by Mike Retzlaff
From about 1340 until 1380, the bubonic plague, or Black Death, killed 30% to 60% of all Europeans! Smaller, localized outbreaks occurred through the early 1700’s. As horrible as these historic events were, it prompted tremendous progress for civilization.
During the summers of the late 1400s, hoards of little flies frequently invaded Central Europe. By the early 1500s, several principalities in what is now Germany had passed laws requiring that all food and beverage containers be covered to protect consumers against these dirty insects.
The common tankard also had to be covered, and this was initially done with a wooden disk. Eventually, adding a hinged lid with a thumb-lift replaced the loose wooden cover. This ingenious invention was soon used to cover all German beverage containers while still allowing them to be used with one hand.
This covered-container law and several other public health regulations were enthusiastically passed and vigilantly enforced as a result of public fears about a return of the Black Death. In the period after Roman times to the 1300s, sanitation had continually declined. During the years of the Black Death, it became obvious to all, with 95% of those in filthy areas dead and only 10% dead in clean surroundings, that the plague was somehow related to unsanitary conditions.
The covered-container law was only one in a whole series of sanitation regulations that were passed in Germany after the plague — pigpens could not be adjacent to streets, old or diseased meat had to be labeled as such, other wastes to be carted off, etc.
Local brews in many other parts of Europe were still being made with moldy bread, cabbages, eggs, and anything else at hand. In an earlier commentary, I elucidated that the loss of revenue because of slow sales of poor quality beer led the way for stricter regulations. Even though the Reinheitsgebot was instituted for more than just the health of the general public, it instilled a pride among brewers which continues to this day.
Wells, rivers, and streams can be contaminated most anywhere you might travel. This has been a dire problem of society for millennia. Beer, because it is boiled and fermented to produce alcohol, has, throughout the ages, saved the lives of untold millions. Because it is nutritious and safe to drink, beer is a tasty way to maintain health.