Point of Brew: Risus paschalis and the Craft Brewers Conference

By From page A11 | April 24, 2014

April has been a busy month, what with the Craft Brewers Conference taking up one week and the Easter spring break taking up another.

We spent Easter week in Vienna, Va., with my son David and his lovely wife Kristen and family, and we enjoyed that a lot. Their boys — Mac, 9; Teddy, 7; and Harry, 5 — are all enthusiastic baseball players and Dad coaches two of their teams. So baseball practices featured in our time in Vienna.

I was recruited to play first base for some of the baseball exercises and did not cover myself in glory before my grandsons, I’m afraid. Turns out a baseball glove takes a bit of getting used to and catching balls thrown by 9-year-old Ty Cobbs-to-be is much more difficult than it sounds, especially if one thinks they are about to throw it someplace else. I must say in my own defense, that there is nothing in my sporting background to prepare me for this experience; I detested playing cricket and even now, as I type these words, the very idea of that game causes me to nod off.

But all was fun in Vienna.

The days in Virginia were a bit brisk but they were sunny from dawn to dusk and we experienced our second springtime. It was lovely. And so, with a song in our hearts (as they say), all seven Lewis family members went to church Easter Sunday morning at the church of the Holy Comforter (or the Wholly Comfortable for its portly whiteness).

Easter Sunday is the biggest day in the Christian calendar because, for those who believe, it is the day that Our Lord, having made the ultimate sacrifice for our sins on Good Friday, rose again and thereby assured us of life after death.

As a result, the church was packed, like the annual gathering of the stock-holders, and we were glad we turned up early. All the children were given little bells that they were required to ring at every “hallelujah”; charming tintinnabulations. We “hallelujah” often on this special day.

The priest invoked the ancient tradition of risus paschalis or Easter laughter; he told a very good joke that brought the house down (although that is more of a Good Friday thing). The idea is that we Christians get the last laugh because on that first Easter day God eventually triumphed over the Devil and good triumphed over evil. Laughter and liturgy; ya gotta love it!

By comparison, the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America, held at the enormous Colorado Convention Center, was a mundane and unfunny and even sober affair. The astonishing thing is that more than 9,000 people registered for the event, making it possibly the biggest event for brewers on the planet.

It turns out that this year is the 50th anniversary of my appointment as professor of brewing science at UC Davis way back in 1964. That same year the Academic Senate approved the formal upper-division suite of three brewing science courses that formed the backbone of the brewing program for the duration of my career on the Davis campus through 1998.

Since both my professorship and the formal coursework were firsts in the Americas, I thought it worth telling that story to the assembled throng, not merely to do a celebratory dance in the end zone or spike the football (sporting allusions of which I have no personal experience) but also to inform the many brewing programs that are springing up around the country these days.

As part of my talk, I also traced the origins of my University Extension programs, especially the 18-week Master Brewers Program, which I invented specifically to serve the needs of the craft brewing industry when that need emerged in the 1980s.

Luckily, formal education in the field and qualifications to match emerged as a theme of the conference. This was sparked in part by Mitch Steele, a graduate of the UCD brewing program way back when and now head brewer for Stone Brewing Company in San Diego. Mitch received the Russell Scherer Award for Innovation in Brewing and, in his acceptance speech, stressed his own formal brewing education at UCD and bravely suggested that there were too many breweries opening with brewing ignorami in charge. He thought nothing could improve the profession so much as qualifications from accredited programs.

What a great lead-in for my talk later that day, because that was exactly my conclusion! I supported and proposed accreditation of new programs, for example, by the MBAA and the Institute of Brewing & Distilling and formal education and independent examinations based on a prescribed curriculum.

You may wonder if such things exist. Yes, they do! The Master Brewers Program taught at Sudwerk by me and my colleagues is the poster child for that approach.

— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Michael Lewis

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