King of Beer?
March 25th, 2016
For his 1868 anthology Contes d’un buveur de bière (French: “Tales of a Beer Drinker”), Charles Deulin wrote a playful short story called “Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière” (“Cambrinus, King of Beer”), in which “Cambrinus” makes a deal with the Devil. Deulin was a French author, journalist, and drama critic who adapted elements of European folklore into his work. The success of “Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière” led to the 1874 publication of Contes du roi Cambrinus (“Tales of King Cambrinus”), a collection of short stories devoted to the character.
“Cambrinus, Roi de la Bière”
In this, the seminal Cambrinus short story, Cambrinus is an apprentice glassblower in the Flemish village of Fresnes-sur-Escaut, but he believes that he lacks the skill and upward mobility to succeed in glassblowing. He becomes smitten with the master glassblower’s daughter, Flandrine. After she rebuffs him, he apprentices himself instead to a viol master, and learns the instrument. His first public performance goes excellently until he catches sight of Flandrine, and flubs his performance. The crowd turns on him violently, but when the case goes to trial the judge, Jocko, is against Cambrinus. When Cambrinus is released he considers suicide, but Beelzebub intervenes in exchange for the promise of his soul. Beelzebub announces, too, that he has killed the judge.
With diabolical help, Cambrinus wins a fortune in games of skill and chance, becomes an irresistible player of the carillon, and becomes the first mortal to brew beer. Cambrinus’ music and beer make him very famous, and eventually the king of the Netherlands heaps titles of nobility on Cambrinus: Duke of Brabant, Count of Flanders, Lord of Fresnes. But even after founding the town of Cambrai, Cambrinus prefers the villagers’ honorary title for him: King of Beer. When Flandrine finally approaches him, he rejects her.
After 30 years, Beelzebub sends Jocko the judge for Cambrinus’ soul, but Cambrinus thwarts Jocko by getting him drunk on beer. Cambrinus thrives for nearly a hundred years more. When Cambrinus finally dies, Beelzebub comes for his soul, only to find that Cambrinus’ body has become a beer barrel.