Jonathan Salem Baskin

Baby Beer

Today, your kids don’t need a beer.

In 1273, when it was time to serve breakfast to Prince Henry, King Edward I of England’s oldest child, it included a cup of ale (the kid was six). He’d likely go on to drink a quart or two of ale or beer during the day, every day, as did the kids of most medieval families, whether the brews were purchased or, more commonly, concocted at home. It made sense, actually. Not only were these beverages loaded with carbohydrates for an otherwise chronically malnourished populace, but they were far less dangerous than drinking water (which often brought with it the potentially fatal risk of dysentery or cholera) or cow’s milk (which went “bad” in a matter of hours and became undrinkable, and wasn’t all that easy to come by anyway).

Alcoholic drinks still went bad, too, which inspired Louis Pasteur to investigate why. He concluded that the little specks and “worms” in and on most everything that scientists had observed through their microscopes for hundreds of years were the cause. He became a staunch advocate of the “germ theory” of disease (in contrast to the prevailing wisdom that bacteria could spontaneously generate out of thin air), and postulated that boiling a beaker of beer or wine could kill the progenitors of any future disease colony. He completed his first test on this day in 1862, and his successful process of pasteurization paved the way for safer water, sterile milk, tasteless beer, and future generation of children’s nurseries no longer resembling keggers.

But it begs the question of how much of history before then, as well as that of any individual experience, was attributable to being drunk?