The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, September 20, 2014
Food / Drink ... Zen ...

Way back in November, 2002, I started this blog. My first blog post was a quick introduction to the world, but my second post was a review of some craft beers that I liked. Since then, I haven’t posted a lot of beer reviews; I guess I’ve had “bigger fish to fry” over the years (pardon the carnivorous food allegory, since I’m still a committed vegetarian). I still like beer though, especially craft-brewed beers. Since 2002, I’ve tasted a whole lot of different ones. Most have been pretty good, a few were pretty great, and some were OK . . . almost none were terrible. If one good thing has happened to America over the past 25 years, it has been the comeback of good beer choices (although the basic mass-produced stuff like Bud, Coors, Corona and Heineken still rules the sales charts).

There are a whole lot of beer varieties available these days (you can find beers made from a range of different grains, including wheat, barley, rice, sorgum and rye, combined with most any flavoring you can think of in addition to the usual hop flowers, including apples, milk, watermelon, coffee, Italian spices, strawberries — most anything besides broccoli or turnips, and who knows that someone won’t figure out a way to even make that taste good!). Still, very rarely does a beer make a memorable impression on me. But I just had one that really was worth remembering. So, I’m going to go back to the original intent of this blog, and talk a bit about a beer.

The beer in question is called “Sweet Baby Jesus“, from DuClaw Brewing in Baltimore. This is a porter style beer, meant to be a bit dark and substantial (but not quite as substantial as a stout). The gimmick to this one is that it is flavored with chocolate and peanut butter. Well, as I already said, there are lots of flavored beers out there, but with most of them, the flavorings are rather demure . . . you still know that you’re drinking beer. But as to Baby Jesus, well . . . one sip and you realize that you’re not in Kansas anymore !!! (Or even Milwaukee, which was the traditional beer capital of America until 1985 or so).

SBJ porter really does taste like peanut butter. And chocolate . . . yes, it really is like drinking a Reeses’ Peanut Butter cup! A liquid alcoholic version of a Reeses . . . wow, what a lovely idea! (But for ADULTS ONLY!) Well, it’s lovely at first, anyway. To be honest, Sweet Baby Jesus is not something that you would want to have a second of (a lot of other reviews have said about the same thing, i.e. this is not a “session beer”). Even though it has some hoppy bitterness and malty structure to keep it from tasting too much like Hershey’s syrup, this one is too sweet to be refreshing, as with a good bitter IPA. I’ve heard of dessert wines, but Sweet Baby Jesus opens up the notion of having a beer for dessert!

I used to love Reeses when I was a kid, but stopped eating candy many years ago. However, with Sweet Baby Jesus porter, I may be able to re-live that part of my youth every now and then, but without the sugar rush (the minor alcohol buzz is more my speed at this age). You still probably want to brush your teeth after drinking this one, though.

Oh, and about the name . . . i.e. naming a beer after Jesus . . . well, we live in a very multi-cultural and over-stimulated world, where very little remains sacred. So, by modern standards, I didn’t consider the “Sweet Baby Jesus” name to be particularly blasphemous or disrespectful of Christian tradition. I mean, if it were a crappy mass-produced beer, another Miller Lite, then sure, you would know that using the “name of the Lord” was just a cynical marketing gimmick. But a beer reproducing the simple childhood pleasure of eating a Reeses, a beer made with care and craft . . . well, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth himself would approve (didn’t he himself say “bring unto me the children”, and didn’t he also appreciate a good cup of wine?). At least in moderation . . . SBJ is a bit too sweet and too expensive to guzzle until you pass out or do something else stupid, like driving a car and hitting a pedestrian, or otherwise causing needless damage and suffering. Yes, DWI remains a social crisis, but I don’t think that Sweet Baby Jesus porter will make it any worse.

Still, there are some who believe it wrong to name a beer after the second member of the Christian Trinity, the Son of God. I don’t agree with them, but I do respect their feelings. The teacher at my Zen sangha (Sensei Carl B.) recently gave a talk about sacredness, and said that the great Zen masters like Dogen have long taught that everything in life should be looked at as sacred. And as to make the point that Dogen really meant EVERY darn thing that ever existed or happened under the sun, Sensei Carl pointed to the example of a controversial painting, exhibited in Brooklyn in the 1990s, of the Crucifixion of Christ with cow dung at the foot of the cross (the good Sensei was actually referring to “The Holy Virgin“, a painting by British-African artist Chris Ofili; the painting is an icon-like Black Madonna image incorporating collaged pornographic images and elephant dung).

Sensei Carl made the point that both the Crucifixion and the dung are sacred, notwithstanding the offense taken by some members of the Catholic community in New York, including then-mayor Rudy Giulianni, who brought a court case to have the painting removed (the Brooklyn Museum won the case and maintained the exhibit; today the painting-in-question resides far away in a museum in Tasmania).

