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Five holy craft beers for our turbulent times

By Pieta Woolley

What is up with Canadian brewers’ homage to Christianity these days?

Surprisingly, at least 20 new craft beer companies sport monikers and designs that salute God, Jesus and church. Spiritual-but-not-religious imagery, however, is curiously missing.

Perhaps marketers are hoping to tap into the average Canadian’s postmodern relationship with religion. A lapsed progressive protestant, for example, might be charmed by the Holy Whale brewery, which occupies the former St. Stephens United Church in Alma, N.B. It opened this spring, and its marketing features stained-glass images of a whale — inspired by the Bible’s Jonah, maybe.          

Perhaps these Christian references are simply a tribute to cultural flotsam and jetsam. Glutenberg, for instance, is a quippy portmanteau of the Gutenberg Bible and the trend towards gluten-free diets. It’s a Montreal branding success that’s expanded the international sales of Glutenberg Microbrasserie.

Or, marketers watched the Black Friday-like shopping frenzy of 2012. That’s when Westvleteren 12 Trappist Ale — a project of Belgian brewer monks raising money to repair their Abbey — came to Canada for the first and only time. The ale sold out in less than five minutes at LCBO stores (Note: Westvleteren’s packaging is plain and brown. No flaming cross labels here.) 

Whatever the reasons, the trend toward Christian references in Canadian beer marketing is weird. And interesting. And probably important.

Here are five holy Canadian craft beers for our turbulent times.

1. Holy Smoke Scotch Ale

Made by: Church Key Brewing Co. in Campbellford, Ont.

Fun facts: The brewery is in an 1878 Methodist Church.

Imagery: A hipster-style cross in a circle, with a vintage key.

Description: “A peat smoked Scotch ale. This unique brews heart is that 10% of the malt is kilned over a peat fire, giving beautiful, deep rich smoky tones to the beer. It pours dark brown with a light tan head. It is low in hop bitterness and its profile is dominated by the sweet and smoky malts. # 315655 6.2% alc./vol. 20 IBU 40 SRM”

2. Enlightenment Blond Ale

Made by: Brimstone Brewing Co., in Ridgeway, Ont.

Fun Facts: The brewery is also in a church building that’s been converted into a centre for the arts called “The Sanctuary.” Brimstone also makes Sinister Minister IPA, Midnight Mass Chicory Oatmeal Stout, and Cleric Winter Cranberry, among other great names.

Imagery: A pen-and-ink drawing of a young boy with a halo, cloven feet and a tail.

Description: “A unique American-Style Blonde Ale that is lightly filtered and characterized by an active aroma and vivid golden hue. It offers a gentle bitterness from the hops that is complimented by a slight malty sweetness making a compelling and balanced sessionable beer. Lively and refreshing with a clean finish that will satisfy even the most discerning craft beer drinker. Silver Medal Winner — 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards. Specs: 5.5% ABV / 25 IBU's”

3. Don de Dieu (Gift from God)

Made by: Unibroue, in Chambly, Que.

Fun facts: The brewery also makes Maudite (Damned) and La Fin du Monde (End of the World), alongside more lighthearted monikers, such as “Quelque chose.”

Imagery: A imposing old wooden boat on a rolling sea at sunset. Is it the ark? Is it a colonizer?

Description: “This was the first strong white beer brewed in Canada. When it launched, it was meant to be seasonal but, due to high consumer demand, it became a year-long item.”

4. 8th Sin Black Lager

Made by: Hop City Brewing Co. in Brampton, Ont.

Fun facts: I didn’t know about the eighth sin. So I looked it up. It turns out that it’s an Eastern Orthodox addition to the seven deadlies: despair.

Imagery: Navy and turquoise Mexican Day of the Dead skull.

Description: “8th Sin is our killer new black lager, brewed with 8 different types of malt (yeah 8), that is black in colour with hints of espresso and chocolate in the aroma, a medium body and a smooth sweet taste in the finish. Malt Varieties: Pale 2 Row, Roasted Barley, Chocolate, Carastan, Crystal, Dark Crystal, Munich, Torrified Wheat. Hop Varieties: Saaz, Hallertau, Magnum.”

5. Sweet Jesus Marshmallow Stout

Made by: Left Field Brewery in Toronto.

Fun facts: South of the border, DuClaw Brewery ruffled feathers with its “Sweet Baby Jesus” brew. Some stores pulled it after customers complained. Canada seems to tolerate this stout, though.

Imagery: The bottle features the brewery’s blue baseball logo. A tie-on tag spells out “Sweet Jesus.” The “T” in Sweet is an upside-down cross, and the first “S” in Jesus is a lightening zig-zag.

Description: “To create this tasty mocha-inspired treat, we developed a sweet stout recipe and added lactose, marshmallows, roasted, crushed cocoa nibs and a blend of Brazilian Sweet Jesus coffee beans during conditioning. The result is a rich and decadent blend of chocolate, caramel and sweet orange topped off with a toasty, sweet and creamy marshmallow.”

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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