Among all of the world’s religions, and among all Christian traditions, we Catholics have traditionally had the healthiest relationship with alcohol. We are never overly Puritanical in shunning drink, and neither are we a mystery cult looking for transcendence in drunkenness. We are to give thanks to God for his gifts and treat them as such.
In the nascent Church, when St. Peter refutes claims that he is drunk (Acts 2:13-15) by declaring that it is only 9:00 in the morning (because the Apostles clearly had the good sense to wait until at least after lunch), you can begin to get a glimpse of the Catholic relationship with the liquid spirits. St. Paul tells St. Timothy to “stop drinking only water, but take a little wine” (1 Tim. 5:23) to help him with his frequent stomach troubles. Even Our Blessed Lord Himself states declares that even “The Son of Man came eating and drinking”. (Luke 7:34)
Later, St. Arnulf of Metz, a seventh century Bishop shows the development of the Catholic relationship with drink with a quote that sums up a right Catholic approach: “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”
So it is no wonder that through the Catholic ages to the present day, the Church has had a healthy, close working relationship with the grape, the fat of the grain, and alcoholic drinks. Particularly out of the Catholic monastic tradition, the world has been treated with some sublime drinks that are truly works of art. Here we list the Catholic Origins Of 5 Alcoholic Beverages:
Chartreuse is a French liqueur made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737 according to the instructions set out in the secret manuscript given to them by a marshal of artillery to French king Henry IV, François Hannibal d’Estrées in 1605. It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants and flowers. The monks intended their liqueur to be used as medicine. The recipe was further enhanced in 1737 by Brother Gérome Maubec.
The liqueur is named after the Monks’ Grande Chartreuse monastery, located in the Chartreuse Mountains in the general region of Grenoble in France. The liqueur is produced in their distillery in the nearby town of Voiron.
Chartreuse gives its name to the color chartreuse. It is one of the handful of liquors that continues to age and improve in the bottle.
Chartreuse has a very strong characteristic taste. It is very sweet, but becomes both spicy and pungent. It is comparable to other herbal liqueurs such as Galliano, Liquore Strega or Kräuterlikör, though it is distinctively more vegetal. Like other liqueurs, its flavor is sensitive to serving temperature. If straight it can be served very cold but is often served at room temperature. It also features in some cocktails. Some mixed drink recipes call for only a few drops of Chartreuse due to the assertive flavor. It is popular in French ski resorts where it is mixed with hot chocolate and called Green Chaud.
2. Trappist Beers
Trappist Beer are renown among beer aficionados as some of the most finely crafted beers in the world. They are brewed by Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (“Trappists”) and typically fall under the categories of Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel
The Trappist order originated in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe, France. Various Cistercian congregations existed for many years, and by 1664 the Abbot of La Trappe felt that the Cistercians were becoming too relaxed. He introduced strict new rules in the abbey and the Strict Observance was born. A fundamental tenet of the new rules was that monasteries should be self-supporting, and is still maintained to this day.
Monastery brewhouses, from different religious orders, have existed across Europe since the Middle Ages. From the very beginning, beer was brewed in French Cistercian monasteries following the Strict Observance. For example, the monastery of La Trappe in Soligny already had its own brewery in 1685. Breweries were later introduced in monasteries of other countries as the Trappist order spread from France into the rest of Europe. The Trappists, like many other religious people, originally brewed beer to feed the community, in a perspective of self-sufficiency. Nowadays, Trappist breweries also brew beer to fund their works and for good causes. Many of the Trappist monasteries and breweries were destroyed during the French Revolution and the World Wars. Among the monastic breweries, the Trappists were certainly the most active brewers.
There are three conditions that must be met to use the name Trappist on a bottle of beer; first, the beer must be brewed within a Trappist Abbey, second, the beer must be brewed under the supervision and responsibility of the monks, and third, the majority of the revenue produced must be dedicated to charitable work.
Eight beers are bear the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo, granted by the International Trappist Association. They include Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren, most located in Belgium, with La Trappe located in the Netherlands, and Spencer in the USA. In the USA La Trappe uses the name Koningshoeven.
Though it is likely that the recipe was actually concocted by one Alexandre Le Grand of FeCamp France, home of a Benedictine Monastery, it is claimed by the company that produces it that in 1510, the Benedictine monk Don Bernardo Vincelli, a Venetian monk knowledgeable in spices, and up-to-date on Dutch distillation methods transformed the traditional bitter medicines of the abbey into a delicious ‘Elixir of Health’ that has stood the test of time and come down to us as Benedictine.
