Friday, 29 July 2011

The destroying demon

NPOV. Or Neutral Point of View. Wikipedia nerds (trolls, vampires, whatever you choose to call them) are always harping on about NPOV. They should try looking at older encyclopedias. There are plenty of non-neutral standpoints.

The text below is a good example. A phrase like "disengage himself from the destroying demon of liquid fire" isn't particularly neutral. Sounds good, though. I'll try and drop it into a conversation. "I've been trying to disengage myself from the destroying demon of liquid fire. Not going too well, knocked back a bottle of Lagavullin over the weekend."

But I'm wandering from the path of relevance and collapsing into the bushes of incoherence. Must control my legs better.

The book is intended to tell a small farmer everything he needs to know about raising livestock, cultivating the land, that sort of stuff. Brewing, especially in an English context fits right in. Not quite as appropriate in Ireland because, as has already been stated, domestic brewing was never very big in Ireland. I'll leave the author to explain why.

"BREWING—The only feasible mode of counteracting the unhappily prevailing taste of our lower orders for ardent spirits, which engender more disease and pauperism and crime than all the direct inflictions of the Almighty put together, is by establishing the habit of domestic brewing; or to encourage public breweries to supply ale and beer of such quality as will gradually induce the consumer of spirits to disengage himself from the destroying demon of liquid fire, and attach himself in preference to the substantial compound of malt and hops—(how rarely combined at present in their due proportions, if at all!)—which, if used in moderation, is strengthening and refreshing. What is called beer, at the country breweries, is usually concocted from various villanous drugs, which the abused art of chemistry has rendered imposing substitutes for the true ingredients of that liquor. The legislature seem lamentably inattentive to the immense extent of moral mischief occasioned by the almost unrestricted use of ardent spirits, (these too are deleteriously drugged by unprincipled retailers,) else, at any temporary loss of revenue arising from a deficiency in the consumption of whiskey, gin, etc. they would charge almost a prohibitory tax upon these agents of the "foul fiend," which make the previously disposed sinner "two-fold more the child of hell" than he was before he submitted his reason to their influence, and encourage the manufacture of genuine malt liquors.

The expense of punishing and restraining those open crimes against the good of the state, and of relieving the misfortunes and indigence, which habitual indulgence in the use of intoxicating liquors occasions, is really more in amount than the income derived from the legalised permission to indulge in the free use of them.

While public spirit-houses are licensed for the merest trifle, and in almost unlimited numbers, by the voices of a too pliant magistracy, it is in vain to preach against intemperance, or to advocate effectually the case of Beer versus Whiskey and Co.; we must only hope for a better system of things, and in the mean time, proceed to give the best directions within our power for making real malt liquor—not that spurious mixture which brewers, (though sometimes without reason, inasmuch as neither malt nor hops are in its composition,) are politely disposed to term ale and beer.

Historians relate that the favourite beverage of the ancient Irish and Britons, from the most remote antiquity, was ale, (curmi,) made from barley and heather and other bitter herbs, until hops, which were introduced into England from the Netherlands in the reign of Henry the Eighth, became the substitute for these. Heather beer was a common drink in the British islands for a long time; and we believe that at this day heather and wormwood, when bitter drugs from the chemist or apothecary are not available, are more used in Ireland than hops. Nor was this kind of beer in the earlier ages confined to Great Britain and her western dependencies; the northern Europeans generally Indulged in heather beer; the Danes were well acquainted with the mode of manufacturing it, and it is said, in corroboration of this, that a mill and some brewing vessels, with a Danish manuscript on the art of brewing heather beer, were dug up some years ago in the county of Limerick.

There are, however, it must be fairly admitted, some admirable breweries in Ireland, on a scale of enterprise and with details of manufacture highly creditable to the proprietors; but these are generally limited to great cities, or districts not remote from them; the petty provincial brewers, with few exceptions, make very bad beer; and domestic brewing, though the excise laws have been at length rendered favourable to the practice, has not been renewed.

The facility of obtaining beer—though execrable in quality—from the public brewery, ignorance of the process of brewing, so long abandoned in Ireland, and a notion that it is very troublesome, prevent the farmer from making beer. He can have a gallon of whiskey without any trouble at all, and this too often becomes the companion of his solitary and leisure, as well of his festive hours."
"A cyclopædia of practical husbandry and rural affairs in general", by Martin Doyle, 1839, pages 64 - 66.
In England gin would have been given as the scourge of the drinking classes. Sorry, labouring classes. In Ireland it was whiskey. That sort of makes Ireland sound classier. His main point - that cheap spirits had discouraged brewing - is borne out by other sources. Though by the name this book was published, that was becoming less true. The brewing industry - especially in the large urban centres of Dublin and Cork - underwent a reveal in the early decades of the 19th century and Ireland's tradition of exporting beer began.

He isn't very kind about country beer. His claim that bitter herbs or drugs were more commonly used than hops is a bold one. And one it's difficult to check. I do have evidence that considerable quantities of hops were imported from England in the 18th century. So clearly someone was brewing with hops in Ireland.

I've mainly reproduced this text because of the reference to heather beer. I know heather had been used to flavour beer in parts iof the British Isles, but I'm surprised the practice still continued in the 19th century. If only because it was illegal for a commercial brewer. And, as has already been said, domestic brewing didn't really exist in Ireland.

Does that Danish manuscript describing how to brew heather beer still exist? What a fascinating document that must be.


mentaldental said...

"The only feasible mode of counteracting the unhappily prevailing taste of our lower orders for ardent spirits..."

That sounds pretty much like it could have come from the alcohol article on the BBC Breakfast show yesterday except you have to change "lower orders" for "teenagers". Oh and funny how an article about the increasing number of teenagers drinking no alcohol at all turned into one about teenage binge drinking. Doh.

Rod said...

Although his basic argument, that true temperance is the consumption of reasonable amounts of beer and the avoidance of spirits, is one that I largely agree with, I rather fear that Mr Doyle had mental health issues - "foul fiend," which make the previously disposed sinner "two-fold more the child of hell" than he was before he submitted his reason to their influence..." - Heavy!