Monday, December 11, 2006


I've recently been enjoying Jessica Warner's Craze: Gin and Debauchery in the Age of Reason (thank you, SC), but have found some of the data a bit underwhelming. It's in line with an earlier parcel of information I digested - that in the England of Shakespeare's day, people drank a completely staggering, I mean appalling, amount of beer - on average, some 250 glasses a year. Huh? Anyways, I will let the numbers speak for themselves, so here they are.

Warner chronicles the growth and decline in consumption of liquor in England as follows - these are the average numbers of gallons of liquor consumed annually per capita.

1700 - one third of a gallon
1720 - two thirds
1729 - 1.3
1743 - 2.2
1752 - 1.2
1757 - .6 at which point it stayed fairly stable for a while.

Meanwhile, she notes, the consumption of beer stayed at a fairly steady 30 gallons per capita per annum throughout this.

I won't deny that the growth of liquor consumption was enormous, but 2.2 gallons? Come one. One gallon is 8 pints. That means that at the peak of 2.2 gallons in 1743, people were drinking an average of 281.6 oz of liquor a year. Taking the conventional notion of one serving of liquor as being approximately 1.5 oz, that's just over 187.7 servings of liquor over the course of a year - just over one shot every other day. Of course, that's compounded by the fact that people were drinking 240 pints of "strong" beer every year.

Obviously, there are a lot of other things going on beyond these seemingly mundane figures - poorness of living conditions, the fact that the trouble-makers probably sat a couple of standard deviations above those mean consumption figures. I think that ignorance of basic principles of "liquor before beer" may have aggravated the situation somewhat.

Warner also points out that except for the extreme highs of the 1740s, these figures are on par with the consumption of liquor in the America of the 1970s and 1980s, and were "laughably low when compared to the amounts consumed by Americans in the early years of the Republic." (Go, team!)

Also, poor people used to be really short, etc. Still, this doesn't change the fact that I think I used to drink as much as twelve times as much as a "normal" British person of the 18th century.


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