Interestingly, Sensei Carl also says in his talk that the rituals which the Zen community engage in (such as placing flowers before statues of the Buddha) appropriately encourage Zen practitioners to recognize the sacred in all things. I wish that the Sensei had been a bit more sensitive to the fact that for many well-intentioned Catholics, images of the Virgin Mary and the Crucifixion of Jesus are also rituals which encourage the appreciation of the ultimate sacredness of all of God’s creation. Perhaps Mayor Giulianni’s lawsuit was going a bit too far in trying to deny access to something that might for some be an interesting expression of artistic creativity and social commentary, even though it offended others who could not find traces of the sacred in a Madonna bejeweled with vaginal images and dung. This is America, where we value the First Amendment and we allow that everyone sees things differently sometimes. It’s fine for Zen teachers to say that we should all see the sacred in everything; but it’s realistic to acknowledge that none of us are perfect and all-seeing, each of us are partially blind to the sacred in different ways. I’m not sure that everyone in our sangha would appreciate it if one day, a pile of fresh dog dirt was set on our Buddha altar in place of the flowers. (But if you want to try that on your own Buddha altar, be my guest!)

So, I’m going to continue to buy and drink Sweet Baby Jesus porter, but I will acknowledge and sympathize with those who may be hurt by the idea of using Jesus’s reputation to sell beer (even though it really is a special beer . . . I mean you don’t come across a beer tasting like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups every day!!!). I respect their right to boycott the product and encourage others not to buy it. And because of their assertions, I might even take a moment to bow and honor the great spiritual legacy that Jesus of Nazareth left to our world, the next time I open a SBJ porter. I will try to see the sacred in BOTH the beer and the name on the bottle, as both Dogen and Sensei Carl would have it. But I will acknowledge that we all need our own individual rituals in search of the sacred; that one person’s ritual may seem to another like a childish and irrational rubric; and that in the end, my rituals are no better (but also no worse, so long as they aren’t harmful or significantly threatening) than anyone else’s. Again, so long as the ritual in question is nothing more than potentially disagreeable or distasteful to certain people — as in the case of both Ofili’s painting, the moniker for the porter, and Sensei Carl’s mildly-insensitive “teisho“.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:23 am      

  1. Jim, I really have nothing to say about savoring the flavors and kinds of beer. I don’t drink it. I had some a few times in maybe the late 1960s or early 1970s and found in a particularly inappropriate situation that when I drank beer, I could become quickly and easily very angry. I stopped beer drinking immediately. But I’ve often tho’t that it’s no wonder there are so many brawls in taverns where beer is the basic thing consumed if other people have the same reaction to beer that I had.

    As to the name “Sweet Baby Jesus”: Likely Jesus himself drank beer. In those days and for centuries after water was seldom drunk as they did not have the methods of purifying water we have these days; water was sure to make people sick; so they either drank “ale” or wine or mixed water with wine. I guess the idea was that the wine would kill off the germs in the water — who knows if it did. (I’ve often tho’t the people in those days must have been alcoholics, but maybe they got so used to it, it had little effect on them. Yet I wonder if the people in the first couple of millennia were all basically alcoholics. But I digress.) I can also hear someone in a tavern taking a taste of it and saying, “Sweet Baby Jesus, ain’t that wonderful stuff”; thus the name.

    I certainly agree that one person’s rituals are no better than another’s. I must say that *my* attitude toward the painting of “The Holy Virgin” with the elephant dung – and the Sensei’s honoring both the “Holy Virgin” and the elephant dung – I find myself wondering if he honored the pornographic images too. Well, it takes all kinds, so they say. Reminds me of the painting of Jesus in urine some time ago. Perhaps the artists got the meaning they were looking for, but to this point I still haven’t figured it out. Oh, well. (Can’t help but wonder what the Buddhists would think/do if the Buddha were substituted in one of those artistic creations.)

    Back to the beer: I’m really not the one to comment on the various tastes of beer (or wine for that matter) as I seldom drink them. I might like the Sweet Baby Jesus beer (if I would ever drink a beer, which I doubt) as it has a chocolate and peanut butter taste, altho I do not tend to favor the mixture of the two. Chocolate, not peanut butter is my approach. But sweet wines I used to drink (as opposed to all those dry wine drinkers, oh how I did not fit in). MCS
    P.S. On a previous topic: I found this and tho’t it apropos of some of the discussions of that preceding post, the one post from a couple of weeks ago on atheism and agnostics: It’s a direct quote. It should be noted the man in question had a heart attack and surgery on his arteries where they crack open the chest to get at the heart. He mentions the word “death” had been seriously mentioned to him by hospital personnel five different times, and then this:
    Jon Katz “Bedlam Farm” blog, September 19, 2014:
    “In the early morning hours after my surgery, when I was beginning to awaken, I had the richest and most powerful dreams, I felt I was face to face with death in a beautiful open field, I felt we were seeing one another clearly for the first time. I think my late dog Rose was running in the fields beyond, Maria [his wife] was calling to me. Rose always came running when I was in trouble, so does Maria. Was this just a dream? A vision? A portent? Of course, I do not know and cannot ever know.
    It may have been a dream, but it was also the truth, and I am wiser and better for having encountered it. This is what it means to be a human being.” (Again, I say: There are NO atheists in foxholes.)

    Comment by Mary S. — September 20, 2014 @ 11:11 am

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