Today, a light post, but still relevant to beer and brewing in the early 1700s, following my recent post on “Books of Secrets.”
Like all industries, beer and brewing are connected to both the industries that produce their raw materials, and spawn other industries as well. One of the more interesting industries that has been spawned by the beer business is the “beer book” business. Most homebrewers think of “beer books” as books on homebrewing–either style guides and recipes or technical manuals. Some beer history buffs will also think of books on beer history, of which a few great ones exist out there.
The former has been around for ages: indeed, the Hymn to Ninkasi (supposedly the oldest surviving written text in the world) is in part a beer recipe. The latter, to me, seems a bit newer, which is why beer historians have so much excavating to do these days for periods like the early 1700s, when people didn’t write so much beer history, because beer just sort of was a ubiquitous foodstuff that had always been around.
But what I’m thinking about is Beer Guides: books like LambicLand: A Journey Round the Most Unusual Beers in the World by Tim Webb, Siobhan McGinn, and Chris Pollard, or The Beer Lover’s Guide to the USA: Brewpubs, Taverns, and Good Beer Bars by Stan Hieronymous and Daria Labinsky. I mean, the kind of book that tells you where to go to get what kind of beer, and what to expect when you get there.
In the early 1700s, of course, there were absolutely such beer guides, but they were a rather different beast from what we expect today. Two famous ones were titled A Vade Mecum for Malt-Worms, or, A Guide To Good Fellows (1716?) and A Guide for Malt-Worms (1720?). These were anonymous guides to the public houses of various areas of London, specifically what kinds of beers they served, and what kind of people frequented them.
Malt-Worms was a slang term for beer-drinkers, apparently originating in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. I suppose the modern (American?) equivalent would be “hop-heads,” or “craft beer geeks”? I’m not sure what the slang in other places would be.
Anyway, these books aren’t much like what you’d expect today: they were illustrated, for one thing–at least, the later reprint from the 1860s was, with images that suited each poem at the top of the page–and they were written in rhyming verse!