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For other uses, see Gambrinus (disambiguation).
A proud statue of Gambrinus looking up at a mug of beer he holds with one hand; his other hand rests on his hip. Snow surrounds the statue.
This King Gambrinus statue stands near the driveway of the Becker tower, a prominent building of the former Becker Brewery in Sankt Ingbert, Germany.

Gambrinus (/gæmˈbraɪnəs/ gam-BRY-nəs), 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.[1][2] 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,[3] 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.[3]

The often-heard theory for the origin of Gambrinus that he is patterned after John the Fearless (1371–1419) and/or John I, Duke of Brabant (c. 1252–1294) and that by this reckoning, the name Gambrinus is a corruption of Jan Primus ("John the First"),[3][4]:118[5]:81 is however without foundation, as Gambrinus was originally called Gambrivius, which was derived in the 16th century from the mythical German people of the Gambrivii mentioned by Tacitus.[6]

Origin of Gambrinus[edit]

The source of the legend of Gambrinus is uncertain. The character appears to have originated in the Low Countries of Western Europe during the Middle Ages.


In his magnum opus Annals of Bavaria, German historian Johannes Aventinus wrote that Gambrinus is based on a mythical Germanic king called Gambrivius, or Gampar, who, Aventinus says, learned brewing from Osiris and Isis. In 1517, William IV, Duke of Bavaria had made Aventinus the official historiographer of his dukedom. Aventinus finished composing the history in 1523; the work that he compiled, Annals of Bavaria, 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, Egyptian god of death.[7][8] However, Aventinus does not represent Osiris as a god, but as a real Pharaoh of Egypt who visited many lands teaching agriculture in antiquity, as had been recounted by Diodorus Siculus.

In Aventinus' chronicle, Gambrivius was the paramour of Osiris' wife and sister, Isis. It was by this association, he says, that Gambrivius learned the science of brewing (cf. myths of the theft of fire).[9]

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.

— Attributed to Francis Beaumont, A Select Collection of English Songs with Their Original Airs, Volume II[10][11][12]

According to Aventinus, Gambrivius is a seventh-generation descendant of the Biblical patriarch Noah. By incorporating earlier myths recorded by Tacitus, Aventinus reckoned that Gambrivius was the fifth son of Marso (Latin: Marsus),[13] who was the great-grandson of Tuisto, the giant or godly ancestor of the Germanic peoples whom Tacitus mentions in Germania. Tacitus alludes to an earlier source (Strabo) who lists tribes called the Gambrivii and the Marsi among the peoples descended from Tuisto:[14] the offspring or subjects of Gambrivius and Marsus, respectively.

Gampar (Gambrivius), depicted as the king of Flanders and Brabant. A sheaf of wheat is to his right. (From a series of broadsides produced c. 1543.)[15]

Gampar claims new lands east of the Rhine, including Flanders and Brabant, and founds the towns of Cambrai and Hamburg.[16] The names of both these towns were theorized to be cognates of Gambrivius, as one of Hamburg's ancient Latin names was alleged to be Gambrivium.[2][17][18][19]

One of Aventinus' sources was Officina (1503), an encyclopedia compiled by French scholar Jean Tixier de Ravisi. This work purported that Tuisto and Gambrivius were giants descended from Noah. But Jean Tixier had only catalogued and reported a conjecture made in the name of the Hellenistic-era historian Berossus,[20] by the fraudster Annio da Viterbo (1498), who had previously used the same hypothesis to postulate an ancestry for the Gauls.[21]

Francophone and Germanophone scholars both reject the other's claim to Gambrinus as an appropriation of one of their own cultural heroes.[18][22] Aventinus' account did not just establish a claim to Gambrivius, but to a glorious ancestry and heritage.[22] The myths also reimagined Gambrivius 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.


Aventinus' Gambrivius myth also contributed to the reverence for Osiris and Isis held by 17th-century European scholars.[23] Perceiving these gods as "culture bearers" enabled a willingness to see historical connections where there were none.[23]

There are several words that both resemble the word Gambrinus and have meanings in some way connected to beer. Such resemblances present possible origins for Gambrinus' name, and clues to his cultural and geographical provenance. The Medieval Latin noun camba ("brewery"), which became cambe in Old French,[24][25] 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.[26] Aventinus' research notwithstanding, it is unknown whether the name of Cambrai, which was a brewing hotspot, is connected to these words or to the name Gambrinus.

