Apr 24, 2018

Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 47
The patron saint of brewers and beer

July 26, 2001

Who was Saint Arnold, and why is he the patron saint of beer? There is more than one account of his life and deeds -- in fact, there are more than two. But we're partial to two of the stories, one from Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in Houston, and the other from Michael Jackson.


The Texas microbrewery not only took the saint's name, but labels each of its fermenters with the name of a saint. "For a while, we thought we had the curse of Saint Arnold," founder-owner Brock Wagner said, because the brewing kettle blew up, then the man putting together the bottling line died. About that time, Jackson visited and told the partners they needed to post a picture of Saint Arnold in the brewery. They did, and things have run smoothly since.

Here's the legend of Saint Arnold according to the brewery:

"Saint Arnold was born to a prominent Austrian family in 580 in the Chateau of Lay-Saint-Christophe in the old French diocese of Toul, north of Nancy. He married Doda with whom he had many sons, two of whom were to become famous: Clodulphe, later called Saint Cloud, and Ansegis who married Begga, daughter of Pepin de Landen. Ansegis and Begga are the great great grandparents of Charlemagne, and as such, Saint Arnold is the oldest known ancestor of the Carolingian dynasty.

"Saint Arnold was acclaimed bishop of Metz, France, in 612 and spent his holy life warning peasants about the dangers of drinking water. Beer was safe, and 'from man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world.' The people revered Arnold. In 627, Saint Arnold retired to a monastery near Remiremont, France, where he died on August 16, 640.

"In 641, the citizens of Metz requested that Saint Arnold's body be exhumed and ceremoniously carried to Metz for reburial in their Church of the Holy Apostles. During this voyage a miracle came to pass in the town of Champignuelles. The tired porters and followers stopped for a rest and walked into a tavern for a drink of their favorite beverage. Regretfully, there was only one mug of beer to be shared, but that mug never ran dry and all of the thirsty pilgrims were satisfied."

Jackson writes about the saint and the celebrations that honor his life in his "Great Beers of Belgium":

"The 11th-century Benedictine who became St. Arnold is the patron saint of Belgian brewers. He is said to have been born in Tiegem (in what is now the heartland of west Flanders "red" beer); was a monk at the abbey of St Médard, at Soissons (near the Champagne town of Rheims); and later a bishop. Arnold bounded the abbey of Oudenburg, between Ostend and Bruges (he has also been linked with Oudenaarde).

"At a time of plague, Arnold is said to have immersed his crucifix in a brew-kettle; thus encouraging the populace to drink beer, rather than water. Suddenly, the plague ended. The water had probably been communicating the infection, while beer -- being boiled during production -- remains a much safer drink. Another story has Arnold miraculously producing beer after the destruction of an abbey brewery.

"The abbey of Oudenburg was itself largely destroyed during the French Revolution and its role was inherited by the abbey of Steenbrugge, in Bruges. This abbey lends its name to beer produced today by the Gouden Boom ("Golden Tree") brewery in Bruges.

"In Brussels, Belgium's brewers pay homage each July to St Arnold at a church service. The service has in recent years become part of a "Day of Beer," in which the celebration reaches out to the public. From the church a procession of brewers, colorfully robed as King of the Mashing Fork (Chevalrie du Fourquet), marches through the streets to the Grand' Place. They are accompanied by horse and drays, old brewery truck, bands, and stilt-walkers. (The latter skill is prized in the sometimes-waterlogged flatlands).

"In the square, there is more music and entertainment. Watched over by the tapestry panels in the hall's Gothic Chamber, they initiate new Officers of the Mashing Fork."

Tasting notes

Brewed at the Meantime Brewery in the London borough of Greenwich

Michael Jackson's tasting notes:

Medium golden color. Dense head. Remarkably fresh, lemony, flowery, hop character, in both aroma and palate. This then gives way to the light, rounded, cookie-like, maltiness that is the beer's salient feature. In the finish, the hop is dry and appetising. Beautifully balanced.

Brewed by Flying Fish Brewing in New Jersey

Stephen Beaumont's tasting notes:

Considering the massive, hoppy brews present, this delicate ale could easily have been overlooked, but I was attracted by its fresh, faintly spicy nose and citrusy body. Served cold on a hot summer day, this would be lovely.

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