Why do we drink so much beer?
For some, the answer is simple; because every sip is a pleasure. Because beer is not only delicious (more often than not) but it also provides relief and refreshment at the end of a long day. In all honesty, it can do this at the beginning of a long day too.
An even simpler answer would be that the average adult human body is approximately 60% water and beer is in fact approximately 95% water… Therefore, drinking beer = winning, surely?
There’s more to it than that, though. At least, I think there is. Socially, culturally and historically… bear with me here…
Let’s start with pubs. I think one of the hardest parts of the COVID 19 restrictions has been the lack of social contact in day to day life and, being British, one of the community hubs I rely on the most is my local boozer. We are intensely social creatures – friendships help protect from internal struggles and external stresses – and sharing a pint or three in a pub with a friend has therefore played a key role in our evolutionary success.
It’s not just that alcohol helps us to lose our social inhibitions, and potentially become a little too friendly with any drinking chum… It’s also that alcohol literally stimulates endorphins in our brains which are key to building and maintaining friendships and ultimately allowing us to trust others. Drinking, seen in this light, is therefore a profoundly important activity.
It’s little wonder therefore to learn that alcohol consumption goes back thousands of years, with the first brewing of beer estimated to have occurred around 8,000 years ago in China. And all over the world alcohol has played a preeminent role in any feast – and feasts are all about celebrating friendship.
In the UK, beer has also served some other pretty handy purposes historically. I mentioned it’s 95% water, but it’s also full of good nutrients. So many in fact, that Monks used to survive Lent by living exclusively on beer. Beer is clean and sterile so it would often be used when drinkable water was not available. “Small beer” would often be served in workhouses and sometimes even in schools.
Finally, beer also carries some political importance in England. During the Victorian era, the brewing industry was second only to the cotton industry. The Liberal Democrats reckoned they lost the 1874 General Election after trying to curb pub opening hours. There was some temperance during the First World War and we came close to complete prohibition, but for the Bolshevik revolution in Russia being largely based on the banning of vodka. By the Second World War however, beer was never rationed and Winston Churchill personally mandated that every soldier on the front line receive 8 pints per week.
So, back to my original question… why do we drink so much beer? Very often the simplest answer is the right answer; because every sip is a pleasure and all our friends think so too. But I think we can also attribute the beauty of friendship to this. Without it, we wouldn’t have much.