Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Lion Breweries’ Waikato Draught

Truth be told, this is the first time I’ve sampled Lion Breweries’ Waikato offering, despite it being one of New Zealand's oldest beers. 91 years old apparently!

According to beer historian Mr Wiki, Waikato Draught was originally brewed in Hamilton by the Innes Family Brewery, the first brewery in New Zealand owned by a woman. Lion Nathan acquired the brewery in 1961 with production continuing in Hamilton until 1987 before being moved to Auckland. Unfortunately for Hamilton, this shift to Auckland meant Hamilton officially became New Zealand’s "Most Uninspiring City.” A title held until the first class debut of Daniel Vettori for Northern Districts against England ten years later in 1997. His first wicket, that of Nasser Hussain (caught at first slip attempting to drive), is recognised by the local council of the time as breathing new life into the city and inspired their catch phrase “Hamilton; Where It’s Happening,” Good stuff Lucas! Shortly after they planted a garden and bought some hot air balloons and things have been on the up and up every since. But I digress. In 2005 Waikato Draught won gold in the draught category of the Brew NZ beer awards with its classic beer being described as having a “strong malty flavour with well-defined bitterness.” That’ll be something to look out for!

What else? Technically a draught beer is one poured via a handle and from a keg or cask, now-a-days though Waikato primarily comes in a can or a bottle. In fact, it is rare to find Waikato Draught on tap outside of the 7,067-person town of Huntly. Basically very view taverns are brave enough to invest in a 50 litre keg. It might take 10 - 15 years to work through that much Waikato Draught and not many publicans are willing to sign up to that kind of commitment. Nevertheless, if one is prepared to make the trip to one of Huntly’s local establishments you’ll be able to find Waikato Draught on tap as well as a better-than-average chance of a Thursday night schnitzel special. Just follow the sound of the Waikato chainsaws calling to each other (they don't text over there) and keep a look out for the Huntly Hurricane (aka Lance Hohaia). Draught continues to be used in the title only out of tradition. Other than that, as a malty/bitter beer we’d expect it to be in some way related to the Pale Ale family. Whether a long lost cousin to be welcome home or an ugly step sister, we’ll have to wait and see.    

Let’s see how this goes.

Price: $7.99 4x330mls. Waikato Draught is certainly priced competitively when one compares it to other craft beers we’ve reviewed. Interestingly enough, Waikato Draught gets cheaper per bottle when you buy in bulk. A box of 15 works out at $1.73 per bottle and a box of 24 at $1.66. In theory then, a 249 pack would work out at about .59c per bottle. They’re practically giving it away. Or, maybe my math is wrong.

Alcohol content: 4.0%

Colour: Deep amber and golden hues. Plenty of bubbles and a reasonable white frothy head.

Aroma: Faint notes of sweet toffee are discernable. There is also subtle sour note as well, kind of a mix between 24-hour charity relay sweat, apprentice builder’s body odour, and the sticky wooden floors of the Mount Rugby Club just before church used to start after a Saturday night 40th birthday back in the day.

Palate: Even chilled the sweet malt flavours come through, hints of Pam's golden syrup. Other than that it is simply wet and watery. It is slightly fizzy but totally lacking any body. In terms of strong taste and bitterness; whoever did the write-up extolling the virtues of this draught beer has obviously never sampled a good stout or a quality IPA. I’m not convinced this beer even has any hops in it.

Finish: The initial swig of this beer is quite palatable compared to the finish. The finish is where it becomes pretty off-putting as it is hard to work out what the tangy aftertaste exactly is. Many myths surround what may or may not be the special ingredients used in this brewing process. Since 2011 the general consensus seems to be Beaver's Rugby World Cup winning socks and undies, the very ones worn as he nervously took the kick that became "The Kick." I’m not convinced though. This old misty is even more tangy than that. It’s almost as if someone has combined the muddy water of the Waikato river with select segments of yellow snow from Mount Ruapehu and a hint of Stihl’s HP 2 Stroke chainsaw oil, and then actually put it in the bottle! It's hard to digest.

On the Chart: Well in terms of complexity we’re sitting pretty low. Well let’s be honest, this bit of mooloo magic just isn’t that magical and will line up right at the bottom of the chart. It’s also not hoppy in the slightest. And while it is a touch malty, it's certainly not anything like a deep dark porter or stout. This is pretty middle of the road. A refreshing beer rather than a beer to be savoured. It’s looking pretty lonely on the chart.

