Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What makes St. Patrick's Day Specail?

This Wednesday, March 17th is a special day. It is St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish holiday which traveled to the U.S. probably with the Irish immigrants at the end of the 19th Century.

There are two larger questions regarding this holiday. The first was who is St. Patrick? According to the historychannel.com, St. Patrick was originally British, and came to Ireland after the fall of the Roman Empire when the Irish began raiding Britain for slaves. He was enslaved in Ireland for 10 years before he finally escaped to the continent, where be became a priest. He returned to Ireland and successfully converted the entire country from a pagan society to a Catholic one. Thus, the story about St. Patrick banishing all the snakes from Ireland is half true. A snake in Christianity is someone who deals with the devil, someone who does not believe in the same religion, someone like, oh I don’t know… a pagan perhaps.

The other question to ask at this point is the one posed on my subject title for this week: what makes St. Patrick’s Day special? The answer is pretty obvious (at least for me, a college student)… it is a massive party. And what makes this party so much fun? Mass amounts of drinking of course.

Today, I’m going to do something a little different. In conjunction with the holiday, I am going to blog about a commodity, a good in today’s society. A certain beverage that has been in our society for ages. This beverage is one many know, and love… beer.

I think every person has his or her preferred beer, I like mine dark. But what I don’t think a lot of people know is the history of beer, which is a really long one. I found a really wonderful article giving some background information in early history about beer and how it was consumed around the world. I only have the space to summarize it, but it really is fascinating, so if you have the time, click the link to check it out.

Fermented beverages (yes that includes beer) have been consumed for centuries. Some have even been made out of rice as well as grains. These fermented drinks played an important role in the early religious life in China; they believed the Gods prescribed the use of alcohol in moderation. These drinks were used throughout society for hospitality. Fermented drinks made of grapes (i.e. wine) were not as well known in the east.

In South America “chicha” is the term that referred to native beer, which contained a slight amount of alcohol. Maize was usually used to create this beer, although other materials could be used, like potatoes (which originated in South America, not Ireland).

In fact, only the Aborigines people of Australia and the Eskimos lived without consuming alcohol in their diet!

It was in Mesopotamia where beer was born, because it was there where barley could be grown. In addition to the other grains which were grown in the area, the Mesopotamians were able to produce a wide variety of beers, although they were not strong by today’s standards. These beers were also drank with straws so the drinker did not consume the sediment left at the bottom of the glass (gross mental image). Beer was a popular drink in Ancient Egypt, enjoyed by all classes of society.

Wine has always been the preferred beverage of the wealthy, and it seems the only claim the drink had was its stronger alcohol content than beer. Wine was also consumed widely through the ancient Middle East. This eventually spread to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who preferred wine over beer. Beer was consumed in the Roman Empire, especially along the boarder areas. This makes sense: the tribes around the Roman Empire preferred beer, especially the Celts in Britain, France and Germany. It was at high Celt festivals where mead was preferred to beer. It is also believed it was the people of Celtic origin who kept the practice of brewing beer alive all through Europe.

Now, to the Middle Ages. Again, if anyone is interested, I found several references to a book titled: Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance by Richard Unger. So, want to do a little light reading about beer in the Middle Ages, check out the book.

I have learned in a previous class (Medieval England) that brewing was predominantly a woman’s job. During this time period, sanitation was not existent, so beer was the safer bet than the water supply was. For this reason, mead, or beer was the better choice, and almost every family produced their own supply of beer. This caused many Kings, including one King of England to create an Assize of Ale. This meant that if you did not follow a precise recipe to produce your beer, you would be taxed. The catch, this recipe created a very weak beer. People did not follow the Assize, and when they were caught they were taxed.

However ale is not the same as beer, since it consists of malt, water and yeast. At the start of the 15th Century beer came into existence when the recipe was important to England from Flanders. Hops was added to the mixture, making the beer bitter. Beer was readily available to every person, from the queen and her court, to the common person. It was even common at the work place, again because the water supply was still unsafe and unfit for consumption comparatively.

Americans were introduced to beer through our European roots, and it has taken off today. There is a long history of beer in America, but today beer serves a different purpose than during the Middle Ages. Water is safe to drink, and beer is not just of religious rituals anymore. However, it does serve as a good beverage to celebrate just about anything, a holiday, a good test grade, or making it through a hard day. Today, beer is just as important as it was in the past, and it has survived the test of time. So next time you grab a beer realize it has an interesting history, and thousands of years have gone into producing that beer you are about to enjoy.

Feel free to post on my blog, your favorite beers, or maybe what you use it to celebrate, or any other feedback you want me to know. I’m open to just about everything. I think I’ll celebrate this blog by grabbing myself a beer. Until next week, as always, happy history!

No comments:

Post a Comment