Wilmington's church beer brewing movement all started with a class at Front Street Brewery called "What Would Jesus Brew?"
Church teams came together in the spring to learn all the steps for brewing their own beer recipes in pursuit of fun, fellowship and fundraising for the Lower Cape Fear Hospice and Lifecare Center.
This weekend, the time has finally come for the reveal of which Wilmington area church makes the best brewski. The Heavenly Homebrew Tapping Event will be 1- 4 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 27) on Front Street Brewery's second floor. Because of the limited size of the event, church teams sold tickets to benefit hospice for the event. The winning beer was brewed in secret and will stay on tap for the public to taste after the event.
After perfecting their beer recipes all summer, 10 teams submitted 18 beers - many with faith-inspired names - to be judged by Christopher McGarvey, brewmaster and Orthodox cantor at St. Basil the Great Orthodox Church.
Overall, McGarvey said he had never tasted a better set of homebrews.
"We didn’t have one single beer that displayed off flavors or contamination by other microbes," McGarvey said. "These guys were very serious, excellent students. They were very industrious about their processes so it really paid off."
Generally, beers are judged on a 50-point scale: 30 is drinkable, 40 is competitive with professional beers and 45 or higher is world class.
"The overall average score was 35.5. The beer that won was a 45. And second place was a 42," he added. "I would have gladly sat down to have a glass of any of these brews. If they stick with it, it’s going to be pretty exciting."
Some groups enjoyed the comraderie so much they brewed weekly while others designed labels for their brews. With team names like The Hopostles, St. Jimmy's Jug-Er-Hops, Brew Unto Others and the Oceanfront Brewers, the teams were no less creative with their beer names and ingredients.
St. James Episcopal Church's team brewed a spice beer called Strange Ginger, named after Bishop Robert Strange who is buried beneath the church and a witbeir called The Wright Wisdom Wit, "named to convey the essence and old wisdom of our church and the legacy of Bishop (Thomas) Wright," who is also buried there, said associate rector Rev. Stephen Mazingo.
He was quick to point out that the activity for the church was "not about partying. It's actually a lot like baking bread," the pastor said. "Instead of letting multimillion dollar corporations brew all the beer why don't we reclaim some of our history of church beer brewing and make it about coming together."
Noah's Oatmeal Stout from St. Mary Catholic Church's Hopostles team was named out of tragedy. After the infant son of two of their teammates died, the Hopostles named one of their brews in his honor.
"One evening, we were doing some reconnaisance at a beer tasting at the WIlmington Homebrew store where (Noah) was eating flaked oats by the handful," wrote Mike Gavrillen in an email. "That was the last time Jeff (Sanchez) and I saw him and thought of brewing and naming the beer shortly after his funeral as our memorial to such a shining star."
For St. Paul's Episcopal team leader Jeffrey Hughes, the brewing was more about bringing the church outside of its walls and being more inviting to the community. Their beers had a motto: "God's Peace, Happy Yeast."
The Knights of Columbus Wilmington chapter's team from a few different area Catholic churches brewed seven beers and chose three to submit: an Imperial Russian Stout, a Dunkelweizen or dark ale and a Smoked Porter, said team leader Steve Levesque.
The team at Church of the Servant is already planning for next year. They brewed a fig beer called Original Sin Fig Saison (hence the forbidden fruit reference).
"I think there were a lot of churches who wanted to do it this year, but they held back suspicious of it because of the alcohol," said team leader Chuck Potter, "but I hope now we have one under our belt then they'll know it's not a drinking event but a fellowship event."