Conclusion: Truthfully, Lion Breweries’ Waikato Draught is an easy drink. Easy like a glass of water is easy. There isn’t a lot to it. I’d say that’s why it is sold in 24 packs and maybe even one day in 249 packs for .59c a bottle. I think the idea with Waikato Draught is to come back for more. This isn't craft beer. Craft beer is different. Craft beer is to be savoured rather than skulled, and the flavours, like anything of substance, eventually fatigue the palate. Most craft beers are sold as a single drink, though you do get a few 4 packs and a handful of 6 packs. This particular Waikato Draught was one of 4 but I’m bamboozled as to what to do with the other three; I’m not touching them. Glad I didn't get a box of 24.

In all honesty, it’s not that Waikato Draught is that bad, it more that it just isn’t that good. Why waste time or money on a beer like this? When you want a coffee you go to local cafĂ© for an espresso not to Gregg’s for an instant. It doesn't matter that Gregg calls it a "Special Blend" we know it isn't true. When you want steak you throw a scotch on the grill not a piece of marinated BBQ steak with those lines in it (where do those lines even come from anyway!?!). When you want a beer you pop a Tuatara or a Panhead or something from Garage Project. You stay away from Waikato Draught. At least I would. Quality over quantity I say. Less is more. This is an ugly step sister rather than a Cinderalla. Run!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Moa's Festive Season Belgian IPA

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Eagle Brewery’s RED IPA. In that review I mentioned the wide variety of IPA options that various breweries are coming up with these days. One variety mentioned was a Belgian Style IPA. Essentially this is an IPA brewed with Belgian yeast. Belgian yeast has a very distinct taste and to include it in an IPA changes the beer quite significantly. While off putting to some, others find it a very pleasant flavour. I enjoy the flavour when it is mild but find it pretty overwhelming when it comes through strong. Well funnily enough, after mentioning that two weeks ago, and then reviewing a traditional Belgian style abbey beer last week (delicious), I’ve come across a Belgian style IPA courtesy of Moa Brewing NZ.

Moa Brewing Company is based in Marlborough, New Zealand. While Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions, Moa Brewing is all about delicious hand crafted beer. They launched in 2003 and have been going from strength to strength ever since. Most of Moa’s beers are bottle conditioned with yeast and sugar added to the brew just before bottling. This means their beers have a cloudy sediment at the bottom, nothing to worry about though, it all just adds to the magic.

Moa promote this beer as an American style IPA brewed with Belgian ale yeast. This little blurb points towards the beer being very bitter / very hoppy, with strong citrus, pine, and fruity notes. This will be followed by a distinctive after taste that comes from the Belgian yeast; off putting to some and delicious to others depending to how strong it comes through. In Moa’s St Joseph Belgium Tripel (yep, that’s right, what a name!) the yeast flavour comes through too strong for me. Other Belgians I’ve had were more balanced and truly delicious. Like Leffe’s Bruin. Yum. 

Let’s see how this goes. It has the potential to be a great combination. 

Price: $7.99 500mls

Alcohol content: 6.0%

Colour: Deep amber gold with plenty of bubbles and a lovely white frothy head. 

Aroma: Strong hoppy smells of grapefruit and tropical fruit. More fruity than herbaceous. 

Palate: Very hoppy but the hops are full of beautiful fruity bitterness. Reasonably fizzy. Really quite lovely. 

Finish: As you swallow you can't miss the distinct Belgian yeast flavour profile coming through. It is beautifully balanced though and comes through quite sweet and not at all over powering. There is a slight sweet toffee like malt finish too. Big bitterness sticks to the roof of your mouth while the lovely sweetness swirls around your tongue and cheeks.  

On the Chart: This festive Belgian IPA is pretty hoppy, probably more out towards the double IPA side of things, which you would expect with an American style IPA (APA). But the sweet yeast and toffee malts certainly add a nice complexity that mixes everything up. So we are well left and with a really great degree of complexity.

Conclusion: This is a really nice beer that has been well executed. The Belgian yeast is slightly milder than how it comes through in Moa's St Joseph, which for me is a positive thing. It's not too pungent. While it is quite a bitter beer the yeast and the malts provide a lovely contrast and everything fits together really nicely. If you like double IPAs or IPAs, and if you like the beers of Belgium, this is a really good combination. Good stuff Moa! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Exploration and Experimentation: Complines

Here is an invitation to explore and experiment with some Christian practices of devotion that you may not be that familiar with. It doesn’t matter your denomination or background; you can have a go. If you don’t officially class yourself as a Christ follower, perhaps you find yourself undecided on the whole thing, this could be a really meaningful experiment as a part of your journey. Have a read. Have a go. 

At St Luke’s (the church I pastor) we’re exploring some of the ways that people throughout history have outworked their faith in God. Particularly we are reflecting on Christian spirituality, that is; the rhythms, habits, practices and disciplines that have sustained, discipled, encouraged and connected people to God in their journey of following Jesus. These are the kinds of questions we’re considering; how have different people at different times in history engaged in prayer, in fasting, in giving, in worship, in confession, in service, in contemplation etc? How have Christians at different times organised their “devotional life”? Has it always been three chapters of the bible, Radio Rhema’s Word for the Day, and then some sort of S.O.A.P exercise? (Scripture, observation, application and prayer). What other options are there?

