Book Review: The Beer Option

December 19, 2018

I have to be honest, there’s something so empty to me in big, grand Catholic evangelical efforts. You know the type – “transforming your family with 3 easy things;” “an evening workshop that will change your marriage forever.”  The more dynamic it claims to be, and the grander the promise of impacting the entire society, the less I think it will really do anything lasting.  “Flash in the pan,” as they say.

I’m not cynical (I hope). I think its just the Wendell Berry-inspired attitude in me that knows too well that it’s not the pyramids that make a culture, but the poor men that build the pyramids.  It’s the particular kinds of particular people in particular places that form a culture, not bullet points and cheap grace.  It’s notthe men on stage.  That’s why I like Jared Staudt’s The Beer Option so much.  I was a fan of The Benedict Option long before it came out, but to be honest, when I read the book, it seemed like a fairly simple laying out of just living the Christian life. Don’t get me wrong, what Dreher said needed to be said – that we Christians need to get over the idea that we own this culture and start living actual cultures with the actual people around us. But The Beer Option, which is an intentional spin-off of The Benedict Option, dials down on a very specific thing: beer.  The specifics were refreshing, as was the topic. 

Staudt speaks of beer as “an act of culture,” which is something I had not thoroughly enough considered.  He points out that God gives us barely and water and fermentation, but He does not give us beer.  Man does that, “the work of human hands” brings us beer.  There is something sacred in the very act of brewing, which The Beer Option helps us see by showing the uncanny connection between monasticism and beer.  Many of us hope for a culture rooted in a real tradition, which often manifests most poignantly in the Catholic imagination in the Traditional Latin Mass, and there’s an interesting fact about monasteries today: the monasteries that are traditional in their ora, praying the traditional Office and saying the traditional Mass, are also traditional in their labora, making things with their hands,especially beer.

And this is another place I appreciated Staudt’s book – by situating beer as an act that is natural and cultural and, therefore, possibly holy, he helps us see the potential problems behind something like alcohol.  I grew up in a home and place that saw the ravages of “the devil’s drink” all around.  But admitting the abuse does not punch the devil’s ticket to have claim over beer. Seeing through the eyes of culture and faith, and looking insobriety and intemperance squarely in the eye, Staudt’s book ensures that we see things as they are, soberly. 

But, again, I love the particularity of the book.  If The Benedict Option was a broad and sweeping call for new intentionality within communities, The Beer Option is a specific way that can be done.  From the home brewery club to the fraternal festivity that beer well assists, The Beer Option is a book written not about big answers to big questions, but specific answers to cultural vapidity.  Everyone seems to be about the business of ‘renewing culture,’ but Jared Staudt shows us how our rich and vibrant traditions can inform and transform us now, and how, in the case of The Beer Option, such a renewal of culture is right under our noses. Exploring the role of monks in rebuilding western culture—in part through beer—this book happily inspires us to join the renewal through our own ora et labora.  I can drink to that.

Jason Craig works and writes from St. Joseph’s Farm in rural North Carolina with his wife Katie and their five kids. Jason is Director of Program and Training for Fraternus, a mentoring program for young men, and holds a masters degree from the Augustine Institute. He is known to staunchly defend his family’s claim to have invented bourbon.

Jason Craig


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