The recipe of Don Bernardo Vincelli was said to have restored listless brothers and countered illnesses of the stomach. It is made from 27 herbs and spices, among them thyme, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg and other more exotic ingredients such as hyssop, angelica and cardamom.
It is claimed that at the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy, monks produced the drink until the abbey’s devastation during the French Revolution.
Benedictine was officially extinct until the 1860’s, when it was resurrected by Le Grande. On supposedly finding the recipe among a bundle of yellowing papers, he was inspired to build an extraordinary new distillery in the high Gothic style at FeCamp.
Although no longer (or perhaps never) connected with the Monks, nevertheless, to recognize its past connection with the abbey every bottle is marked with ‘D.O.M. – Deo Optimo Maximo’ (Praise be to God, Most Good, Most Great).
4. Cistercian Wines of the Island of Saint Honorat
One of the newer entries on this list are the wines produced by the Cistercian Monks of the Abbey of Lerins on the island of Saint Honorat off Cannes, France. The tiny 1.5 square mile island in the Mediterranean has been home to monks since Saint Honorat founded a monastery on it at some time around the year 410. It is said St. Patrick of Ireland studied at monastery in the 5th century. Because of its strategic location, the monastic life on the island was interrupted several times as the island switch hands between the Saracens, Genoese, Spanish, and French.
The island was nationalized during the French revolution and the monastery sold to an actress who lived there for 20 years. The bishop of Fréjus bought the island in 1859 and 10 years later, Cistercian monks started a new community, using its ideal climate for growing vines to make wine.
Today, the community is currently made up of 20 monks aged from 30 to 75. The monks of the Abbey of Lerins grow eight hectares of wines with the best grapes compounds on the island.
The grapes are cared for and harvested each year by the monks. Brother Marie, supervises the production. All processes (pruning, removal of unwanted buds and grape harvesting) are carried out by hand. Machinery is used only for the maintenance of the soil quality and for treatments. To preserve this exceptional terroir, as well as the unique flora and fauna, the brothers use regulated photo-sanitary treatments.
These great wines produced by the work of the monks have reputations that transcend borders.The wines from the abbey of Lerins are produced from a rigorous selection of the best grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Mourvèdre. The careful work of the monks allows the production of three great vintages named after saints: St. Salonius, St. Lambert, St.Césaire, which are recognized by famous chefs as some of the best and finest French wines.
5. Dom Pérignon Champagne
While not directly made by Catholic clergy like the other entries on this list, the very famous, high-end Dom Pérignon Champagne serves as an ode to its very Catholic namesake, Dom Pierre Pérignon, O.S.B., (c. 1638 – 1715). Dom Pérignon was a French Benedictine monk who made important contributions to the production and quality of Champagne wine in an era when the region’s wines were predominantly still and red.
Pierre Pérignon was born to a clerk of a local judge in the town of Saint-Menehould in the Champagne region of northern France. When he was 19 he entered the Benedictine Order, first doing his novitiate at the abbey of Saint-Vannes near the town of Verdun. In 1668, he transferred to the abbey of Hautvillers near the town of Épernay. He served as cellarer of the abbey until his death in 1715. Under his stewardship, the abbey flourished and doubled the size of its vineyard holding. As a sign of honor and respect, Dom Pierre was buried in a section of the abbey cemetery traditionally reserved only for abbots.
Dom Pérignon pioneered a number of winemaking techniques: being the first to blend grapes in such a way as to improve the quality of wines, balance one element with another in order to make a better whole, and deal with a number of their imperfections, in 1670; perfecting the art of producing clear white wines from black grapes by clever manipulation of the presses; enhancing the tendency of Champagne wines to retain their natural sugar in order to naturally induce secondary fermentation in the Spring; and being a master at deciding when to bottle these wines in order to capture the bubble, or what we think of today as “Champagne” eponymously named after the region.
He also introduced corks (instead of wood), which were fastened to bottles with hemp string soaked in oil in order to keep the wines fresh and sparkling, and used thicker glass in order to strengthen the bottles (which were prone to explode at that time).
Where to Find These Drinks:
Here are the official websites for these drinks