I’m convinced that exploration and experimentation with devotional practices new or unfamiliar to us, has the potential to help us connect with God in different ways. There are no guarantees but perhaps some of the practices that traditionally sit outside of classical Pentecostal/Charismatic spirituality might offer fresh ways of embracing God and being embraced by God. Maybe they could even turn out to be transformational. 

This week the invitation is to engage in St Basil’s 4th Century practice of a daily compline. Well, truthfully debate surrounds the origins of the compline with some thinking it originated in the 6th Century with St Benedict. Either way, the compline is a fairly ancient practice.  

In monastic life time is divided in a number of ways. The seasons of the year play a large part in the life of the monastery with husbandry a significant part of monastic life. Likewise, the seasons of the church calendar (also known as the liturgical calendar) shape life in the monastery as well. Organised around the life of Christ the liturgical calendar offers feasts, fasts, celebrations and lamentations for various occasions throughout the year. On a day to day basis though, the canonical hours, as outlined in the Book of Hours, serve to set the rhythm of the day. Rather than get into all the details of the Book of Hours, it’s enough here to say that “compline” was the final organised service of prayer and reflection in the day. Monks would gather together for the prayers of the compline late in the evening and then retire to sleep. Normally the compline served as the transition into The Great Silence of the night were both the monastic community and visitors would observe silence until the morning service of the new day.

These days, as well as being used in monasteries, complines are often used on retreats as a way of bringing to a close the activities of the day and preparing people for sleep. Some families use complines as a way of transitioning into the silence of night and pray through various complines with their children. Of course they can be used by individuals as well, which is what we’ll be doing.

I’m not sure what your practice is before bed and sleep. Perhaps it differs from evening to evening. In our modern world though many people find that their final moments before bed include television, screen time on phones or tablet devices, video games, checking e-mails, checking Facebook, wading through apps, news updates and so forth. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions on this, but I’d humbly want to suggest that there is perhaps a better way to set ourselves up for rest, stillness, silence and sleep. Perhaps a compline could serve as a healthy alternative and different pattern of engaging in rhythms of rest and rejuvenation.

The prayers in a compline are not lengthy and can be offered in a few short minutes. However, the goal is not to race though the compline in order to get it out of the way. Rather, the goal is to create a rhythm that slows one down, helps one to disengage from the tensions and concerns of the past day, and serves to shift our attention to God.

Instructions on how to engage in a compline are offered below, as well as seven complines, Sunday through Saturday. At the end of a week the idea is to cycle back to the original Monday compline and work through the series again. And again. As you become familiar with the prayers you'll find different ideas and depth of meaning in your reflections from week to week. Of course, if you hunt around on the internet or in various Christian prayer books, you won’t struggle to find other complines that can be used as well. Ideally, it would be good to print these out at the start of the week so that you’re not needing to turn your phone on to read. If you do need to use your phone stay away from Facebook etc. 


My first suggestion would be that you set up some sort of “sacred space” where you can complete the compline (and other practices that will be considering in due course). This need not be a room or anything. It could be your bedside table, a shelf or small table next to a favourite reading chair. It just needs to be a place where you can be still and also a place where you can keep various items you may be using in your exploration of Christian spirituality. You’ll need a scented candle, printouts of the complines (in this instance), and I’d recommend any other icons that serve as a catalyst in creating a moment of Christ centered stillness. Bibles, pictures, other devotionals can be helpful. We’re creatures of habit and association. Couch = watching TV. Bed = sleeping. Table = eating. Reading and reflection chair = reading and reflection. You’ll find it helpful to create a space that is your reflection and connection with God space. Back in the day, the term was a “prayer closet” and for many people, it was literally a dark black closet where they could pray out loud without interruption or concern in regard to disturbing others. I’m more inclined to create a more ascetically pleasing kind of sacred space, but hey, I’m not a "yeller."

You should allow 10 – 15 minutes to complete the compline. You could read the prayers in about 2 minutes but that isn’t the point. The compline is about slowing down. After each portion of prayer or scripture, there is a “Selah” moment where you can pause and reflect.

Compline is the last thing you do before going to sleep. You don’t complete the compline and then hop into bed and check Facebook and your e-mail on your phone. Thus the idea is to have brushed your teeth, locked the doors, put the cat outside, tucked the kids in etc. All that is left is to hop into bed and go to sleep. Having sorted these miscellaneous kinds of things light your candle and turn the lights out. You should be able to complete the compline by the light of a single candle without too much trouble. The candle also serves as a symbol of the last light of the day, a diminishing light as rest and sleep beckon.

