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Capitol Hill Church Beer
By Gregg Wiggins

A tradition closely connected with the abbeys of Europe can be found on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where worshippers at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church drink the parish’s own beer as they socialize after Sunday services.

According to the Reverend Paul Abernathy, rector of St. Mark’s, “the very fact we have a pub is the action of my predecessor, Jim Adams,” who began the tradition more than 30 years ago. Adams traveled to Europe on sabbatical, touring some monasteries where there was either a historical tradition or where beer was still being brewed. “He brought that awareness back to St. Mark’s, and a pub was established.”

Until last year, the menu of soups, salads and sandwiches was served with commercially produced beer and wine or soft drinks. Then Rick Weber, the parishioner who oversees the weekly lunches, visited the Shenandoah Brewing Company, a brew-on-premises (BOP) in nearby Alexandria, Va., and made the first batch of Winged Lion Lager. A winged lion is the traditional ecclesiastical symbol of St. Mark.

“The Winged Lion Lager is a steam beer,” said Weber. “Technically it’s an ale, but it uses lager yeast, and Winged Lion Lager just seemed to roll off the tongue a little more easily.”

“It was a big hit,” Abernathy laughingly recalled. “I generally stick to white wine, but I have to confess that this is really quite, quite good.” Weber admitted, “I don’t have a lot of experience brewing, no. But I’ve learned a lot over the last few months.” He has also done seasonal beers for the parishioners of St. Mark’s, including an English-style nut brown ale seasoned with nutmeg at Christmas, followed by a pre-Lenten honey porter. Looking ahead, Weber said, “I’m thinking about doing a white Belgian ale for Easter.”

Weber noted that the St. Mark’s Players, a community theater group, is planning to do a production of “Becket,” a play about the murder of medieval Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket. “For that, I was planning to maybe do some sort of a spiced ale that they could be serving as part of the refreshments during intermission.”

Shenandoah Brewing’s owner and head brewer Anning Smith said St. Mark’s is not the first congregation to make beer at his BOP. “No, it’s the Episcopals and the Lutherans and the Catholics — all the good drinkers,” chuckled Smith. “The Baptists will do it, but they only do root beer.”

When it comes to making beer, “more churches ought to do it,” believes Smith. “Every church that’s been in here has said they’ve had good attendance at beer tasting dinners and things like that.”

Abernathy confirmed that more are attending St. Mark’s services, with the greatest growth among those in their twenties or thirties. “St. Mark’s has a long, long tradition of a very deep fellowship,” said Abernathy about the parish’s pub, “and so this is an expansion or an expression of it, really.”


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