“Drinking With the Saints”

By Kevin Tankersley

Baylor professor combines two loves in one book

Pictured: “Drinking with the Saints” was released in May. The book is available online and at Barnes & Noble. / Photo provided by Dr. Michael Foley

Dr. Michael P. Foley’s wife should leave the house more often.

Foley and his wife, Alexandra, have an evening routine. He gets home from his job teaching at Baylor University, and she takes a break from home schooling their six children — which she intersperses with her position as national sales director for Programmers on Call, a Waco-based company that provides custom computer programming — and then they sit down for “an evening refreshment,” as Foley put it. During that quiet time they talk about their respective days, and Alexandra reports on the “good or bad behavior of the children” while they each enjoy a drink. Michael gravitates toward a martini, while Alexandra favors an Old Fashioned. They then proceed to a family dinner, bedtime for the children and then a little TV or book time for the grownups.

One evening, however, Alexandra went out with friends. Michael had been kicking around the idea of what he called a “pious bartender’s guide” built around the liturgical year, or the Catholic church calendar, and he spent his evening alone pondering that thought. Then the title came to him: “Drinking with the Saints.”

“As soon as I had that title, it was like everything fell into place,” he said. “I knew what I would say in the introduction, I knew what the table of contents would look like, I knew what the format of the book would be. By the time my wife got home that night, I had written the preface and the introduction. From that point forward I was just on fire. I knew exactly how to go about doing it. It was the most productive writing evening I’ve ever had.”

Foley teaches in the Great Texts Program in the Honors College at Baylor, where he is associate professor of patristics, which is the study of the church fathers, the first generation of Christians that came about after the Bible was written, from the years 100 to about 600. Two of his primary areas of study are St. Augustine of Hippo and liturgy, though he has another passion outside of the classroom.

“I have two loves. One is the liturgical year, the church calendar. And the other is an evening refreshment with my wife,” Foley said. “So it was only a matter of time before those two came together.”

“Drinking with the Saints” takes readers through the church year and describes various saints on their appropriate feast day. In addition to the short biography of each saint, Foley included a cocktail recipe for most saints as well as beer and wine suggestions.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, October 3 — “Thérèse put forth the concept of an ‘elevator to God,’ offering small sacrifices each day. She said, ‘I, too, would like to find an elevator to lift me up to Jesus, for I am too little to climb the rough stairway of perfection.’”

Her drink: Love in an Elevator, with gin, green curaçao liqueur and ginger ale.

“We are Catholic and like to observe different customs for different holy days,” Foley said. “There are a lot of customs regarding food. I began to wonder, Is there anything for drink? Sometimes the answer was yes, but more often than not, the answer was no. This was a lacuna that thoroughly needed redressing. I did some research and found dozens and dozens of Christian cookbooks but not a single Christian bartender’s guide, at least not one for the liturgical year. I thought we needed to do something about this.”

Thus began a year-long project that involved two different tracks of research, he said, “one into the lives of the saints and the other into alcohol.”

“There was a learning curve for both of them,” Foley said. “The saints’ stories, especially when you use the internet for research, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff, the reliable from the unreliable. I had to find good, reliable stories for the saints with as much detail as possible. The more detail I had on their stories, the more I could connect to a cocktail or beer or wine.”

And connect he did. The 487-page book contains more than 350 cocktail recipes, and 28 of those were concocted specifically for the book, including two for Foley’s beloved St. Augustine.

“One is for his sinful past. The other was for his converted life,” he said.

Foley dubbed the sinful past drink the Lusty Cauldron, playing off a phrase in Augustine’s “Confessions,” his autobiography. The Lusty Cauldron calls for brandy, bitters, pear liqueur and a slice of pear for garnish. In “Confessions,” Augustine writes about his experience of stealing pears from a neighbor’s tree when he was young.

The post-sinful drink is the Lady Continence, based on a vision Augustine had of a chaste woman. Its central ingredient is fig vodka, a reference to Augustine, sitting beneath a fig tree, reading the epistles of St. Paul and going through the conversion process.

