The Catholic world rejoices as Cardinal John Henry Newman is canonized this Sunday, October 13. Time to start celebrating. But what should we drink in honor of England’s most famous convert ? We offer the following suggestions.
In his college days Newman played snapdragon, a risky game in which raisins are snatched out of a dish of burning brandy and eaten alight. Coincidentally, snapdragon is also the name of the flower that grew on the wall opposite Newman’s freshman lodgings at Trinity College in Oxford and came to symbolize in his mind his “own perpetual residence even unto death” at his beloved university, a residency that, thanks to his conversion, was to be far from perpetual.
Tonight, savor the lifestyle of a Victorian English gentleman with your finest port or brandy. You can also play snapdragon with your friends: it is traditionally a Christmastide game, but on October 13, 1848, Newman wrote that he had played it recently—perhaps on this very day. Better yet, drop three raisins in a glass of brandy and drink to Blessed John Henry (three to symbolize Newman’s alma mater of Trinity College and his theological work in service to the Triune God). You can call the drink a Snapdragon, though we don’t advise setting it on fire.
Or, have a Cardinal cocktail. The (London) dry gin can symbolize Newman’s English identity and the Campari his sometimes bittersweet turn to Rome/Italy.
1 oz. gin
¾ oz. Campari
¾ oz. dry vermouth
1 lemon twist
Stir ingredients except lemon twist in a mixing glass or shaker filled with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon.
Beer and Wine
As we know from his letters, young Newman enjoyed “fine strong beer.” Honor Newman’s good taste with a St. Peter’s Organic English Ale, an English brew that our friend Dr. Robert Kirby selected in order to celebrate the occasion when, following Newman’s footsteps, he left Canterbury for Rome. The “organic” is evocative of organic development in Church doctrine, a notion which Newman famously explored and explained, and the “St. Peter’s” can serve as an obvious reference to the Barque which Newman boarded to the astonishment of all.
As for wine, an older Newman praised a dinner he had in Langres, France, that included claret, burgundy, sherry, and rum. Use your discretion to fill in the details.
Newman stands out among the great figures mentioned in Drinking With the Saints because he is the only one on record for proposing a toast. Here is the full passage, from his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:
Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which indeed does not seem quite the thing), I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.
Newman’s remark is often misconstrued as a green light to dissent from the Church’s teachings, but it was actually meant to affirm the doctrine of papal infallibility properly understood. For Newman, the key to conscience is that it is is well-formed, which requires a great deal of study, docility, and humility—qualities not often found today among religious naysayers.
As for Newman’s opinion about the incompatibility of religion and after-dinner toasts, our own well-formed (or at least well-marinated) conscience compels us to dissent.
And so a toast: To Conscience first, Saint John Henry Newman next, and the Pope afterwards.
We often think of Lent as the time to give up some of our favorite things, and for many of us alcohol is somewhere near the top of that list. But it was not always so. While voluntary abstinence is certainly commendable, for most of Church history Catholics during Lent were instead preoccupied with the mandatory fast, which was not the piddling two-day affair that it is now (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) but a full forty days.
Interestingly enough, this fast in the Latin Church could be rigorous but it never required abstinence from alcohol, even though other Christians such as the Eastern Orthodox have strict fast days where “wine and oil are avoided.” I suspect there are two reasons for the Latin approach. First, drinking alcohol was often safer than drinking water. A little wine added to water kills water-borne pathogens, and beer low in alcohol (called “small beer”) contained just enough alcohol to kill germs but not enough to impair one’s work skills.
Second, alcohol–especially beer–was a way to compensate for the Great Fast. A special beer called doppelbock was invented precisely to provide extra nutrients and vitamins during Lent. Shiner Bock, familiar to Texans as the Spoetzel brewery’s most popular year-round offering, used to be only produced in the Spring; it was not until the early 1970s that it began to be available outside of Lent. Paulaner monks invented their outstanding “Salvator” as their sole form of sustenance during the entirety of Lent: you can read their fascinating story here.
And finally, there is a German “Fastenbier” or “Lentbeer” that has been around since the fifteenth century. The beer earns a respectable 4.2 score out of 5 on beeradvocate.com, which has this to say:
“The Original Schlenkerla Lentbeer is an unfiltered smokebeer, brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. Bottom-fermenting yeast gives the reddish brown lentbeer a natural cloudiness. Its smokey aroma is already noticeable in the smell, combined with a fine hoppy note. In the drink the fullbodied, highly drinkable lentbeer shows its strong malty flavour, rounded up with the smokey taste and a light bitterness. Due to the nourishing yeast, the Original Schlenkerla Lentbeer has the “Brotzeit already included” (German word for afternoon snack).”
