Catholic Beverages

Michael P. Foley, a sometime contributor to this site, has just published a welcome book about one of the things that distinguishes Catholics from some (if not most) other faiths: our appreciation of booze.

Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to Happy Hour is a lighthearted book about a serious subject. There’s no doubt that the consumption of alcohol – a morally neutral activity in itself – can be a pleasurable accompaniment to blessed fellowship, but also a destructive enabler of misery and isolation.

This I know from personal experience. My home is a happy gathering place in which the host (moi) is a somewhat legendary mixer of cocktails (see the recipe for my “Cristo Rey” at the bottom of this column), but growing up – many years ago and miles away – I watched my otherwise saintly mother slowly descend into a haze of alcoholism from which death alone rescued her.

To my own sons, I have preached the importance of moderation in drinking, although they know their father’s idea of temperance – rightly understood – would probably make a strict Methodist swoon. But there are such pleasures in drinking as must be protected against the kind of excess that transforms elixir into toxin.

In Professor Foley’s book, one finds some of what’s standard in books about beer and wine, and spirits, but the genius of it is its organization around the liturgical year. Appendices list cocktails alphabetically; ditto the holy days and the saints.

So, for instance, I looked for my patron, Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast day is August 20 and found three pages of fascinating history and legend, illustrated by one of the many paintings depicting the “lactation of Bernard” (lactatio Bernardi), an incident in which our Blessed Mother, wet nurse to humanity, squirts breast milk into the great saint’s mouth. (Catholicism is beautiful and strange.) The recipes suggested for toasting Bernard include several featuring milk, and are too sweet for my taste (bitter is better!), but there is also a sensible digression about Trappist beer.

The Trappists grew out of the Cistercian order and, therefore, owe much to Bernard. Drinking with the Saints, which publishes today, even mentions the newest Trappist ale, which isn’t from Belgium or the Netherlands, but St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, although best of luck laying your hands on a bottle. More widely available are ales from Ovila Abbey, a partnership between the Benedictines of the Abbey of New Clairvaux in California and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, so not a true abbey product as are the great Trappist beers and ales of Europe, which is to say: made mostly or entirely at the monasteries themselves.


The section on Bernard ends with a roundup of Cistercian produced liqueurs, and there are a bunch of them.

Perhaps the best way to use Drinking with the Saints is chronologically. Side markers make it easy to find each month. For today, the Feast of St. Monica, the forbearing mother of Augustine, who is also the patroness of “difficult marriages and disappointing children,” Foley indicates a cocktail called the Merry Widow: gin, dry vermouth, Benedictine, absinthe, with orange bitters and a lemon twist. If wine is your preference, Sardinian wines from a vintner called Cantina Santa Maria la Palma are suggested.

In a sidebar about the vineyard, the author notes that Sardinia is the birthplace of Eusebius, the great historian and opponent of Arianism. Professor Foley notes that Eusebius was so beset during his lifetime by the heretics who believed that the Son is not consubstantial with the Father that “the Church traditionally honors Eusebius as a martyr, even though he died an old man in his bed after years of exile.” That’s certainly a reason to raise a glass in his memory – on August 2, which is his feast.

Also on May 4, however, are Saints Sacerdos (d. 720) and Florian (d. 250). Celebrating Sacerdos calls for wine from the Garrone, and Florian, a Roman soldier and Christian convert, deserves a cocktail called Fireman’s Sour. Florian was an Austrian, which makes the Fireman’s Sour, a rum-based cocktail with grenadine and lime juice and altogether very New World,  seem a bit incongruous, except that one of Florian’s jobs in the Roman Legion was firefighting.

There is no listing for my fall birthday (another good use for the book is pairing up birthdays with Catholic beverages), but when I was a boy we almost always deferred my parties to All Hallows’ Eve, for which Foley suggests two “diabolic” cocktails mentioned elsewhere in his book: Black Devil (rum, sweet vermouth, and a black olive) and Satan’s Whiskers (gin, dry and sweet vermouth, OJ, and orange Curaçao). For some, obviously, bitter is not better.

Foley has a nice anecdote about trick-or-treating. His father used to take the kids out: they brought their bags. He carried a shot glass: “As the kids were being given candy at the house of a friend, my dad would grin and hold out the glass.” He adds that it was good for his father’s sobriety that the Foleys didn’t have many friends.

By my rather extensive home bar, I have half a dozen dog-eared cocktail guides, the most-used of which is The Joy of Mixology by the great Gary Regan, from whom you can get superb recipes, much about the history of the cocktails themselves, and insight about how one builds a cocktail.

