Raw Story: Women used to dominate the beer industry – until the witch accusations started pouring in

In a stark comparison to the messages in Gin Lane was its counterpart entitled “Beer Street”, showing a more civil and humane society who imbibe beer instead of those who partake of ruinous gin.  As explained by Hogarth himself, “[Beer Street] was given as a contrast, w[h]ere the invigorating liquor is recommend[ed] in order [to] drive the other out of vogue.  Here all is joyous and thriving [.] industry and jollity go hand in hand“.  Beer street shows us jovial people who are fat (therefore healthy), buildings rising up instead of falling down, a church spire flying the King’s standard high in the background against a pawnbrokers sign falling down in the foreground. Hogarth was well-known to represent many topics of alcoholic reform in his works, a subject which is suggested is closer to Hogarth than most after his mother died “of a fright” in a brandy-shop fire 36 years previously.  Hogarth also lived near the popular Fullers Brewery in London and as such would have been well experienced in the difference between these two juxtaposed drinking societies.[1]

          Distillation was common throughout Europe by the Middle Ages, but was fairly uncommon in England, compared to beer and ale production, because a domestic monopoly kept prices very high. In 1689, Parliament banned imports of French wines and spirits and at the same time cancelled the domestic monopoly. Subsequently, anyone who could pay the required duties could set up a distillery business. Distillers became not only producers, but also sellers. The cost of gin fell below the cost of beer and ale (see Spring and Buss, 1977) and gin drinking became the favourite alcoholic beverage among the ‘inferior class’. British statistical abstracts put the annual consumption of gin in England and Wales in 1700 at about 1.23 million gallons. By 1714, consumption was up to almost 2 million gallons per year. By 1735, it was 6.4 million gallons, and by 1751, 7.05 million gallons. In terms of population, per capita consumption increased by up to eightfold from between 1 and 2 pints in 1700 to between 8 and 9 pints, about a gallon per person in 1751 (Mitchell and Deane, 1962). Beer consumption for the same period remained relatively constant at 3 million gallons a year.


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