For the first few minutes simply be still. Practice sitting in silence and stilling you mind. Aim for a sense of contemplative stillness. There is an art to this which is a discussion for another day, but one of the best things to do is “breathe prayerfully.” That is, make each breath in a prayer of thanks for the breath of God that gives you breath and animates all life. Make each breath out a prayer of surrender to the wonder of God.

When one feels suitably still begin reading through the compline. Don’t rush, take your time. At each “Selah” pause and reflect before moving on.

When the compline has been completed extinguish the candle, symbolic of the day coming to an end and retire to bed. Sleep well.

Sunday Compline

The Sacred Three
Father, Spirit, Son
to save
to shield
to surround
our house
this home
this night
and every night.


Search me, O God, and know my heart.
Test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me
and lead me instead in your everlasting way.


Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


Let the peace of the Spirit be mine tonight.
Let the peace of the Son be mine tonight.
Let the peace of the Father be mine tonight.
In peace will I lie down for it is You, O Lord,
You alone who makes me rest secure.


Lord Almighty grant a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.


Monday Compline

Jesus, Son of the living God,
Let your Spirit guard my sleep tonight.
Watch over me as I rest,
Be present with me in the silence.
May the virtue of my daily work
Make holy my nightly prayers.
May my sleep be deep and easy
That my work might be fresh and true.


Psalm 139:17-18
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!


O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live. Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 


May the peace of all peace be mine this night,
May the presence of Christ make me whole,
Christ my shield,
Christ my portion,
Christ my king,
Christ my saviour,
Christ my rock,
Christ my treasure,
Christ my triumph.


Lord Almighty grant a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.


Tuesday Compline

O God, and Spirit, and Jesu
the Three,
from the crown of my head,
O Trinity,
to the soles of my feet
mine offering be.
Come I unto Thee, O Jesu, my King,
O Jesu, do Thou be my sheltering.


As the bridegroom to his chosen,
as the king unto his realm,
as the keep unto the castle,
as the pilot to the helm,
so, Lord, art Thou to me.


Psalm 91:1-7
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you, 
these evils will not touch you. 


As the music at the banquet,
as the stamp unto the seal,
as the medicine to the fainting,
as the wine-cup at the meal,
so, Lord, art Thou to me.


Lord Almighty grant a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.


Wednesday Compline

Calm me, O Lord, as You stilled the storm.
Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace.


Father, bless the work that is done
and the work that is to be.
Father, bless the servant that I am
and the servant that I will be.


Almighty God, our heavenly Father:
We have sinned against you,
through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
forgive us all our offenses;
and grant that we may serve you
in newness of life,
to the glory of your Name.
Grant us forgiveness of all our sins,
and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.


The peace of God
be over me to shelter me,
under me to uphold me,
about me to protect me,
behind me to direct me,
ever with me to save me.
The peace of all peace
be mine this night in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.


Lord Almighty grant a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.


Thursday Compline

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone:
my hope comes from him.
I will lie down and sleep.
I wake again,
because the Lord sustains me.
By day the Lord directs his love;
at night His song I with me.
be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.


May God be in my sleep;
may Christ be in my dreams.
May the Spirit be in my repose,
in my thoughts, in my heart.
In my soul always
may the Sacred Three dwell.


Matthew 6:9-13
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power,
and the glory for ever and ever.


Sleep, O sleep in the calm of each calm.
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of all guidance.
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves.
Sleep, O sleep in the Lord of life.
Sleep, O sleep in the God of life.


Lord Almighty grant a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.


Friday Compline

I am placing my soul and my body
in Thy safe keeping this night, O God,
in Thy safe keeping, O Jesus Christ,
in Thy safe keeping, O Spirit of perfect truth.
The Three who would defend my cause
be keeping me this night from harm.   


I call on You, O God,
for You will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show the wonder of Your great love,
You who save by Your right hand
those who take refuge in You from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
hide me in the shadow of Your wings.


Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Save us, Lord, while we are awake,
guard us while we are asleep;
that, awake we may watch with Christ,
and, asleep, may we rest in His peace.


Lord Almighty grant a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.


Saturday Compline

Keep watch, dear Lord,
Over those who work, or watch, or weep this night.
Let your Spirit, dear Lord,
Be near to those who sleep.
Tend the sick, Lord Christ;
give rest to the weary,
bless the dying,
soothe the suffering,
pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous;
all for your love's sake.

Look down, O Lord, from your heavenly throne, and
illumine this night with your celestial brightness; that by
night as by day your people may glorify your holy Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


I love you, O Lord my strength.
The Lord is my rock,
my fortress and deliverer.
My God is my rock
in whom I take refuge.
I will praise the Lord who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me.
Because He is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.