I’ll now keep Michael Foley’s Drinking with the Saints next to Regan’s Joy – not just for the recipes but for the memorials and toasts a faithful Christian ought to keep in mind when drinking Catholic beverages. Prosit!


Cristo Rey:

3 measures of Tequila (blue agave)
1 of Mezcal
½ meas. of St. Germain (elderflower liquor)
½ of lime juice
Splash of Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Cointreau
Dash orange bitters

Brad Miner

Brad Miner

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and Board Secretary of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His new book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. The Compleat Gentleman, is available on audio.

  • RainingAgain

    Although born, reared and continuing to live in Ireland, and appreciative as I am of a good pint of Guinness or a glass of Power’s, I believe there’s nothing to match a nice Armagnac or Port. Truly medicinal-that’s my excuse, anyway!

  • Bro_Ed

    Longfellow said it all:

    King Witlaf’s Drinking-Horn

    Witlaf, a king of the Saxons,
    Ere yet his last he breathed,
    To the merry monks of Croyland
    His drinking-horn bequeathed,–

    That, whenever they sat at their revels,
    And drank from the golden bowl,
    They might remember the donor,
    And breathe a prayer for his soul.

    So sat they once at Christmas,
    And bade the goblet pass;
    In their beards the red wine glistened
    Like dew-drops in the grass.

    They drank to the soul of Witlaf,
    They drank to Christ the Lord,
    And to each of the Twelve Apostles,
    Who had preached his holy word.

    They drank to the Saints and Martyrs
    Of the dismal days of yore,
    And as soon as the horn was empty
    They remembered one Saint more.

    And the reader droned from the pulpit
    Like the murmur of many bees,
    The legend of good Saint Guthlac,
    And Saint Basil’s homilies;

    Till the great bells of the convent,
    From their prison in the tower,
    Guthlac and Bartholomaeus,
    Proclaimed the midnight hour.

    And the Yule-log cracked in the chimney,
    And the Abbot bowed his head,
    And the flamelets flapped and flickered,
    But the Abbot was stark and dead.

    Yet still in his pallid fingers
    He clutched the golden bowl,
    In which, like a pearl dissolving,
    Had sunk and dissolved his soul.

    But not for this their revels
    The jovial monks forbore,
    For they cried, “Fill high the goblet!
    We must drink to one Saint more!”

  • windhover1

    Dear Brad,
    As someone who has recovered (but not been cured) from the illness of alcoholism I feel I need to tell you that you can leave out the “otherwise” from the description of your mother as “otherwise saintly”. She was just saintly and probably still is.
    Knowing first hand the pain and anguish and shame and despair she must have felt I am certain that God has taken her into his care. We alcoholics have already suffered hell right here on earth and we are not expected to endure it twice. Often, death is the only respite we can look forward to and many of us battle not to die by our own hands. Far too many take their own lives. I know I got close and would ask God every night to not let me awake the next morning.
    I am very fortunate. One night lying drunkenly in an inner city vacant lot, in my own urine and faeces, I managed to focus on the stars and implore God to take away my craving for booze and to give me the grace to go just one day without a drink. And that is what happened. That one day has extended, as of today, to 4,207 days. Nearly twelve years. I got to Alcoholics Anonymous and gave myself totally to the twelve suggested steps of AA. The rebirth, mentally physically and spiritually, has been due to the Grace of God and all the people I have shared the journey with in AA. We are miracles. I write this as a way of carrying the message of AA and our reliance on a Higher Power to the alcoholic who still suffers. We do our best to attract the still suffering alcoholic, but we can never do enough. Too many people are sadly unaware of what AA can do for them.
    I knew a Redemptorist (I was a Red Seminarian many moons ago) Alcoholic priest who used to base the Retreats he ran on the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. He wouldn’t mention alcohol but many were inspired by the spiritual content. There are far less worthy books around.
    To those for whom drink is an elixir, cheers. To those like me where it is toxic, ask God for His grace to recover.
    So Brad, your mother was, and is, saintly. Of that I have no doubt.

    Yours in AA, Graeme M

  • Susan Sulmonte

    I just happen to have two bottles of Spencer ale in my beer fridge right now!
    I also just happen to know Mr. Foley personally. The two facts are unrelated. Cheers!

    • SJ Man

      Is that Fr. Gruner’s picture I see? You know he’s in schism with the church regarding Fatima, right?