19th-century stories about Gambrinus[edit]

Jan Primus[edit]

An often heard etymological explanation for Gambrinus is that it was derived from Jan Primus (John I, Duke of Brabant). This theory was first put forward by German journalist Martin Runkel in 1858, who was unaware that Gambrinus was originally called Gambrivius and that that name had been derived from Tacitus' Gambrivii.[27] According to Runkel's theory, Jan Primus was an alternate rendering of John I: Jan is the Dutch cognate of John. Primus is Latin for "the first". Etymologically, a change from Jan Primus via Gambrivius to Gambrinus would however be hard to explain, and the phrase Jan Primus has yet to be attested in any text predating 1858.[6]

Short stories by Charles Deulin[edit]

For his 1868 anthology Tales of a Beer Drinker (French: Contes d’un buveur de bière), Charles Deulin wrote a playful short story called "Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière" ("Cambrinus, King of Beer"), in which "Cambrinus" makes a deal with the Devil.[28] Deulin was a French author, journalist, and drama critic who adapted elements of European folklore into his work.[29][30] The success of "Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière" led to the 1874 publication of Contes du roi Cambrinus ("Tales of King Cambrinus"), a collection of short stories devoted to the character.[29][31]

"Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière"[edit]

In this, the seminal Cambrinus short story, 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. After she rebuffs him, he apprentices himself instead to a viol master, and learns the instrument. His first public performance goes excellently until he catches sight of Flandrine, and flubs his performance. The crowd turns on him violently, but when the case goes to trial the judge, Jocko, is against Cambrinus. When Cambrinus is released he considers suicide, but Beelzebub intervenes in exchange for the promise of his soul. Beelzebub announces, too, that he has killed the judge.

With diabolical help, Cambrinus wins a fortune in games of skill and chance, becomes an irresistible player of the carillon, and becomes the first mortal to brew beer. Cambrinus' music and beer make him very famous, and eventually the king of the Netherlands heaps titles of nobility on him: 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. When Flandrine finally approaches him, he rejects her.

After 30 years, Beelzebub sends Jocko the judge for Cambrinus' soul, but Cambrinus thwarts Jocko by getting him drunk on beer, and thrives for nearly a hundred years more. When Cambrinus finally dies, Beelzebub himself comes for his soul, only to find that Cambrinus' body has become a beer barrel.[32]

Gambrinus, King of Lager Beer[edit]

Some years after Deulin published Contes d’un buveur de bière, American playwright and blackface minstrel Frank Dumont wrote a loose variation on the story "Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière". In this musical burlesque, titled Gambrinus, King of Lager Beer, Gambrinus is a poor woodcutter to whom "Belzebub" [sic] gives a recipe for an excellent lager beer. In Dumont's version, Gambrinus is joyfully reunited with his love, only to be taken from her by Belzebub.

The play was first produced in the US town of Jackson, Michigan on 21 July 1875, by a blackface troupe called Duprez and Benedict's Minstrels.[33]

May Day legend[edit]

In another story, which Deulin mentions, Gambrinus and a host of ancient French (or, alternately, Franconian) kings gather each May Day for a midnight feast at a "Devil's table" (German: Teufelstisch) near Grafenberg, Germany.[34]


A brewer named Erdinger Melchior had this brewery constructed in Zürich in 1825. It changed hands at least seven times before Waldemann Kramm bought it and named it Gambrinus-Brauerei.[35][page needed]

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.[36] Even a "beer café" in Tokyo adopted Gambrinus, identifying him with Charles Deulin's character Cambrinus.[37]

In the Czech Republic, Plzeňský Prazdroj (the Pilsner Urquell Brewery) opened their Gambrinus Brewery in 1869.[38] The Gambrinus product line comprises a pale lager, a special, and other styles.

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.[39] Between 1997 and 2009, Cruzcampo opened more than 250 Gambrinus pubs throughout Spain—starting with one in the Basque Country.[40]

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.[41] In 1907, the company changed the Victoria logo to an illustration of King Gambrinus.[42][43] 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.[44][45]

Closer to Gambrinus' home, Cantillon Brewery of Brussels brews a highly rated framboise lambic called Rosé de Gambrinus.[5]:93[46][47]

See also[edit]

Franco–Belgian patron saints of beer:

  • Amandus (c. 584–675), 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

Tutelary deities:

  • 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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  6. ^ a b - Was John of Brabant a beer god?
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External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]