May God shield me;
may God fill me;
may God keep me;
may God watch me;
may God guide me;
may God restore me;
may God bring me this night
to the nearness of His love.


Lord Almighty grant a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Craft Beer Review: Saint Bernardus' Abt 12

Today we’re reviewing an Abbey beer. Or is it a Trappist? What's the difference. 

Beer, it seems, has always been a Belgian tradition. The widespread beverage-centered Beaker Culture was present in Belgium from as early as 2800BCE. That’s a long time ago. Fast forward to the eighth and ninth century and monasteries dotted throughout the Belgian countryside give rise to one of Belgium’s great brewing traditions; abbey beers. Most monastic religious orders worked in various cottage industries to support themselves. Some made cheese, some farmed sheep, and others brewed beer. That's how they supported the ministry of the monastery. I can’t tell you how much I wish St Luke’s could start a microbrewery as a way of supporting the life and ministry of the church. Steeped in tradition I tell you! Steeped! Just looking for some financial backing. Anyone...?

Anyway, in the early days of monastic brewing, there was no such thing as “hopped” beer. The bitterness in beer was instead derived from “gruit,” a secret mix of herbs and spices disguised in grain. The right to sell and trade gruit was restricted to the religious orders and political houses of the day. Hops didn’t arrive in Belgium until the beginning of the 14th Century and when they did, permission to uses hops was granted by the regional Bishop and a tax was levied. There it is again people, the craft beer industry is a church tradition! I’m telling you!  

Over the centuries a vast array of different style brews were experimented with. Belgian brewers were artisanal in their approach. Or in other words, the brewer as an artist was under no obligation to brew beer that conformed to any particular pattern or style. Over all though Belgium beer tends to focus more on malt that on hops with drinkers preferring more nuanced beers rather than the big flavors more often associated with hops. Herbs and spices are often added and the beer is normally quite sweet. Most notably though, Belgian beer is brewed with a very distinct kind of yeast, that gives all Belgian beer a unique and distinct flavour.

What about Abbey beers verses Trappist beers? Abbey and Trappist beers are the direct descendants of monastic breweries. Abbey beers now refer to "abbey style" beers brewed by commercial brewing companies. Trappist beers are those still brewed by monks on a monastic property. There are licensed officially as Trappist beers. There are eleven monasteries still brewing and officially recognised as a Trappist brewery. Six in Belgium (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel), two in the Neatherlands (Koningshoeven and Maria Toevlucht’s), one in the United States (St Joseph’s Abbey), one in Italy (Tre Fontane Abbey), and one in Germany (Mariawald, though they don’t brew beer and rather license other products as Trappist). This doesn't mean Trappist beers are superior to Abbey beers, but they are often harder to get your hands on. 

Abbey/Trappist style beers have tended to included, a dubbel (a dark brown fruity and spicy style beer, 6% - 7.8% ABV), a tripel (a golden beer, spiced and malty with refreshing hops, 7.5% - 9.5% ABV), a quadrupel (that is even bigger and bolder than a dubbel or tripel, a big, strong and dark beer ABV 10% and above), a saison, a witbier, a sour brown beer, and also lambics. Way too much to go into now and we’ve already covered a lot. 

Tonight’s beer is St Bernardus Brewery’s Abbot 12; a quadrupel! In 1945 the Trappist Monastery St Sixtus decided to limit it's production of beer to that which was needed for the monastery, gate sales, and sales to a few local taverns. Instead of brewing commercially they granted a licence to brew to a local cheese factory and Brewery St Bernard was founded. The brew master from Westvleteren became a partner in the brewery and bought some of the recipes from Westvleteren Abbey. As a side note Westvleteren 12 is regarded by some as the finest beer in the world and it very hard to get your hands on. Now brewing as St Bernardus their offerings are referred to as Abbey beers rather than Trappist and we'll be sampling their Abt 12 (Abbot 12). Here is the blurb straight from their website...

The St.Bernardus Abt 12 is the pride of our stable, the nec plus ultra of our brewery. Abbey ale brewed in the classic 'Quadrupel' style of Belgium's best Abbey Ales. Dark with a full, ivory-colored head. It has a fruity aroma, full of complex flavours and excels because of its long bittersweet finish with a hoppy bite. Worldwide seen as one of the best beers in the world. It's a very balanced beer, with a full-bodied taste and a perfect equilibrium between malty, bitter and sweet. One of the original recipes from the days of license-brewing for the Trappist monks of Westvleteren.

Let's see if it measures up.

Price: $9.99 330mls (pretty expensive, but it has made the trip from Belgium). 

