PREZI! and the Catholic alcohol paper thingy

Last term, I took the opportunity to finally get a prezi account, almost a year after having made up my mind to do so. Needless to say, it served me well.

And here is the paper I wrote for Mixology Honors. We had to cut down the outline – Ms. Marcha and Chef Huller agreed that what I wanted to cover originally was worthy of a book – so here is what I ended up with:

Hilaire Belloc once said, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine.” After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD to barbarian invasions, the Catholic Church was the only stable organization that had both the security and the resources to maintain wineculture (Unwin 134).  Not only did they maintain it, but they also had the time to strengthen and improve upon it, as well as preserve the majority of the skills of civilization itself throughout the Dark Ages (Unwin 134).

Judaism considered wine a regular part of one’s diet, and there are many positive references to wine, both in the Torah which is the Catholic Old Testament, and in the New Testament (“Distinctive”).

An example of this can be found in Deuteronomy, which further elaborates on the law given at Mount Sinai (The 160). Chapter 14 outlines the ordinances concerning mourning, the distinction between clean and unclean meats, tithes, and firstfruits. Having tithed generously, giving back to God what He has given his people, the Israelites are then instructed, “… when the way and the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, are far off, and he hath blessed thee, and thou canst not carry all these things thither, thou shalt sell them all, and turn them into money, and shalt carry it in thy hand, and shalt go to the place which the Lord shall choose and thou shalt buy with the same money whatsoever pleaseth thee, either of the herds or of sheep, wine also and strong drink, and all that thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, and shalt feast, thou and thy house (Deut 14:24-26 emphasis mine).” Clearly, wine was considered good for celebration in the name of the Lord.

Another, more surprising example can be found in the Book of Proverbs, in Chapter 31 which can be summarized as, “An exhortation to chastity, temperance, and works of mercy (The 604).” Surprising, because it reads, “Give strong drink to them that are sad: and wine to them that are grieved in mind: Let them drink, and forge their want, and remember their sorrow no more,” which clearly shows that the Israelites were aware of the mind-numbing effects of alcohol and were actually encouraged to take advantage of this in their grief and their sorrow (Prov 31:6-7). The Bible does not condemn alcohol; only its excessive consumption. How drinking to forget does not fall into the ‘excessive’ category seems to be summed up rather well but a supposed German monk’s prayer that goes, “He who drinks wine sleeps well. He who sleeps well cannot sin. He who does not sin goes to heaven. Amen (Robertson 148).”

It is interesting to note that in contrast to Judaism and Catholicism, Islam and even some denominations of Christian Protestantism reject consumption of alcoholic beverages. But Islam seems to contradict itself on this matter. The Qur’an rejects the consumption of alcohol as a sin (Robertson 2), and yet also speaks of Paradise as one flowing with streams of water, wine, and honey (Oussani). Fundamentalists and Mormons also denounce alcohol consumption altogether, in spite of any backing in the Bible for such doctrine, and altogether ignoring Biblical reference to wine’s medicinal purposes (“Distinctive”).

Catholicism, however, has used wine in the Sacrament of the Eucharist since the Last Supper, which is also known as the Institution of the Eucharist. In fact, Catholicism is, in and of itself, Eucharist-centered. It was natural, then, that preserving wineculture should be a priority of the Church when Rome fell to the barbarians.

Between the 6th and 10th centuries, many bishops and monks made a point of establishing and/or maintaining vineyards within France (Unwin 146). There are records of bishops moving their episcopal seats to areas that were more favorable to viticulture (Unwin 146). In Burgundy in particular, where white grapes are generally better suited to the moisture and cold weather, the Cistercians cultivated Pinot Noir (Sutton). It was an odd choice, as Pinot Noir is a very unpredictable and inconsistent varietal; even today, many wine producers choose other varietals because of its inconsistency (Sutton). Because of the Cistercians’ influence, Pinot Noir still dominates the region today (Sutton). They had the resources and the time to research the specifics of terroir, the relationships between the soil and the climate, and experiment with various methods of vine cultivation (Sutton). The Cistercians established methods of training vines to grow on trellises, as well as poles and trees. They are also credited with being responsible for first cultivating Chardonnay and ensuring its success (Parkinson).

Monasteries in the Middle Ages had their own little clos – that is, an enclosed vineyard, and the term clos still used today in reference to any walled vineyard – where the monks or nuns made wine mainly for the celebration of the Mass, but also for their own consumption (Scherb 14). Extra wine – the quantities of which were generally rather small – was either sold or served to guests (Scherb 14). Dedicated to being good caretakers and stewards of creation, the religious made a point of what we refer to as “sourcing locally” and using what would now be labeled “organic ingredients” (Scherb). The use of preservatives was rarely employed (Scherb 11).

It is interesting to note, however, that the benefits of Europe’s best early wine vaults were discovered by accident; monks hid wine from invading barbarians by storing the wine in the abbey cellars (Scherb 14). When discoveries like this were made, whether accidental or otherwise, the religious kept detailed notes on the methods and their effects (Schmid 2). Another accidental discovery was that of the “perfect blend” of grapes for the production of Champagne, credit for which is given to Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk (Schmid 2). Secular producers usurped some monastic traditions, including the art of making the perfect blend for Champagne, during the French Revolution in the 18th century, and following the revolution, orders turned to perfecting their unique beers and cheeses (Scherb 14).

