Beer!

Beer by Will Vanlue, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 2.0 Generic liscence

Beer definitely deserves an exclamation mark, if you ask me. Now, before you get excited, let me say I won’t be getting the homebrew kit out, I won’t actually be making the beer itself, but rather making some delicious-sounding Buttered Beer. Whether or not it will be delicious tasting as well remains to be seen. But more on that in part 2, this post is for a bit of history about beer.

I’m working on a chapter that looks like it’s shaping up to be at least  in part about drunkenness on stage. I’m planning on structuring it around a fantastic little play – well, it’s more of an interlude really – called Wine, Beer, Ale and Tobacco. I’ve written about it at my other blog, it’s quite an interesting little play so do head over there and find out more about it if you are so inclined. The play is about the titular drinks (yes, you read that right, tobacco was sometimes considered a drink – take a look at the link above!) having an argument about which one of them is best.

Now, you might be wondering what the difference between ale and beer was. I go into slightly more detail in the post about the play, but essentially, ale was the traditionally brewed stuff and beer was brewed using hops. Things are a bit different now, but that’s what the distinction was in the early modern period. Definitely something to bear in mind when trying the recipe out – I must remember to look for a hoppy ale.

I’ve noticed that the phrase “Beef, bread and beer” comes up fairly regularly, usually in relation to a particularly hospitable place, be in someone’s house or an inn. In The Witch of Edmonton (Rowley, Dekker and Ford, 1621), for example, Old Carter tells Old Thorny that the latter’s son “shall be welcome to Bread, Beef and Beer, Yeoman’s fare”. In William Kemp’s A Knack to Know a Knave (1594), we find the construction again used to signify hospitality:

My father in his lyfe time gave hospitality to all strangers, and Distressed traueillers, his table was neuer emptie of bread, beefe And beere

Beer was a relative newcomer compared to ale. The latter had been brewed in England since way back in the mists of time, but the former was only introduced to England in the late medieval period. By the late 16th century, when the recipe I’ll be using dates from, beer had been around for 100 years or so. It wasn’t drunk everywhere, but was making a slow and steady progress from London out to the rest of the country. It was still considered somewhat new, but as you can see from the quotes above, it was certainly something you could expect to find available fairly frequently as part of a hearty meal.

Unlike most of the other foods I’ve looked at for this blog, beer didn’t get a particularly good press in the diet books of the 16th and 17th centuries, although Edward Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts (1607) recommends bathing in buttered beer as a remedy for horses with “the swelling of the forelegs”. When beer does appear in these kinds of books, it does tend to be buttered, I suppose the hot, alcoholic drink might have been thought to share some of the healing properties of posset. Thomas Cogan does suggest that buttered beer is a good remedy for a cough or a shortness of wind (Haven of health, 1633). James Hart of Northampton in Klinike or the diet of the diseased warns against the abuse of buttered beer as a medicine, and Bullein states that neither beer or ale “haue suche vertue nor goodnes as wyne haue, and surphetes whiche be taken of them, through dronkenes: be worse then the surphetes taken of wyne” (Gouernement of health, 1558).

References to beer are plentiful, but for the most part they’re fairly fleeting. I’ve chosen this nice little quote from Wine, Beer, Ale and Tobacco to end this post – it’s spoken by Water when he arrives to settle the argument between Wine, Beer and Ale. Water decides that Ale is country drink and Wine is for the court, but Beer is a drink for the city, he’s his reasoning:

You Beere, shall bee in most grace with the Citizens, as being a more stayed Liquor, fit for them that purpose retirement and grauitie, that with the Suaile carries the cares of a house and family with them, tyed to the atendance of an illiberall profession, that neither trot nor amble, but haue a sure pace of their owne, Bos lassus fortius figit pedem, The black Oxe has trod vpon their foot: yet I bound you not with the Citie, though it bee the common entertainement, you may bee in credit with Gentlemens Cellars, and carry reputation before you from March to Christmas—tide I should say; that Water should forget his Tide.

I’ll be attempting to butter some beer soon, so watch this space!

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2 Comments

Filed under History and background

2 responses to “Beer!

  1. Many archaeologists now think that barley was originally domesticated in ancient Mesopotamia so that people could brew beer, and bread was just a good side effect of having barley around.

    The ancient Mesopotamia beer was actually pretty healthy. Nothing was filtered out (except that it was drunk from a deep container with a long straw to draw in more liquid and less chaff), so it was something like semiliquid bread.

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