“I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.”
While that might not exactly sound like a quote from a Catholic nun, it is actually an excerpt from a poem attributed to St. Brigid of Ireland, who founded several convents in her lifetime.
Some people might find the intersection of saints and alcohol surprising, but not Michael Foley, author of the new book, “Drinking with the Saints: A Sinner’s guide to a Holy Happy Hour.” For him, the experiences of Catholicism and celebration always went hand in hand.
“Our family has always observed as many of the traditional customs surrounding the liturgical year that we could,” he told CNA. “We had special foods for special feast days, and after a while it occurred to me, well we have special foods, are there special drinks?”
Foley discovered that while there were a few saint-drink pairings, there weren’t many, and so he set about creating a comprehensive liturgical guide that matches cocktails, wine and beer selections with saints and feast days of the Church.
His doctorate in Catholic theology helped him with the liturgical aspect of the book, but he relied on friends and family to help him with mixology and taste-testing.
“I had a group of about 20-30 friends that we would either meet in person or communicate through e-mail about various ideas and swapping suggestions,” he said, “and then the other research was either done online or by consulting old bartenders manuals that I collected.”
The resulting book has two parts: the first provides brief saint biographies and paired beverages for almost every day of the calendar year, while the second recommends drink selections based on the liturgical season of the year, such as Lent or Advent. More than 350 cocktail recipes are included, as well as toasts, fun facts, and ideas for ways to celebrate.
Figuring out which drinks to pair with which saints was easy in some cases, where there were already wines or beers or cocktails named after saints, or whose names very closely resembled saints.
“(I)n France alone there are over 120 wines named after the saints, and I try to mention as many of those as possible for the sake of being comprehensive but I definitely didn’t try every one of those wines,” Foley said.
For some saints, the author had to get a little more creative. He was always on the lookout for any “hook” he could find – whether it was alcohol from the same region as the saint, or something peculiar about their biography that stood out, or if he could somehow connect a drink to the way a particular saint might be represented in Church art.
“We discovered a really old recipe called the Life Blood Warmer; we used it on the feast of St. Januarius, because his blood froths up on his feast day,” he said. A martyr of the fourth century, St. Januarius’ blood is kept in a vial in Naples, where it “becomes liquid and bubbles up as though it were fresh” when it is set near the saint’s severed head on certain days.
In addition to revived cocktails from years past, the book includes more than 30 original recipes, and Foley’s wit is on display with some of the invented names such as Prompt Succor Punch for Our Lady of Prompt Succor, or Lady Continence for St. Augustine’s feast day.
“I’ve always been a martini man, that’s kind of my go-to cocktail, but this book definitely expanded my horizons,” he said. “I have to confess that I’m partial to some of the cocktails we invented especially for the book.”
Concocting and inventing drinks became a little complicated for the Waco, Texas author, who daylights as a literature professor at Baylor University, a Baptist college with a dry campus.
“We have sort of a moderate access to various forms of alcohol, we’re not the driest part of the country, but we’re not the wettest either,” he said. “So there were some ingredients I just couldn’t get locally, but aside from the sort of rare ingredient that I couldn’t get, I think we tested most of the cocktails.”
In his research for the book, Foley said he was impressed at how much of an impact Catholicism has made on the history of alcohol.
“The great orders of the Middle Ages developed further the production of beer and wine of course, but they actually invented all kinds of distilled spirits that didn’t exist before,” he said. “It’s believed that whiskey was invented by Irish monks. Chartreuse is this still-produced, magical liqueur made by the Carthusians. Lots of liqueurs were invented by various orders.”
With this book, Foley said he hopes to champion all that is good in the worlds of alcohol and Catholicism without encouraging drunkenness and debauchery.
“This book promotes the very best kind of drinking there is, which is drinking in moderation,” Foley said. “Moderation is not only the morally responsible thing to do, it’s also the most pleasurable thing to do. It slows you down and enables you to actually savor the drink that you’re drinking.”
Moderation and slow-sipping were key for Foley as he created this book as well, so that he could fully experience the flavor profiles of each cocktail.
The goal of the book is to cultivate authentic Catholic fellowship and festivity, the author explained.
“We live in trying times,” he said, “and it’s all the more important for us to get together and celebrate the culture of life and the good news that is the Gospel, and you know, drinking used in moderation is a part of that fellowship, so I hope that this encourages a greater sense of Catholic camaraderie.”
Foley hopes to further promote that Catholic camaraderie through the book’s website and social media pages, where he hopes to create an ongoing community and conversation, with occasional updates to the book such as new saints and recipes.
“In a sense we want this to be kind of a living book, to generate more conversation about ideas for Catholic festivity.”
The online community based on “Drinking with the Saints” can be found at: http://drinkingwiththesaints.com/