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Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Paperback – 30 Mar 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (30 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812219996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812219999
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 15.4 x 2.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 889,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"This is an important book on the history of beer and brewing and is a valuable resource."-Choice "An important book, going beyond what is usually found in a synthesis. [Unger's] analysis has important implications for the nature and comparative development of technology diffusion and social and industrial organization, as well as more obviously local and interregional trade."-The Medieval Review "Entertainingly written and amply illustrated and referenced, Unger's book on the beginnings of commercial brewing will be of interest to beer lovers; experts in economic, social, cultural, legal, medical, and food history; anthropologists; philologists; and feminists."-Journal of Interdisciplinary History

About the Author

Richard W. Unger is Professor of History at the University of British Columbia. He is also author of A History of Brewing in Holland, 900-1900: Economy, Technology, and the State, The Art of Medieval Technology: Images of Noah the Shipbuilder, and The Ship in the Medieval Economy, 600-1600.

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First Sentence
Beer at the start of the third Christian millennium has little in common with the drink that carried the same or variant names through the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Scholarly, factual, deeply interesting 5 Nov. 2004
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Richard Unger blows a lot of the dust off the casually quoted historical dogma of the "better beer" world. Hops were used for centuries before their description by a nun, and gruit, a mixture of herbs and spices used to flavor beer prior to the use of hops, was actually still popular AFTER hops were introduced. Unger doesn't just quote the last "beer writer" he read when he makes these statements, he cites primary sources, economic records, contemporary correspondence in 60 pages of footnotes and bibliography.

The result is a book that brings to life the beginnings of commercial brewing. Brewing went from a household chore to a commercial enterprise during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, built trade empires, influenced civilizations. Unger puts beer in its proper place in European history as an integral keystone of trade, a solid source of cash taxes, and a perfect example of how over-regulation can kill an industry.

The striking thing about this book for a student of contemporary brewing is not the techniques, the character of the beer. It is the parallels between beer's rise in this period and beer's revival in the 20th Century. Nothing is new under the sun: there were contract brewers, stunningly hopped beers, hugely successful imports, fad beers that really only changed names, fruit beers, and wild advertising. Today's innovations? Not hardly.

Definitely a scholarly work, and tough slogging at times to get through the tax chapters. But full of meat and well worth the effort.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Primarily an economic history of beer 25 May 2005
By James V. Holton - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The title is deceptively simple. Those looking for some sort of popular history of beer may come away disappointed that this book emphasizes primarily the economic history of beer rather than its social aspects. Nor is this book an ode to the drink itself, but rather a tightly focused study of the importance of beer to Medieval/Renaissance economics and trade patterns. Most of its chapters are focused on taxation and trade, with just enough information on the act of brewing itself to interest the lay reader--more than likely, someone with an interest in beer itself. The last couple chapters, on guilds and the decline of beer, get into the cultural aspects.

This book is still an important contribution because it (understatedly) discusses how beer has evolved and how its role differs from the leisure and "party time" image it has now.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Dry, dry beer. 18 Mar. 2015
By Renn - Published on
Format: Paperback
This entire book appears to have been copied from accounting ledgers from 600 years ago. Intensely dull reading. It really just went on and on indexing gross beer sales, import export patterns, shifts in large raw materials dependencies, etc etc etc... The author totally missed his chance to tell us anything interesting about beer in culture.
Very informative 14 Nov. 2013
By Leon Baradat - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a book about brewing as a profession and breweries as businesses and crucial parts of city life in the mid to late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The book is very thorough and informative, sometimes too much so. It's not the most entertaining read you'll ever have--the writing tends to be dry and matter-of-fact, and from time to time a paragraph slides into a listing of statistics: production figures from here, here, here, here, and here in the latter fifteenth century to those in the sixteenth century, to those...zzzzzOhwhereareweatnow?

Ok, so it can be a slow read at times. However, it honestly covers what it says it does. It talks about all aspects of brewing, from malting to distribution and sale. It discusses considerations of things such as fuel (which gets neglected in most books), it talks about sizes of breweries and relations with employees, and it goes into the subject of brewers' guilds, which was kind of an eye-opener. Also I was very glad he was honest about including the Middle Ages; his narrative doesn't start in 1485 and pretend that covers the Middle Ages. Ok it doesn't talk much about before the 12th century, but that's because the records before then become sparse.

On a technical note, it was refreshing to see that when this author talks about Holland, he *means* Holland, not the Netherlands as a whole (Holland is a region and former province of the Netherlands--calling the country "Holland" is a lot like calling the UK "England").

I was also glad to see the author give a lot of time and attention to gruit (what people used to bitter beer before hops), which is the biggest difference between medieval and modern beer. He doesn't give any gruit recipes, but then this isn't written with homebrewers in mind.

So, this isn't a light read, but it's a great source of information on the subject.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Given as a gift and loved by the recipient. 10 Feb. 2014
By Elizabeth A. Miller - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was on my brother's wish list, and when he opened it on Christmas that was it for him. His nose was in this book for the rest of the gifting by the family, and once in a while his face would appear over the book with a grin on it.
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