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Ale and Beer: "Whether Ale or Beere Bee Better"

6hoh Country Pub (c. 1660)
Country Pub, David Teniers II , c. 1660

 Whereas wine was reserved for the wealthy and special occasions for peasants, ale and beer became everyday beverages for the common folk of Renaissance England and Northern Europe. The drink of choice in England was ale, a fermented beverage made from barley, yeast and water.[1] In a society where food scarcity loomed constantly, beer and ale were considered essential dietary supplements and ale in particular has a long history of use in English medicine.[2] Beer, which added hops to the mix, was considered as a healthy diuretic from 1060 onwards by most Europeans.[3] Cogan thought beer and ale as vulgar beverages associated with drunkards and beggars.[4] He also argues that, “for it is worse to bee drunke of Ale than of Wine, and the drunkennesse endureth longer; by reason that the fumes and vapours of Ale that ascend to the head, are more grosse, and therefore can not be so soone resolved as those that rise by Wine.” However, he does concede that ale and beer possesses several health benefits.[5]

6hoh Strolling Violinist at an Ale House Door
Strolling Violinist at an Ale House Door, Adriaen Van Ostade, 1625-1685


 Like wine and water, beer and ale also possess humoral qualities. Ale was made with water and barley malt, both considered cool. Beer included hops which took on a hot quality. Cogan recommends the consumption of ale over beer because he believed it the superior beverage for health. This belief reflects popular English opinions regarding beer, which despite efforts by ale producers to stop its growth, continued to increase in popularity throughout fifteenth and sixteenth-century England.[6] Cogan recognized that beer acted as an effective diuretic, but believed that ale “encreaseth strength, encreaseth flesh, breedeth bloud [blood], [and] provekth urine,” while beer “louseth the belly, and puffeth it up, and cooleth moderately.”[7] Cogan’s critiques of beer occurred as other scholars of English medicine weighed in on the argument. Some, like Cogan, preferred the old English ale, while others argued that beer was the more healthful and economic beverage. Eventually beer superseded ale as the beverage of choice by common Renaissance Englishmen. 

[1] Unger, Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 97-98. 
[2] Ibid., 2. 
[3] Ibid., 55. 
[4] Cogan, Haven of Health, USU SCA, 217. 
[5] Ibid., 217.
[6] Unger, Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 98. 
[7] Cogan, Haven of Health, USU SCA, 218.