Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Publication Year: 2011
The beer of today—brewed from malted grain and hops, manufactured by large and often multinational corporations, frequently associated with young adults, sports, and drunkenness—is largely the result of scientific and industrial developments of the nineteenth century. Modern beer, however, has little in common with the drink that carried that name through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Looking at a time when beer was often a nutritional necessity, was sometimes used as medicine, could be flavored with everything from the bark of fir trees to thyme and fresh eggs, and was consumed by men, women, and children alike, Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance presents an extraordinarily detailed history of the business, art, and governance of brewing.
During the medieval and early modern periods beer was as much a daily necessity as a source of inebriation and amusement. It was the beverage of choice of urban populations that lacked access to secure sources of potable water; a commodity of economic as well as social importance; a safe drink for daily consumption that was less expensive than wine; and a major source of tax revenue for the state. In Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Richard W. Unger has written an encompassing study of beer as both a product and an economic force in Europe.
Drawing from archives in the Low Countries and England to assemble an impressively complete history, Unger describes the transformation of the industry from small-scale production that was a basic part of housewifery to a highly regulated commercial enterprise dominated by the wealthy and overseen by government authorities. Looking at the intersecting technological, economic, cultural, and political changes that influenced the transformation of brewing over centuries, he traces how improvements in technology and in the distribution of information combined to standardize quality, showing how the process of urbanization created the concentrated markets essential for commercial production.
Weaving together the stories of prosperous businessmen, skilled brewmasters, and small producers, this impressively researched overview of the social and cultural practices that surrounded the beer industry is rich in implication for the history of the period as a whole.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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List of Illustrations
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List of Tables
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The mention of the history of beer always brings a laugh or at thevery least a snicker. The history of beer for most people is not a serious topicof study. It seems to them frivolous and hardly worth more than a few divert-ing minutes of anyone’s time. Beer, after all, is a drink for leisure, for youngpeople, generally men, and associated with sports and student life. That per-...
List of Abbreviations
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1 Introduction: Understanding the History of Brewing
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Beer at the start of the third Christian millennium has little incommon with the drink that carried the same or variant names through theEuropean Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is true that beer was and is an infu-sion of germinated grain, made to ferment after being cooled, and then bysome means clarified before consumption. This definition shares some fea-...
2 Early Medieval Brewing
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Brewing was important to society long before there was even the idea ofEurope. It found a prominent place among early settled agricultural regimes.It is not likely that those settlements were started to generate grain for makingbeer. Other more compelling reasons existed for abandoning at least part ofthe hunting and gathering life, but it was not long after settling down that...
3 Urbanization and the Rise of Commercial Brewing
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The pattern of change in commercial brewing in late medieval andsixteenth-century northern Europe falls into six loosely defined phases or peri-ods. First, there was a period of preparation typified by development of a mar-ket for the good and development of a production base. Second, there wasproduct innovation, the introduction of a superior product, a variant on the...
4 Hopped Beer, Hanse Towns, and the Origins of the Trade in Beer
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...before hopped beer became a trade good and then became the beverage ofchoice for brewers and drinkers in the Low Countries, France, and England.The word hops had Ural-Altaic as well as Turkic origins. It appeared first inSlavic languages before it surfaced in north Germanic ones. In addition, ‘‘Itmay be true that beer-words and intoxication-words are linked with hop-...
5 The Spread of Hopped Beer Brewing: The Northern Low Countries
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...was achieved by with an urban brewing industry in place, and the brewer-ies in towns producing beer for a commercial market. There was a distributionnetwork and regulations at various levels of government covering productionand selling. Consumers were familiar with and used to beer, beer of a certaintype. There was a market prepared to accept variant types with the necessary...
6 The Spread of Hopped Beer Brewing: The Southern Low Countries, England, and Scandinavia
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Once Dutch brewers began to make hopped beer and sell it outsidethe county, the use of hops became popular, and even necessary, not just inHolland but also in nearby jurisdictions. The count of Holland made conces-sions on the use of hops rather early compared to his counterparts in theregion of the lower Rhine where gruit was in widespread use. Changes in the...
7 The Mature Industry: Levels of Production
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The years from around to the early seventeenth century werea golden age for brewing. Though levels of output as well as the number andsize of breweries varied—from Flanders to the Celtic Sea to northern Scandi-navia to Estonia and Poland to Austria to the upper reaches of the RhineRiver—brewing expanded in those years. It grew as population increased. In...
8 The Mature Industry: Levels of Consumption
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A certain sign of the success of the adoption of brewing with hopsand perfection of the technique in northern Europe was the high level of beerconsumption in towns. Consumption and production in most towns wereclosely tied, the exception being the few places that specialized in export. Con-sumption level data, that is data for per capita beer drinking, are just as sparse...
9 The Mature Industry: Technology
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Trying to identify and isolate the process innovation that formedthe sixth stage of development in brewing in northern Europe is even moredifficult than trying to establish when people mastered the new technique. Atleast it is certain that the pace of process innovation was slow. To get morefrom the earlier breakthrough, that is from the introduction of hops and all...
10 The Mature Industry: Capital Investment and Innovation
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...involved a sizeable investment in fixed capital. Brewing, like leather working,was different from most contemporary economic activities on land in that ithad a relatively high ratio of capital to labor, a fact dictated by the technologyand by continuing efforts to exploit existing technology more effectively.Brewers felt pressure to innovate because people were often drinking less beer....
11 Types of Beer and Their International Exchange
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Over the course of the sixteenth century, the number of beer typesincreased and the number of names multiplied. Brewers, in response to risinggrain prices, lowered the quality of many beers. As a result there were risingcomplaints about beer being thin, and not just in north German towns likeWismar.1 Brewers also introduced higher-quality beers to replace those that...
12 Taxes and Protection
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The great flood of legislation on brewing was still to come, but inthe first half of the fifteenth century the topics and the pattern for regulationwere already clear. Governments would set the size of the brew, the frequencyof brewing, the size and marking of the casks, the use of grain in brewing bytype and quantity, and the ability to enter the trade. They would also legislate...
13 Guilds, Brewery Workers, and Work in Breweries
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In fifteenth-century northern Europe, guilds were not the commonvehicles for regulating brewing. Associations of brewers had existed for a longtime but, compared to groups of other skilled craftsmen in medieval andRenaissance towns, they were very slow to become legally recognized guildswhich protected the members and regulated the trade. There was no pressing...
14 Epilogue: The Decline of Brewing
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The consolidated, relatively capital-intensive beer brewing industryof the seventeenth century was firmly established as an integral feature of theeconomy and of the social life of northern Europe. Drinking ale, beer, or meadhad a long history which stretched back far beyond the Middle Ages. But itwas in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that urbanization led to specializa-...
Appendix: On Classification and Measurement
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Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 23 illus.
Publication Year: 2011