the blessing of the maibock ~ by dana stenholtz

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The Blessing of the Maibock
From the viewpoint of Dana Stenholtz

One of the many ironies that make up my life is that I spend a good part of my free time hanging out at a brew pub, but I don’t drink beer.

This isn’t just any bar, though. It’s Town Hall Brewery, and I love it for oh-so-many reasons that have nothing to do with the beer. It’s truly a place you can go where, like “Cheers,” everybody knows your name. It’s got a lot of charm, a lot of character (and characters!), and some outstanding events. They also make and serve pretty good beer, I’ve heard.

But this isn’t about beer.

Well… it kind of is about beer, actually.

One of my favorite events at THB is the yearly “Blessing of the Maibock.” As I understand it, Maibock is German for “May Beer.” Every spring (in May, oddly enough), the good brewers at THB serve up a big batch of Maibock beer that they’ve been working on for I-don’t-know-how-long, but before anyone dares take a sip from their free glass of the stuff that’s been passed around by the busy servers and bartenders, something else happens.

Think bagpipes. Bearded men in kilts carrying large bladder-shaped instruments with various pipes sticking out of it. Loud. Some would say it’s not really music, but I love the crazy sound. So yeah, bagpipes.

Then, the smell of incense. I don’t know what scent it is, but it’s strong, and it always makes me feel like I’ve traveled back in time. Someone (probably an acolyte) in a white robe meanders past, on the trail of the kilted gentlemen, and the bar full of patrons is actually quiet enough to hear the faint clicking of metal against metal that occurs with each swing of the censer.

The priest, also bedecked in white robes replete with decoration, stands behind the bar, next to the bartenders and various other employees. They give him a chair to stand on, so everyone can see him. He has a microphone, but he probably wouldn’t need it. He reads from a program that we all have copies of in our hands, so we can respond at the appropriate times. This is what is said:

“This is what I recognize as good: to eat, and drink, and find enjoyment in our work during the few days of life that God gives us. (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

Welcome to this Blessing ceremony!

As long as human beings have gathered over drink they have invoked the sacred realm, in many ways and by many names. The Blessing of the Maibock takes place when people have gathered together in the evening.

A Reading: The Divine Tavern-Maid’s Advice (from the Epic of Gilgamesh)

This portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh survives only in a fragmentary tablet from ancient Babylon; dated ca. 2000-15000 b.c.e., it is the oldest sacred epic known to us. Long away from home, the hero Gilgamesh arrives in a tavern where the divine Siduri gives him beer. He laments that his comrade Enkidu has been taken by death; his quest for immortality led him to Utnapishtim, survivor of the Great Flood, but the old man gave him no help. Siduri’s advice is the turning point of the plot, sending the hero back to his city, Uruk, and his family.

…O Gilgamesh, why do you wander?
The immortality you seek you shall not find.
When the gods created the human race
They made us mortal; death claims us all;
immortality they hold for themselves alone.
But you, Gilgamesh, take your fill of good food;
Make yourself merry by day and by night.
Of each day make a feast of rejoicing,
Day and night, dance and play!
Let your garments be sparkling fresh,
Wash your head, bathe in water.
Pay heed to the child who clings to your hand;
Let your beloved delight in your embrace!
This, this alone, is your task.”

The crowd is eagerly anticipating this next part. Pints of golden brown beer held tightly in hand, everyone is looking at the priest. Outside, the patio is full, too, of patrons already sneaking sips, because they can’t hear what’s being said inside, and truly, it’s crowded, so might as well stay in the open, enjoying the spring sunshine.

In a bar in Minneapolis, the incongruity of one man’s liturgical, chanting voice is apparent. This isn’t a “churchy” bar, by any means. People from all walks of life are in this place. The simple joy of hearing this part makes me smile just remembering it. Every time. If you can imagine the back-n-forth intonations of a priest and his parishioners, only standing in a brew pub, this is what was said next (the crowd of bar patrons responded with the “Good Lord, deliver us” line after each phrase):

“A Litany for Beer Drinkers*

With all our hearts and all our minds, let us pray to God, singing “Good Lord, deliver us.”

From wasting money on thin beer, and time in thinner conversation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From jerks, creeps, mashers, the pathologically boring, and those who think they are your gift to everyone else in the bar,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From thinking beer has made us clever when we’ve only begun to sound stupid,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all recklessness, belligerence, and the impulse to pick fights with people larger than ourselves,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From mornings when we cannot remember the joys of the night before,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From drinking to our own harm, or the injury of others; and from the need of bail bondsmen, towtrucks, and attorneys,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From the distress of waking with headaches, crankiness, and days when sunlight seems too much,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From the peril of drinking alone and unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From the foolishness of not having designated someone to bring us safely home other than you,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Let us pray:

Eternal God, the source of all life and all joy,
You bless us with the gifts of water
and grain rising up from the earth;
you have given to some the wisdom and skill
to produce fine drink;

Bless now the Maibock of this new year.
May it be the occasion of much laughter,
of good cheer and good conversation.
May those who enjoy it together deepen their friendships,
let go their anger and enmity,
and look forward to the greater feast of peace
to which you welcome all people.

I ask this in the honored name of Jesus,
who did not draw back from the risk of being called a drunkard
so he might enjoy the company of strangers at his table.

Cheers! L’chaim! Salute!”

Everyone hollers “AMEN!” with their pint glasses raised high, and then the blessed beer is enjoyed by all (I even drink some of mine—it was blessed, after all!)


*Copyrighted 2004 © by The Rev. Neil Elliott – Litany for Beer Drinkers)

They have had different priests do this over the years, but the one I have a picture of here is The Rev. Aron Kramer, a Vicar at Gethsemane Church in Minneapolis.

Thanks so much for sharing this fantastic event with us Dana!



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