From about 1400 to about 1600
The Renaissance (“rebirth” or “revival”) refers to the period from about 1300 to about 1600, during which time there was a revival of knowledge, art, archtitecture and science. It began in Italy and spread throughout the rest of Europe in an uneven pace and manner.
Note: This timeline presents events in the history of alcohol and drinking during the Renaissance, about 1400 to about 1600, in chronological order. When events are listed as having occurred within a period of time, such as sixteenth century, they are listed before more specifically dated events, such as 1520s, which is listed before the more specific date of 1522.
- “Christian Europe emerged from the Dark Ages as a heavy-drinking culture. Alcohol had the reputation of a saint. No medical prescription was complete without it, nor, indeed, was any meal. Mothers brewed ale for their children; alchemists used spirits in their search for the secrets of how to turn other substances into gold; priests held wine aloft in chalices and declared it to be the blood of Christ; and drunkenness, especially during the barbarian festivals that had been adopted by Mother Church, was regarded as a natural, indeed blameless, condition.”1
- “From the 1400s to the 1800s, wine remained one of the staffs of life for Spaniards, together with olive oil and bread. Wine was also used for cooking, to preserve food, as a medicine mixed with herbal remedies, and often as a substitute for unsafe water.”2
- England dominated the wine trade.3
- “The Spanish found not one but a multitude of drinking cultures in their American possessions. These were concentrated in Middle or Mesoamerica, between Mexico and Panama, and were as diverse among themselves as they were different from Spanish custon. Mesoamerican civilizations were perhaps the most ingenious in history in identifying potential sources of alcohol. They fermented cacti and their fruits, maize and its stalks, the sap of a good two-dozen species of agave, honey, sasparilla, the seed pods of the mesquite tree, hog plums, and the fruit and bark of various other trees. The ubitiquity of alcohol was remarked upon by the conquitadores, who observed that in their new domains ‘up to now no tribe has been found which is content to drink only water.’”4
- On his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus transplanted sugar cane from the Canary Islands at St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, laying the foundation for what would become a profitable rum industry.5
- “Whereas many of the native types of alcoholic drink fell out of use after the Spanish conquest, one in particular remained common and grew in popularity. This was pulquey, the fermented juice of the maguey....”6
- Commercial breweries were established in Switzerland.7
- “The Aztecs appear to have had the strictest drinking laws in history outside Islam.”8
- French cities provided free wine on Catholic feast days and during celebrations.9
- “As early as the middle of the fifteenth century some attempts were made to bring about ‘Sunday closing’” in England. This included not only alcoholic beverages but also other sales as well.10
- As the end of the century approached, drinking brandy recreationally rather than medicinally increased, especially in Germany11 and commercial production and sale began to appear.12
“The Dutch were probably the earliest to to distill drinks other than wine, when they made the first gins from juniper.” “The first mention of a still in Sweden, where the first grain alcohol was made from beer, dates from 1469.”13
The use of alcohol in Nigeria almost certainly began long before Europeans arrived. “Palm wine and home-brewed beer from grainswere the indignous alcoholic beverages of importance.”14
Munich passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of any ingredients other than barley, hops and water in brewing.15
Germany’s first brewing guild, was founded.16
Emperor Frederick III of the Holy Roman Empire ordered that drunkenness be severely punished.17
The Navigation Act of 1490 in England stimulated wine imports from Bordeaux.18
The Scottish Parliament prohibited any adulteration of beer or wine on punishment of death.19
By 1493, the “berebrewers” of London were sufficiently numerous to found their own mystery, or guild, and by the time of the Reformation it was as common in metropolitan pubs as ale.”20
France recommended that no ingredients other than grain (the type not specified), hops and water be used in brewing.21
As Magellan prepared to sail around the world in 1519, he spent more money on Sherry than on weapons.22
- Protestant leaders such as Martin Luther (1483-1564), John Calvin (1509-1564), the leaders of the Anglican Church and even the Puritans did not differ substantially from the teachings of the Catholic Church: alcohol was a gift of God and created to be used in moderation for pleasure, enjoyment and health; drunkenness was viewed as a sin.23
- From this period through at least the beginning of the eighteenth century, attitudes toward drinking were characterized by a continued recognition of the positive nature of moderate consumption and an increased concern over the negative effects of drunkenness. The latter, which was generally viewed as arising out of the increased self-indulgence of the time, was seen as a threat to spiritual salvation and societal well being. Intoxication was also inconsistent with the emerging emphasis on rational mastery of self and world and on work and efficiency.24
- The consumption of alcohol was often high. In the sixteenth century, alcohol beverage consumption reached 100 liters per person per year in Valladolid, Spain, and Polish peasants consumed up to three liters of beer per day.25 In Coventry, the average amount of beer and ale consumed was about 17 pints per person per week, compared to about three pints today.26 Nationwide, consumption was about one pint per day per capita. Swedish beer consumption may have been 40 times higher than in modem Sweden. English sailors received a ration of a gallon of beer per day, while soldiers received two-thirds of a gallon. In Denmark, the usual consumption of beer appears to have been a gallon per day for adult laborers and sailors.27
