How many times have we heard that people in medieval Europe drank so much beer and wine because water was unsafe to drink? That trope has been repeated for generations in schools, and it’s just not true. It may be a convenient myth to explain away historic alcohol consumption and discourage young people from alcohol use. Most likely, that convenient myth just keeps getting repeated because that’s easier than researching the question. Jim Chevallier offers plenty of evidence that medieval folks drank water alright, as long as it didn’t appear nasty. And they drank plenty of alcoholic beverages for their own reasons.
There is no specific reason then to believe that people of the time drank proportionately less water than we do today; rather, since water was not typically sold, transported, taxed, etc., there simply would have been no reason to record its use. Did people in the time prefer alcoholic drinks? Probably, and for the same reason most people today drink liquids other than water: variety and flavor. A young man in a tenth century Saxon colloquy is asked what he drinks and answers: “Beer if I have it or water if I have no beer.” This is a clear expression of both being comfortable with water and preferring beer.
That also brings up the question of why alcohol consumption is demonized more in modern times. My theory is that because of industrialization (factory and farm machinery) and modern transportation (fast cars), overindulging is just more dangerous now than it was throughout most of history. Even our Founding Fathers drank us under the table, but they could depend on a sober horse to take them home. Read all about medieval water consumption at Les Leftovers. -via Metafilter
(Image credit: Urek Meniashvili)