Eight pints a day - Beer as good as bread in 16th century Ireland diet
Life & Style

Eight pints a day - Beer as good as bread in 16th century Ireland diet

IT was three square meals of beer a day for people in 16th century Ireland with as many as eight pints a day being the norm.

Beer was considered to be just as important as bread as a dietary staple with records showing one Dublin quarry allowed its workers more than a dozen pints a day.

A pint was considered a vital source of calories and nutrition for workers, according to the study of the early modern Irish diet.

Just one scoop could have had as many as 500 calories and packed a punch at up to 10 per cent alcohol.

In January 1565 stone masons working at a quarry in Clontarf were given an allowance of 14 pints of ale per day by the proctor of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.

Records from Dublin Castle also show that staff consumed 264,000 pints of beer in 1590 - an average of eight pints each per day, which was similar to what was typically consumed in England at the time.

The discovery was made by Dr Susan Flavin from Anglia Ruskin University in East Anglia after she looked at evidence from household accounts, soldiers’ rations and port books.

Dr Flavin, a lecturer in Early Modern History, found that ale and beer was consumed in incredible quantities because it was seen as a vital source of calories and nutrition.

“People mistakenly think that household beer in this period was a weak drink," she said. "It has been estimated, however, that most beer at this time would have had an alcohol strength of between seven per cent and 10 per cent, if they used similar quantities of yeast as they do today.

“In elite households ordinary beer was consumed by workers and strong beer reserved for the lord. On occasion however, when for example they had been working hard or had completed a task, the masons in Dublin demanded and were given the better quality brew.

"This was also sometimes mixed with the ordinary beer to improve taste.

Hopped beer grew in popularity during the 16th century and was first imported to Ireland in 1503.

Because barley proved difficult to grow in Ireland’s wet climate, recipes typically had a high oat content, which produced a bitter and thick, creamy beer.

Dr Flavin now hopes to recreate these ales and beers from the original recipes to examine their nutritional value.

She also revealed that women had a special role to play in the beer-making bonanza of 16th Century Ireland.

"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," she said.

“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.”