- “Gin conquered England in the sixteenth century.”29
- “...alcohol production emerged in nearly every corner of the colonial world from the earliest days of European expansion.”30
- “The introduction of large quantities of alcohol into a volatile environment of colonial domination disrupted traditional indigenous social structures, even in areas with long-standing traditions of alcohol use.”31
- The production and distribution of spirits spread slowly. Spirit drinking was still largely for medicinal purposes throughout most of the sixteenth century. It has been said of distilled alcohol that "the sixteenth century created it; the seventeenth century consolidated it; the eighteenth popularized it."32
- The original grain spirit, whiskey, appears to have first been distilled in Ireland. While its specific origins are unknown33 there is evidence that by the sixteenth century it was widely consumed in some parts of Scotland.34
In Japan during the sixteenth century, it was an insult to a host to remain sober, so guests who couldn’t drink would pretend to be intoxicated and then hungover by sending thank you notes deliberately late and written in shaky characters.28
Tsar Vasily III (1505-1532) of Russia granted permission his courtiers permission to consume as much alcohol as they wanted, but they had to live in a specific section of Moscow so as not to corrupt the “lower classes of people.35
The liqueur Benedictine was first produced by Benedictine monks in France.36
The German Beer Purity Law (“Rheinheitsgebot”)
made it illegal to brew beer from anything other than barley, hops, yeast, and water.37
- “The Maya produced an alcoholic beverage called balche before the Spanish conquest, using honey, water, and the bark of a tree.”38 (The Spanish of Mexico conquest occurred 1519-1521.)
- “Although tequila and mescal are considered national beverages [of Mexico], they made their appearance only after the Conquest, when the Spaniards brought the knowledge of distillation processes they had learned from the Moors.”39
- Hops were first grown in England on a significant scale.40
- In Ireland, the quality of distilled spirits was judged in proportion to the spices and aromatics it contained.41
- The first grape vines in the Americas were planted by Hernan Cortes in Mexico.42
- Denmark established minimum requirements for commercial breweries to increase their size to limit fire danger and simplify tax collection.43
In the wine producing areas of southern France, wine was considered a basic food, whereas it was not elsewhere in the country.44
Brewers in England were prohibited from making the barrels in which their beer or ale was sold in order to protect the livlihood of coopers.45
Cachaça, currently the third most-consumed distilled beverage in the world, was first distilled in Brazil from fermented sugarcane juice, rather than molasses (as is rum). The exact date of its first production is unknown, but usually estimated to have been betwen 1532 and 1539.46
In Brazil, “The Portuguese planted grapes around São Paulo in 1532.”47
- Brandenberg prohibited illicit brewing to protect the municipal economy, which relied on beer revenues.48
- Francis I (1515-1547) of France issued an edict that made intoxication an aggravating circumstance not connected to other crimes by stating that “if by drunkenness or the heat of wine drunkards commit any bad act, they are not to be pardoned, but punished for the crime and in addition for the drunkenness.”49
Brandenberg prohibited both brewing and serving alcohol on Sundays and high holy days.50
London passed legislation regulating tavers, including their prices and requiring them to obtain licenses.51
Grapevines were introduced to Chile and wine was produced as early as 1555.52
- The first vineyard in Argentina was established by Father Juan Cedrón in 1556.53
- The Irish Parliament required distillers to obtain a license.
The council of Nuremberg complained about the injuries caused daily by drunkenness. the citywas also picking up drunken people lying in the streets.55
“Women of all conditions appear to have enjoyed a reasonable freedom to consume alcohol in Elizabethan times.”56
Distilling had become so active in Bordeaux that it was banned as a fire hazard.57
Beer was first sold in glass bottles in Germany.58
Wine was made in Florida from wild grapes by Spaniards. 59
A major case in England held that “If a person that is drunk kills another, this shall be felony and he shall be hanged for it, and yet he did it through ignorance, for whenhe was drunk he had no understanding nor memory; but in as much as that ignorance was occasioned by his own act and folly, and he might have avoided it, he shall not be privileged thereby.” 60
Lucius Bols established a distillery near Amsterdam and is believed to have been the first to produce gin commercially.61 It is the oldest distillery in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world.62
According to the first official census in England and Wales, there were about 19,759 retail alcohol outlets, or about one for every 187 people.63 That compares to about one for every 657 people today.64
With the spread of Puritanism, attacks on intoxication and ale-houses increased.65
Wine was first produced in Bolivia.66
The first beer brewed in the New World was in 1587 at Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony in Virginia. It was brewed from Indian corn or maize.67
Henry III (1574-1589) of France permitted wine sellers and both tavern and cabaret owners to form a guild.68
Each man in the English navy received a daily ration of a gallon of beer.69
A professor at Tubingen in Germany criticized the drinking of toasts, arguing that the practice resultedin problems such as fighting duels.70
To learn more about alcohol and drinking after the Renaissance, visit
- 1 Gately, Ian. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 76.
