The Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash staff (Belgian brewers’ Guild) is the direct descendant of the secular Guild of Brewers. It is now perpetuating the traditions and nobility of the brewer’s trade as developed over the centuries.
Faithful to their traditions, Belgian brewers organise a series of festivities every year (in January or February) to pay tribute to Gambrinus, the "King of Beer". The memory of the patron saint of brewers, Saint Arnould, is revered in September, during the Beer Weekend staged every year on the Brussels Grand’ Place.
During these events the new knights by rights and honorary knights are "enthroned".
Honorary knights are individuals who have rendered loyal services to the brewing profession. The knights by rights are active members of the Brotherhood who, owing to their profession, birth or alliance, are closely related to the brewing industry. The Knights by rights form the General Assembly, which elects the Grand Council.
The new knights are inducted or "enthroned" during a ceremony specific to the Knighthood.
Gambrinus, King of Beer
The following story will explain why the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mash staff pays tribute to Gambrinus and why he is nearly always shown sitting astride a beer barrel.
Gambrinus is a deformation of the name "Jan Primus", which is the Flemish name for Duke Jean I, the son of Henri III and Alix of Burgundy. Born in 1210, he inherited both the duchies of Brabant and Lorraine. He was famed for being a benefactor and a genuine hero. He also became a famous figure in the history of Belgian beer-making.
He laid down the foundations for Brabant’s brewing industry by allowing the deputy mayors of Brussels the right to grant licences for brewing and selling beer. He was also the honorary President of the Brussels Brewers’ Guild. He was known for being very fond of a mug of beer. Legend has it that during a three-day banquet he drank mug after mug of foamy beer and he was known forever after as the King of Beer.
One day, at the end of a fierce battle, Jan Primus invited all the noblemen to celebrate the victory. During the festivities, he went to an inner courtyard where his soldiers and servants were making merry. Determined to make a speech to these hearty fellows, he climbed on top of a pile of barrels and sat astride the highest one. With a foaming mug in one hand, he addressed the crowd by proposing a toast to his country and the health of his people. And this is how he became a legendary figure.
Another of his enthusiasms was taking part in tournaments but this provided to be his undoing. He died in 1249 from wounds he received during a tournament in Bar-le-Duc.
Saint Arnould : Son of a brewer who went on to become a patron saint
Saint Arnould is the patron saint of brewers and is also the source of the name given to the Arnoldus Group. But who was Saint Arnould exactly?
Saint Arnould was born as Arnold in 1040 in Tiegem, a sleepy Flemish village between the Lys and the Escaut. Although of noble birth, Arnold’s father enjoyed an enviable reputation as a brewer throughout the Oudenaarde region. The two were not mutually exclusive. Arnold learned the secrets of brewing from an early age.
Arnold became a gallant knight and many acts of bravery were attributed to his name. It was even said that during a tournament, the "Gallant Arnold" set off to attack his adversaries with a ship’s mast.
One fine morning, he "saw the true light" and from then on turned his back on a life of riches. He wandered throughout Western Europe, joined the Saint-Médard Abbey to Soissons, and became abbot of the establishment in 1081. When he was appointed bishop, he succeeded in applying all his diplomatic skills to the task of ending the dispute between the nobility of Flanders and Brabant. He was highly commended for managing to reconcile the two sides. He was held in such high esteem that all parties sought him out with a view to obtaining favours. During his final years, he retired to the abbey that he himself had founded in Oudenburg. He died there in 1087.
As is usually the case with such personages after their death, miracles were attributed to him. When the plague was at its height in Flanders and the water was contaminated, he apparently plunged his stick into a brew kettle and those who drank from the kettle were cured on the spot.
Brewers pay tribute to Saint Arnould on 18 August. In the breweries, his image used to be placed on the table that day and decorated with a crown.