February 2020

There were a lot of reasons to celebrate on January 25th. As most alert readers (ARs) probably know, it was the 261st birthday of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, an annual celebration at The Schlafly Tap Room since 1992. It was the day of the NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis. It was also Chinese New Year, the first day of the Year of the Rat, which will last a total of 383 days. This year is of particular significance for founding brewer Stephen Hale and me, both of whom were born during earlier Years of the Rat.

As most ARs probably know, the Chinese follow a lunar calendar. Their New Year (sometimes called Spring Festival) is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Although the Gregorian Calendar, which we follow in the West, is not based on phases of the moon, we still pay attention to lunar events. For example, we had a wolf moon on January 10th, so named because wolves supposedly howl a lot in the early months of the year. This was the first of 13 full moons in 2020. This particular full moon was largely unnoticed in St. Louis because of rainy weather. There was also a lunar eclipse the same day that we couldn’t see because it was primarily visible in the eastern hemisphere.

Celebrate the Year of the Rat with the red colored paper cut, and the rat is the Chinese Zodiac sign for the Chinese New Year 2020

Coming up soon we’ll have two super moons on March 9 and April 7, respectively. These are full moons that occur when the moon is extremely close to the earth in its orbit. Later in the year, there will be a blue moon (second full moon in one calendar month) on Halloween, something that hasn’t occurred since 2001.

With the Year of the Rat upon us, it’s interesting to note that we will have completed an entire presidential election cycle by the time it’s over…from the first caucus in Iowa this month to the major party conventions this summer to the general election in November to the inauguration of the 45th or 46th president next January. This individual will be the 20th American president to have been elected in the Year of the Rat. The previous 19 were George Washington (1792), Thomas Jefferson (1804), James Monroe (1816), Andrew Jackson (1828), William Henry Harrison (1840), Franklin Pierce (1852), Abraham Lincoln (1864), Rutherford B. Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), William McKinley (1900), Woodrow Wilson (1912), Calvin Coolidge (1924), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1936), Harry Truman (1948), John F. Kennedy (1960), Richard Nixon (1972), Ronald Reagan (1984), Bill Clinton (1996) and Barack Obama (2008).

ARs who review this list might reasonably conclude that being elected in the Year of the Rat isn’t necessarily a good thing for a president. Of the four presidents who died in office of natural causes, 50% (William Henry Harrison and Franklin D. Roosevelt) had been elected in Years of the Rat. Of the four presidents who were killed by assassins, 75% (Lincoln, McKinley, and Kennedy) had been elected in Years of the Rat. In my lifetime there were two nearly successful assassination attempts on presidents elected in Years of the Rat (Truman and Reagan). The only president to be impeached in the 20th century (Clinton) had been elected in the Year of the Rat. Ditto for the only president in American history ever forced to resign from office (Nixon).

As all ARs undoubtedly know, 2020 is a leap year, meaning that, while it’s not as long as the current Year of the Rat, it’s still one day longer than most other years. What most ARs may not know is that the extra day, February 29th, is the Feast of St. Oswald of York, who died on that day in 992. Among St. Oswald’s many accomplishments that led to his canonization was founding a lot of Benedictine monasteries, several of them near York in northern England. This history is important for two reasons. First, I was taught in high school by English Benedictine monks who came from a monastery in Yorkshire, which would have been in Oswald’s former bishopric. Second, monasteries, like those founded by Oswald, were centers of learning throughout the middle ages. As such they were where much of the science of brewing was developed. Put another way, if it weren’t for Benedictine monks in monasteries like those founded by St. Oswald of York, Stephen Hale and I might not be doing what we’re doing today.


Tom Schlafly

Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery