Modern beer has little in common with the drink that carried that name through the European 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. It was also a commodity of economic and social importance and a major source of tax revenue for the state.
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.
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.
Richard W. Unger is a professor of History at the University of British Columbia. He is also author of “A History of Brewing in Holland, 900-1900: Economy, Technology, and the State,” “The Art of Medieval Technology: Images of Noah the Shipbuilder,” and “The Ship in the Medieval Economy, 600-1600.”
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on July 8, 2004