If you’ve spent enough time in bars and brewery gift shops, you’ve learned that a lot of them believe in a single truism : “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy“. And why not? After all, that quote by Ben Franklin perfectly captures the essence of why a lot of us have made beer an every day part of our lives. Who better than God to want to improve our happiness and quality of life by delivering a beverage that indeed makes everything we do better: weddings, ball games, BBQs, poker night, happy hour – all would be so much less without the presence of this divinely delivered drink. And who better than Ben Franklin, who gave us so many things that have improved our quality of life such as the Franklin Stove and Bifocals, to recognize beer’s importance as a simple pleasure in man’s every day existence? Yes, when it comes to quotes there are few that sum up the love affair between man and beer with anywhere near the eloquence of this one.
But there is just one small issue. Ben Franklin – never said it.
Well, more accurately no one can PROVE that he said it. You see, in the world of quotations it’s all about proof. It’s all about that book, letter, or speech transcription that someone can historically say, “this is when he said it”. But for this famous, often used quote nothing like that exists. Instead it’s the other well known form of the quote that’s closer to the truth, “WINE is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But don’t get to defensive yet beer peeps, because that’s not quite right either. The “wine” form of the quote is attributed to a letter Franklin penned in 1779 to André Morellet in which he wrote:
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.
Many would assume (and argue) that a founding father of America extolling the virtues of wine is unusual since most of the men in that era were beer or cider drinkers. Heck, many of the founding fathers were involved in beer production in one aspect or another. But one must not forget, Franklin served as the first United Stated Ambassador to France and lived there from 1776 to 1785. So no doubt, the man drank some wine in his life. And the fact that the letter was penned during his tenure in France just solidifies the argument that yes, the wine quote is closer to correct than the beer one – although neither are totally accurate.
So where did the beer quote come from? Ahhhh, now THAT’s an interesting question that several people have actually taken the time to research. Back in 2009 Barry Popik did an extensive google search on the quote and could find no mention of the quote before 1997 where he found it (in all places) on a Usenet gun group. You can check out the other references he found here. Also, Bob Skilnik when he was writing his 2007 book, Food & Beer – An American History, issued a challenge to anyone who could provide proof of any kind that Ben Franklin was indeed the originator of the quote. No one ever has. If fact, after hearing a lecture from Bob in 2008 Dick Stevens, owner of the Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus in Columbus, Ohio recalled a batch of promotional shirts that had the quote on them.
Many have surmised that the quote came from the prohibition era, where a quote of such a nature from a founding father would seem to indeed bolster the cause of those who were against the Volstead Act. But as logical as that seems, again no references to the quote from that era have ever turned up.
So does this mean you should go out and peel that bumper-sticker off your car, or toss out your favorite brewery shirt? Hell, no. After all whether-or-not we can prove that Franklin said it, we can all rest assured of one thing – Ole Ben would have definitely agreed with it!
Time for another beer!