August 1st was a special day in medieval times: it marked the celebration of the wheat harvest, the golden grain from which all good things derive. Well, that’s the way they saw it, I guess. On Lammas Day, townsfolk would gather at the village church, toting freshly baked loaves of bread made from the new harvest. After saying mass (the Loaf Mass, from which the holiday takes its name), the priest would solemnly bless each and every loaf, and the churchgoers would retreat to their farms. They would tear each loaf into four pieces, placing them with the stored grain, supposedly to ward off evil spirits. Then everyone would reconvene in the main square for a massive party. Northern Ireland still gets all riled up for Lammas Day, some 400 years later.
As any self-respecting atheist would, I try to keep my choice of liquid refreshments in sync with the liturgical calendar. Much to my delight, I discovered Michael P. Foley’s awesome book, Drinking with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour. For each day of the year, Foley gives us a short history on the fête du jour, whether it be for a particular Saint or for a more generic (i.e., pagan) celebration. There are just so many ways to go with this book, so many opportunities for hosting that cocktail party no one’s ever been to before. Reverent or irreverent, makes no difference; you’ll have a blast planning your next bash with this holier-than-thou guide to libations.
So, back to Lammas Day. Foley heartily recommends hoisting a growler of summer wheat beer, which is brewed using at least 50% wheat, the rest barley. For your own Lammas Day festivities, pick up some Bavarian Hefeweizen (literally, “yeast wheat”) or an American pale wheat ale, also known as Summer Ales. For more ideas, check out Bloomberg.com’s recent article on The Twelve Best Beers of Summer.
Cheers! And Happy Lammas Day!