Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, October 20, 2008

Medieval Beverages - Tasty!!!

You’re just popped that can of your favorite soft drink and think to yourself, “Man, how did they not have soda in the middle ages?”

Well, they didn’t have Kool-aid, Gatorade, Earl Grey, Brita, or Starbuck’s either. Not even plain old coffee…How in the world did they survive?

Here’s what they did have:

Water – if water was boiled it could be purified, but people rarely drank it and when they did it wasn’t always boiled first. Water had too much bacteria in it. You know what went into the water? Shudder. Water ways were treated as a sewage of sorts. Excrement, trash, carcasses…

Ale – was made from grains and very thick. Think beer but not strained enough. Often they would drink watered down ale.

Wine – the poor had no wine, the middle class had watered down wine, and those with money generally had the good stuff.

Caudell – was wine or ale that was beaten with raw eggs to make a frothy beverage. I wonder if the guys who were trying to pump up their muscles devoured this drink often?
Cider – made from apples, but I wouldn’t serve it to your children today. It was usually mixed with mead or some other alcoholic beverage.

Mead – is an alcoholic beverage made from honey and grains. It was often flavored with hops to give it that bitter beer flavor. (There is a winery near my house that makes Medieval Mead. I’ve never tasted it, but now I think I have to!)

Milk – was for children only. Adults didn’t drink it. A milk-cow was considered a prized possession. Especially if the family was starving and the mother couldn’t nurse her baby. Those cows saved a lot of babies from starvation. Milk was also provided by goats.

Perry or Poire – pear juice…but again, don’t give it to the kiddies. It’s fermented, and similar to the cider.

Spiced wine – also known as Clarey or Claret. It was wine spiced with cinnamon or honey, and other spices.

Distillates – these are alcoholic beverages made from grains, and very strong. Think of liquor. (Whiskey was made quite a bit in Scotland)

Murrey – blackberry wine

Prunelle – juice of wild plums and berries, fermented into a wine or liqueur

Melomel – this is mead that contains fruit, like berries.

Methegin – was a type of mead made with spices.

Hippocras – mix of wine and spices

By the way, in medieval times it was okay to drink alcohol with breakfast. Do you think I could get away with it, if I said I was doing it for research?

Snap. Snap.

"Oh, wine boy! Fill 'er up my lad."


Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I so enjoy the interesting tidbits you post. Thanks.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you Gwynlyn!

Joanna Waugh said...

Wonderful article, Eliza. I saw a program on the history channel that said the reason we drink so much beer is because of the Little Ice Age. The cold killed off European and English grape vines (yes they grew grapes in England!) and folks turned to grain-based beverages.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I am surprised civilization survived all that alcohol. Guess they had to have strong constitutions to live in those days or maybe it's why they didn't live long lives. How interesting to hear about their drinks. When we were in Scotland I did taste some of their whisky and shocked my husband. I don't drink very much very often - my nose turns red and so do my cheeks. It's a dead giveaway that I have had some alcohol. But, for some reason, the whisky there went down smooth and I didn't seem to have a problem walking a mile back to the B&B after drinking my shot and his. :) Must be my Scottish genes soaking it in....

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Wonderful post yet again Eliza. I love English cider. I once took a tour of a winery in Britain, and ended up buying not the wine but the cider and a bottle of mead!

Kris Kennedy said...

Another fun article, Eliza!

Eliza Knight said...

Joanna thanks for the comment! I wish I had seen that show, I'll have to look for it again. I did hear that although they made their own wine, they preferred French even back then :)

Thanks Paisley! Me too! That is hilarious. When I went to Ireland I had no problem downing the Guiness even though I typically hate dark beer. Thanks for sharing your story!

Thanks for your comment Elizabeth! I will have to go to the winery and buy some mead now. I've wanted to try it for awhile! I love cider...

Thanks Kris!

Heather Carroll said...

After having my first taste of mead this March I think I would have been a very happy medieval chick if I was able to drink it regularly! I would highly suggest checking out that local mead brewer, yum!

Delilah Marvelle said...

Seeing I was offloop for a bit of time, I was missing on all your wonderful new posts!!! Absolutely loved this, especially from a culinary perspective (me having gone to culinary school). Awesome post as always! Cheers to ale at breakfast! LOL

Anonymous said...

Most of the drinks were alcoholic, but I know in the 18th century there was small ale which was watered down ale that was only 2 or 3 percent alcohol that was very common for the kids to drink, also, beer was not nearly as strong as it is today, today people want to get drunk off a beer. Just look at Hogarth s beer ally and gin lane. I know this is later in history, but I don't think the drinks were as strong in the middle ages as they are now.
It was nice to see a list of all the drinks, I would also love to see what food was available then too.

Bearded Lady said...

great post! I think if I lived in Medieval times I might have been one of those brave souls to drink the water instead. A friend brought me back some mead from a Renaissance Fair and I have to say that it tasted a little like battery acid. (or at least what I imagine battery acid tasting like). It must be an acquired taste.

What I have always wondered about was pregnant women - how the heck did all that alcohol not hurt the babies? Or maybe it did?

Renee Knowles said...

Wonderful post, Eliza! I always love your great information :)


Linda Banche said...

I love the information you post in this blog.

Shannon said...

Great post Eliza!! I have to say, I certainly know where to go when I need the facts - you are brilliant! Thanks for sharing with us!

Nicole North said...

Very cool info, Eliza!! I always enjoy your posts!!

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you all for your comments! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Drink up! ;)

Anonymous said...

thanks i am writing a fictional story that takes place during the very earliest midevil times and needed to know alchohol info for a bar chapter.

bettyx1138 said...

hi - i found this post when i was googling "routine alcohol consumption in medieval anglo saxon social evolution" -- see my blog post here:

if anyone knows of any academic research on this subject, pls let me know. i have no idea why i am perplexed by this subject.

:) ./b

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks 4 the great info Eliza! We have this Medieval Day coming up and desperately needed some beverage ideas 4 the day! thanks again!