Northern European monasteries were the first ones brewing beer, unlike their peers from the south.
Medieval European monks, authentic brewing masters who would make any contemporary home brewer jealous, once had the monopoly on the manufacture, distribution and selling of beer. As the popular drink became an excellent source of funding for religious communities, soon enough it would fall under the control of secular businessmen, and the nobility. Here, following the article published by the Catalan website Sapiens.Cat, we present three things you might not have known about monastic beers.
- Beer was once brewed for supporting monasteries (and still is!)
Trappist abbeys, which are supposed be self-sufficient and must ensure shelter for pilgrims, are considered the original, expert brew masters. Some monasteries in Northern Europe began to brew beer for their own consumption as early as the 8th century. However, at the beginning of the 13th century, beer had already ceased to be a cheap meal for both monks and poor people, becoming both an art and a profitable source of income.
- Beer was a cheaper, healthier alternative to water and milk
For a long time, beer was part of the daily diet of both children and adults, just like cabbage, onion and bread. It was cheap and healthier than water and milk, which were often polluted, contaminated and, thus, were seen as potential means for the transmission of infectious diseases. Unlike milk and water, the process of “cooking” beer would eliminate bacteria. It was the only alternative monks and poor people had then, since wine was too expensive to produce in northern European countries (that would not be the case in the Mediterranean, for obvious reasons) and tea, coffee and chocolate were not introduced until much later.
- Beer was once an indispensable drink in orphanages
Lighter beers (with only 3 percent alcoholic content) were produced back in the day to feed children in monastic orphanages. They would be provided with a pint a day, mostly made out of oatmeal or other heavy cereals, in order to feed kids properly while keeping their room and board costs at a reasonable level. Also, beer was discovered to prevent and heal certain infantile illnesses, such as tuberculosis, because of its light antibiotic properties.