NEW PALESTINE — Jesus turned water into wine.
The brew club from Cross of Grace Lutheran Church turns grain, yeast and water into beer, and that’s okay, too.
The club started two years ago as part of an effort by church pastors to encourage parishioners to enjoy their shared interests together, said pastor Aaron Stamper.
Kevin Michaelis of New Palestine is the de facto leader of the brew club, which often meets at his house to enjoy varieties of home-brewed beer and to enjoy each others’ company.
There are about 20 people on the email list for the group; however, only about a dozen men are regulars to the club meetings, Michaelis said. Women are welcome, but none have attended yet, he said.
There are different methods to brew small batches of beer, even among the handful of devotees to the home brew club from the New Palestine church. Michaelis soaks about 12 pounds of the grain required for the type of beer in a blue water cooler for about an hour, which extracts the sugars from the grain. The liquid is then drained into a hot liquor tank — a tiny version of the tanks one might see at a brewery — where he boils it for an hour or two.
“I’m a scientist by trade, and I’m interested in the whole process,” he said. “It’s an interesting way to experiment, and an exciting thing to be able to do.”
After the future beer is boiled, it is rapidly cooled by inserting a copper coil into the liquid, through which cold water from the garden hose is forced. The liquid will cool within an hour, after which Michaelis mixes in yeast and stores it to ferment for about two weeks. The last step is to add carbonation to the mixture.
Michaelis prefers porter beers, a type of dark beer made from brown malt. He has tried his hand at several different varieties, including a vanilla porter and one made to taste like an Almond Joy candy bar.
He also likes to make wheat beers, and at a recent brew club meeting, he was offering members tastes of a rhubarb wheat beer.
But overall, the club is less about making — or drinking — beer, and more about staying connected with fellow church members.
The group has brought together parishioners who otherwise would have never gotten to know each other, Stamper said.
In addition, Stamper finds men often will be more open about what’s going on in their lives at such an informal event than they would be at Sunday services or even a Bible study.
“This is relationship-based, and it brings people together,” he said. “Holy conversation happens, it’s just not overtly scriptural.”
He’s aware of the stigma of Christians making and consuming alcohol, but maintains that there’s no shame in coming together to focus on a craft or hobby like home brewing.
Club and church member David Sprout said he appreciates the opportunity to stand around and drink beer with like-minded individuals.
The brew club might be his only interaction with church members, aside from Sunday services, because of his busy schedule.
The group serves its purpose, Michaelis said.
“It’s really what I was hoping it would be two years ago when we set this up,” he said. “It’s just guys sitting around, talking and laughing.”