- 2 Gamella, Juan F. Spain. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 254-269. P. 257.
- 3 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, 66.
- 4 Gately, Ian. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, pp. 95-96.
- 5 Ford, Gene. Wines, Brews, & Spirits. 4th ed. Seattle, WA and San Francisco, CA: Gene Ford Publications and the Wine Appreciation Guild, 1996, p. 17.
- 6 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 97.
- 7 Jellinek, E.M. Jellinek Working Papers on Drinking Patterns and Alcohol Problems. Popham, R., (ed.) Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation, 1976, p. 76-77.
- 8 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 98.
- 9 Dion, Roger. Histoire de las Vigne et du Vin en France des origines au XIXe Siecle. Paris: Roger, 1959, p. 61.
- 10 Bickerdyke, John. The Curiosities of Ale and Beer: An Entertaining History. London: Spring Books, 1965, p 115.
- 11 Braudel, Femand. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800. Translated by Miriam Kochan. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1974, p. 171.
- 12 Forbes, R.J. Short History of the Art of Distillation. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970, p. 97.
- 13 Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 17.
- 14 Oshodin, O.G. Nigeria. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 213-223. P. 216.
- 15 Cherrington, Ernest H. (ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. 6 vols. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1925-1930. Vol. 1, p. 406.
- 16 Beer History. BeerHistory.com website. beerhistory.com/library/holdings/raley_timetable.shtml)
- 17 Samuelson, James. The History of Drink: A review, Social, Scientific, and Political. London: Truber and Co., 1878, p. 105.
- 18 James, M.K. Studies in Medieval Wine Trade. Oxford, Englans: Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 53.
- 19 Cherrington, Ernest H. (ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. 6 vols. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1925-1930. Vol. 1, p. 406.
- 20 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 111.
- 21 Claudian, J. History of the Usage of Alcohol. In: Tremoiliers, J. (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Section 20, vol. 1. Oxford: Pergamon, 1970. Pp. 3-26. P. 11.
- 22 The History of Drinking: Uncorking the Past. The Economist, December 22, 2001, p. 31.
- 23 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, p. 194.
- 24 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, pp. 129-130.
- 25 Braudel, Femand. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800. Translated by Miriam Kochan. New York, NY: Harper and (TED) Case Studies, TED website. 1.american.edu/TED/germbeer.htm.
- 26 Monckton, Herbert A. A History of English Ale and Beer. London: Bodley Head, 1966, 1966, p. 95.
- 27 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, pp. 170, 186, 192.
- 28 Austin, Gregory A. Perspectves on the History of Psychoactive Substance Use. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1979.
- 29 Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 20.
- 30 Smith, Frederick H. The Archeology of Alcohol and Drinking. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2008, p. 38.
- 31 Smith, Frederick H. The Archeology of Alcohol and Drinking. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2008, p. 51.
- 32 Braudel, Femand. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800. Translated by Miriam Kochan. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1974, p. 170.
- 33 Magee, Malachy. 1000 Years of Irish Whiskey. Dublin, Ireland: O'Brien Press, 1980, p. 7.
- 34 Roueche, Berton. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, Salvatore P., (ed). Alcohol and Civilization. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963. pp. 167-182. pp. 175-176.
- 35 Johnson, W.E. The Liquor Problem in Russia. Westerville, OH: Amerian Issue Publishing Press, 1915, p. 135.
- 36 Seward, Desmond. Monks and Wine. London, UK: Mitchell Beazley Publishers, 1979, p. 152.
- 37 Eden, Karl J. History of German brewing. Zymurgy, 1993, 16(4); German Beer Purity Law. Trade and Environment Database. (TED) Case Studies, TED website. 1.american.edu/TED/germbeer.htm.
- 38 Adams, Walter Randolph. Guatemala. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 99-109. P. 99.
- 39 Rey, Guillermina Natera. Mexico. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 179-189. P. 179.