The brewing of beer began at the Abbey of our Beloved Lady of the Sacred Heart in Nearantwerp, Belgium, in 1860 (Scherb 44). The location of a monastery or abbey would give some indication as to the preference of its inmates. In northern climates, beer was preferred over wine (Scherb 14). In the Franken region of Germany, the shape of the bocksbeutel flagon was supposedly inspired by the shape of a certain body part of the goat, and the name of the bottle comes from the German word for male goat, bock, a more practical and generally more widely believe explanation is that monks could tuck the bottles underneath their habits more securely (Robertson 147). Furthermore, with beer often being referred to as ‘liquid bread,’ monks were allowed to consume beer during Lent, at some abbeys amounting to 5L of beer each a day (Scherb 14).

The Benedictines did a great deal to spread both wine and beer culture to the world. Boniface Wimmer was among the first to bring the Benedictine Order to the Americas (Robertson 148). He operated a brewery in Indiana, and founded another at St. Vincent’s Abbey in Latrobe, PA (Robertson 148). Americans eventually nicknamed the Benedictines the “Order of Sacred Brewers” (Robertson 148). Today, however, many beers known as “abbey ales” are not actually produced by or at monasteries (Scherb 14). To verify that a beer is truly produced entirely on the grounds of an abbey, one should look for the Authentic Trappist Product label on the bottle (Scherb 11). Even what is known today as Benedictine Liqueur is no longer made by monks, but rather is merely based on a monastic recipe (Scherb 14).

To the present day, Trappist beers are ‘living’ products, bottled with the yeast, which then continues to mature and develop the beer’s flavors in the bottle (Scherb 18). The Trappist monastery that produces Orval beer uses brettanomyces, a slow-acting yeast which changes the beer’s flavors in a positive way as it matures (Scherb 40). In general, however, Trappist beers should never be kept for long periods, lest they turn and become sour, and should be stored between 37 and 68 degrees F (Scherb 18). All profits from the sale of Trappist beer are either used to support Trappist monasteries or are given to charity (Scherb 20). The monastery that produces Orval is also the only Trappist monastery in Belgium where the monks still produce cheese with unpasteurized raw milk from their own herd of Dutch groningse blaarkoppen cows (Scherb 44).

As to present-day wine still produced exclusively by the Church, the nuns at the Abbey of Saint Hildegard near Rudesheim, Germany, grow mostly Riesling and Spatburgunder, also known as Pinot Noir (Scherb 54). They literally do all the work, from tending the grape vines, to hand-harvesting the grapes, making the wine, and even design the labels on the bottles (Scherb 54). The illustrations on the labels are based on paintings done by Saint Hildegard’s nuns to illustrate her writings (Scherb 54).

With regards to liqueurs, Singeverga is still made by the monks at the Singeverga Monastery in Portugal (Scherb 18). Frangelico, however, which is a better-known liqueur that started with monks in Piedmont, Italy, has been bought out. But perhaps the liqueur with the most colorful history that is still produced exclusively by the Church today is Chartreuse.

The manuscript of the recipe for what is known today is Chartreuse liqueur dates back to at least 1605, and by that time it was already considered ancient (“History”). A truly exhaustive study of the manuscript was not undertaken until 1737, the result of which was the making of the first Chartreuse liqueur, then referred to as Chartreuse Elixir, due to the manuscript’s title, “An Elixir of Long Life” (“History”). It was considered a medicine rather than a beverage, and distribution and sales were limited and personally overseen by a monk from the motherhouse of the order (“History”). In 1789, the chaos of the French Revolution resulted in the manuscript changing hands several times and actually making it all the way to the Ministry of the Interior of Emperor Napoleon in 1810 (“History”). The Ministry could not make heads or tails of the document, and the manuscript finally found its way back to the Chartreuse monks many years later (“History”).

The Chartreuse monks were made to endure a great deal, including temporarily being expelled to Spain, and their distillery being destroyed by an avalanche, but the recipe of Chartreuse liqueur, which includes around 130 different herbs, plants, roots, and leaves, is still a secret known only to but two Chartreuse monks (“History”). The most that can be known by the outside world is that these 130 bits of vegetation are soaked in alcohol, distilled, mixed with distilled honey and sugar syrup, and are aged in oak casks (“History”). The liqueur is left to age and mature in the world’s largest liqueur-aging cave, which tourists can visit and sample Green and Yellow Chartreuse (Scherb 14).

It is not a very widely acknowledged fact, but the world owes the preservation of wineculture, beerculture, and the distillation process to the Catholic Church, without which, we would currently be some seven centuries behind where we are fortunate enough to be now.

Works Cited

“Distinctive Beliefs of the Mormon Church.” Catholic Answers. Catholic Answers, 2004. Web. 2 Apr 2011. <;.

“History of the Chartreuse Liqueurs.” Chartreuse. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Apr 2011. <;.

Oussani, Gabriel. “Mohammed and Mohammedanism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 Apr. 2011 <;.

Parkinson, George. “People of The Vine – The Cistercian Monks.” N.p., 02/19/2010. Web. 28 Mar 2011. <;.

Robertson, Charles Kevin. Religion & Alcohol: Sobering Thoughts. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2004. 2-148. Print.

Scherb, Madeline. A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink

Made by Monks and Nuns. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009. 11-44. Print.

Schmid, Albert. The Hospitality Manager’s Guide to

Wines, Beers, and Spirits. 2nd. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. 2-3. Print.

Sutton, Adam. “Cistercian Wine Paper.” N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar 2011. <;.

The Holy Bible. New York, NY: The Douay Bible House, Loreto Publications, 1941. 160-604. Print.

Unwin, Tim. Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade. New York, NY: Routledge, 1991. 134-146. Print.


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