The army that Henry VIII led into northern France in 1544 was entitled to eight pints of beer per man a day, a ration that has led historians to assume that the drink must have been weak.
That idea has been challenged by researchers who recreated a typical Tudor brew and found that it was five per cent alcohol, making it as potent as today’s premium lagers.
“I think the basic insight is that many people during this period probably were inebriated a lot of the time,” said Dr Susan Flavin, who led the study, of Trinity College Dublin.
The terms Ale and Beer were used interchangeably by the Tudors and both were pillars of 16th-century life, regarded as fuel for work at least as much as they were seen as social lubricants.
Previous studies have suggested that men in rural households drank around four pints of beer a day, and there are records of skilled stonemasons employed by the Church getting as many as 15 pints a day as part of their pay
Understanding the strength of what they were drinking “sheds light not just on issues of health and stamina, but also on governance, sociability and morality”, Flavin and her colleagues wrote in Understanding Early Modern Beer in The Historical Journal.
Over the course of three years they reconstructed a Tudor brewhouse, trawling archives to learn how beer was made and hunting down varieties of hops, oats and barley as closely related as possible to those used in the 16th century.
The aim was to produce the most accurate recreation yet of an “ordinary beer” from the period — the type most widely drunk, ranking between “strong beer” and “small beer” in terms of potency.
A recipe was found in the household accounts of Dublin Castle, a former centre of English rule in Ireland — where skilled workmen got as many as 12 pints a day. The researchers used “bere barley” that was probably introduced to Britain by the Vikings and hops closely related to the Flemish variety Red Bine, believed to have been brought to England from Flanders at the end of the 15th century.
So, there you have it! The Tudors may have lived a long time ago, but it looks like they knew how to brew up a good time. Next time you raise a pint, remember the rich history behind this beloved beverage and please do not drink like the Tudors! If you would like to know more about beer tasting and its history book a beer tasting with Tasting Experiences.