The Effects of the Social Hierarchy on Beer: England 17-19th Century

Topics: Social class, Working class, Alcoholic beverage Pages: 17 (6006 words) Published: March 24, 2013
The Effects of the Social Hierarchy on Beer: England 17-19th Century Petition presented to the Parliament (England 1673):
“Before Brandy, which is now become common and sold in every little alehouse had come into England in such quantities as it now doth, we drank good strong beer and ale, and all laborious people (which are for the greater part of the Kingdom) their bodies requiring after hard labor, some strong drink to refresh them, did therefore every morning and evening used to drink a pot of ale or flagon of strong beer, which greatly helped the promotion of our grain, and did them no great prejudice; it hindereth not their work, neither did it take away their senses nor cost them much money.”[1]

Throughout England’s history, beer has played a predominant role as it has affected the countries economy, policies, and society on numerous occasions. As beer today, is primarily associated as a beverage that is a part of social life, its dependence as a daily liquid intake early English culture can seem rather alarming. Nevertheless, this is only based on the assumption that beer has always had the same properties and function that it does today; however only this is as far from true, as the two are incomparable in both ways. Up until the seventeenth century beer was not actually considered a drink, but rather a foodstuff instead, being that it was a major component in one’s diet. For the English people not only drank beer in heavy quantities, but also every day, at each meal, since it was a large source of the majority of their calories. Furthermore, beer also was available for everyone due to the fact it was affordable and unrestricted. It would quench one’s early morning thirst, help wash down a main meal, and even provide a late night supper. In addition to this, beer was also used in lieu of water. Since it was hard to rely on water as a primary drink because of its unsanitary conditions, beer became the most practical alternative due to its alcohol content.

However, as time progressed the perception of beer in England changed; as it soon became recognized as a beverage rather than the foodstuff it was originally claimed to be. Since beer was no longer consumed for the same purposes, a shift in its function had occurred. This can be credited to many things, as the culture in England rapidly changed during this time. But still the reasoning behind the evolution of beer into a ‘social drink’ is still not evident enough. It could have been caused by the change in the quality of beer, as many various types had been created, such as hops and porter. On the other hand, it could have also been due to the fact that other alternative drinks became accessible in England, such as coffee and tea, which not only transformed the patterns of beer consumption, but its overall status as well. Nevertheless, these events do not fully explain the transparent shift that beer had, for the reason that someone or even something had to have been responsible for these to occur in the first place.

While the majority of people throughout England’s history consumed beer, it was not always recognized as a worthy choice of beverage. Given that the culture had diversified overtime, particularly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the drink was no longer preferred by all. In fact, the wealthy people of the upper and middle classes started to perceive it as only befitting of the lower working class citizens.[2] Although the lower class did enjoy drinking beer, as it was a large part of their diet, they too eventually decided to move away from it. Embarrassed by the upper classes new view of beer, they attempted to match their choices of alcoholic beverage by drinking other alternatives, as they could not afford drink any thing else. Specifically, when spirits began to become popular among the wealthy, the lower class soon was seen consuming them as well. Brandy, being the most luxurious of spirits, was very much...

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[5] Muldrew, Food Energy and the creation of Industriousness, 65-66
[6] A Vindication of Strong Beer and Ale (London, 1647), 3.
[42] Parker, "Mr. Ayrton on History and Beer," (1855)
[43] Nicholls, Politics of Alcohol, 180-81; Gutzke, Pubs and Progressives, 52-53
[44] "THE BEER BILL." Eclectic Review (1859)
[45] Graham, "Beer and the Temperance Problem,” 80.
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