Alcohol content: 10%

Colour:  A deep and dark cloudy brown. Very slight head that fades quickly.

Aroma: Smells sweet and spicy. Cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, raisins and dates.  

Palate: It’s fizzy, sweet and spicy. Not spicy like hot chillies, but rather a pleasant tingle of baking style spices in your tongue. At 10% ABV it feels almost warm even though I’m drinking it chilled. Plenty of sweet caramel malt flavours coming through.  

Finish: It’s in the finish that you get the distinct flavour of Belgian yeast coming through. It’s not as strong as in a beer like Moa’s St Joseph but it is still unmistakable. This is a bit toned back compared to other Belgian beers I've had and is really nice. When more pronounced I don’t enjoy it as much. There is a bitterness at the same time, hidden inside the raisin cookie maltiness, just a touch but it balances things nicely. It is very sweet. The more I drink the sweeter it gets, almost port like. 
On the Chart: This wonderful beer is certainly down towards the malty end of the chart rather than hoppy. There is some hoppy bitterness for sure but it is subtle. In terms of complexity, there is plenty going on here. Yum, yum, yum. It’ll be up the scale in terms of complexity.

Conclusion: St Bernardus promote this beer as full bodied in terms of flavour and “a perfect equilibrium between malty, bitter and sweet.” I don’t think this is false advertising. This is pretty delicious. The Belgian yeast won’t be to everybody’s liking but if you find this part of the beer pleasant to your palate, you’ll find the rest of it delicious. It’s a big beer. No doubt about that. But it is also a beer with plenty of nuance and finesse. Well worth shelling out the $10 for it one time. I'll get another one some time for sure!

Reviews pending:
Moa's Festive IPA Belgium Edition.
Lion Breweries' Waikato Draft

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wrestling with God at The Wall

The following continues a series exploring Vibrant Spirituality and the Wall. 

Part one: Vibrant Spirituality and the Wall can be read here.
Part two: Face-to-Face with the Wall can be read here

Part Three:

“The Wall” is this distinct experience of disenchantment in regard to your Christian faith.   

It’s where you realise that what has worked for you for so long, in terms of how you out work this thing called being a Christian, some sort of a relationship with God, the rule and reign of Jesus in your life, well it just doesn’t seem to be working for you anymore. Not like it used to. Everything seems up in the air.

While a place of disenchantment though, “The Wall,” is also simultaneously the promise of new possibilities. At first it might just seem like remote possibilities; just a rumour or echo. But increasingly you get that sense, that suspicion, that there has to be more to this Christian thing. There must be something on the other side of the wall. And of course, there always is, there has never been a wall that doesn’t have something on the other side.

If we are to move forward we must embrace honesty, abandon ego and accept discomfort. Most of the time we try to arrange our lives to be as comfortable as possible. We few discomfort as a bad thing. Discomfort, at times, is just a part of the journey though.  

Let’s now briefly consider the life of Jacob. See Genesis 25 – Genesis 32.

Jacob is one of the great Hebrew Patriarchs. We’ve Abraham, we’ve Isaac and we’ve Jacob. He is the son of Isaac and Rebekah. A twin to his brother Esau. Esau was born first but Jacob followed soon after clutching at Esau’s heel.

Esau mean’s hairy. Jacob or Yakob (Hebrew) means heel grabber or deceiver, we could add to this though, wheeler and dealer, schemer and plotter, smooth talker; Mr Slick (as BZ put it in a sermon one time).

Esau is an outdoors kind of guy; hunting, fishing, craft beer, rugby league. Jacob is a wheeler and dealer, drinks Pinot Noir, dresses nice. He’s the kind of guy who likes to work the angles, always trying to find some sort of advantage for himself.  He’ll happily use people for his own advantage without the blink of an eye. He manipulated his brother out of his birth right, talked him into trading it for a bowl of stew. He deceives his father into giving him the first born blessing, wears goat skins. Wheels and deals his uncle Laban in regard to speckled sheep, speckled goats and who owns what. He has a knack for winning. He’s a success. Mr Slick always seems to come out on top. 

Now he’s going to try and get a scheme going with God.

In Genesis 28 Jacob has an encounter with God. He’s sleeping on the ground, a rock for a pillow and he has a vision of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending. It’s a mysterious encounter. In his vision God promises Jacob descendants like the sand, land and favour. Essentially the same blessing that his grandfather Abraham received and that his father Isaac carried as well.

Not content to just trust God though, Jacob wants to set up an agreed upon arrangement.

Genesis 28:20-22
Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

This 10% thing is something started by Jacob’s grandfather Abraham. Abraham in an act of worship honours the King of Salem, King of Jeru-salem, the priest who comes with bread and wine (a type of Christ). Abraham’s gift of 10% is an act of worship and devotion and fidelity.  For Jacob, it isn’t an act of worship, it’s a deal, a bargain, a transaction. If God blesses him he’ll give God 10%.

