Myths About the Middle Ages Debunked

Medieval drinkers. Elizabeth Chadwick

39. Medieval People Mostly Drank Water – But Still Preferred Beer and Wine

Although people in the Middle Ages did not avoid water per se, they preferred beer and wine. Assuming, of course, they could get and afford such alcoholic beverages. People did drink a whole lot of beer and ale and wine in those days, but it was not because their water was bad. Instead, they consumed those alcoholic beverages simply because they liked both their taste and effect. The authorities knew and catered to that preference, such as during public celebrations in London. For example, the return of Edward I from the Crusades and the coronation of Richard II saw London stop the flow of water in its pipes, and its replacement with wine for a day.

Wine was the drink of choice of the upper classes and those who could afford it. However, like the ancient Greeks and Romans before them, medieval Europeans did not drink their wine neat, but usually mixed it with water to dilute its power. For those who could not afford wine on a regular basis, beer and ale were plentiful and cheap. It should be noted, however, that beer and ale back then were far weaker than they are today. Also, considering the long days and hard labor medieval workers put in, whether in the fields or shops or other employment, beer and ale did more than just quench thirst. They also provided a significant intake of calories throughout the day to keep them going.