Beer Church Brewing Co.: Join The Congregation
Before we even get started, let’s remember that it’s just beer, okay.
Beer Church Brewing Co. was open barely a month when they invited us to sit down and listen to head brewer Nate Peck preach the gospel this past March. “There’s a fine line between being thematic and kitschy,” says Peck. Yeah, we get that for sure—they opened Benton Harbor’s first brewery, in a church from the 1860s, and have a Pontius Pilate IPA.
Understandably, a few decision makers in the city and a couple locals aren’t necessarily fans of what Beer Church is doing, but “you’re never going to get a perfect majority,” Peck says. And, let’s be honest, nobody’s going to hell over it.
Co-owners Jane Simon, a law professor at Notre Dame, and John Lustina, an advertising executive for Fortune 500 companies, who also grew up attending Catholic school, were inspired to open a brewery after having attended Lagunitas Beer Circus. When they found a church on the market, they knew they had to resurrect it.
While operational during construction, the taproom offers 6 beers on draft. One is usually a cider, and one a collaboration. Peck has already released co-branded beers with Pike 51 and Transient Artisan Ales. Expect others. The draft lines are built into the church’s original altar, dating back to 1945. The lectern is their host stand. And, you guessed it, guests will eventually be dining in pews.
Construction has been the biggest hurdle to getting 100% operational. Due to the building’s age, and the requirement to accommodate the weight of a brewery, Beer Church has had to invest in necessary structural reinforcements. When complete, which they estimate to be by the end of this summer, they’ll be brewing on a modest 7-barrel system and baking up crispy wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas in an authentic Stefano Ferrara oven from Italy. The Pope would be proud.
In the meantime, they’ve sectioned off the church to accommodate 33 guests seated in the taproom. Ultimately, approximately 200 will be able to attend “service,” with dining space planned into the rest of the church, outside at the entrance and on the porch, as well as a beer garden adjacent to the side of the building.
When running at full steam, Peck will have 12 beers on tap. One of their focuses will be to “ride the trend” of east coast style IPAs, he says. It’s important to him to also offer approachable ales for those who may come for the pizza first. Their mainstay Crooked Cross Cream Ale (in honor of the lightning-struck cross at the top of the church’s steeple) is hopped with Cascade hops, and brewed with their house yeast strain from The Alchemist Brewery.
For anyone still confused about what a beer church is and accidentally shows up on a Sunday, they open at 11:00 a.m. Everyone’s welcomed. Blasphemy be damned.
Photos courtesy of Steph Harding, MittenBrew