Afternoon snack. Gotta love it. And note the “Cerevisia Quadragesimae” on the label, Latin for “beer of Lent.”
To be clear, Lenten beer does not make the forty-day fast an extension of Mardi Gras. In 2011, a nondenominational Christian and home brewer named J. Wilson decided to try the Paulaner monks’ liquid fast. He crafted his own nutrient-rich doppelbock and drank nothing but it and water during all of Lent, including Sundays. Rather than perambulate in a dim haze, Wilson lost twenty-five pounds and “found [himself] operating in a tunnel of clarity unlike anything [he’d] ever experienced” (you can read his full testimony here). He also gained new respect for the monks and for their annual acknowledgement of their frailty and dependence on God.
December 13 is the Feast of St. Lucy, an early virgin martyr. “Lucia” is the Latin word “light,” and December 13 used to be the day of the Winter Solstice before the Gregorian reform of the calendar moved the solstice back to December 23. For these reasons medieval Christians could not resist celebrating Lucy’s Day with various symbols of light. Here are three: two for all ages, and the third for the grown ups.
In Scandinavian cultures it is customary for a girl in a white dress donning a wreath of burning candles to awaken the family from sleep and offer a tray with coffee and cakes. The impersonator is called a Lussibrud (Lucy bride) and her pastry is Lussekattor. In our family, the daughters alternate being the Lucy bride, and the pastry is usually something more mundane like store-bought danishes or Shipley’s Donuts. And instead of awakening the family, the family awakens Mom with breakfast in bed as we sing to her our own version of the Italian gondoliers’ “Santa Lucia” (which you can find in both Drinking with the Saints and Drinking with Saint Nick). These days one can buy a wreath with electric candles, but do you really want to miss the joy of pulling wax out of your daughter’s hair and possibly setting the drapes on fire?
In the U.S. and Mexico we should be grateful to the Scandinavians for giving Mom coffee in bed the morning after the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and all that tequila…
Here is an explanation of this custom from Marian Von Trapp:
“It is an ancient Hungarian custom to offer to the Infant in the manger the green sprouts of wheat. Agriculture is the mainstay of the Hungarian nation and wheat is the symbol of sustenance and prosperity for this nation. It is therefore the most suitable gift for the newborn Saviour. But it also has a meaning for everyone. The ‘new wheat’ symbolizes the “new bread” in the natural order and also the ‘New Bread of Life’ in the supernatural order; for it is from wheat that the altar bread is made which becomes the Holy Eucharist, the bread of our souls.
“The wheat seeds are planted on the day of St. Lucy, the virgin martyr, December 13th. Kept in a moderately warm room and watered daily, the plant reaches its full growth by Christmas. The little daily care given to it is flavored with the joy of expectation for the approaching Christmas and spreads the spirit of cheerfulness as the tender plant reminds us of our spiritual rebirth through the mysteries of Christmas.
“To plant the seeds, take a flower pot four or five inches in height and fill it with plain garden sod. Spread the seeds on the top and press gently, so that the seeds are covered with sod. Do not push them too deep. Watered daily at the manger and paying its simple homage to the newborn Saviour, the plant will last until about January 6th.”
SANCTA LUCIA MARTINI
Because of her connection to light, Lucy became the patron saint of eyes, which are “the light of the body.” Following this lead a later tradition claims that Lucy was tortured and that her eyes were gouged out. Lucy is consequently portrayed in Christian art holding a tray containing her two eyes (actually, we should say two of her eyes, because another pair miraculously grew back). To honor this colorful story, have a Drinking with the Saints original—if you can consider a mere rearrangement of ingredients original. The Sancta Lucia Martini is a martini with the olives configured to look like a pair of eyes. We’re confident that if Saint Lucy did not have a good sense of humor on earth, she has one now by virtue of the Beatific Vision and that heavenly mirth which Chesterton says is God’s greatest secret.
Sancta Lucia Martini
2 oz. gin
1 dash vermouth
Pour all ingredients except olives into a shaker or mixing glass with ice and stir forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass. Transfix the two olives with a cocktail sword so that the pimentos are positioned like eyeballs and place them horizontally on the glass rim.
Each year Christians are faced with the surprisingly difficult question of when to put up the Christmas tree. The world around us gives us different answers. For retail stores, it is often the day after Halloween. For many offices and corporate spaces, it is the weekend after Thanksgiving. This year, the White House lit the National Christmas Tree on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. And some Catholics either put up their tree around the First Sunday of Advent or on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8).
