Gambrinus (/gæmˈbraɪnəs/ gam-BRAHY-nuhs), is a legendary European culture hero celebrated as an icon of beer, brewing, joviality, and joie de vivre. Traditional songs, poems, and stories describe him as a king, duke, or count of Flanders and Brabant. Typical representations in the visual arts depict him as a rotund, bearded duke or king, holding a tankard or mug, and sometimes with a keg nearby.
Gambrinus is sometimes erroneously called a patron saint, but he is neither a saint nor a tutelary deity. In one legendary tradition, he is beer's inventor or envoy. Although legend attributes to him no special powers to bless brews or to make crops grow, tellers of old tall tales are happy to adapt them to fit Gambrinus. Gambrinus stories use folklore motifs common to European folktales, such as the trial by ordeal. Some, of course, imagine Gambrinus as a man who has an enormous capacity for drinking beer.
The prevailing theory for the origin of Gambrinus is that he is patterned after John the Fearless (1371–1419) and/or John I, Duke of Brabant (c. 1252–1294). By this reckoning, the name Gambrinus is a corruption of Jan Primus ("John the First").:118:81
Historical variations of the name Gambrinus include Gambrivius, Cambrinus, and Camprinus.
Origin of Gambrinus
Two men purported to have inspired the creation of Gambrinus are John I, Duke of Brabant, and John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. Alternatively, German historian Johannes Aventinus (1477–1534) identified Gambrinus with Gambrivius, a mythical Germanic king about whom little is known.
John I, Duke of Brabant
John I was well-liked, handsome, admired, and a champion jouster.:3 His dukedom, the Duchy of Brabant, was a wealthy, beer-producing jurisdiction that encompassed Brussels. As the poem below alludes, one legend says that the brewers' guild in Brussels made the Duke an honorary member and hung his portrait in their meeting hall::81
Gambrinus im Leben ward ich genannt,
Ein Kœnig in Flandern und Brabant,
Aus Gersten hab ich Mulz gemacht,
Und das Bierbrauen daraus erdacht;
Drum kœnnen die Herren Brauer mit Wahrheit sagen,
Dass sie einen Kœnig zum Meister haben,
Trotz komm', ein ander Handwerk her,
Und zeig uns dergleichen Meister mehr.—Anonymous, Note sur la tradition de Gambrivius roi mythique de Flandre
In his 1874 monograph on Gambrinus, Victor Coremans of Brussels reported that references to Brabant and Flanders in Gambrinus legends seemed to be relatively recent. However, he also reports a similarity between the likeness of John I on his tomb and the faces in some illustrations of Gambrinus. John's name, too, has a hypothetical connection to Gambrinus: He was sometimes known as Jan Primus, since John in Dutch is spelled Jan, and Primus is Latin for "the first". Gambrinus rhymes with Jan Primus, and might be a corruption of it.
John the Fearless
John the Fearless (1371–1419) was a Duke of Burgundy born nearly 80 years after the death of John I of Brabant. The large and powerful Duchy of Burgundy also produced beer, and was some distance south of Brabant.
John the Fearless held several titles of nobility, one of which was Count of Flanders, a title he inherited in 1405. He is credited with introducing, or legalising, hops within the County of Flanders.:4 Before they switched to hops, the Flemish, like many other Europeans, brewed beer with gruit, an herbal medley.
The transition from gruit to hops throughout Europe in the Middle Ages was a piecemeal, region-by-region process that lasted at least 500 years. It took time for farmers to learn of the existence of hops, how to farm them, when to cultivate them, and their value in brewing beer. Brewers had to learn the favourable and unfavourable characteristics of hops, and how to use hops to craft commercially successful beer. Even in the Middle Ages beer was an international commodity, and major brewing cities developed distinctive styles and reputations. Brewers had to consider the marketability of their beer, and competition from imports. Furthermore, regulations limited brewing ingredients in some jurisdictions. Even when a monarch permitted hop brewing, the hops might be taxed. What steps John took to institute hops in Flemish brewing is not documented, but he lived during a time when hops were being legalised in nearby jurisdictions. He was age 20 or 21 in 1392, when Duke Albert I granted the Dutch cities of Haarlem and Gouda permission to brew beer with hops.
Sometime after John inherited rule of the County of Flanders in 1405, he is said to have instituted an order of merit called Ōrdō lupuli (Latin: "Order of the Hop"). According to Jean-Jacques Chifflet (1588–1660), John awarded the honour to curry the favour of his subjects in the County of Flanders. Recipients of the order drank beer in celebration. Chifflet may be the sole remaining source of information about the Ōrdō lupuli.
John of Bergundy has another connection to beer and to the etymology of Gambrinus. In 1385, he was married in Cambrai, a powerful city whose beer was highly regarded. Allegedly, one of Cambrai's Latin names was Gambrivium, but the same is also said of Hamburg.
In his magnum opus Annals of Bavaria, German historian Johannes Aventinus wrote that Gambrinus is based on a mythical Germanic king called Gambrivius, whom Aventinus says learned brewing from gods. In 1517, William IV, Duke of Bavaria appointed Aventinus the official historiographer of Bavaria. Aventinus completed his work in 1523; the history that Aventinus compiled, Annals of Bavaria, is a major work that extends beyond Bavaria, drawing on numerous ancient and medieval sources. However, it is also a work that blends history with myth and legend.
