Now don’t worry, we’re not going to try and convince you here that beer can either make you look years younger than you are or that it offers the secret to immortality!
We thought though we’d just like to say a few words about a little-known fact relating to beer and beer dispensing systems (essentially barrels and jugs) in the distant past.
Back in medieval and early modern Europe, by and large, the water supplies in the bigger cities and larger towns were heavily polluted and also unreliable. Even though the sciences of microbiology and epidemiology didn’t exist, it’s clear from the historical record that large numbers of people intuitively associated water with “bad things” and thereby serious illness.
Given that there was absolutely no understanding of bacteria and viruses, people couldn’t do anything much about trying to sterilise the water they were drinking. However, the solution was simple – and it was to turn it in to beer.
Our ancestors brewed a huge range of beers but in one sense they can be broken down into two categories:
- “Beer” – typically stronger and which was consumed for recreational purposes
- “Small Beer” – which was drunk by all as a replacement for water.
The difference between the two was that a small beer, which was a term that originally had nothing to do with the volumes you were drinking, typically had a low alcohol content of perhaps somewhere between 1-2%. However, that alcohol was enough to see off most of the nastier bugs that could be found in the local water supply.
Of course, rich folk also drank wine and in country areas where there was a local clean well or river supply, drinking water was the norm. On the whole though, the everyday drink for just about everybody in urban environments, including the nobility, was small beer. Even children drank it!
It’s really only in the 19th century that people finally started to get to grips with understanding things like bacteria and how they could be passed on through the water supply.
The Victorians attacked the problem with their usual energy and very rapidly started to deliver relatively clean water to the big cities and towns via vast engineering systems. That meant that cities like London and Paris started to get their first clean water in around 1,500 years – since the Romans had left.
Will this help you enjoy your next beer that bit more in a bar? Probably not but it’s an interesting slice of history and we hope you enjoyed us sharing it with you!