hist-brewing: boiling

Henry Davis henry at henry-davis.com
Tue Jul 2 20:38:05 PDT 2002

At 07:32 PM 7/2/02 -0500, jpbrew wrote:
>I did some research a few years ago when I first started brewing beer. 
>Much of the literature noted great care for the brewers to get the best 
>water available, making sure that the tanners, butchers, etc., were 
>located down stream. Also, with the wide spread of various diseases in 
>medieval Europe, it seemed that folks preferred to drink something that 
>had been previously boiled (and if it was boiled, then why not beer). 
>Besides removing bits of wax and pollen from the honey, could it also be 
>possible that the mead was boiled to make sure that the water  was free of 
>any possible disease?

I'd be real interested in pre 16th century sources for preferring boiled 
water to the "spring," "conduit," "well," and other water sources 
referenced in that period.

The concept of disease caused by micro-organisms post dates the 16th 
century, so I don't find it probable that they considered boiled water 
intrinsically better than plain water. There are adequate references to 
distilled water (also called aqua vitae) being a purified substance, but 
there is no record that I've found to indicate that there was any 
preference for consuming boiled or distilled water apart from its use in 

It's useful to remember that medieval field workers expended a large number 
of calories (estimated at 6,000 calories or more per day by Richard W. 
Unger PhD). Unger's thesis is that the small beer supplied both liquid and 
calories at a level that the workers could not become intoxicated. My 
estimation is that small beer has about 60 calories per pint, or close to 
500 calories per gallon. (Besides, it tastes pretty good ;>)


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