Some wine and spirits owe their origins to Christianity | Drink | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Some wine and spirits owe their origins to Christianity

Vineyards were planted alongside the California missions to provide sacramental wine

click to enlarge Thank God for Green Chartreuse.
Thank God for Green Chartreuse.

Christianity has a decidedly complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, wine flows freely throughout the Bible and plays an important role in Catholic ceremonies. On the other, some Christians preach total abstinence from alcohol, and the loudest among them succeeded (albeit briefly) in getting it outlawed entirely in the U.S.

Regardless of your religious views, there’s no arguing that Christianity has shaped the way we drink. Early vineyards and breweries were often tied to churches and helped to perfect and preserve techniques for making beer, wine and spirits. With Easter just around the corner, let’s look at a few potent potables with holy histories.

Trappist beer

You’ve likely seen the term “Trappist” on any number of products, from cheese to bread to clothing. But the term is mostly known and loved for its association with beer. Stemming from Soligny-la-Trappe, France, Trappists are an order of Catholic monks who have been brewing beer for centuries. Though the term “abbey” can be used more freely, just 12 breweries can market their beer as an “Authentic Trappist Product.” Some of these are Belgian breweries that are familiar to many beer drinkers, such as Orval, Chimay and Westmalle. But there are newer, lesser-known breweries as well. Spencer Brewery, for instance, is a Trappist brewery in Massachusetts that turns out stouts and IPAs, alongside the traditional Belgian styles.


We also have monks to thank for one of Earth’s most delightful substances: Chartreuse. According to legend, this potent liqueur was born when, in 1605, the monks at small monastery near Paris were gifted with a manuscript for an “elixir of long life.” The document contained a complex formula for a healing herbal tonic — so complex, in fact, that it took more than a century for the monks to work out what it all meant. Today, the Grande-Chartreuse monastery produces several products, none more delicious than Green Chartreuse. Containing 130 herbs and plants in a formulation (supposedly) known by just two monks, Green Chartreuse is sweet and pungent, bursting with anise, mint and dozens more ineffable nuances. To quote the movie Death Proof, Chartreuse is “the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”

California wine

Long before Robert Mondavi and Ernest Gallo, there was Father Junípero Serra. Nicknamed the “Father of California Wine,” the Spanish Jesuit missionary established missions throughout California in the late 1700s. Requiring wine for sacramental purposes, vineyards were planted alongside the missions, paving the way for today’s booming California wine industry. The church also played a role in keeping American wine alive during Prohibition. Though many wineries closed, some were able to stay afloat by producing wine for religious purposes. Though something of a loophole, this allowed winemakers to survive Prohibition and avoid ripping out well-established vineyards, meaning California’s blossoming wine industry could continue to grow once Prohibition was repealed.

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