Friday, January 22, 2010

What Did Ben Franklin Say Again?

Looking at the Six Point Brewery website recently, a quotation at the bottom caught my eye: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." It's attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

I've seen this quote a lot lately. In books about beer, in articles, on t-shirts and stickers. It's very popular. Only problem with it is, it's wrong.

Franklin was praising wine, not beer. Or, more precisely, the rain from the skies that feeds the vines that produce the wine. As recent research has shown, the origin of the quote is a letter Franklin wrote to André Morellet in 1779, in which he said: "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."

When you really study the line, you realize that Franklin's point was more to do with God and faith than wine. (There's also the not significant point that the original quote was God "loves to see us happy," not "wants us to be happy"—two very different things.) Still, it's wine, not beer. And while I'm sure Ben had a beer from time to time, it was wine that the Founding Fathers truly loved and revered. I have no doubt that Franklin tastes a high number of the fine wines his pal Jefferson collected.

According to some sources, the misquote started taking hold a decade or so ago (though you'd still see the "wine" versions of the saying at the same time.) No doubt, brewers embraced it with gusto and felt no urge to rust to the library to double-check it's authenticity. It was so widely adopted that, in 2006, in celebration of Franklin's 300th birthday, a special beer was made in his honor. Of course, it's easier to make a beer than a wine, and maybe the idea was a last-minute thing. I'm sure Ben wouldn't have minded much. He was easy-going and well-adjusted to human foibles. Probably, he would have found something witty to say about the matter, and then quickly drained a tankard or two.

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