A Saint for Our Times? The Pugnacious Saint Nicholas and What to Drink in His Honor

Posted: Dec 06, 2018 12:00 PM
A Saint for Our Times? The Pugnacious Saint Nicholas and What to Drink in His Honor

I'd like to recall one of the more colorful legends about Saint Nicholas of Myra (270-343), whose feast we celebrate on December 6.

No, I am not referring to the story of how the saintly bishop from Asia Minor saved three sisters from prostitution by throwing bags of money down the chimney of their house, enough to give them a dowry for a respectful marriage and enough to give us the seeds for Nicholas’ gradual transformation into our modern munificent Santa Claus.

I am speaking instead of an incident that occurred when St. Nick was neither old nor jolly, and if his cheeks were red and his little round belly shook like a bowl full of jelly, it was from apoplectic rage. According to this story, Saint Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, which had been convened to answer the question whether Jesus Christ was really God or just similar to God. The proponent of the latter view was the Bishop Arius. During one of the sessions, Nicholas could no longer bear Arius’ blasphemous prattling and walked up to the heresiarch and slapped him. As one clever meme featuring the bishop puts it, “Deck the halls? Try deck the heretic!” Modern historians have discredited the tale as a medieval invention, but in 2004 forensic study of the skull of St. Nicholas (now in Bari, Italy) reveals that the saint’s nose was broken and reset several times, so perhaps fisticuffs were not entirely unknown to him after all.

Rather than imitate Nicholas’ temper, I recommend toasting to his honor. Since St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, have any cocktail made with Grand Marnier (“great mariner”) or rum, a seaman’s favorite. Depending on the weather tonight, a Rum Toddy might hit the spot. But for the most ancient custom of all, have some Bischopswijn or Bishop’s Wine, traditionally served in Sinterklaas-loving countries such as Holland on the eve of the feast.

Our friend Peter Kwasniewski has invented a delectable drink that pays tribute to Nicholas at the Council. The color of the Incensed Bishop imitates the deep hue that the saint’s otherwise rosy cheeks turned to as he heard Arius dissing the doctrine that the Son of God is consubstantial with the Father. 

Finally, you can be generous and raise a glass to St. Nicholas’ helper—not the drink but the person. In the old country, Krampus is “an ugly, chain-rattling little devil who has to deal with the children who have been naughty” since, as Maria Von Trapp explains in one of her books, “St. Nicholas is much too kind to do the punishing and scolding himself.” Likewise, Krampus Herbal Liqueur, which is made by the Chuckanut Bay Distillery in Bellingham, Washington, is a limited release seasonal spirit that works as a devilishly good companion to St. Nick’s feast day.

Rum Toddy

1 tsp. sugar

2 oz. rum

hot water


1 lemon slice

Build sugar and rum in an old-fashioned glass or Irish coffee cup. Fill with hot water and garnish with nutmeg and lemon.

St. Nicholas’ Helper

By the “Saints and Spirits” band of brothers at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colorado

1 cup hot chocolate

½ oz. Rumple Minze peppermint schnapps

Pour hot chocolate and schnapps into an Irish coffee cup and serve.

Bishop’s Wine (serves 8-10 servings)

2 bottles of claret (or a hearty red like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot)

2 oranges, quartered and studded with cloves

1 lemon, quartered and studded with cloves

15-20 whole cloves (to be used for studding the oranges and lemon)

2 cinnamon sticks

¼ tsp. mace (optional)

¼ tsp. allspice (optional)

¼ tsp. ginger (optional)

2-4 tbsp. sugar

Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Add the studded fruit and cinnamon sticks and heat slowly for fifteen minutes (do not allow to boil, as this will make the alcohol evaporate). Add the sugar and heat for a minute or two, until dissolved. Strain out the fruit and spices and serve hot.

Incensed Bishop

By Peter Kwasniewski

1 oz. gin

1 oz. ruby port

1 oz. sweet vermouth

2 dashes aromatic bitters

2 dashes orange bitters

1 orange twist

Pour all liquid ingredients into a shaker or mixing glass and stir forty times. Strain into an old-fashioned glass with ice and garnish with orange.

Recipes excerpted from Michael P. Foley’s "Drinking with Saint Nick: Christmas Cocktails for Sinners and Saints" (Regnery Publishing, 2018) and adapted exclusively for Townhall.  Foley is also the author of Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour (Regnery Publishing; 2015).  An artful mixologist, Mr. Foley is also an associate professor in the Great Texts Program at Baylor University.