But the original custom was to put up a Christmas tree only on Christmas Eve. Even the federal government respected this custom: the first U.S. President to light the National Christmas Tree, Calvin Coolidge, did so on December 24, 1923. The reason for this is simple. Contrary to popular belief, the Christmas tree was not a “baptism” of pagan Germanic yule traditions but an entirely Christian symbol.
In the Eastern Churches December 24 is the Feast of Adam and Eve, who according to tradition felt really, really bad about the Fall and spent the rest of their hundreds of years on earth doing penance and eventually achieving sanctity. Although this feast has never been on the Latin calendar, medieval Roman Catholics took it to heart. Special mystery plays were held on this day that featured a Paradise Tree, a tree representing both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as well as the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden. The tree was decorated with apples (for the forbidden fruit) and sweets (for the Tree of Life). When the mystery plays were suppressed during the fifteenth century, the faithful moved the Paradise trees from the stage into their homes. The apples were later substituted for other round objects (such as shiny red balls), and lights and the Star of Bethlehem were added, but the symbolism remained essentially the same.
Thus, our modern Christmas tree is actually the medieval Paradise tree, a reminder of the reason why God deemed it important to become man in the first place and a foretaste of the sweet Tree from which our Lord’s birth would once again enable us to taste. The lights of the Christmas tree also form a glowing Jesse tree, with each light representing one of Christ’s ancestors and the Star representing our Lord Himself.
So where does this leave us today? Kudos to those who can hold out to December 24 to observe the classic custom, but in many areas finding a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve takes a Christmas miracle, even if you’d settle for a Charlie Brown version. So here are some practical options:
1. Buy a tree when it is still available and store it (and water it) in the garage until December 24. Place it in your home and decorate it on Christmas Eve, before you head out for Midnight Mass;
2. Fudge a little and put the tree up on December 17, the first of the O Antiphons or Golden Nights (which we will talk about in a later post). On the first night leave it bare, and then on subsequent nights decorate it gradually until it is ready by Christmas Eve;
3. Fudge a little more and put the tree up on December 17 and decorate it then, but perhaps wait until Christmas Eve to turn on the lights;
4. Overcome your scrupulosity and put up the Christmas tree when it is convenient for you. After all, family religious customs should be an occasion of joy and not another reason for anxiety.
Over the years our family has experimented with all of the above. How about yours? Sound off on the Drinking with the Saints Facebook page.
And, of course, there is also the question of when to take the tree down. Here in our adopted home of Waco, Texas, the city collects Christmas trees from immediately after Christmas until the day after Epiphany. It either mulches them or throws them into Lake Waco to create a habitat for catfish. The Christmas tree should be the center of family festivity for the entire Twelve Days of Christmas, from December 25 until January 5, the Vigil of the Epiphany. And so I am glad that the Keep Waco Beautiful Chipping of the Green Christmas tree recycling service is operating on January 7, when participants are “provided a small bag of Christmas tree mulch.”
I must confess, though, that we don’t always meet even this deadline. Instead of helping catfish, our trees end up sheltering rat snakes as the trees compost in a part of the yard our children tend to avoid. The good news is that the resulting soil is rich and fertile, and in the summer we occasionally find a lost ornament no longer hidden behind green needles, ready for the next Christmas.
Philip Greene is a columnist for The Daily Beast and author of several great cocktail books including his latest due out next month, A Drinkable Feast: A Cocktail Companion to 1920s Paris (Penguin Random House). Phil is also a friend who helped me when I was writing Drinking with the Saints. Over the summer he sent me the following note:
“Hello Michael, I hope you are well. I think I solved a mystery for you; unfortunately it means you have a mistake in your book! In the drink recipe Life Blood Warmer you speculated that the initials LBW stood for the Lillet Blanc Wine. When I read that I was dubious because back in 1937 it was not called by that name, it was called Kina Lillet. I then perused the online version of the 1937 Café Royal book and discovered that the initials represent lemon barley water.”
Phil later added that if you google “lemon barley water UK,” you will see “that it was a thing, like we drink cola or lemon lime soda.”
Phil was referring to my entry for the Feast of St. Januarius (September 19), the martyr whose dried blood is brought out every year in a phial on his feast day and which miraculously liquifies when it is placed close to his severed head (no, I am not making this up). In Drinking with the Saints I recommend an old cocktail for the feast called a Life Blood Warmer. The problem I faced was that one of the ingredients was listed only as “LBW,” which a later editor erroneously thought was an abbreviation of “life blood warmer.” I knew enough from logic that you can’t define a term with the term in the definition, so I speculated that the abbreviation stood for Lillet Blanc Wine, tested the cocktail with this ingredient, and was sufficiently pleased with the result.
