Because its 4 on a Friday and You are Over Work: Cool Things in Beer History

*Originally written by Paul Baker who quit

Ok. Cool thing about beer and history time. Everyone think about a witch in your head.

Did it look something like this:

Something like my incredibly crude MS Paint version of a Halloween witch? [Sorry Wiccans and Pagans. I’ll get to the point soon.] Ok, so we have pointy hat, cauldron, broom looking job and a cat. Right? Still with me? Good.

So through some very basic research and some pretty basic putting 2 and 2 together I discovered something pretty cool, at least to me. The conception of a witch we have today, with the hat and all, seems to be derived from early European brewers who were, predominantly, women.

So lets go through the main cliche elements of the witch and compare that to brewing:

1) Big Pointy Hat: So overall, with few exceptions, during medieval times and through the Renaissance in Europe, towns were pretty few and far between; with infrequent opportunities to buy and sell goods from other areas. So market days in Europe were a huge deal, like giant festival kind of deals. Buy wheat and sell your turnips, see the juggler, throw something at the guy in the stocks, maybe you’d see a hanging. All kinds of entertainment for the whole family. And brewers, in this case known as ale-wives, would be out to sell ale to the masses. And since there were so many people at a market, the ale-wives would wear large, often colorful, hats that would stick up above the crowd so you could see where beer was being sold. Like that weird guy at a rock concert with a huge hat. You can always see that guy no matter where you are. So there we go. Pointy hat.

2) Cat: Beer is made from Grain. Rats eat grain. Cats eat rats. Medieval breweries ie. houses, didn’t have fancy things like traps or doors or glass in the windows. Therefore. Probably didn’t hurt to have a few cats around to cut down on the rat crap going into your beer. I’ve said it many a time and I’ll say it again, what a fantastic age we live in, with our sanitation and doors and lack of rats in beer.

3)Broom Looking Thing: Before the days of advertising and when most ale was sold from private homes, brewers used an “ale-stake” to announce to the public, and to the taxman, that ale was available for drinking. This was a bunch of barley stalks tied to a tall stick and put outside the door. Looked like a lot like a broom. Still with me guys and gals?

4) Cauldron: My favorite part. Hops in beer is a relatively recent addition to beer. In England for example hops were not imported until 1400CE and not used in beer there until 1519CE; being considered a “wicked and pernicious weed” enjoyed by foreigners who didn’t enjoy wholesome British Ale. Prior to the addition of hops, a mix of herbs was used to flavor ale. These herbs were known as “gruit” and included things like heather, mugwort, sweet gale, etc. Really whatever grew on the ground that wasn’t immediately poisonous. Most of these things sound like something that you’d hear a witch in a fairy tale putting into her brew.[ Authors Note: Some of those herbs can cause hallucinations, sweating and can “put the fight in ya.” Therefore I will not be making “authentic” ale anytime soon at Iron Horse Brewery. Sorry.]

So there you go. Laying a bit of history down on you. Hope you enjoyed.

Cheers.

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