With all the sad stuff going on in the world today, maybe there is no time for fun anymore. We saw the gruesome images on TV of the brutal terrorist attack in Manchester, read of the tragic mudslides in Sri Lanka, and we shall be loath to forget the slaughter of the Coptic Christians in Egypt at the hands of the ISIS. And, to top it off, it is Memorial Day weekend, a somber but beautiful holiday that celebrates the sacrifice of every soldier for our country, now and in the past.
In truth, it has been a horrific week, a horrific season, a horrific year, not just for American soldiers and citizens but for the world. And someone may ask, where is God in all this? Where is joy? Where are families, smiles, hugs, and fraternal warmth? Friends are divided against friends politically—even in universities, once places of reflection, now hotbeds of controversy, as traditional core requirements are eliminated or vastly reduced and truth itself is called into question with Nietzschean fervor. Perspective is the watchword of the day, followed by an intense understanding of individual rights, heightened sensitivity to microaggressions, a “report it” mentality when it comes to potentially offensive language, a demand for safe spaces and, most amazing of all, a strident unwillingness on the part of students (e.g. Evergreen State students) even to listen to, let alone consider, countervailing points of view; there, the protests began, hilariously, in a part of the Evergreen campus known as Red Square. Did these students fail to see the irony in that?
But is it hilarious? No. Yet we are humans, and we do, I think, find a way to find fun and frivolity in the midst of frustration. Beer often helps. I don’t mean merely the medicinal effect of beer, for obviously there is some aspect of beer’s intoxicating side effect that can alleviate the woes, to some extent, though in fact, as alcohol is technically a depressant, it brings you down lower than you might have been had you never touched the stuff. So, no, I’m not talking about the alcoholic properties of beer. Rather I’m speaking about its social dimension and even its spiritual heritage.
The latter property is, of course, peculiarly strong among the Welsh. Now I realize that there have been many Italian monks in Norcia and Swiss monks in St. Gallen and Belgian monks of the Abbeye Cistercienne of Rochefort that have been engaged in spiritual brewing. Their attention to Benedictine rules for brewing is reflected, perhaps, for teetotalers and jelly lovers, in the way that the Trappist monks of the St. Joseph Monestary in Spencer Abbey make the most delicious jams. But that is not beer. And the Welsh love their beer as they love their rugby. De gustibus non disputandum.
But King Henry VIII, who is perhaps best known for his predilection for polyamory or more precisely iterative digamy, in particular, in 1536 dissolved the Welsh monasteries and shut down the monastic brewing tradition in fact throughout the United Kingdom. Still, the Welsh were not dead in terms of beer. Of course, in time, Felinfoel, a hamlet on the edge of Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, saw the rise of a new brewery, if a secular one, and with it the birth of Double Dragon Ale, in cans no less. Now that’s Welsh beer at its finest. After all, Llonion in Pembrokeshire, the county smack next to Carmarthenshire is well known to be the source of fine barley, while Maes Gwenith, which comes from Gwent county [east of Carmarthenshire—Monmouthshire on the map], is famous for its wheat used in the brewing process. According to the not-always-reliable-but-handy Wikipedia, Gwentian wheat’s excellence is even mentioned in Llyfr Coch Hergest (Jesus College, Oxford, MS 111), a manuscript written shortly after 1382, one of the most important medieval books written in Welsh.
But, tasty as Double Dragon Ale may sound to some you, none of this is the fun or frivolity with which I opened this blog and meant to assuage, to some small extent, the recent ills of humanity. Rather we shall leave that to the Germans. For it is German ingenuity that I found funny, funny in the midst of sadness and woes. It’s funny because that ingenuity has produced a communal project that will result in widespread enjoyment, for at the very time Americans are laying a pipeline for oil through controversial lands, the Germans are laying a pipeline for beer beneath solidly German soil. Now I know this sounds incredible, but it has been reported as one hundred percent true—not fake news, and perhaps not even news at all, but funny nonetheless. The target date for the completion of this important public work is August 2017, and it will allow for an underground river of beer across the county known as Schleswig-Holstein to be delivered to the town of Wacken, which each year holds a grand celebration known as Wackenfest. This pipeline will allow for the steady flow of over 400,000 liters (sic) of beer, a spectacular feat meant to address, I suppose, the Schleswig-Holsteinians l’amour de boire la bière, or as the Germans themselves say, die große Lust Bier zu trinken.
So, I leave you with this thought, one stemming from the strict rules of St. Benedict to the unfortunate closing of the monasteries by the sexually wayward King Henry to the resurgence in Felinfoel of not one but two dragons, to a new feat of German engineering: may you find time to smile on this Memorial Day weekend, a day to remember to do so, even as it is a day to remember our country’s heroes. A toast to those who have served and continue to serve, a toast with a Double Dragon Ale or some suitable substitute!