A study has revealed that Irish workers were granted a daily allowance of 14 pints of beer in the 16th century.
Beer was considered a vital part of a worker’s diet at the time and was even considered as important as bread.
The study, conducted by Dr Susan Flavin at Anglia Ruskin University, included evidence from household accounts, soldiers’ rations and port books from the 1500s.
Dr Flavin, who is a Lecturer in Early Modern History found that ale and beer were so popular because they were seen as a vital source of calories and nutrition.
A stone mason in a quarry in Clontarf, Dublin, in 1565 would have an allowance of 14 pints of ale per day. The allowance was granted by the proctor of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.
Documents also show that the household staff in Dublin castle consumed 264,000 pints of beer in 1590. This worked out to around eight pints each per day – a similar amount to their English equivalents at the time.
Dr Flavin has studied records and contemporary accounts and calculated that beer in the 16th century had far more calories than the beer we drink today.
In the 1500s, it would be common for a pint of beer or ale to have 400-500 calories. A modern pint of bitter contains 180-200 calories.
Irish beers would have had a high oat content, as it was difficult to grow barley because of the wet climate.
Dr Flavin said: “People mistakenly think that ‘household’ beer in this period was a weak drink. It has been estimated, however, that most beer at this time would have had an alcohol strength of between 7% and 10%, if they used similar quantities of yeast as they do today.”
Women were involved with brewing beer at the time, and would also often drink with the men – and bring their children along. Sometimes they would drink without the men.
Dr Flavin said: “The proctor of Christ Church Cathedral, Peter Lewis, would buy commercially-produced beer when his own beer ran out or wasn’t up to scratch, and his supplier of ‘good ale’ was always a woman called Meg Hogg.
“Domestic brewing was seen as the role of the housewife, and there are also records of women and children joining labourers to drink together at the end of the working day.
“At Dublin Castle there are even records of ‘drinkings’ which took place in the main entertaining area of the castle and were ladies-only events.”
The next step for Dr Flavin is to recreate the ales and beers from 16th Century Ireland from the original recipes.
She intends to examine the nutritional value of the drinks and says the high oat content would have produced a bitter and thick, creamy pint.
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