A historical look at the British fizz fervor

The drinking habits of nations have been stereotyped for centuries: Germans drink beer, French like wine, and Italians prefer coffee. These generalizations are not true. Before the Little Ice Age, the Bavarians were big on viticulture. Today, the Czechs drink the most beer per capita. Like other commodities, there are many factors that influence the taste of beer. The situation, the location, and the company are all important. Alcohol is also a controversial issue, affecting many medical, cultural, and social concerns.

Tutankhamunale is a replica of ancient Egyptian beer brewed by Courage Brewery in 1996 using emmer wheat. Wikimedia Commons

It is important to consider what’s readily available and popular in culture. Beer has a proud history, partly because water was not always fit for human consumption. Archaeologists found evidence that fermented drinks were consumed in ancient societies. Egyptian pyramids, for example, were constructed by workers who drank four to five liters of water a day.

In Europe, “beer regions” have always been the east and north. The wine was traditionally preferred in the south due to a more favorable climate for grapes. Pompeii’s many taverns, which are still visible among its ruins, provide early evidence of this preference. Viticulture is a major part of rural production along the Mediterranean coasts.

Innovative booze

Dynamic forces are always in play. Mead, for example, a staple of medieval Europe, slowly disappeared after at least three major innovations transformed the drinking landscape.

Hops were added to the brewing method in the Netherlands during the late medieval period. English alewives used only water, malt, and some herbs in order to make a mildly intoxicating beverage for immediate consumption. Hops, however, made the beer more durable and profitable. It allowed a large industry to emerge, flooding the market with beer in mass quantities. Public houses were also tied.

A 16th-century brewery Wikimedia Commons

From the 1500s onwards, distilling technology was significantly improved. Brandy, which was originally intended for medicinal use, spread across Europe with soldiers fighting in wars during the time. In a few decades, liquors such as aquavits and vodka dominated Scandinavian and Russian drink cultures.

Third, as a result of increased exploration of foreign lands and global trade, coffee began to enter Europe (originally via the Ottoman Empire, which imported it from Yemen). Along with tea and chocolate, it marked the rise of warm, “sober” beverages that lubricated a (supposedly) more “polite” society. Around 1650, the first coffee shops appeared in Venice Vie, nana, and then London. They immediately sparked debates about their effect on health, mentality, and, yes, sexual potency. In the 1670s, a Pamphlet War began, with the aim of influencing public opinion.

What to choose?

Europeans were spoiled for choice from the very beginning of modernity. The elusive factor of taste was, therefore, given more importance. The records of people’s preferences for drinks were terse before consumer surveys. Rare is the voice of 18th Century German Professor Karl Spazier, who the La Cote tore vs. Ryff wine grown around Lake Geneva during the Romantic Age. The former tasted “so mild and soft as if planted with the quiet friendship of a friend,” while the latter was “sharper and fierier… coming from the hand’s drunken love.”

In pre-industrial times, the financial concerns of lower-class groups overrode their desires, which is why “small beer” was popular, and so was watered-down wine. Alcohol can help people through difficult times, and not just by drowning out their sorrows. For example, in the late 16th Century, English peasants were able to meet their increasing calorie needs through “liquid” beers rather than grain-based solids (whose prices increased faster).

Social distinction was important then as it is today. In the Elizabethan Church of England, communion wine was available in two varieties – claret and sweet Malmsey – for commoners, and for the gentry. The same division was used by a premium beer from Belgium that claimed to be “reassuringly costly.” More recently.

Persuasion powers

Alcopops are a great example of drinks that target specific social groups. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

Various interest groups are trying to influence drinking habits today, either for social control, capital gain or paternal concerns. Teetotallers are known for their radical stance. In contrast, advertising associates certain beverage brands with desirable qualities like youth, street credibility, suaveness, or sexual allure. This is evident in the Coca-Cola and Coffee rival campaigns. These messages are disseminated even more convincingly by celebrity endorsements. In the 1980s, alcopops were a big hit with adolescent girls who loved the sweet, colorful brands.

Here, we come to the health factors that influence lifestyle choices. According to the latest official policies and backed by medical advice, UK residents are advised to moderate their alcohol intake as well as that of soft drinks. It remains to be determined whether new measures, such as ” Sugar Tax“, will prove to be effective. These initiatives will always spark controversy, which is a testament to both the vested interest of those involved and to government’s questionable track record. In the UK, prohibition has been attempted (not on alcohol as it was in the US but instead on coffee houses that were hotbeds for political sedition). In the UK, attempts were made to favor domestic products over imports based on economic motives. This led to the gin craze in the early 18th Century. The results can be surprising.


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