Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?

It’s a story I’ve been guilty of treating a little too uncritically myself: “In the Middle Ages people drank beer rather than water because the water wasn’t safe.” But is that correct? No, not at all, according to the American food history blogger Jim Chevallier, who calls it The Great Medieval Water Myth Chevallier declares… Read More Was water really regarded as dangerous to drink in the Middle Ages?

Yarmouth Ale, sweet and salty

A festival-full of regional ales were available in Britain in the 19th century, including Reading Ale, Windsor Ale, Dorchester Ale, Stogumber Ale and Alton Ale, of which only two or three – notably Burton Ale and its close relative Edinburgh Ale – achieved much lasting appreciation. One regional style of ale that is effectively unknown… Read More Yarmouth Ale, sweet and salty

Look, will you all stop misusing the word ‘ale’. Thank you

I realise I’m whistling into a gale here. But if you want an expression that will cover everything from Kölsch to porter, taking in saison, IPA, mild, Oud Bruin and Alt on the way, then it’s “warm-fermented beers”. Not “ale”. Please. Because if you use “ale” in a broad, ahistoric sense to mean “any beer… Read More Look, will you all stop misusing the word ‘ale’. Thank you

Words for beer (3): the big mysteries

As I said when I wrote the first of these blog essays, the origins of the words “ale” and “beer” are a surprisingly tangled mystery, with no particularly obvious root for either word. Nor has anyone ever explained convincingly why the “continental” branch of West Germanic (the one that eventually became German in all its… Read More Words for beer (3): the big mysteries

Words for beer (2) – was ‘beer’ originally cider?

Before we dive more fully into the tangled roots of the words “ale” and “beer”, we have to tackle one particularly knotted strand first, caused by the curious fact that, four hundred years before English adopted the word bier from the Continent to describe a malt liquor flavoured with hops (altering the spelling to “beere”),… Read More Words for beer (2) – was ‘beer’ originally cider?

How to brew like an Anglo-Norman knight

There are almost no descriptions of brewing processes in Britain from the medieval period, a reflection of the universality of ale and the universality of the knowledge of how to brew it: similarly “everybody” in the British Isles today knows how to make a cup of tea, and nobody wastes their time writing down a… Read More How to brew like an Anglo-Norman knight