Lutheran spirituality to fill that vocational enterprise.

While we have no words from Katie reflecting on her vocation as a home brewer, I can offer my own reflections on the spirituality of brewing. First, as a vocation (or in my case an avocation, although I wouldn’t mind if it became a vocation), brewing requires living within the third use of the law. In order to make beer, especially good tasting beer, creation demands certain procedures, steps, and methods when working with barley, water, hops, and yeast. If you don’t follow the law here you’ll end up with undrinkable, rancid-tasting vinegar. Second, while brewing is a science and thus follows the law, it is also a craft and art. Crafting a good beer is more than following certain rules. It demands devotion to the task of creating something out of the good gifts of creation that is God-pleasing and good tasting. Third, such devotion and art demands prayer. One must pray to the Creator that water, barley, hops, and yeast may turn into good beer that pleases the taste buds and warms the heart. Fourth, if one is praying, then one is also led to trust the Creator that the brewer’s ineptitude doesn’t prevent the gifts of creation from fermenting a great tasting beer. This result is possible only because God enables his creatures to craft something wondrous from his creation.

If I had a choice for when I might die (which of course I don’t), I have always thought it would be to do so at the same time as the great liturgical scholar Josef Jungmann did—while singing the Exultet at the Easter Vigil. But from such a spirituality of home brewing a rival time has appeared in the words of the great Saint Columbanus, “It is my design to die in the brew-house; let ale be placed to my mouth when I am expiring, that when the choirs of angels come, they may say, ‘God be propitious to this drinker.’” Thus my plea to God: Let me die in peace at the height of the Exultet or at the moment of tasting a final great craft beer. So it goes with the spirituality of home brewing.