- 40 Monckton, Herbert A. A History of English Ale and Beer. London: Bodley Head, 1966, p. 193.
- 41 Morewood, S. Philosophical and Statistical History of the Inventions and Customs of Ancient and Modern Nations in the Manufacture and Use of Inebriating Liquors. Dublin: Curry and Carson, 1838, p. 618.
- 42 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 103.
- 43 Glamann, K. Beer and brewing in pre-industrial Denmark. Scandinavian Economic History Review, 1962, 10, 128-140. P. 135.
- 44 Le Roy Ladurie, E. The Peasants of Languedoc. Translated by J. Day. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1974, pp. 43 and 102.
- 45 Bickerdyke, John. The Curiosities of Ale and Beer: An Entertaining History. London: Spring Books, 1965, p. 111.
- 46 Morgan, Brian. Brazilian Cachaca. TED Case Study #721. American,edy website. 1.american.edu/TED/cachaca.htm#id; What’s Cachaca? Beliza Pura website. belezapura.com/what-is-cachaca; History of Cachaca. ibev website. ibev.com.au/history-of-cachaca.html
- 47 Veseth, Mike. The BRICs: Misunderstanding Brazilian wine. The Wine Economist, December 17, 2010. Wine Economist website. com/2010/12/17/the-brics-misunderstanding-brazilian-wine/
- 48 Dorwalt, R.A. The Prussian Welfare State Before 1740. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 63.
- 49 Brennan, T. Cabarets and Laboring Class Communities in Eighteenth Century France. Ph.D. dissertation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, 1981, pp. 221-222.
- 50 Dorwalt, R.A. The Prussian Welfare State Before 1740. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 63.
- 51 Wilson, G.B. Alcohol and the Nation: A Contribution to the Study of the Liquor Problem in Great Britain from 1800 to 1935. London: Nicholson and Watson, 1940, p. 95.
- 52 Cardenas, Eduardo Medina. Chile. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 31-41. P. 32.
- 53 History of Wine in Argentina. TryVino website. tryvino.com/The-History-of-Wine-in-Argentina.html
- 54 Morewood, S. Philosophical and Statistical History of the Inventions and Customs of Ancient and Modern Nations in the Manufacture and Use of Inebriating Liquors. Dublin: Curry and Carson, 1838, p. 619.
- 55 Janssen, J. History of the German People. Translated by M.A. Mitchell and A.M. Christie. 15 vols. London: Kegan, Paul, French, Trubner and Co., 1905-1910. Vol. 15, p. 409.
- 56 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 114.
- 57 Younger, William A. Gods, Men, and Wine. London: Wine and Food Society; Michael Joseph, 1966, p. 326.
- 58 Ford, Gene. Wines, Brews, & Spirits. 4th ed. Gene Ford Publications and Wine Appreciation Guild. Seatle, WA and San Francisco, 1996, p. 16.
- 59 Stevenson, Tom. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. 4th ed. London: DK, 2005, p. 521.
- 60 Quoted in Holdsworth, W.S. A History of English Law. Vol. 8. Boston: Little, Brown, 1926, p. 441.
- 61 Doxat, John. The World of Drinks and Drinking. New York: Drake Publishers, 1971, p. 98.
- 62 Lucas Bols company website. bols.com/about-lucas-bols/
- 63 Monckton, Herbert A. A History of English Ale and Beer. London: Bodley Head, 1966, pp. 101-104.
- 64 Monckton, Herbert A. A History of English Ale and Beer. London: Bodley Head, 1966, pp. 39-40. Monkton, 1969, pp. 39-40 NEED COMPLETE REFERENCE FOR 1969 PUBLICATION
- 65 Wrightson, K. Alehouses, Order and Reformation in Rural England, 1590-1660. In: Yeo, E., and Yeo, S., (eds.) Popular Culture and Class Conflict 1590-1914: Explorations in the History of Labour and Leisure. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981. Pp. 1-27. Pp. 16-18.
- 66 Early Wine Production in Bolivia. Bolivian Wines website. com/site/bolivianwines/history-of-the-bolivian-wines
- 67 Hellstrom, O. Henry. The Brewing Industry in Readiing, Until 1880. Historical Society of Berks County website. berkshistory.org/articles/beer1.html.
- 68 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, p. 182.
- 69 Sutherland, D. Raise Your Glasses: A Lighthearted History of Drinking. London: Macdonald, 1969, p. 16.
- 70 Janssen, J. History of the German People. Translated by M.A. Mitchell and A.M. Christie. 15 vols. London: Kegan, Paul, French, Trubner and Co., 1905-1910. Vol. 15, pp. 393-396.
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