Jacob thinks he’s bargained God into a corner. Jacob thinks he’s got God by the heel. Mr Slick. God’s smiling though. God knows he has his foot in the door of Jacob’s life.

I think sometimes we’re more like this than we might realise. God if you just answer this prayer ________. I’ll never ask for anything again. This is one of my official three wishes in life God!  God if you could help me through this mess I’m in at the moment, I’ll double tithe for a year. Really though, it’s subtler than that, we come to unspoken arrangements in our head in regard to how giving works, how prayer works, how fasting works, how doing good and loving our neighbour works. Specifically, in regard to how it all “works out” for us. We’ve formulas of how to engage God, what we’ll do and then what God will do for us. A transactional faith that we’re happy to participate in.

Techniques. Strategies. A hand-shake kind of agreement with God. Wink, wink, nod, nod. We’ve got God by the heel. God smiles. God’s just got his foot in the door.    
Jacob sees in God the potential for some advantageous transactions. God’s not about transactions though, God’s about transformation.

20 years come and go for Jacob. He’s now middle age. He has wives and children, wealth and riches. He decides to head home with his substantial flocks and herds. He is afraid though. How will Esau receive him?

As he gets closer to Esau’s territory Jacob decides to hedge his bets, diversify his assets you could say. He’s still a player and he doesn’t want to get played. He’s camped by a river, but in the middle of the night he divides everything he owns into two groups. His family, his cattle, his sheep, his goats etc. He sends the two groups across the river and then splits them up, sends them in slightly different directions. If one gets taken perhaps the other will escape.  

Genesis 32:24-31
This left Jacob all alone in the camp. (Returns to the camp all alone. All by himself. No stuff now. No family. No distractions. Just him. He’s been reduced down to himself. Rare moment of stillness. He has a troubled mind. He’s worried about Esau. Worried about an attack. Can’t see much in the dark. Can’t hear much), and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket(All of a sudden Jacob is attacked, Esau has found him and is going to take his life, he’s wrestled to the ground… But this man isn’t hairy… Who is this man? No time to figure it out, he’s fighting for his life and he’s not going to give up. They wrestle through the night. At times Jacob thinks he’s got the upper hand, but then he is pinned down again. This is the hardest thing he has ever done in his life. They are evenly matched. Until near the end of the night. In one move. Just like that. The stranger dislocates Jacob’s hip. Jacob knows in that moment this is no ordinary man. He’d thought they were evenly matched but he was being toyed with the whole time. He’s in agony, the hop wrenched from the socket). Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (There is not fight left in Jacob now, but he is holding on. That’s all he can do. He’d been trying to get away, but now he won’t let go. He’s holding on to God, but he has given up the wrestle. He’s broken but he knows now that this isn’t an ordinary man; “at least bless me”).

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” (No longer is this man Jacob a smooth talker, a deceiver, a heel grabbing Mr Slick. Now his name is Israel; “one who wrestles with God.”)

“Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” (Jacob didn’t get the name of the stranger, but he called the place of the wrestle, Peniel “face of God”). The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, left his face-to-face encounter with God, and he was limping.

Jacob limped forward into the next season of life. Broken but blessed. Never again would Jacob use people. His story continues but Mr Slick is dead and gone. Never the hustler again. The stranger took his old life and gave him new life. No longer was it about transactions that might advantage him. It was now about transformation. He was now Israel, one who wrestles with God. Eventually, a few hundred years later, Israel came to be the name of the Jewish people. Those who wrestle with God.

Who are the people of God?
The people who wrestle with God.
Israel is not the people who have God all figured out.
Israel are the people that wrestle with God.
And all that are in Christ, as the Apostle Paul says, are the people of God.
We are the people of God, but, we are not the people that have God all figured out.
We are the people that wrestle with God.

Part of the experience of “The Wall,” not all of it, but a part of it, is a wrestle with God. We thought we had God by the heel, God’s been smiling for a long time though, God's got a foot in the door and now wants to move in. A non-hostile takeover. I want to go as far as to say that sometimes a part of our experience of the wall is a new experience of God. A wrestling with God over whether or not God can be who God is, or whether God can only be who or what we want God to be. Our will verses God’s will.

In appreciating this wrestle though, we’re best to quit fighting early and instead just hold on tight. If we’ve any sense of being able to bend God to our will, win the wrestle, we should appreciate that we’re being toyed with. God will be God whether we want that or not.

Jacob met God, bargained with God, supposedly made a deal with God, wrestled with God, but then was broken and blessed and made into a brand new man.

