Immoderate Quaffing: Binge-drinking an age-old problem
"He who drinks beer sleeps well. He who sleeps well cannot sin. He who does not sin goes to heaven. Amen."
Unknown monk (Bless 'im!)
The opening of the new Museum of London Medieval Gallery is set to coincide with new UK laws ushering in 24-hour drinking which come into effect on November 24. And the jolly museum curators are flagging it by pointing out that binge-drinking is an age-old problem – and we British are specialists!
Looking back only 700 years, London had over 1,300 alehouses - one for every 50 people living in the city - but only 108 parish churches. John Clark, curator of the Medieval London gallery, said: "Most people, including children, drank ale made from malted barley without hops.
"They even drank ale for breakfast, and got through up to a gallon, or four-and-a-half litres, a day each.
"At a price of a penny per gallon, only the poorest had to make do with water."
Historically, we know that the Mesopotamians made beer, and that the art spread, possibly through Armenia and Georgia, to Central Europe. Because there are linguistic links between the Hungarians, Estonians and Finns, we know that tribes from Central Europe spread to the far North of the continent and crossed the English channel to the island of Britain.
Beer drinking has been such an integral part of our culture for so long that it seems that we can’t get enough of the stuff, and as a people we have developed a marked tolerance for alcohol. We have evolved the genetic predisposition to generate the enzymes that process alcohol.
The Portman Group confirms that for some years now, it has been known that many Asians have a characteristic variant of the ADH gene, which seems to be responsible for their comparative aversion to alcohol. In turn, this means that they are less likely to become heavy drinkers or alcoholics. It is also the reason that your Japanese colleague may get very pink in the face and legless on a half pint of bitter shandy.
The genetic disparity between East and West came about for the simplest of reasons. The water wasn’t safe to drink.
The Asian solution? Add leaves and boil it. Thus producing tea.
The European solution? Add barley and ferment it. Thus producing beer.
So our culture of 24-hour drinking and bingeing on alcohol may not be exactly unique to modern society in the UK today.
Cross posted to Blogcritics.
If you want a good book on Beer - try Michael Jackson's (no not that Michael Jackson!) Beer Companion: The World's Great Beer Styles, Gastronomy, and Traditions. Buy it from Amazon by clicking on the link and I might even get a beer out of it!