But Phil is right: unbeknownst to me at the time, the term “Lillet Blanc Wine” did not exist in 1937, and lemon barley water does appear elsewhere in the famous 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book, whence I obtained the recipe.
So it was back to the drawing board. Although lemon barley water is still common in Great Britain, it is difficult to find locally. Happily, you can make it yourself with the help of an online recipe. Here it is now:
Lemon Barley Water
½ cup pearl barley
10 cups water
1 lemon rind, grated
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
- Rinse the barley well.
- Cover barley in a pot with cold water & bring to the boil; drain.
- Return barley to saucepan with the lemon rind & 10 cups water, cook slowly for 1 hour.
- Add the lemon juice & sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved.
- Strain and chill to serve.
- Discarded barley can be mixed with some dried fruit & nuts and warm milk and makes a great breakfast.
- This recipe takes about 70 minutes and makes approximately 1⅞ liters.
The recipe I included in DWTS (with Lillet) is still pretty good, so now we have two options. I foolishly took the Pledge for the whole of this Embertide week, so I won’t be able to do a taste test. Any volunteers? Here are the two recipes:
(Original) Life Blood Warmer
From the 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book
½ oz. lemon barley water
½ oz. orange juice
1¼ oz. gin
½ oz. Cointreau
Pour all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass.
(New) Life Blood Warmer
By a sincere but misguided Mike Foley
½ oz. Lillet Blanc wine
1 oz. orange juice (½ oz. more than the original recipe)
1¼ oz. gin
½ oz. Cointreau
Pour all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass.
A toast in gratitude to those who correct us: Through the intercession of Saint Januarius, may our blood never boil when they point out our mistakes.
Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), and it is not too late to make your own fig vodka in his honor. Why fig vodka? To make a Lady Continence cocktail, of course, one of our favorite recipes in Drinking with the Saints (see below). In case you were wondering, the fig pays tribute to St. Augustine’s conversion, which took place under a fig tree, while the name “Lady Continence” evokes a vision of the virtue of continence Augustine had shortly before converting.
To make fig-infused vodka…
Start with a liter of vodka (we recommend Tito’s) and 2 1/2 ounces of dried figs (we had ours blessed during a traditional blessing of herbs and fruits on the Feast of the Assumption).
Dice or quarter the figs into small pieces. This allows the figs to infuse the vodka more quickly–and to get in and out of the bottle easily.
You can either put the figs directly into a bottle of vodka or, as we have done, put them into a specially designated bottle (with a homemade label) and pour vodka on top of them.
The recipe we consulted requires you to refrigerate the bottle of figs and vodka for three days, lightly shaking twice a day. We found, however, that if you keep the mixture at room temperature and shake lightly a few times, it will be ready in a matter of hours (six or eight and certainly within twenty-four). You will know when the vodka is ready when it turns a beautiful figgy color–and tastes like fig.
When the mixture is ready, strain the figs out of the bottle with cheesecloth, and voila! you have very own fig-infused vodka.
Fig vodka is actually a good after-dinner sipping drink, but it also goes well in a Drinking with the Saints original, the Lady Continence:
2 oz. fig vodka
½ oz. lemon juice
simple syrup made from 1½ tsp. honey and 2½ tsp. water (warm both in a saucepan and stir until honey is dissolved)
1 sliced fresh fig for garnish (if you can find one)
Pour all ingredients except fig into a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass or an old-fashioned glass filled with ice and garnish with half a fig.
A toast to Saint Augustine: may our daily conversion be as sweet as the fruit of the fig tree and as intoxicating as a Lady Continence.
Today is the eleventh anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, the document that on July 7, 2007 granted all priests the right to use the 1962 Roman Missal without the permission of their bishop. Last year we invented a cocktail for the occasion, and this year we’ll be drinking it again.
Some More, Um, Pontificum
1 oz. gin
½ oz. Bénédictine liqueur
¼ oz. lemon juice
Pour all ingredients except lemon twist into a shaker filled with ice and shake forty times (the biblical number for penance). Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lemon twist.
The Bénédictine honors the name that Joseph Ratzinger took upon his election to the Holy See.
