Ten Fun Facts About Hermits and Beer


Terry Jones plays Simon the Holy Man, a hermit who lives outdoors with nothing but a long grey beard to cover his modesty. CREDIT: Sony Picture (Life of Brian)

The two books I reviewed this week couldn’t be more different. One book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, is an overview of Western history by way of six beverages that have helped shape that history - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and soda (Coca-Cola in particular). 

The other book, The Stranger in the Woods, is the story of a young man who takes a walk in the Maine woods one day and isn’t seen again for 27 years - the “last true hermit” says the author.

So what kind of a theme, I pondered, could I find for this week's 10 Facts from two such different books? Well, it turns out that hermits and beer have a few things in common. Who knew? So here then, inspired by my recent reading of these two books, are Ten Fun Facts About Hermits and Beer:

  1. Patron Saint - It seems that brewers have more than one patron saint, but the one most often acknowledged is Saint Arnold (or Arnulf, as he was originally known). Arnold led an interesting life. In his last years he retired from his role as a bishop to a mountainside in his native France and became a hermit. After his death, his parishioners came to retrieve his body for burial at the local abbey. Making their way back to town amid the heat of July they found that the supplies they had brought had run low. One of them prayed “By his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnold will bring us what we lack.” Immediately their pot was filled with beer, and in such quantity that their thirst was quenched all the way back into town.
  2. Hermits become Monks Who Brew - Monasteries that support themselves through the brewing and sale of beer became common in the late middle ages. One example of that is the Augistiners of Munich, whose modern day brewhouse I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. The Augistiners began as hermits. When, in the early 1300s the hermits came together to form a monastery, one of the very first things they did was construct a brewery to support themselves.
  3. Monks Who Illuminate Hermits - Besides staffing breweries, medieval monks had the important task of transcribing holy books in the time before printing presses. Many such books are “illuminated”, i.e. decoratively illustrated. Often the illustrations don’t seem to have much to do with the text itself. Such is the case of The Sinful Hermit, whose wickedness began with a pint of ale.
  4. Hermit Homebrews - More than one hermit has been known to earn their keep by selling or bartering their own home brews. English Jack, the Hermit of Crawford Natch (N.H.) entertained visitors by eating frogs and snakes, and by selling them his homemade beer. Bob Stinson, the Hermit of Marjum Pass (Utah) bartered his homebrew for supplies.
  5. Hermit Drinker #1 - Being a hermit can be a lonely existence, so beer may be of more use than just a source of income or barter. Hermits have been known to tip a few back themselves. Chris Knight, the subject of The Stranger in the Woods, stole most of the supplies that kept him going for 27 years, including beer.
  6. Hermit Drinker #2 -  Virgil Snyder, a hermit in Cleator, Arizona, received a visit from Paul Willis of the Guardian in 2018, who was in search of some hermit-ian wisdom. Instead, Snyder asked him if he brought beers, and proceeded to drink his way through their visit. Rather than a mountain sage, Willis concluded instead that Snyder was an “angry drunk”.
  7. Hermit Drinker #3 - Thomas Merton is probably best known for his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. A Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, Kentucky, Merton built a hermitage for himself on the Abbey grounds in 1965, but never quite got to live the hermit life he aspired to. Merton’s writings inspired many young people to consider taking up the monastic life. He is known to have enjoyed drinking beer with guests who visited him. He died in 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand.
  8. Hermit Benefactors - Becoming a hermit is still possible under the traditions of the Catholic Church. Following Merton’s example, Father Charles Brandt established his own hermitage at the end of an old logging road in 1965, with the blessings of his bishop, and aided by a donation from the owner of a Milwaukee brewery. Father Brandt passed away in October of last year, at the age of 97. He was the only hermit-priest (as opposed to a monk) in several hundred years.
  9. Beer in the Hermit Kingdom - North Korea is known as the Hermit Kingdom as it has sealed itself off from the rest of the world. In 2018 two Scottish craft beer aficionados got a chance to go into N. Korea to scope out the country’s breweries. These included the relocated defunct English brewery Ushers of Trowbridge, which the country’s former leader Kim Jung-il had bought up, transported and reassembled in Pyongyang. 
  10. What’s in a Name? - There are a number of breweries and brews named for hermits. There is Hermitage Brewing, 7 Hermits Brewing, and the Hermit Thrush Brewery (though the last is really named after a bird). Moonraker Brewing has a beer called the Holy Hermit.
So, those are my fun facts for this week. Did I leave anything out? Leave your comments below.