"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baby Steps Towards Christendom: Step #3: Brew Beer

Previous posts in this series: Introduction, Step#1: Quit Pimpin', and Homeschooling.

You can fill in the blank for this one, but for me beer was it. The point is this:

Make your own     X     !

This can cost some up-front money sometimes for buying tools (A.K.A. productive property), but in the long run is cheaper than buying the crap at Wall-Mart and I guarantee it is more fulfilling. This is perhaps the best positive step toward becoming more of a Distributist. And you can do small things that together will add up! Here are some examples my wife and I have implemented over the last several years:

Home brewing beer and apple cider.
Baking real artisan bread.
Making our own hand soap, lip balm, and lotion, laundry soap and even shaving soap.
Crocheting our own dish cloths, hats, mittens, and blankets.

All of these things are easy, fun, can involve the whole family, can be done in your kitchen, give the highest quality products, and have given us much joy in our life. In each case, the cost is the same or less as buying comparable products at a store, and in each case the product we make ourselves is exponentially better quality than what is available at the store. To buy comparable quality beer to my homebrew, I would spend at least $1.10 per 12oz. bottle for micro brew like Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada. For the same style homebrew beer I pay around $0.50! As the quality goes up, the price difference becomes a huge gulf. That savings adds up! 

But listen to me- talking like a big fat cat capitalist, cost savings is not the top priority. Beyond the financial considerations let’s not forget the joy of creating something wonderful with the hands God gave us. My wife’s soap and bread has a similar situation. They are of incredible quality. As a matter of fact, they are of the absolute finest quality! Period! You literally cannot buy better soap at a Target or Wall-Mart! How sad! And we make these things for a very reasonable cost. Certainly no more money than the best bread from Panera or the finest soap from a boutique store, and often way, way less. We have given beer, soap, and bread as gifts. An inexpensive gift that is memorable, high quality, and very much says “I love you!” to whoever receives it. What could be better than that? 10 cases of Coors light? A case of Ivory soap from Sam’s Club? See how the human element in creating something of quality changes the whole context? We have traded soap for bread with other families at our old ecclesial community. I have picked apples from a friends tree, made hard cider, and given them the cider for a gift. The feeling of satisfaction was amazing. That was in 2009, and I am just finishing the 10 gallons of cider now. Like almost all hand crafted things, it has gotten better with age!

Distributism is about words like human and quality. Capitalism is about words like profit and quantity. The former is fully compatible with a happy life, the latter is not. So make whatever you can reasonably make, and get a glimpse of distributism in your own home. Some things we are in the process of doing ourselves: We just bought a sewing machine and my wife is taking a class to learn sewing. Hopefully she can eventually provide much of our clothing. I anticipate this will have many “hidden” benefits as well, such as an easy availability of more modest clothing as my 5 little girls grow up, and perhaps even money savings on clothing.
The thing is to do something. Make what you like, but some things will have a bigger payoff than others.

What to make
The trick is to find something good that has been ruined by Capitalism and that you can make yourself for a small investment of resources. Almost anything consumable, and particularly food and drink, fall into this category. Capitalism takes them and turns them into a commodity which then becomes a hollow shell of its former self. The goal is quantity. The goal is a cheap price. The goal is on the business of pleasing shareholders and making "profit". The product is secondary or tertiary. This is why we have evil empires like Anheuser Busch. We went from a brewery in every town making distinctive, healthy, delicious beer, to a couple major breweries controlling the industry (from the politicians down to the supply chain) making beer from rice that is flavorless, watery, and incredibly boring. The documentary Beer Wars is a good watch which shows why our liquor stores are stocked to the rafters with swill. So beer is a good target for the wanna-be Distributist. Beer has a number of things going for it to send it to the top of my list for things to start making at home:

1. Beer has been utterly and totally ruined by Capitalism. How sad that 14th century monks were making far-and-away better beer than the yellow rice water sold by Bud or Miller! If we are so "advanced", why is this the case? I would laugh if it didn't make me cry. Beers destruction by the men in top hats creates an opportunity for us little people though. There is a vacuum in the "market". There truly is no good beer anymore. Oh sure there is good quality micro-brew out there, but because of shipping and regulations, it is expensive! Walk in to your local store and ask for a Dopplebock or Imperial Stout. Anything they show you will make you cring when you see the price, and it will most likely be imported from Europe. Top shelf beer at a miller light price is TOTALLY UNAVAILABLE on the market. The only way to get it is to make it yourself folks!

2. Beer is super easy to make. The yeast do all the work for you.

3. It is manly to make beer.

4. Most people like beer. And most of the ones that don't have never had good beer, and/or rightfully complain of the expense. What this universal love of beer means though, is that beer brings life and joy wherever it goes. Unlike making your own... horseradish sauce or something, you just cant go wrong with beer.

