April 7 is National Beer Day and August 2 (my birthday) is International Beer Day. Beer, fermented cereal grains) is possibly 11,500 years old. It is part of Egypt’s written history. It is mentioned in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. The Mesopotamians had a goddess of beer. (1750 BC). Beer is the world’s most popular alcoholic drink, and the third most popular drink overall (after water and tea).

Beer gave people a source of protein not found in unfermented grain. In times and places where water was unsafe, brewed beverages were a healthy and prudent choice. Most often created with barley, beer was also made with rice, wheat, corn, oats and other grains. It was often brewed and sold by monasteries.

Beer was transformed at the outset of the Reformation. The church, which controlled most of Europe, heavily taxed the aromatic flowers and herbs that were most commonly used in beers of the 16th century: mug wort, yarrow, heather, rosemary, ginger, cinnamon, and others. Hops however (humulus lupulus) grew plentifully on the hills and was untaxed. They were considered weeds (much like dandelions are considered weeds today). Free beer anyone? Beer was also a sedative and a laxative. Constipated anyone? Hops also was an excellent preservative, which meant that the beer would travel well, and become an international commodity. In short, beer hopped.

Monastic and Church beer profits plummeted, which home brews took off. Luther’s wife, ex-nun Katie, ran an inn where the beer she brewed flowed freely and Theology was debated at long refectory tables.

So, there’s the story of Luther, beer and the Reformation. How about a conversation about theology over a pint together?

Luther quotes

“I said to myself what good wine and beer I have at home, and also [what] a pretty lady or (should I say) lord. You would do well to ship the whole cellar full of my wine and a bottle of your beer to me here, as soon as you are able; otherwise I will not be able to return home because of the new beer.”

Martin Luther, to his wife Katie in 1534, while traveling. LW 50:81.

“Please see to it that you have a good glass of beer waiting for us. God willing, we shall leave tomorrow, Tuesday, for Wittenberg.”

Martin Luther, writing to his wife Katie in 1540. LW 50: 221.

“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26–29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”

Martin Luther, March 10, 1522 sermon. LW 51:77.