compiled by Walt Vogdes
article deals with one of the most common decorative motifs to be found
steins, that of King Gambrinus, King of Beer. The first part of the
article provides a glimpse of some of the history surrounding this
character, while the second part tells the story of how Gambrinus and
the devil formed a pact which led to the creation of beer.
One of the most commonly found decorations on old beer steins is a
stout bearded figure with a crown on his head. Frequently seen astride
of beer, he is also found leading parades or simply raising an
over-flowing goblet or stein of beer in a toast to those who enjoy his
brew. This is
Gambrinus, King of Beer.
While there is evidence that the Mesopotamians enjoyed an early form of
beer at least 6,000 years ago, the first use of hops to flavor the brew
is sometimes attributed to the Brabant monks of Belgium. George Ehret,
a New York City brewer, published the book, Twenty-Five Years of
which included the following account: "While some attribute the
invention of hopped malt-beer to Jan Primus (John I), a scion of the
Burgundy princes, who lived about the year 1251, others ascribe it to
Jean Sans Peur (1371-1419), otherwise known as Ganbrivius. A corruption
either name may plausibly be shown to have resulted in the present name
of the King of Beer, viz., Gambrinus, who we are accustomed to see
in the habit of a knight of the middle-ages, with the occasional
addition of a crown. Popular imagination, it seems, attached such great
beer, that in according the honor of its invention, it could not be
satisfied with anything less than a king."
The German Beer Brewers Museum in Munich owns a portrait from 1526 of
King Gambrinus, and it includes the following verse:
|Im Leben ward ich
König zu Flandern und Brabant,
Ich hab aus Gersten Malz gemacht
Und Bierbrauen zuerst erdacht.
Drum können die Brauer mit Wahrheit sagen,
Daß sie einen König zum Meister haben.
|In life I was known
King of Flanders and Brabant,
From barley I made malt
And was first at brewing beer.
Thus the brewers can truthfully say,
They have a king as master brewer.
When we discover that Jan Primus of Brabant was a noted warrior and
local hero with prodigious beer-drinking capacity, we are further
to believe that he is the Gambrinus of popular legend. President of the
Brussels Guild of Brewers in the late 13th century, Jan Primus is said
drunk 72 quarts of beer at one sitting! It's no wonder that he is the
hero of brewers everywhere, and that the image of King Gambrinus has
by countless brewers as a means of "branding" their product.
(Thanks go to the
web site of Avignon, Provence, France, and to the Gambrinus Pub, for
permission to use
this edited version of the tale appearing on that site.
It is Gambrinus who created
beer, and we will tell you how he did that and how he became King.
Gambrinus was a poor novice
glassmaker from a little town in Flanders, Fresne sur l'Escaut. With
his wonderful pink cheeks, his blond hair and blond beard, he was the
beautiful boy in the town (and he had a lot of success with the girls).
In his work Gambrinus prepared glass for his master, who had the skill
exclusive right to blow the glass into different forms. Everything
could have been very simple for him, but he fell in love with
is perhaps the most common portrayal of King Gambrinus, his robe about
his shoulders, crown atop
his head, stein hoisted in salute, and sitting astride a barrel of his
At last, Gambrinus told Flandrine about his feelings. As proud as she
was pretty, Flandrine wanted to marry a master like her father,
or even her great-grandfather. But in these times the glassmakers,
noble from birth, taught their art only to their sons, so Gambrinus had
no hope of
becoming a master.
The girl refused Gambrinus so strongly that he decided to leave the
glassworks to learn how to play violin and to become a poet. He was so
that he quickly became one of the best in the region. Everybody called
him in order to liven up weddings, birthdays and other parties.
People from Fresne were amazed at all the things they heard about
Gambrinus and they asked him to play for them. When Gambrinus began to
the people started to dance and sing. When Gambrinus saw Flandrine
enter the room he began to tremble, and he played so badly that the
annoyed, and they began kicking him and shouting at him.
Gambrinus was arrested and spent one month in jail for disturbing the
peace. When he was freed, he decided to kill himself in order to forget
Flandrine. He went to the forest, and was preparing to hang himself
when the devil appeared. As usual, the devil proposed a deal to
Gambrinus couldn't earn Flandrine's love, the devil would allow
Gambrinus to forget her, in return for possession of his soul for 30
Gambrinus accepted the deal and his love for Flandrine was replaced by
a passion for games. He played again and again at every kind of game.
was very skilled and very lucky, whatever game he played. He rapidly
became very rich, but he still had longings for Flandrine. He began to
since he was now rich like a prince, Flandrine might change her mind.
Flandrine's refusal was as clear as the first time - Gambrinus wasn't a
noble, he was born as a boy, he will stay a boy for life.
returned to the forest in order to finish what the devil had stopped
met him for the second time. Gambrinus told the devil him that he
wasn't living up to his side of the deal, because he was still in love
Flandrine. Suddenly a field appeared in front of him, long lines of
poles were raised and in a while they were covered by green plants,
perfumed. "It is hops," said the devil, "and the two houses you see
there are a hophouse and a brewery. Come on, I will teach you how
to make beer, the Flanders' wine, which will help you forget Flandrine."
Gambrinus learned how to make beer (not without tasting it and finding
it delicious). Then he asked how he could take revenge against the
of this town who kicked him, sent him to jail and broke his violin. The
devil proposed to him an instrument which nobody could resist and he
him how to make and play chimes.
Back home, Gambrinus planted the precious seeds given by Beelzebub, and
made beer and chimes. One morning he set up tables, chairs, barrels and
chimes on the main square of the town and he invited all the people to
join him in order to taste his beer. When the the townspeople tasted
drink, sometimes brown or lager, the said "it is bitter", "it is
strong", and there were a lot of complaints everywhere. People
were laughing and joking about Gambrinus when he started to play
chimes, and suddenly all the people started to dance. After an hour
Gambrinus to stop, but instead he played on for hours. At last he
stopped, thinking that he had his revenge, and the thirsty revelers
began to drink
quickly changed their minds, and decided that this beer was the best
had ever drunk. His success spread far and wide. Everywhere he planted
hops, brewed beer and played chimes. The Flanders King, in order
to thank him, offered to make Gambrinus duke, count and lord, but
Gambrinus preferred the
title of King of Beer, as he was known by the residents of Fresne.
When Flandrine understood that Gambrinus would never come to her again
she came to talk to him, but Gambrinus didn't recognize her, and
her some beer to drink. He had forgotten her.
Gambrinus lived happily with his subjects for 30 years, when the devil
came again. But instead of following him, Gambrinus started to play
and the devil began to dance. Gambrinus played on and on, and the devil
couldn't stop dancing, so that finally the devil begged him to stop and
to break the deal.
After that Gambrinus lived happily playing chimes and making beer. When
he died, we found at his place a beer barrel, and that is why he
have a tombstone.