Santa Claus, and the other variations of wintertime’s favorite jowly character, is the world’s most famous happy fat man. The runner-up to this rotund jolliness though is Gambrinus, the King of Flanders. He is also, and most importantly for the world and Belgium, considered to be the king of beer.
Nobody knows for sure if this king was real or if he was even just one person. He may be a mythical mish-mash of Jan Primus, or Jean the First, with a man named Jean Sans Peur (Fearless John). There are also probably character traits from some beloved local drunk mixed in there too. This amalgamation of people has led to the creation of the legendary boozy Belgian ruler from the Middle Ages, Gambrinus.
In any case, this storied character is routinely depicted as a joyfully paunchy man astride barrels of beer and a frothy mug in tow. This image of drunken revelry is corroborated with the stories that surround him, making him appear to be a general all-around good guy and bon vivant.
One legend depicting how he was given the mantle the King of the Brewers goes back to the time of the Dukes of Brabant. In a quest to appoint a new leader, the brewers decided that the first man to complete an undertaking of beer-related strength would be worthy of the title. So the brewers set forth a barrel of beer in the Grand Place and decreed that any man who could lift and carry the barrel to a designated spot two yards away would become the leader of the guild.
Man after man struggled to carry the barrel, which was probably an astounding 300+ pounds at the time. After all the men had volunteered and failed, Gambrinus, who had been watching over the trials, offered to try and complete this seemingly impossible task. He ordered for the barrel to be tapped and then promptly laid down underneath it, drinking the entire contents inside. Now empty, he was able to successfully carry the barrel and win the title King of the Brewers.
The Belgian Knighthood of the Brewers Mash Staff, the modern-day version of the brewers’ guild from the Middle Ages, have their own stories about the man they still hold as one of their emblematic personages. The Knighthood regards him as one of their own because he was one of the first rulers in Belgium to grant licenses for brewing and selling beer. He also had a penchant for consuming large amounts of the stuff during festivals. According to their account, Gambrinus further solidified his role as patron of all things beery and enjoyable when he succumbed to that festive, happy feeling you develop for everyone after a few glasses of beer. Upon reaching that point of universal love, he clambered on top of emptied beer barrels to proclaim his love and admiration for his fellow soldiers during a post-battle celebration.
Today, April 11th, is this mythical man’s birthday and in recognition for the man who continues to inspire Belgian brewers, I feel like there is no better drink to raise in his honor than Cantillon’s Rosé de Gambrinus.
The Rosé de Gambrinus is Cantillon’s framboise beer. Made by blending fresh raspberries in two-year-old lambic, this fruit beer has a sweetish taste from the natural fruit sugars with a nice tart crack at the end, making the drink light and balanced. The sweetness is subtle, so your tongue isn’t left bathing in residual syrup afterward because no artificial sweeteners or sugars are added.
The drink itself is a shiny candy-colored red with a Willy Wonka pinkness to its head when first poured. Without a doubt, it is an incredibly girly looking drink, so many people like to pair a framboise beer with Valentine’s Day. Even so, the drink’s measured play between sweet, sour and pinkness lets it be drinkable without ever verging into juice-territory. And as a lambic, there’s a gentle carbonation and naturalness to its flavor, which makes it more like a nice bubbly wine than what most people usually associate with beer. This also makes it ideal as a speech-giving drink and something to cheers with after. I think Gambrinus would approve from his perch on top of the empty beer barrels.
Here’s to many happy returns!