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Small beer
Posted: 14 April 2017 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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I’m not familiar with it.

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Posted: 14 April 2017 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Hey, don’t sweat the small stuff.

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Posted: 14 April 2017 04:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 27 March 2017 09:26 PM

for the many centuries when you couldn’t be confident that your water supply wouldn’t kill you, small beer was the thing to drink to quench your thirst, for adults and children alike. My grandfather was given small beer at his school for that reason in the 1880s.

Myth alert:

The idea that Medieval people drank beer or wine to avoid drinking bad water is so established that even some very serious scholars see no reason to document or defend it; they simply repeat it as a settled truth. In fact, if no one ever documents the idea, it is for a very simple reason: it’s not true.

(the American food history blogger Jim Chevallier disses what he calls The Great Medieval Water Myth.)

On the subject of Shakespeare and beer, as I may have mentioned here before, he was writing at a time when ale (still unhopped) and beer (the hopped drink brought over from the Continent) remained separate drinks. You could make small beer because the hops would preserve it, but “small ale” would soon turn sour. Beer was an urban drink, ale maintained its popularity in more rural districts – even in 1630 the pamphleteer John Grove wrote: “The City calls for Beer … But Ale, bonny Ale, like a lord of the soil, in the Country shall domineer” – and Shakespeare apparently kept a Warwickshire love for ale even after he moved to London, since in his plays every mention of beer is disparaging, and every mention of ale involves praise, from “blessing of your heart, you brew good ale” to “a quart of ale is a dish for a king”.

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Posted: 15 April 2017 05:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Fascinating! Thanks, as always, for your beery wisdom.

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Posted: 15 April 2017 07:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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"Near beer” was what I could legally drink in the army since I was under 21 for much of my duty. M-W notes its first use as 1909 but was popularized during prohibition since it met the legal percentage of alcohol (.5%)

I wonder about the meaning of “near” in this construction. “Nearly beer” perhaps?

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Posted: 15 April 2017 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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The OED also has near-absinthe from 1928. It groups these and other compounds that relate to nearly/not quite the named object.

In the case of near beer, I’m sure the rhyme has something to do with its coinage and staying power.

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Posted: 15 April 2017 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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But in the Middle Ages clean water was still relatively easy to come by, even in towns. The huge expansion of urbanisation caused by the Industrial Revolution wasn’t accompanied by an equivalent upgrade to urban infrastructure; so by the 18th century many town-dwellers’ only water supply was not merely not pure, but smelled and tasted outright bad. The obvious recourse was small beer (or, after 1784 in Britain, tea - before that the import duty on tea was so high that it was too costly for all but the prosperous).

People fairly soon noticed that drinking small beer or tea in preference to water seemed to protect against a variety of illnesses such as cholera, even though until Pasteur’s discoveries in the 1860s they didn’t know why. (Many people in the 19th century swore by their granny’s special herbal infusion for fending off the cholera, not realising that it was the infusing at boiling point rather than the herbs themselves that was crucial - though, interestingly, recent experiments show that black tea does actually inhibit the activity of the cholera vibrio to some extent.) And, as I said, even in the 1880s, a generation after Pasteur’s work, small beer was felt to be (and probably was) the safest drink to give to boys at a leading English public school.

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Posted: 15 April 2017 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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It’s quite common to anachronistically popularly ascribe later phenomenon to the Middle Ages. Most of the torture devices you see in museums aren’t medieval, but from the early modern era. Likewise the inquisition and oppression of the Church is largely a response to the Reformation, as were witch hunts. The Church’s opposition to science is likewise a later development, with the medieval church actively supporting inquiry into the workings of the natural world. (It would be equally anachronistic to label those inquiries science.) Galileo, after all, was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Not that punishment for heresy didn’t occur in the Middle Ages, but that it was rarer than in later periods.

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