Fig vodka is one of the only ingredients in the book that Foley could not find locally.

“I tried not to include any ingredients that were too esoteric or hard to find,” he said. “I found Waco to be a really good canary in the mine. We don’t have access to all forms of liquor the way New York City will have. We’re not in a dry county either. It’s a good representation of what the average American has access to. If I couldn’t get it at Twin Liquors or Spec’s, that was probably a good marker of where my reader would be.”

While it can’t be found on local liquor store shelves, fig vodka is easy to create at home, Foley said. Simply take a few dried mission figs and drop them into a bottle of vodka. (Foley prefers Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is produced in Austin.)

“You just wait maybe a day or two days, and the dried figs will infuse the vodka,” he said. “Then you drain the figs from it, and you get really tasty vodka.”

Foley had a group of about 30 friends to whom he would email frequent updates on the book, sending the sections he had written or queries for suggestions for pairing a cocktail with a particular saint. Two families in Washington, D.C., he said, “contributed a number of the original recipes.” Those 30 friends also collaborated on the book’s subtitle: “The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour.”

“I had an original subtitle, which I can’t remember now, and the publisher didn’t like it,” Foley said. “They came up with one, and I didn’t like that alternative. I threw this out to the group, ‘Give me an idea for a best subtitle.’ One in Washington came up with ‘The Sinner’s Guide.’ Then they were sort of riffing off each other’s ideas until we finally got to ‘The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour.’ Then the publisher loved it.”

Foley invented another drink — “history’s first papal commemorative cocktail” — in honor of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last month. The Taste of Mercy includes bourbon, pomegranate syrup, as that fruit is a symbol of self-giving in Christian art, and self-giving is “a big theme” of the pope, Foley said; and Fernet-Branca, a bitter liqueur that is typically served at barbecues in Argentina, where much of the population is, like the pope, of Italian descent.

The practice of creating commemorative drinks for visiting pontiffs is not a new concept. When Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis, Missouri, in 1999, the Schafly Tap Room brewed a specialty beer called Holy Smoke Papal Porter. When Benedict XVI was elected pope in 2005, a Bavarian brewer had a batch of Pabstbier — translated as Papal Beer — available in his hometown a mere 19 hours later.

St. Benedict, March 21 — “While a college student in Rome, Benedict decided to give his life to Christ and become a hermit. He lived alone for three years, survived several attempts on his life via poisoned drinks, and eventually went on to create 13 monasteries. He wrote ‘The Rule of St. Benedict,’ a guide on how to be a good monk.”

His drink: The Benedict, with scotch, ginger ale and Bénédictine DOM, a French liqueur made from 27 plants and spices.

Foley, who is also president of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, said his book has received praise from a bishop and a cardinal who received copies. He’s also had positive feedback on the book from his colleagues at Baylor as well as from Catholic “laity and clergy alike,” he said. In fact, one priest friend, upon hearing the premise of “Drinking with the Saints,” wrote back to Foley and said, “Dear Mike. I must confess the sin of envy that I didn’t think of that one first.”

The book’s website, DrinkingWithTheSaints.com, has information in an app that can be used alone or in conjunction with the book. The app contains condensed versions of the stories of the saints as well as the cocktails on the current week’s calendar, “so if you’re away from the book and you want to have a drink tonight, you can see what you need at the liquor store,” Foley said.

The website also features a study guide called “Drink Pray Love” that reading clubs or other groups can use to work their way through the book.

“I deliberately make it as flexible as possible because different groups are going to have different needs,” Foley said.

Foley has teamed with three downtown Waco establishments to create a progressive event to celebrate the publication of the book. The program begins at 5 p.m. on November 13 at Barnett’s Pub, at 420 Franklin Avenue, and then moves to Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits, at 508 Austin Avenue and wraps up at the Wine Shoppe, 1800 Austin Avenue. At each stop patrons will have a specialty drink, and Foley and the owner or manager at each location will talk about that drink. The ticket price, which is still to be determined, will include the three drinks as well as a signed copy of “Drinking with the Saints.” More information can be found at DrinkingWithTheSaints.com.