Beer and St. Patrick’s Day

This week everybody in Ireland is getting ready to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. Subconsciously, for all of us, we associate Saint Patrick’s Day with huge parades and celebrations. We also associate Saint Patrick’s Day with beer and alcohol! Beer is a very important aspect of European culture. Its consumption is one of our oldest habits and its production is one of our oldest and most traditional industries. Indeed archaeological evidence demonstrates that humans dating from the earliest times brewed and drank their own types of beer. Archaeologists have discovered what they believe are written recipes for making beer on the walls of the caves that these people occupied. Rosemary was one of the ingredients used by the cavemen in their beer – proof that they had a fondness for bitter beer then as now! There is evidence of beer drinking in Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome too. Wine was the most popular drink for both of these civilisations, but there is evidence that they drank beer too. The famous Roman Emperor Caesar was probably a big fan of beer. His soldiers certainly were sustained by the beer in their battles with the Barbarian armies! The Celts brought beer to eastern Europe. The places that are now famous primarily for their beers – Czech, Bavaria, and Belgium, were introduced to beer by the Celts. The first ‘beer boom’ – when the production of beer reached a critical mass – came in the Middle Ages when Christian monks began to produce beer in their monasteries. The Christian monks discovered yeast and started to ferment beer in the cold basements of their monasteries. This kept the beer fresher for longer. Interestingly in the Middle Ages people were permitted to drink beer during lent. Beer was considered to be medicinally important in the Middle Ages. It was seen as something that gave great strength to people and as a result it was not culturally usual to give up beer for lent. The monks produced a lot of beer in this period and European monasteries quickly became major breweries at that time in history. The most productive monasteries were Irish! Of course Saint Patrick is the patron Saint of Ireland and is seen as the father of the Irish Christian Church. Irish people began to drink a lot of beer at that time and it was thought that people who drank it were healthier than those who didn’t. In the world today we have a lot of different kinds of beer. The most important part of beer production is fermentation. Beer can be fermented in various different ways. We have top-fermented beers, bottom fermented beers, and spontaneously fermented beers. Top fermented beers include popular ales – for example, pale ale, mild ale, bitter ale, brown ale, porter, and stout are all top-fermented beers. Bottom fermented beers include pilzner, lager, and ice lager.  A lot of famous people in history were famous because of their fondness for – and interest in – beer! William Shakespeare’s father was a professional taster of British ale. He controlled the production of beer in Stratford in Avon, England. Elizabeth I, Queen of England, was very partial to very strong ale! And William II, Kaiser of Germany during World War I, said of ale, ‘bring me a woman who really loves beer, and I’ll conquer the whole world!’ The oldest brewery in the world stands close to the centre of the German town Monachium. Monachium is close to the city of Freising, which is north of Munich in the district of Bavaria. Beer has been brewed there since 1040. There, also, is a bar counter that is believed to be the longest in the world. It is 123 metres long. On some evenings when it is busy up to 20 people work as bar staff behind this bar.  The Czechs are the best beer drinkers in the world! Each year the average Czech person drinks 157 litres of beer. The Irish are the second best beer drinkers in the world – the Irish drink 130 litres every year. For sure on Monday we will all drink a few beers. I don’t know what the record number of beers one person can drink in one sitting is. I just hope that this record won’t be broken in Roscommon this Monday on Saint Patrick’s Day! Be careful on Saint Patrick’s Day and, remember, on Tuesday we will all have to go to work!!