Catechists, lectors, cantors, ushers. Like most parishes, St. Eugene, Fox Point, has them all.
A group that sets the suburban Milwaukee congregation apart from others, though, is a small one known as the Holy Brewers. Once a year – as beer and bratwurst or beer and pretzels do much more regularly – beer and St. Eugene form a tandem. This year, that will happen Saturday, April 9.
“We thought this would be a fun service project (to benefit) the parish,” Holy Brewers co-founder Pete Weingarten said in a telephone interview with the Catholic Herald. “But, as my wife said, ‘It’s not so much a fundraiser as a fun raiser.’”
The fundraising and fun raising began around 2010, said Weingarten, who in retirement works part-time at a home brew supply store, when he and fellow beer brewing parishioner Bryon Baker each donated a batch of beer for a St. Eugene auction. Such a donation made perfect sense, self-described professional “computer geek” Baker suggested during a separate phone conversation.
“If you (make beer) regularly,” Holy Brewers co-founder Baker said with a chuckle, “there’s no way you can drink everything you make. If you do, you’ve got a problem.”
An auction attendee bid $300 for one of the beer batches.
“After that,” said Weingarten, “we thought a fun thing to do would be a beer tasting.”
The first such event in St. Eugene’s Mackin Hall drew approximately 20 participants. Attendance has increased annually, with some 75 showing up in 2015.
Wine, some of which will be homemade, and root beer will complement the six craft beers at this year’s event. It’s become something of a tradition to serve food, too. In 2015 it was cheese; this year it will be Mexican dishes prepared by Don Rytman, a chef and member of St. Eugene.
From the founding pair, each of whom can boast decades of brewing experience, the Holy Brewers has expanded to include an additional half-dozen parishioners. New members are always welcome – women as well as men – although all current Holy Brewers are males.
Everyone in the St. Eugene group also belongs to the Milwaukee Beer Barons, a 150-member secular club that meets monthly. At Beer Barons gatherings, Holy Brewers sit together, listening to presentations on brewing techniques and equipment, and sampling homemade beer.
The Holy Brewers gathered in the St. Eugene School kitchen in late January to brew for the April tasting. The kitchen’s huge stove was an invaluable asset. As a brewer, said Baker, “Essentially you’re cooking, following a recipe.” He noted his brewing hobby had stemmed from his enjoyment of cooking and his wife’s giving him a brewing kit.
In the aftermath of the brewing process, each participant fermented his brew on his own.
Among the home brews on the tasting night menu will be the Kama Citra produced by relatively new Holy Brewer Dan Karasch. Over the phone, Karasch, director of counseling at Marquette University High School, described India pale ale as “a very hoppy beer (that) really has, I think, a very good flavor.”
Weingarten explained “hops tend to add bitterness to the beer and a fragrance, sort of a unique smell.” The word “hoppier” can be translated as “more powerful,” Weingarten indicated, and hoppier beers tend to be particularly popular with younger consumers.
According to Weingarten, whose adult sons Eric and Mark have helped him
brew for St. Eugene, preparing for the annual tasting is one aspect of “a great father-son hobby.”
The fundraiser brings parishioners together and has met with a favorable reception. Karasch said “social connections and community feeling” have characterized the tastings in Fox Point and added, with regard to Fr. Jerry Herda, that “the pastor’s been very supportive.”
In an email, Fr. Herda, pastor of St. Monica, Whitefish Bay, in addition to St. Eugene, called the fundraiser “a wonderful opportunity for individuals to share their gifts and talents in brewing beer and then inviting parishioners to enjoy an evening of fun.”
He continued, “I have attended several times and enjoy the fellowship of this event.”