European anecdote credits Gambrinus with the invention of beer. Aventinus attempted to reconcile this account with much older stories attributing its origin to Osiris, an Egyptian god of death. (By some accounts, Osiris is the son of Geb, a tutelary deity of the Earth who makes crops grow.)
In Aventinus' chronicle, Gambrinus was born in 1730 BCE (midway through the Thirteenth Dynasty of Egypt), and was the wife (or paramour) of Osiris' divine wife and sister, Isis. It was by this association with the gods, he says, that Gambrinus learned the science of brewing (cf. myths of the theft of fire).
The 59th stanza of the English drinking ode "The Ex-ale-tation of Ale" evidences a British appropriation of the myth:
To the praise of Gambrivius, that good British king
That devis'd for the nation by the Welshmen's tale
Seventeen hundred years before Christ did spring
The happy invention of a pot of good ale.
Aventinus makes Gambrinus noble not only by association, but by birth: as a seventh-generation descendant of the Biblical patriarch Noah. Aventinus posits that Gambrinus is the same personage as Gampar (Latin name Gambrivius), a legendary Germanic king. By incorporating earlier myths recorded by Tacitus, Aventinus places Gambrinus in a fabricated lineage: Gambrivius is the fifth son of Marso (Latin name Marsus), who is the great-grandson of Ashkenaz, son of Gomer, son of Japheth, son of Noah. Moreover, Aventinus records that Ashkenaz is actually Tuisto, the giant or godly ancestor of the Germanic peoples whom Tacitus mentions in Germania (cf. British Israelism). Tacitus alludes to an earlier source (Strabo) who lists tribes called the Gambrivii and the Marsi among the peoples descended from Tuisto: the offspring or subjects of Gambrivius and Marsus, respectively.
Gampar reigns from 1711 to 1667 BCE. He claims new lands east of the Rhine, including Flanders and Brabant, and founds the towns of Cambrai and Hamburg. The names of these towns were alleged to be cognates of Gambrivius—an assertion that was contested by European scholars for centuries. The position of Aventinus and others was that one of Hamburg's ancient Latin names was Gambrivium.
Aventinus took great pains to collate a huge amount of data into a history that was both concordant and sympathetic to German politics. One scholar who intrigued him was Jean Tixier de Ravisi, a French whose encyclopedia, Officina (1503), stated that Tuisto and Gambrivius were giants descended from Noah. But Jean Tixier had only catalogued and reported a conjecture made by the Hellenistic-era historian Berossus. The fraudster Annio da Viterbo used Berossus' same hypothesis to postulate a similar ancestry for the Gauls.
Francophone and Germanophone scholars both reject the other's claim to Gambrinus as an appropriation of one of their own cultural heroes. Aventinus' account did not just establish a claim to Gambrinus, but to a glorious ancestry and heritage. The myths also reimagined Gambrinus as a catalyst for the enlargement of the territory of a Germanic people (the Gambrivii), and made him a divine conduit into Germania for the Egyptians' ancient beer lore.
In 1543, Hans Guldenmundt published a series of 12 broadside prints called Ariovistus ein Künig aller Deutschen (German: "Ancestors and Early Kings of the Germans"). The series includes Tuiscon (Tuisto) and Gambrivius, Charlemagne, and other kings historical and mythological. The heading for Gambrivius translates as "Gampar, King of Brabant and Flanders". Aventinus' contemporary Burkard Waldis (c. 1490–1556) wrote a descriptive verse for each of the 12 kings in the series. The verses for Gambrivius and Tuiscon reiterate what Aventinus recorded in Annals of Bavaria.
Egyptologist Erik Hornung believed that Aventinus' Gambrinus myth contributed to the reverence for Osiris and Isis held by 17th-century European scholars. Perceiving these gods as "culture bearers" enabled a willingness to see historical connections where there were none. It also contributed to an already rampant proliferation of false etymologies. The legend of Gambrinus, whose origin is tantalisingly obscure, attracted medieval etymologists—as well as those who came after. They identified several words that both resembled the word Gambrinus and had meanings in some way connected to beer. Such resemblances were proposed as possible origins for Gambrinus' name, and clues to his cultural and geographical provenance.
One of the more plausible words proposed as the source of the name Gambrinus is the Medieval Latin noun camba ("brewery"), which became cambe in Old French, and which may have yielded the vernacular French noun cam, used by farmhouse brewers in Northern France and the Low Countries for the yoke that supports a brew kettle over the fire. Aventinus' myth notwithstanding, it is unknown whether the name of Cambrai, which was a brewing hotspot, is connected to these words or to the name Gambrinus.
Perhaps the etymological connection now given the most credence is that between Gambrinus and Jan Primus (John I, Duke of Brabant). Jan Primus is an alternate rendering of John I: Jan is the Dutch cognate of John; Jean is the French cognate. Primus is Latin for "the first". Dutch and French were principal languages in the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant, and Latin was used widely during the age of the Holy Roman Empire.
Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière
For his 1868 anthology Contes d’un buveur de bière (French: "Tales of a Beer Drinker"), Charles Deulin wrote a playful origin myth called "Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière" ("Cambrinus, King of Beer"), in which "Cambrinus" makes a deal with the Devil.
Cambrinus is an apprentice glassblower in the Flemish village of Fresnes-sur-Escaut, but he believes that he lacks the skill and upward mobility to succeed in glassblowing. He becomes smitten with the master glassblower's daughter, Flandrine. When he tells her, she rebuffs him and he leaves in disgrace. He apprentices himself to a viol master and becomes a great player. One day, he summons the courage to climb on a barrel and play publicly. He plays well, but just as he has whipped the crowd into a dance, the sight of Flandrine flusters him, and he bungles his playing. The villagers, believing Cambrinus tripped them up on purpose, pull him off the barrel to jeer and strike him. A contemptuous judge called Jocko sentences Cambrinus to a month in prison. When Cambrinus emerges a month later, he feels so ashamed that he prepares to hang himself. As he stands with the noose around his neck, a colourfully-dressed stranger appears. Cambrinus recognizes him by his horns: it is Beelzebub. As they chat, Beelzebub reveals that he has killed the judge, and now expects to collect Cambrinus' soul, for, he says, such is his fate if he hangs himself. Not wanting to go to hell or to return to life as he knew it, Cambrinus tries to bargain. Beelzebub cannot make Flandrine love him, so Cambrinus settles for forgetting his affection for her; he also wants revenge on the villagers. Beelzebub tells him that the way to forget is if "one nail drives out another".
Cambrinus wins a fortune in games of skill and chance. The consistent winning becomes tedious, so he returns to Flanders—but Flandrine still refuses him. Once again, he is about to hang himself when Beelzebub reappears, and tells him that drinking is the way to forget. Cambrinus drinks wine, gin, whisky, cider, and brandy, but his condition only worsens. Cambrinus is momentarily contented when Beelzebub introduces him to beer, but he seeks revenge on those who would not dance for him. Beelzebub tells him that playing the carillon will prove irresistible.
Cambrinus builds a large brewery with a carillon and a belfry, then invites the villagers for a drink after Mass. They come, but find the beer too bitter. To punish them, Cambrinus plays his carillon, and everyone in earshot is compelled to dance until they beg for a drink. This time, they find the beer delicious, and Cambrinus' dances become an institution that transforms the village of Fresnes-sur-Escaut.
At the end of the 30 years, Beelzebub sends Jocko, the judge, to fetch Cambrinus; but Jocko drinks too much beer and sleeps for three days. Since he is too ashamed to return to hell, he hides in a purse. Cambrinus thrives for nearly a hundred years more.
Fame of the drink and of Cambrinus' carillon reaches the king of the Netherlands, who in return heaps titles of nobility on Cambrinus: Duke of Brabant, Count of Flanders, Lord of Fresnes. But even after founding the town of Cambrai, Cambrinus prefers the villagers' honorary title for him: King of Beer. Eventually, Flandrine approaches him, but he has forgotten her. When Cambrinus dies, Beelzebub comes for his soul, only to find that Cambrinus' body has become a beer barrel.
Because of Gambrinus' significance, breweries, pubs, restaurants, shops, and malt houses too numerous to list have appropriated the character (or his name) for their brands. Even a "beer café" in Tokyo adopted Gambrinus, identifying him with Charles Deulin's fiddle-playing character.
In Spain, the brewery Cruzcampo, now a subsidiary of Heineken International, premiered a Gambrinus-derived advertising mascot in 1902, and has kept it ever since. The character was designed by Leonetto Cappiello. Between 1997 and 2009, Cruzcampo opened more than 250 Gambrinus pubs throughout Spain—starting with one in the Basque Country.
Cerveza Victoria was the first beer commercially brewed in Mexico. Its brewer, Santiago Graf, started his brewery in Toluca during the 1880s. He eventually attracted some German investors, and incorporated the Brewery Company of Toluca and Mexico (Compañía Cervecera de Toluca y México) in 1890. In 1907, the company changed the Victoria logo to an illustration of King Gambrinus. Grupo Modelo bought the company in 1935, and has branded Victoria beer with at least two different Gambrinus logos. Today, Cerveza Victoria is marketed as a "Vienna-style" dark lager, and is distributed multinationally.
Franco–Belgian patron saints of beer
- Amandus, patron saint of brewers, wine makers, merchants, and landlords (i.e., innkeepers/bartenders)
- Arnold of Soissons (c. 1040–1087), patron saint of hop-pickers and Belgian brewers
- Arnulf of Metz (c. 582–640), Frankish patron saint of brewers
- Ceres (mythology), Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility, and motherly relationships
- Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest, especially grains and the fertility of the earth
- Dionysus, Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking, wine, ritual madness, and ecstasy
- Ninkasi, ancient Sumerian goddess of beer
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gambrinus.|
- Ancestors and early kings of the Germans: Gampar, king of Brabant and Flanders (c. 1543) at the British Museum
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