Posted by: Scott | December 21, 2009

Patron Saints of Beer

Some saints are guardians of the sick; some are protectors of nations. But, believe it or not, several have been assigned to beer. First on the list is King Gambrinus, AKA the king of beer, an unofficial saint whose legendary status is attributable to his alleged invention of hopped malt beer. Next, Saint Bridget, who turned a leper colony’s (hopefully unused) bath water into beer and served it to them; now her name resides on a saucy beer label (and in books, I’m sure). You’ll also find a pair of Arnolds, one of whom presides in saintliness over my favorite beer-producing country, Belgium. Even Luke — you know, the apostle — comes marching in when beer’s on the menu.

But today we’re going to discuss another saint: Nicholas of Myra, a bishop who, through the Christian tradition of getting all up in pagans’ business, became known as the jelly-bellied filler of stockings himself, Santa Claus! That’s right — jolly old Saint Nick is a beer geek. How did this happen? Let’s search for answers within a festive piece of Santa folklore. Yaaaay, Christmas!

From the Saint Nicholas Wikipedia page:

“… A malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he slaughtered and butchered them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher’s horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers.”

Wow, uh … it’s — it’s a Christmas miracle? But it still doesn’t explain how Saint Nick (or those other holy men and women) became accomplices to brewers. Isn’t alcohol the devil’s juice? Many American counties still prohibit the consumption of alcohol, and Wikipedia* suggests that the “rationale for maintaining prohibition on the local level often is religious in nature.” That’s not all. Sam Adams Utopias, a 27% ABV beer that retails for $150 per bottle, is illegal in 13 states, despite being weaker than most hard liquors. Apparently, because it’s beer, tweens everywhere are now amassing what little change they have left after last month’s Team Edward shopping sprees so they can meet up at a gas station/fine liquor emporium to buy a bottle of Utopias and sip it from snifters long into the night while blasting heavy metal and applying ballpoint pen tattoos. Won’t somebody please think of the children?!

One explanation for beer’s saint patron-surplus requires a bit of time travel. Before the 10th century, saints were chosen by the Catholic public rather than the Vatican. At the time, beer was a practical, nourishing drink used by monks during fasts as well as a safe, inexpensive alternative to polluted water. And, because monestaries provided not only beer, but also safe lodgings for travelers, this everyman’s beverage soon became casually affiliated with religion. As for Saint Nick, stories say he was canonized for his kindness, his generosity, and his awesome beard — all things we remember him for today. Would such a man endorse an evil product?

Either way, beer and Christmas have a long history together. In recent years, however, beer has been supplanted by nog, cider, wine, and numerous non-alcoholic beverages. So here’s my plan for Dec. 25: You call Christmas and tell it to come over for dinner; I’ll show up with a few holiday beers; and old Saint Nicholas of Myra will oversee the whole affair with a gift-sack on his shoulder, a stein in his hand, and a “ho ho ho!” in his heart.

*With two of these articles to write per week, Wikipedia is a credible enough source for me!

Thursday: I’m taking the day off. Expect a new article on Dec. 28!

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Responses

  1. Ho! Ho! Ho! Have a Merry Christmas!!!

    • You too! And a happy new beer.

      I apologize.


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