Craft Evangelism

Want to see me open about 7 different cans of worms in the span of about 1700 words?  Watch closely now……

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…
Matthew 28:19a (“The Great Commission”)

Cool Jesus

My kind of JC.

I am a Christian.  In today’s world it is pretty well impossible to say that without adding all sorts of qualifications, like “but I support gay marraige” or “but not like THOSE Christians”.  It gets tiresome.  As none of those qualifications (or nearly none of them) matters in this conversation, I’ll leave it.  What is important about this statement, is how my journey in my faith relates to my journey as a fan of craft beer.  In my teens, I was highly involved in my church youth group.  I went to Bible study, listened to Christian Rock (ughhhhhh), and — most importantly — was pretty obnoxious in my efforts to sign up folks for my team.  Coming out of a very evangelical church (the name right there hints at the problem), I believed I was right, and really needed to get everybody else to believe too.  Part of this was sincere concern, as a big chunk of my theology was that me and my ilk were the “saved” and everybody else was going to hell, and it would at least be partially my fault, if I hadn’t made a good crack at scalping converting them.  But a lot more of my impetus was a gross mixture of teen-aged self-certainty and religiously-learned superiority.  So I wore t-shirts with Bible verses and cool looking graffiti-esque designs.  I was hella judgmental of other people’s sinful actions (which was wonderfully hypocritical given some of the stuff I was getting up to between Bible study and Sunday morning).  I had stock answers learned verbatim to reply to non-believers’ legitimate, often very personal, questions.  It was pretty rough.  If you’ve seen the wonderful film “Saved”, you’ve got the picture (if you haven’t, you should).

Triple Filtered
Smooth Finish
Top Shelf Taste

As I’ve grown, a lot of my understanding of what it means to be a person of faith has changed.  In particular, how I treat people with divergent opinions.  I even feel a little uncomfortable sharing this much of my faith with you, unsolicited as it is.  What’s important about this, though, is that part of being more accepting of brothers and sisters of different faiths, includes people who profess the same God as me, but live out that profession in very different ways.  On good days, when I am engaged by a turn or burn type, I try to gently explain where I’m at, and my experiences, both as a would-be apostle, as well as a perceived helpless sinner in need of conversion.  On bad days, I play devil’s advocate, and am nearly as big a jackass as I used to be.

“Macro brews suck”
— Anonymous

I bring all this up, as I got into a conversation on Facebook the other day, and it got me thinking about evangelism (literally, “sharing/bringing the good news”).  Because I really really love beer, particularly “Craft” beer (though, like identifying myself as a Christian, I feel like I need to add a lot of qualifiers to that term).  And I really really want people to know about it.  It’s good news!  But I know a lot of people who also genuinely really really love craft beer, but who share that good news in a way more akin to my early forays into Christian evangelism.

“…the first step to the realization that we all deserve better than the cheapest, least offensive thing some smoke-billowing, goliath manufacturing plant can get away with producing is for the public to be aware that there is something different out there…”
— Greg Koch, CEO Stone Brewing Co.

I actually fundamentally agree with that quote from Greg Koch, a man who certainly has been a key mover in the progress of the craft brewing revolution in the USA.  Greg does, though, have a tendency towards the extremes.  When somebody uses something he said in an argument, I quickly point out Greg is to the craft beer scene, what Michael Moore is to US politics.  He’s an extreme voice.  You can read some of that in his description of macro-produced beers (which, despite enjoying a solid hatred from most craft beer advocates, I believe are actually generally well-made examples of their style).  While I agree with the concept that just knowing there are other options in the beer market will empower many people to naturally start drinking different products, I worry about his MO.  I suspect you get about the same success rate telling people that the beer they have enjoyed for the last twenty years is a multi-billion dollar company’s effort to separate the drinker from their hard-earned money with the least effort possible, as you do telling somebody who probably feels pretty good about themselves most days, that they are a lost sinner destined for an eternity of suffering.  You will offend most of your would-be converts, and probably make the next evangelist’s job more difficult, as they will have to undo the work you did first.