5. People love homebrew as a gift, and they love to be served it in your home.

6. It is cheap to make!

7. It is fun to make!

8. You can make TOP QUALITY beer if you have a stove and a small space to let it ferment. Imported Belgian beer that would cost you $6 a bottle or more is within your grasp for $0.50-$0.75. I have made Stout that rivaled Guinness for less than $0.50 for a 12oz. bottle! Recognize that that is less than $12 a case! You can't get Budweisers yellow rice water for that cheap! I will note here that personally I do not believe this is the case with wine. It is possible to make high quality wine at home, but the cost of good wine at the store (to my taste buds) is so cheap that it is not worth it to me to make wine at home. If you grow your own grapes this situation would change. But I am much more of a beer guy than a wine guy so my opinion on this is just that.
9. Your kids can help you brew, bottle and uh huhm... use the beer!

10. You wont have to explain to your wife why you wasted $15 for that 12 pack of tasty micro-brew from the local liquor store!

11. You could brew 2 cases (48-52) of beer this weekend for an initial investment of as little as $65 in equipment! And much of the equipment you might even already have, and/or you can use for other things. If you have a large (at least 3-4 gallon) stock pot, you are halfway there. Start saving your non-twist off bottles and you can re-cap them with your own beer. Or buy the larger flip-top bottles for an even easier time.

12. Beer is healthy for body and soul. After a hard days work, good beer brings forth praise to God from the drinker. Even the Puritans loved beer for goodness sake.

13. A green thumb could even grow his own hops, which would add quality and value to his beer. Heck put in a few rows of barley and you could roast and malt for yourself as well.

14. There is a specific blessing for beer that a priest can give. That is how important beer is to Catholics.

15. Beer saved the world! (link to fascinating documentary about beer)

Ok, so now that you are all excited and ready to make some beer, let me give you some tips.

1. Start with "extract" kits from a local homebrew supply store. This is WAY easier than "all-grain" brewing in terms of time and $ investment. I recommend to start with an "Irish Stout". It will be forgiving and yummy. If you brew a few right away, brew a Belgian Honey or Trappist beer. You will fall in love.
2. Stick with Ales for a while, as opposed to Lagers, which are a titch harder.
3. Use the plastic buckets at first instead of the glass carboys. Ease and cost.
4. Bottle in the biggest containers possible. I use 1 liter "flip top" bottles. Sometimes called "growlers".
5. Don't get hung up on using liquid yeast right away. Dry yeast works great.
6. If you have one of those propane turkey fryers, use it outdoors in the summer to brew your wert (pre-beer). That will keep the house cool and make you look like a freakin' stud for the neighbors. Also those are huge. A normal batch of beer is 5 gallons (48-52 12oz. bottles), although you only need to boil a minimum of a couple gallons and then add water, boiling 5 is ideal. This may be the excuse you need to get a outdoor turkey fryer from a garage sale!
7. Get the bottle filler with the spring loaded shut off valve. Don't ask, just trust me.
8. Don't forget you can use your fermenting buckets/carboys for making hard cider or other fruit wines (cider is simply apple wine remember). Press some fruit and add yeast (or not!) and let mother nature do the rest. Yum. You can even get apple juice (or american style soft "cider") on sale at the grocery store and ferment it with white wine yeast or cider yeast. Just make sure it has no preservatives. In the fall there can sometimes be super sales on apple juice/cider. Buy 5 gallons and ferment it for use the next fall! (it is well worth the wait for the increased quality) My sister's family made wine out of the dandilions on their lawn! It was no Dom Perignon, but it was quite decent.

Most metro areas should have a homebrew store. Type in your city's name with the words "home brewing" and you will find out. If not, you can order online from Midwest Supplies and it would still be worth it. My local shop, Midwest Supplies, is nationally known and a great place. They have tons of extract and all-grain kits of all types of beer. I have made 30 or so of their 5 gallon extract kits. Only one of them turned "bad" on me, and it was due to poor sanitation on my part. Of course I still drank most of it though.

So what are you waiting for?

Roll out the barrel, dudes! Ein prosit der gem├╝tlichkeit!

If the Pope drinks it by the liter, then so will I


  1. I haven't done homebrew yet but this is a great inspiration for it!

  2. Finally, an article I can mostly agree with :). I had almost given up hope!

    I'm not nearly the beer nut I used to be, mostly due to diet change. I do enjoy Kombucha, which is a fermented tea product. It only gets to .5% alcohol (so you would have to drown yourself to get drunk) and the taste is a little different; but its home made, cheep, and refreshing.

    I also agree with making something... anything. Soaps are easy (careful with lye and kids - they don't mix), as are most textile products. Forgive me for going all capitalist on you, but in today's age of the internet it is possible to earn a bit on the side just by doing something you enjoy (or you can do like Dave and just give it away).

    Another area you didn't mention is being the 'handyman'. Learning some basic skills (electrical, plumbing, drywall / framing) can go a long way in building a community. Owning an older model vehicle and doing the repairs yourself is another great way to learn some skills.

    I think the biggest thing is to be curious about the world, and enjoy the process. If you're curious, you'll learn quickly - even more so if you like what you are learning. Beer is a great start - its cheep, easy to learn, and the result is tasty. For those who like instant gratification, learning to wire a light-switch has the immediate 'light turns on - I did it right' feeling.