WeBrew: Celebrating a synagogue brew day

I must admit that when John Coppola, one of the new guys in our homebrew club, emailed me an invitation to swing by the synagogue for a brew day my initial thought was that he must have made a typo. A brew day at the synagogue? I know about sacramental wine and the abbey monks brewing their classic Trappist beers in Belgium and elsewhere, but surely John meant the brew day was happening somewhere else. He’s not even Jewish! But there it was right in the subject line: “Brew day at the Synagogue.” So, on a beautiful, late-summer day I jumped in the car and headed to the Israel Congregation synagogue just up the street from the BYO office.

The group gathers in the sukkah to enjoy some treats on the synagogue’s brew day. Photo by Kiev Rattee

I was met on the back patio of the synagogue by a convivial group of about a dozen folks, most of them seated on a stone wall enjoying some of John’s previous brews. The wonderful smell of mashing grains wafted by with John’s clone recipe brew of Tree House Brewing Company’s Julius IPA well underway. There was a rectangular white and blue tent located on the far side of the patio with its roof open to the sky. This tent, called a sukkah, turned out to be a significant symbol for why this celebration brew day was occurring. John introduced me to the group and to Cantor Scott Buckner, the Clergy and Spiritual Leader of Israel Congregation. Scott invited me to sample some refreshments on a table inside the sukkah and asked if I was familiar with the Sukkot celebration in Judaism. I was not at all familiar so he proceeded to explain to me the essence of Sukkot is to “commemorate the Israelite’s dwelling in temporary shelters in the desert following their exodus from Egypt. It also celebrates the harvest, giving thanks for our bounty while acknowledging the fragility of life and illusion of our permanence on earth.” Heady stuff for a brew day.

I asked the cantor how John’s brew fit into the celebration to which Scott replied, “We each have incredible gifts that we’re obligated to enjoy.” One of John’s gifts just happens to be crafting some of the finest homebrewed hazy IPAs in our area. It provided me a new perspective into how beer and brewing has the capacity to unify people. John’s wife, Jennifer, is Jewish and one of the ways John brings his particular skills and interests to the congregation is by sharing his beers and now even brewing them at the synagogue. As in any religious congregation its members and their spouses come with their full array of interests outside of the church or synagogue. Some are great cooks. Some garden. Some are carpenters. John brews.
It turned out that this was in fact John’s third brew day at the synagogue. He hauls his Klarstein all-in-one brew system to the back patio along with all of his ingredients and gear for an afternoon of camaraderie with anyone from the congregation who wants to participate. Some, like Jon Prial, enjoy learning the terminology and getting their hands in on the process. While others prefer watching from a distance with a sample of a past brew day’s bounty in their glass.

There was a real sense of joy, learning, and alchemy in the air.

During the first Israel Congregation brew session a few of the guys had joked that they should call the synagogue brew days “HeBrew,” however, several of the women in attendance quickly suggested “WeBrew” as a more inclusive label and it stuck. It was refreshing for me to be a part of a brew day with a mix of people very familiar with homebrewing and many who were completely new to the science of turning water, grain, hops, and yeast into beer. There was a real sense of joy, learning, and alchemy in the air. Speaking of naming things . . . when I asked John if he’d come up with a name yet for his Julius IPA clone a woman sipping her beer at the edge of the patio piped up and said, “I think it should be Jew-lius.”

Issue: January-February 2022