Our local newspaper today had a front page, above the fold article that begins with what sounds like the setup to a joke, “A dozen Episcopal priests walk into a bar.” Yet despite wanting to know the punchline the article isn’t about defying the expectations of the reader yet highlighting a long-lasting tradition between brewing and the church. Yesterday priests and deacons from the Lancaster County Episcopal Churches came together to celebrate the release of Iron Hill Brewery’s St. James Brown Ale.
This dark brown beer that attempts to pay homage to the northern England brown ale is brewed to raise funds for the Episcopal Church baring the same name on North Duke Street. The beer is a personal recipe by head brewer Chad Rieker whose family has a long tradition in Lancaster and attends St James Episcopal Church in Lancaster.
Reiker and another member of the St. James congregation, David Rutledge, inspired by the use of fermented beverages to fund religious institutions in Europe, dreamed of crafting a delicious brew to help fund the church. Three years ago they started brewing their brown ale at Rutledge’s private residence and donated the resulting beer to the church. When the beer was found to be “divine” in quality Rieker took the recipe to his new employer, Iron Hill Brewery.
The brewery has made a batch each November that has become popular with their Lancaster location customers. Each year they host a fund-raising day where 20% of sales from food and the brown ale are donated to the church. While this may not seem like much the popularity of the limited, seasonal beer has helped raise over $12,000 for the church, which is certainly not an insignificant amount.
Iron Hill has brewed over 350 gallons of the St. James Brown which they describe as a “subtle, nuanced beer” and expect the entire collection to be sold out in two weeks.
There is nothing new with combining the brewing and sale of beer with religion. The allegedly best beer in the world Westvleteren 12 is brewed in such limited quantities because it is brewed by the monks as they only brew enough for their personal consumption and enough to fund the monastery.
This doesn’t mean that the St. James Brown is anywhere close to getting the official trappist logo but it does bring a local version of a long-standing European tradition. It is nice to see our local paper endorse, if unofficially, the idea that beer, wine, and spirits when used properly can help elevate the spiritual (no pun intended) to a transcendent experience. That there is a strong and historic relation between alcohol and religion.
This is a limited release that has received a 3.5 rating on average. If you are a fan of browns and want to help fund a local Lancaster church doing the Lord’s work then run down to Iron Hill in Lancaster and grab a pint.