The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song
One of the oddest places I’ve ever stopped for a beer is Het Elfte Gebod, a bar in the shadow of Antwerp’s cathedral. Its interior is packed with statues from rescued churches, and you’re more likely to hear a Gregorian chant than Europop playing. Its name, in English, means “The Eleventh Commandment.” You’ve never heard of the Eleventh Commandment? According to the bartender, it is “enjoy life.”
Het Elfte Gebod sums up many modern-day Catholics’ feelings about the Church. They honor its contribution to our culture—if calling a beer “Last Judgment” can be deemed an honor—but they rarely go to church and aren’t afraid of poking fun at their faith.
Enter John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak, the authors of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whisky & Song. On one level, their book is a celebration of Catholicism’s influence on what we drink. Credit where due: the Church has enriched us with everything from the Sistine Ceiling to George Carlin’s comedy. Keeping in that vein, the authors spin light-hearted tales of the saints and clerics behind the beverages we drink.
The book is organized as an encyclopedia, with entries for Absinthe, Zinfandel, and a host of other drinks in between. Most entries are about wine and liquor, but beer gets its due as well. For instance, the authors explain the origins of Paulaner Salvator and how Zima fits into the theology of Evil. And that man on the cover? He’s none other Pope Benedict XVI, shown with a glass of weizenbier from his native Bavaria.
Fair warning, however; there’s an ulterior motive for all that boozy trivia. The authors want to foist a few theology lessons on the unsuspecting reader. Their writing is amusing, and much more digestible than The Baltimore Catechism ever was. But beneath the humor is a conservative, uncompromising brand of Catholicism. If you’re not Catholic, or if you’ve parted ways with Mother Church, you’re best advised to look somewhere else for reference material. Spend your money on a few pints instead.