Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Drunky McDrunk Drunk - Beverage Choices in Tudor Times

'Tis the season to celebrate Christmas - and what better way than with a lovely glassful of something that gives a rosy glow to the cheeks, and a merry laugh, to the one imbibing? 

In Tudor England, drinking was an Every. Single. Day. kind of thing. 
Small wonder, that, as the water available back then was quite often filled with bacteria and other nasties.
Rather than risking bacterial side effects
Yes. Forever.
to slake one's thirst, ale and beer, which contained boiled water (good!) were a grand substitute. 
Even for breakfast!
Some ideas are worth passing down through the ages. Like Breakfast Ale.

When Henry VII took the crown of England at the Battle of Bosworth, ale was the beverage of the day.
Brewed by women on an ongoing basis (as ale went off after a short time) for their own families, women who were particularly proficient at their brew-craft sold the excess to thirsty neighbors and townfolk.
If ambitious, there might be a bushel on a pole as an advert that freshly brewed ale was available for sale (or barter.) 
Hoist that bushel up on a pole so ye olde people know there's fresh brew available!
Ale (barley-mash, boiled water, yeast - no hops) was often brewed in three separate fermentations.

The ale from the first fermentation had a large kick to it.
That was for the men.
The second, medium-kick ale went to the women and the ladies.
Baby-kick ale, the last fermentation, when the alcohol levels were considerably less than the previous two fermentation lots,
Just a li'l kick to it, perfect for the kiddy-winks!

was for children, nuns, monks - basically, anybody for whom sobriety was a good idea, either due to their age, or their vocation. 

At a celebration, drinks were definitely a feature of letting the good times roll, as this detail from a painting  of the Field of the Cloth of Gold demonstrates:
Note guy in mid-right side of the fountain - holding the column and preparing to hurl . . .
The party that started around 500 AD when ale brewing first shifted from an activity done by monks to one done by families was in full swing by the time Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.
There are records of ale and beer consumption (and how this was recorded is anybody's guess) for parts of sixteenth century England; 17 pints per adult per week.

Drunkenness was considered a sin.
It happened, but it would appear that people preferred to live each and every day with just a li'l ale-buzz, starting with breakfast. 
Elizabeth I is said to have issued a 'cease-and-desist' order prohibiting the manufacture of 'double-double' beer when the stronger stuff made its impact felt upon English village society.
There's no hard proof I've seen of that ordinance, but it sounds legit. 
Instead of 'drunkards' a drunk was sometimes called a 'maltworm;' a drunkard's cloak was a public shaming tactic.
The drunkard's cloak was a barrel held up by straps on the shoulders, worn in public by Otis 
the drunkard.          

Wine was for the upper echelon of Tudor society.

Wine and beer (which came along slightly later than ale and differs from it due to the addition of hops) and ale were stored in the buttery of a house/manor house/palace/castle.
And now you get to smile whenever you hear the word 'buttery' - which gets understandably confused with a dairy storage area - so on the next castle tour you take, you'll be in the know. 
Just nod and smile. You don't need to say a word.

In 1606 the Parliament passed an Act to Repress the Odious and Loathsome Sin of Drunkenness - which meant that the new Powers That Be under James I were sending out a signal that the party days of Elizabethan England were officially over.



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