The origin of the character is most widely believed to be John the Fearless (1371–1419), who some also believe to be the inventor of hopped malt beer. One of Charlemagne's cupbearers was also called Gambrinus.
In what is possibly the earliest known record of the name, the German poet Burkart Waldis mentioned Gambrinus in the year 1543, explaining that Gambrinus learned the art of brewing from Isis, the ancient Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility.
Possible Latin etymologies of the name include cambarus (cellarer) and ganeae birrinus (one who drinks in a tavern). The Gambrinus brewery of Plzeň, Czech Republic explains the name as originating from Jan Primus (John the First), referring to John I, Duke of Brabant.
Although not as likely, Gambrinus might also derive from camba, a word from the Celtic language family that refers to a brewer's pan. Alternatively, Gambrinus may be a corruption of the name Gambrivius.
Because of Gambrinus' significance, numerous European and North American brewers have adopted the character (or his name) in their beer brands. Many people celebrate his believed birth date every April 11th.
Several notable breweries are named for Gambrinus or use his image, including: