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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hey Kevin: "What's all this about a pretzel necklace?"

Welcome to the third installment of Hey Kevin, our new advice & (mis)information column. Let's get right to this week's question.

Hey Kevin, 

This is the first time I’m attending the Michigan Winter Beer Festival—I’m so excited! My boyfriend has been to several, and he told me I should wear a pretzel necklace. I thought he was pulling my leg until I Googled it. Looks like it's what all the cool kids wear. My question is, why?

Peg from Benton Harbor

Hi Peg,

Common sense tells us the pretzel necklace is a purely functional device—on one hand, nibbling a few pretzels "resets" the palate between sips of fantastic Michigan beer. On the other hand, the persistent munching of salty snacks stabilizes blood sugar as you wait in line for your next snort of whatever crazy beer Short’s is pouring. That the pretzels hang from a necklace is simply a matter of convenience—from what else would you hang them?

Sounds reasonable, right? Well, cultural anthropologists have a decidedly different explanation. Rather than a result of function, they contend it’s a matter of social status, and that a direct correlation exists between the pretzel necklace—its size and heft, specifically—and the degree to which one self-identifies as a beer geek.

To put it succinctly, the more extravagant the necklace, the greater the beer geek's passion for Michigan-crafted suds (and, oddly enough, the greater the chance a tattoo of our great state will appear somewhere on the body). One can go too far, however. Disingenuous pretzel neckwear can quickly earn one the title of pretzel poser, a pejorative term which ranks among the beer world's most serious accusations.

We should also keep in mind that surrounding the head with baked goods is an important part of the beer geek's bizarre mating rituals—this according to leading anthropologist Dr. Henry St. Thomas of the University of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids campus. To date, there are no less than 140 documented cases in which a couple has met, fallen in love, and married, all thanks to one geek’s attraction to the pretzels dangling irresistibly from the other’s neck. Apparently it’s the golden sheen of the pretzel coat as well as the diamond-like flecks of salt that really get the engines going.

Barley, hops, water -
for some, a sacred trinity symbolized
by the holes in a pretzel
Peg, you said you have a boyfriend. It might seem strange that he would risk the surge in male competition by asking you to wear what amounts to the beer geek version of peacock feathers. Remember though that for many the pretzel necklace has a spiritual significance.

The first known mention of "pretzel necklace" is in an obscure German text from the year 1521. The pretzel, it seems, was the official emblem of the Sacred Order of Reinheitsgebot, a secretive sect of German monks who worshipped beer's holy trinity—barley, water, and hops (remember, back then yeast hadn’t been discovered). This trinity is symbolized by the three compartments or spaces (holes) created by the pretzel's shape. By stringing several pretzels on a chord which they then tied around their necks, the monks were able to keep their sacred trinity always close to heart.

No matter the spiritual implication of pretzels, if you're content with your current love life, you should remain vigilant whenever sporting them at festivals—you never know what well-meaning beer geek will get his (or her) signals crossed. Also, be extra modest when feasting on one of those famous turkey legs (a true favorite at the Michigan Winter Beer Fest). From the male beer geek's perspective, there is nothing more attractive than the female of his kind gnawing a giant drumstick with a Michigan beer in hand.

Hope this helps.


The views expressed here are Kevin's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Buzz staff or its parent company, Siciliano's Market. Have a question in need of answering? Submit it to

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