FOR centuries, in the Christian era, monks brewed special beers on religious holidays, mostly strong and dark, for Christmas and for subsistence during Lent. But if a similar tradition existed in the days of the Bible, it's been lost to history and time.

Scholars speculate that when the Bible, which was written in Aramaic and ancient Hebrew, mentions wine and "strong drink" they were most likely referring to beer. Whiskey, gin, vodka and rum, which we consider strong drink, are of fairly recent origin.

They're made by distillation, a process first used to produce alcohol by Arab and Persian scientists around 800 years after the birth of Christ, long after the events in the Bible.

But scholars know that the Egyptians brewed and drank beer and that beer was a daily beverage when the Israelites were slaves there. So they make that assumption about strong drink.

There's now a strong beer that made its debut this month on a very special Jewish holiday.

The beer is He'brew Origin Pomegranate Strong Ale1/2. The holiday is Shavu'ot, the Festival of Weeks, celebrating the the handing of the Torah — the five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Jeremy Cowan, the San Mateo-born founder of He'brew, points out pomegranates are the perfect fruit for a biblical beer. Pomegranate is a small tree or bush that thrives in the deserts of the Middle East, loves rocky, gravelly soil and doesn't need a lot of water.

It's often mentioned in the Bible. "It abounded in the land of Canaan," 1 Samuel 14:2.

About the beer: It's 8 percent alcohol by volume, a hazy, copper color with a nose of rich fruit and a towering, rocky head of crisp white foam. Taste has a bit of sweet toffee, followed by a rush of hop bitterness and the enticing, teasing, faint sweetness of the pomegranates.

The ale's a blend of pale malted barley and Munich, a malt kilned to an amber color, plus a touch of malted wheat. Hopping begins with mild Warrior hops, then in succession, citrusy, piney Cascades, mild and spicy Crystal hops and late in the boil aromatic Mount Hoods.

The brewers added 150 gallons of pomegranate juice to the beer on the second day of fermentation. The beer was made, under contract, at Mendocino Brewing's plant in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. It's pasteurized and sold in 750 ml. bottles, about $5.

It's eight days past Shavu'ot, but Origin's maiden flight will be at 6 p.m. today at the Toronado, 547 Haight St., in San Francisco. Jeremy Cowan will be there and he's pouring Origin and all his other beers. For a list and more info, check out my blog: http://www.beernewsletter.com/blog.

Oakland gets crafty

Looks like we're about to get a new craft brewery: Linden Street Brewing. The brewer-owner Adam Lamoreaux has leased space in an 1890s warehouse at 95 Linden Street, eight blocks west of Jack London Square.

He's purchased the 10-barrel brew plant from Daniel Del Grande of Bison Brewing in Berkeley. Dan's in the process of completing a deal with Butte, the organic brewery in Chico, to brew his beers there.

Lamoreaux, who has brewed at Steelhead in San Francisco and Burlingame and at Anderson Valley in Boonville, intends to brew a single beer, a beer he hopes will make Oakland famous.

"I'm calling it 'Urban People's Common Lager,'" he says.

It will be fermnted at warm temperatures and using only Northern Brewer hops, a formula enticingly similar, but of course different from Anchor Steam.

Anchor Steam's the San Francisco beer; Lamoreaux wants Urban to be Oakland's beer. Plans are for a draft-only brewery with a tasting room, he says. He's making test batches now at the old Bison plant on Parker and Telegraph in Berkeley while he slogs through Oakland's permitting process.

He hopes to have the beer in taverns in a limited way this summer.

"Oakland is really changing," he says. "There's going to be a need for an Oakland beer." Amen to that.

Adam hastens to say that Pacific Coast Brewing, 901 Washington St. in downtown Oakland, remains Oakland's only brewpub. 

"It's one of my favorite places," he says.

Amen to that.

Chicken briquettes

A colleague asked me, half in jest, half seriously, "What kind of beer goes with burned barbecue chicken?"

Well, there's a beer for every dish. No lie. Try Trumer Pils, the crisp, hoppy Austrian-style lager from Trumer Brewery in Berkeley, or, if you're seriously into hops, try Butte Creek Brewing Co. Organic Revolution X - 10th Anniversary Imperial India Pale Ale. It came out a year ago, and can still be found. It's 9.1 percent alcohol by volume, made to last and it can handle crispy chicken with no problem. .

Staff writer William Brand publishes What's On Tap, a consumer craft beer and hard cider newsletter. He can be reached at (510) 915-1180. Fax: (510) 841-6023. E-mail: whatsontap@sbcglobal.net.