Alcohol: the Social Implications of the Rise and Consumption Early Modern Europe 1400-1789

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Alcohol: The Social Implications of the Rise and Consumption Early Modern Europe

Carissa Carlisle

"Swill", "grog", "firewater", and "liquid bread". There are many different terms associated with the word "alcohol". Alcohol has revolved and evolved around people's lives for thousands of years. For early modern Europeans, alcohol had served several purposes, such as medicine by means of brandy as well as foodstuff, and as to why the drink had been the go-to drink. Because of this there have been various social and economic implications that came from the introduction and popularity of this spirit. Our understanding of alcohol has changed significantly in today's time, but nonetheless, alcohol has always been a social issue within the world, specifically how it led to the social epidemic of alcoholism and changed social behavior for early modern Europeans from the early fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century.

"[Water] was not always readily available and despite specific advice from doctors who claimed that one sort of water was preferable to another for a particular disease, people had to be content with what was on had: rain, river, fountain, cistern, well, barrel or a copper receptacle..." (Braudel, 227) Because of this, many believed it was safer (and in many cases this was true) to drink alcohol versus the unfiltered water that could carry parasites and diseases. In Europe, there were few sources of "safe" drinking water for people and in these instances, only the wealthy or noblemen could regularly afford it. "Whole towns- and very wealthy ones at that- were poorly supplied with water." (228) Major rivers, such as the Seine in the France, had certain areas that were better to drink from like the left bank, which was farther away from populated waste-dumping, whereas the water from the Thames river in London was not good at all. Alcohol, in all of its various forms, turned into the sensible or first choice of drink for commoners and the wealthy alike.

Beer had "filled the ritual role of bread and wine" (Braudel 238) for Europeans before the 1st century and gradually reached known popularity in England during the early 15th century. "Hops, Reformation, bays and beer

Came into England all in one year."[1]
This spirit was usually known as the 'commoners drink' because it was cheaper to produce rather than wine. Peasants and brewers were known to consume liters a day during the growing production of beer. It served as a cheap calorie when food or bread was scarce. Every time there was an economic downfall, beer and cider consumption rose against the comparative consumption of wine, the more prestigious drink of choice.

It is believed that everyone in Europe drank wine. Europe was the most important producer of wine and wine was the most popular among the elite. The location of the country was prime for the grapevine. "As Jean Bodin says: 'The vine cannot grow beyond the forty-ninth parallel because of the cold.'" (Braudel 232). There were people such as the peasant producers who were used to drinking local wines leisurely and there were people who enjoyed the knowledge of wine. Wine, and alcohol in general, became their pastime as well as a hobby. The Dictionnaire de Commerce by Jacques Savary des Brûlons "[listed] all of the wines in France in 1762..." (236), proving that wine was becoming more ordinary daily, more fashionable, and more luxurious with focus being put on variety and preference. But then again there have always been the customers who were after a certain high. "[Englishmen] launched port, malaga, madeira, sherry and marsala, all famous wines with a high alcohol content." (233) The higher the alcohol content, the less one had to drink, which meant the drunker people would get. The southerners thought the northerners did not know how to drink because they were well known for "drinking to get drunk", a problem that had only just...
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