Beer: Yesteryear's Energy Drink

By | May 6, 2019

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Carnival: 'The King Drinks' David Teniers the Younger. Source: (

Nowadays, if you saw a child, say under the age of five, chugging down a beer at a restaurant not only might you feel disturbed, but you may call the police or child protective services.

Curiously, for most of history, it was commonplace for people of all ages to imbibe large quantities of beer. For example, in 1558 at Stockholm Castle one researcher calculated that each person drank over a gallon daily. In feudal England, a peasant may have consumed about one gallon of ale per day. When Europeans first colonized North America, the Arbella brought 10,000 gallons of English beer to the colonies. One colonial promoter noted that while the waters of the New World were the best in the world, “I dare not prefer it before a good Beere.” Royal Navy sailors were rationed two gallons of beer per day.

Was everybody in the past just sloshed all the time? The answer is no.

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This is an illustration from the book "Songs, naval and national" by Thomas Dibdin, published in London, England in 1841. Source: (

 The beer of choice from antiquity to the present is what is called small beer. Small beer is a watered-down version of the more potent stuff made with the leftover mash from brewing stronger beer or simply beer that was diluted with water. It typically has an alcohol by volume of less than 1%. In comparison, Budweiser is 4.2% and Guinness is 4.27%. Small beer could be compared to O’Douls non-alcoholic beer, which has trace amounts of alcohol at .5%.

So why were people drinking all this beer if not for the buzz?