The kirsch pays tribute to the Pontiff’s German heritage, and since kirschwasser is a cherry brandy, it also symbolizes Pope St. Gregory the Great, who according to legend was quite fond of the juicy red fruits (see Drinking with the Saints, p. 52). It is appropriate that Pope Benedict’s drink would incorporate a symbol of Gregory the Great, since Summorum Pontificum liberalizes the use of what is sometimes called the Gregorian Rite.
The lemon juice recalls the bitter opposition of tradition’s enemies to Pope Benedict XVI’s liturgical largesse. These enemies are alas still with us but we can use them to our spiritual benefit to grow holier and more charitable, just as we can use bitter ingredients to make a tasty drink.
The lemon twist, on the other hand, betokens not resistance to the Pope’s largesse but the largesse itself. In Drinking with the Saints, the twist is a symbol of St. Martin’s torn cloak generously given to a beggar who turned out to be Christ (p. 311). And because lemon rinds are oleaginous, secreting healthy essential oils, they are also symbolic of the sacraments that can now be celebrated with greater freedom according to the 1962 liturgical books.
As for the London dry gin, we like to think of it as a nod to all of the English-speaking supporters of Summorum Pontificum or an allusion to the earlier Agatha Christie indult.
Reverend Fathers and recognizable Sisters, ladies and gentlemen: May what has begun in our day be brought to perfection, for the honor of God and of Our Lady and of all the Saints. Happy anniversary and many more!
Be it to your bartender or your parish priest, never hesitate to ask: “Can I have Some More, Um, Pontificum?”
Recite over and over again these beautiful lines from Pope Benedict XVI until you have committed them to memory (which may be harder to do after the second round):
What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place (from his Letter to the Bishops accompanying the motu proprio).
Memorial Day honors those who have died serving our country, and although it is not a liturgical feast, it makes sense that Catholics–who are pretty good at remembering the departed–should mark this solemn occasion with more than just grilled hot dogs. This Memorial Day, when you raise a glass, toast to (and pray for) those who have fallen in defense of our nation. And if you’re uncertain what to put in that glass, we make the following suggestions:
Beer and Wine. Think domestic. After all, it’s a patriotic day. Of course, you can also enjoy English beer or French wine and tell your guests that these are tributes from our allies for saving their hinies twice in the last century.
Cocktails. St. Michael is the patron saint both of the U.S. armed forces and of the faithful departed, the first because of his role in defeating Satan and the second because he is the angel who escorts souls to their eternal reward. The St. Michael’s Sword cocktail is a DWTS original. According to an old Irish legend, when Michael cast Lucifer out of Heaven, the devil fell on a blackberry bush and cursed and spat on the blackberries, thereby rendering them sour after September 29, the feast of Michaelmas. The St. Michael’s Sword contains blackberry brandy, as well as Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Bourbon, which comes in military-strength 90 proof. The “Angels’ share” is the portion of the whiskey that escapes into the air during distillation, but the “Devil’s cut” is the portion that seeps into the wood of the barrels. Jim Beam’s claims to have stolen this cut back from the Devil, and so we gratefully offer this portion to St. Michael for a job well done.
St. Michael’s Sword
1½ oz. Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut bourbon
¾ oz. blackberry brandy
2 dashes orange bitters
1 cherry for garnish
Pour all ingredients except cherry in a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass. Use a cocktail spear (St. Michael’s sword) to transfix the cherry (the Devil, red with shame and rage).
Other Patronages. If there is a particular branch of the military you wish to honor, we’ve got you covered. All of the recipes to the drink suggestions can be found in Drinking with the Saints.
U.S. Army St. Martin of Tours, a Martlemas Martini
U.S. Army Cavalry St. George, a St. George Martini
U.S. Army Chaplain Corps St. Titus, a Sidecar
U.S. Army Field Artillery St. Barbara, a Barbara cocktail
U.S. Army Infantry St. Maurice, a St. Maurice or St. Moritz cocktail
U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps St. Martin of Tours, a Martlemas Martini
U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) St. Philip Neri, a Heart Warmer
U.S. Coast Guard St. Christopher, a Christophe cocktail
U.S. Marines St. George, a St. George Martini
U.S. Navy St. Brendan, a St. Brendan’s Isle cocktail
More. Are you still unsatisfied? Then turn to these drinks with military names, even if they’re not terribly Catholic:
- Black Hawk
- Navy Seal
- Orange Bomber
Last Call. The offertory verse from the traditional Requiem Mass can be adapted into a touching Memorial Day toast: “May the standard-bearer St. Michael lead our fallen troops into the holy light which our Lord God once promised to Abraham and his seed.”