“My feelings are I drink what I want, and let people drink what they want. If someone is interested in what I drink, I’ll certainly tell them about it or try to educate them on it, but I’ll never push beer on them to try to “convert” them. When people see the enthusiasm you have for the hobby/craft, then [they] are intrigued and are more open minded, rather than “hey your beer is crap; mine is better.”
— Armen P. Craft beer drinker and great dude.

My friend Armen hits the nail on the head, both in talking about beer, as well as faith.  In both cases, an existing relationship (even a fairly new one) is needed.  It’s not walking up to a drunk on a subway or person drinking PBR at your local and spewing your opinion on them, whether they want it or not.  It’s about living in a way that intrigues a person, and also gives them a sense of trust that they can ask you about it.  Then it’s about framing your conversation in a way that meets the person where they are, and introduces them to the concept of your beliefs/tastes, rather than simply telling them X is true.

“He just hit that guy with a craft beer sledgehammer”
— Me, on hearing a newly converted craft drinking hop-head at Castro’s slating his friend for ordering a King Pilsner (which is a rock-solid craft beer).

So what does that conversation look like?  Well, something I learned from my early faith experiences, is there aren’t really fixed “pitches” that work, as if you were selling a vacuum.  In terms of beer, that relationship you have is going to help a lot.  Because you will already know the person, and you will know where they are at.  Is the helpless (beer)sinner a person who loves a light beer on a hot day?  Do they only drink a beer socially?  Do they believe statements like “Dark beers are too heavy for me” or “I can’t drink draught”?

“Hops have ruined me for other beers.”
— Ellis W. Hop head and quiet evangelist

Big companies will have us all believe that the average consumer prefers light tasting lagers.  But the average consumer has also possibly never been told that there were other flavours. Furthermore, a lot of drinkers might not consider beer something you drink to enjoy the taste, which explains why they seek out the least flavourful beer served as cold as you can get it without freezing.  So maybe the conversation is not about why your beer tastes better (a moot point), but explaining that when you drink a beer, enjoying the flavour is one of the main reasons you do it.  Joe Average still might want an ice-cold light lager on the golf course, but might be amazed to learn that he actually really digs a hoppy pale ale with his wife’s chicken curry.  Or a solid porter with his world famous (on his block) BBQ ribs.

“Introduced my buddies to Boneshaker. It’s a hit! It has become my favourite beer. ”
— Gino P. Doing it the right way

So many beer-related prejudices are based on misconceptions or downright myths (eg Guinness, “the meal in a cup” because it’s so heavy; except it’s one of the lighter beers on the market).  But in most cases the mis-informed person has never been gently corrected.  They’ve either never had their misconception challenged, or have been put off by a self-righteous zealot.

“We try our best to have a real relationship with the people who buy our beer. Our brewery is open for tours 7 days/week and when we have downtime, we’re quite often hanging out in the retail store or visiting a restaurant and chatting to customers at the bar.”
— From the Beau’s “About” page

What is most important, is that the conversation is just that, an open, two-way dialogue.  Not you preaching.  Not you accusing the person of poor taste.  Not you jabbering in craft beer jargon, or arguing points that don’t matter (like whether or not mass produced German beers are, in fact, “craft”).  It may well mean answering a question “I don’t know”, and looking into the answer together.

 “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
— C.S. Lewis, a man who loved God and loved beer

Remember why you’re even having this conversation in the first place: you really really love craft beer.  You want other people to love it too.  Go slowly.  Listen to people.  Meet them where they are.  Be okay if they have a different opinion than you; even if that means they say they dislike what you drink.  Know that no matter what you think, there aren’t absolutes in this scene.  You are not definitively “right”.  There are many paths that lead to great beer, some are short, some are long.  Some are paved with really awful beer. The best you can hope for is to go along with somebody on their path for a while.  Enjoy the walk.  And the beer.

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