For local brewer, visit is a blessing At unusual ceremony, benediction performed for Baltimore beer

August 28, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

In his years as a priest, the Rev. Leo J. Larrivee has been asked to bless many things. He has blessed the opening session of the legislature in Guam. He has blessed religious articles, family pets and newly purchased cars.

Residents of Charlestown Retirement Community, where he is pastor of Our Lady of the Angels chapel, often ask him to bless their apartments. People about to embark on trips often ask for a blessing, "especially if they're going on a plane," he said. But yesterday was his first time blessing a vat of beer. "You never know what you'll be asked to do," Larrivee said. The priest, who isn't particularly a connoisseur of microbrews, was a little puzzled about how he got roped into this.

Stephen Demczuk, president of Baltimore-Washington Beer Works, said he was looking for a minister to bless his brew, The Raven, when he saw a story in The Sun about the installation of statues in Larrivee's parish. Demczuk gave Larrivee a call, and the priest was a player.

Larrivee searched in vain in "The Book of Blessings of the Roman Ritual" for a beer benediction. No problem. "I just used a variation on the wine blessing," he said.

And he took a little literary license, since the word "beer" seemed a bit inelegant for a blessing. "I was able to do it without saying the word, 'beer,' " Larrivee said. "I used 'fruit of grains and hops.' "

Larrivee stood before a towering 100-barrel steel tank of lager, his right arm extended in a gesture of supplication, and intoned a solemn blessing.

"Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation," Larrivee said, his voice rising over the din of a bottling machine at Clipper City Brewery in Halethorpe. "You fill the hungry with choicest food and you gladden the hearts of the thirsty.

"Bless this fruit of grains and hops. May all who drink of this gift do so in moderation. May they one day be invited to sit at your heavenly banquet forever and ever. Amen."

Thus, the first batch of The Raven, a lager brewed under contract with Clipper City, was christened ready for consumption. Bottling of The Raven begins today, and the first ++ cases of the blessed beer should be available for public purchase next week.

A common custom

It might seem unusual to bless beer, but it's a common custom elsewhere. "It's a tradition in Europe, Germany and Belgium particularly," said Demczuk. "Sometimes they'll bless it once a year, sometimes during festivals. In Belgium, you'll see a crucifix on every tank of beer."

Demczuk, who earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry from University of Maryland, was doing post-doctoral work in Geneva when his interest in beer began. He hired a brewmaster and started brewing The Raven in Nagold, Germany, in December 1996, using a recognizable Maryland symbol. Europeans "see the bird, and they know who Edgar Allan Poe is," he said. "He is just as popular in Europe as he is in America."

Demczuk said he didn't intend to market the beer with Baltimore's NFL team, but knows an opportunity when he sees it. He has contacted the Ravens, and the team has said: maybe.

"We're open to establishing some type of relationship with them, if the business deal works," said David Cope, vice president for sales and marketing for the Ravens.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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