Another guy, a whole bunch of years after Jacob, said that you have to lose your life to find it. If you lose your life you will find it. If you try to keep your life you will lose it.

Appreciate that a part of the “The Wall” experience is a wrestle with God. We should quit the wrestle early though and instead just hold on tight. Even if there is only one thing left we feel we can hold onto, (everything else being up in the air), hold on tight to that one thing in amongst all the uncertainties.

God is good.
God is like Aslan.
God is the creator of the heavens and the earth.
God spoke to me in 1992.
God will be faithful to begin the good work he has begun in me.
I feel God’s presence when I sing, when I worship, I’m going to keep on signing at least.
Hold on to something of God, even if it just one thing.

Next invite a friend into your story. Maybe give them these blog posts to read and then organise to have a coffee with them. Let them know how you are feeling, the questions you have, what you are unsure about. Let them come alongside as a companion. Don’t expect them to have all the answers, to solve everything. This isn’t about getting all the answers this is about going on a journey, a pilgrimage of re-enchantment. Answers will be a part of it, but so will mystery!

Having done this. Pick one thing that is up in the air and then start exploring this, digging into this. You can’t process everything at once, it has to be one at a time. What about suffering? Isn’t God all powerful? You mean tithing is a guaranteed strategy for personal prosperity? What exactly is hell? Do we even need to go to church? Was this prophecy I got in 87 legit or not? How do you pray? Why read the bible every day when it doesn’t make sense? I feel numb to God at the moment? My church has let me down? I don’t love my neighbour, I hate them. Wow, wow, wow. Slow down, slow down. That’s a lot to process. Takes time. Can’t do it all at once. It may take a long time.  

Grab a friend or two, find someone a bit wiser in the faith than you, take them out for coffee, explain the situation, start working through just one thing.

Embrace honesty.
Abandon ego.
Accept discomfort.
Give up the wrestle.
Hold on to God.
Invite a friend into your journey.
Start exploring one particular issue or frustration or question.
As we do this. We discover the first glimpses of what’s on the other side of the wall; the ministry of Christ to us. 

We begin to see a journey unfolding.

Christ is for me – Becoming like Christ – Ministry for Christ – Ministry of Christ (to us)

Awakening – Learning – Doing – Transforming

Enthusiasm – Community – Responsibility – Exploration

Ministry of Christ: Here we hold fast to two fundamental truths that undergird Christian spirituality. 1) that we hunger and thirst for more than bread and water, and 2) that God’s love actively seeks the hungry and thirsty. The trouble here is that we are no longer sure how to drink and eat of the life of Christ. Mostly we don’t feel like there is something we can go back to that will help in the process. And to keep doing the same things and expect a different result, well, that’s insanity. We are unsure where to head next. (We’ll start looking at this next week).

Transformation: What’s taking shape though is a season of receiving a fresh from Christ, a season of transformation into something new. Or at least that’s on the cards! This is a mystery and an adventure, and fundamentally different from a transactional faith which weighs and measures or performs a cost-benefit analysis on the Christian faith. We’re entering into God as Mystery now and we don’t necessarily know where that will take us. There is a lot less control when you embrace faith as transformational rather than transactional. But there is also a lot more adventure.

Exploration: What will be required is a fresh exploration of faith. How are we going to receive this ministry of Christ? How are we going to sort through some of these issues that might feel all up in the air at the moment? We’re going to have to engage in some new practices, find some fresh voices and new conversation partners. This does not mean new in the sense of North American hipster pastors with all the right answers. New can be something old that is new to us. Eugene Peterson is old, he was new to me when I started reading his works and it changed everything!  This season is about discovering expressions of faith and spirituality that one can own for oneself. This doesn’t mean reinventing Christianity but rather is about finding ways to inhabit it that feel authentic and credible.

Our original wide-eyed acceptance of the Christian message as it was presented to us over the many years on the front side of the wall, has given way to doubts and questions and we have to deal with this. We shouldn’t be surprised by this though. Most people come to know Christ and are discipled in following Christ between the ages of about 14 and 24. We shouldn’t be surprised that some of what we picked up and learnt in this season needs visiting.

There is plenty more to cover in regard to this sometime soon.

Genesis 32:32
The sun was rising as Jacob left his face-to-face encounter with God, and he was limping.

How awesome is that!
A new day dawning.
An encounter with God.
Limping forward into a whole new season.

PS: The thoughts above are some of my reflections on life, ministry and the journey of following Jesus. They are informed by more than just my own journey though and a tip of the hat must be giving to Fowler's Stages of Faith, Hagberg and Guelich's The Critical Journey, Tomlinson's Re-Enchanting Christianity, Alexanders work in Dancing with God, and a sermon by Brian Zhand one time.