This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Beer, as mentioned by Herodotus, was brewed in Egypt 2,000 years ago. Sir Cuthbert Quilter has found at Luxor, on a monolith, the bas-relief of a tankard. Before the time of Elizabeth beer was drunk new in England, but in her day the farmers had become particular as to maturing their beer, and very choice in their ale; they named their best October-brewing "Mad dog,"or "Angels' food," or "Dragons' milk," "Merry-go-round,"and other endearing, or facetious appellations. Ladies during the eighteenth century, who were accustomed to drink ale, or small beer, or broth at breakfast, did not take kindly to tea when it was first introduced as a beverage. We read that the family of John Wesley drank small beer at every meal. They "bless'd their stars, and called it luxury." The addition of hops first (1524) converted our English ale into beer.
Sound beer should be only acid enough to slightly redden test-paper of litmus when dipped therein. As Dr. Chambers admonishes, "the first thing to be guarded against in malt liquor is sourness, or, as it is technically termed, hardness. All beer will turn into vinegar after a time, but some brews undergo this degenerative change much more quickly than others, from having been run into dirty vats. In most of the popular London breweries the brewers calculate that the beer which is made will be consumed so quickly that the presence of a little more or less vinegar does not signify, and they brew daily in their vast vats still reeking so strongly of acetic acid that you cannot open your eyes when holding the face over these vats. And yet some of these reckless brewers occupy a most respectable position in society, go to church, and never ask forgiveness for the sickness, poverty, and misery they may have caused by their wilful negligence in this regard. There is no more fertile cause of gout, rheumatism, diseased heart, dropsy, and the premature death of the robust working man, than this beer, just on the turn, and ready to become thick vinegar in the stomach".
The famous Philip Dormer Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield), in one of his noted "letters "to his son Philip Stanhope (1874), says: "I hear from Duval, the jeweller, who has arrived, and was with me three or four days ago, that you are pretty fat for one of your age; this you should attend to in a proper way, for if while very young you should grow fat it would be troublesome, unwholesome, and ungraceful. You should therefore, when you have time, take very strong exercise, and in your diet avoid fattening things. All malt liquors fatten, or at least bloat, and I hope you do not deal much in them. I look upon wine and water to be in every respect much wholesomer".
"But what is Coffee but a noxious berry Born to keep used-up Londoners awake? What is Falernian, what are Port and Sherry, But vile concoctions to make dull heads ache? Nay, Stout itself (though good with oysters - very!) Is not a thing your reading man should take: He that would shine, and petrify his tutor Should drink draught Allsop in its native pewter".
Though, as a quaint saying puts the matter pithily, "He who drinks beer thinks beer".
As concerning wines of various vintages, the leading character of a wine must be referred to the alcohol which it contains, and upon which its stimulating, or intoxicating powers chiefly depend. In the stronger ports, and sherries there is present from 16 to 25 per cent of alcohol; in hocks and clarets from 7 per cent upwards. The principal modern wines are Port, Sherry, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Madeira, Rhine, Moselle, Tokay, and Marsala. Sherry and Port are fortified wines; Claret and Hock are natural wines. "On the chemistry of food-digestion in the stomach wines exercise a retarding effect out of all proportion to the amount of alcohol which they contain; that produced on the second digestion by the stomachbread (pancreas) is to be accounted for by their acid qualities".
Dietetically most wines are of equal value, provided they are the products of a favourable season, being pure, and free from fungous defects. It nevertheless by no means follows that because of hindering digestion in some respects, wines are altogether to be prohibited with meals; seeing that by increasing the appetite, and thus inducing a larger secretion of gastric juice, they may, if taken in moderate quantity, not only neutralize any arrest of the digestive chemistry in the stomach, but are likely to actually accelerate that function on the whole, and to make it more comfortable than it would otherwise be. "This, indeed,"says Dr. Hutchison, "is one of the most useful actions of wine, both in health, and in disease." The stimulating action of a wine fortified with alcohol is to be considered twice as great as that of a natural wine. The acids of wine are chiefly present in the form of bitartrate of potash (cream of tartar), which eventually goes to increase the alkalinity of the wine; since the organic acids and their salts, which are combinations with earthy bases, as contained in wine, become converted within the body into alkaline compounds, and are excreted as such by the kidneys, and other outlets.
It has been truly said "the human brain, and the human stomach are the only analysts which never make mistakes." Hock, for instance, which is a .rather acid wine, if freely imbibed, tends to prevent the precipitation of gouty uric acid in the urine. And the same result follows cider-drinking as a rule; persons who use this beverage freely are not troubled with gravel; indeed, they are found to possess a special immunity from that grievance, for the cider not only makes the urine less acid, but also considerably increases its volume. It has been proved that as a matter of fact the most acid wines are not those which are most generally credited with producing gout. Possibly it is the combined presence of both sugar and acid in the wine for the time being which makes the sweet drink harmful to the sufferer from gouty indigestion; and there is a likelihood, as we cannot deny, of secondary fermentation being then set up in the wine after it reaches the stomach. Be the explanation what it may, the gouty subject does wisely to avoid the fortified wines, unless when they have become very dry; otherwise the indigestion which ensues may set gout going viciously in the system.
Mattieu Williams explains, concerning the "cookery of wines," that he "feels quite safe in stating that the average market value of rich wine in its raw state - speaking of it as produced in countries where the grapes grow luxuriantly, and where the average quality of the wine is consequently superlative - does not exceed sixpence per gallon, or one penny per bottle; in saying which he is speaking of the best, and richest quality of wines, (of course, without including fancy vintages, or those specially produced in certain select vineyards of noted Chateaux), and he refers to 90 per cent of the rich wines that come into the market. So that, to tell the truth, the five shillings paid for a bottle of good Port wine is made up of one penny for the original wine, another penny for the cost of storage, about sixpence for duty, and cost of carriage to this country, and twopence for bottling, making a sum of tenpence in all; therefore it follows that the remaining four shillings and twopence are charged for "cookery," and wine merchants' profits".