History of Beer in the 16th Century: Timeline

The history of beer in the 16th century was one of very high consumption by today’s standards. It was also a period of increased regulation. The goal of such regulations was to ensure purity of beer, income of workers, fire safety, and high tax revenues. It wasn’t to reduce consumption.

16th Century

  • In Coventry, the average amount of beer and ale consumed was about 17 pints per person per week. That compares to about three pints today in England. Nationwide, consumption was about one pint per day per capita.
  • Soldiers received two-thirds of a gallon of beer each day.
  • Polish peasants consumed up to three liters of beer per day.
  • Swedish beer consumption may have been 40 times higher than today in Sweden.
  • In Denmark, the usual consumption of beer was a gallon per day for adult laborers and sailors.


The Beer Purity law (Reinheitsgeobot) was established in Bavaria. It had been pushed by the Bavarian brewing guilds. Only barley, hops and pure water could be used in brewing.

history of beer in the 16th century



Hops were first grown in England on a significant scale.


Denmark established minimum requirements for commercial breweries to increase their size. This was to simplify tax collection. It also reduced the danger of fires.


In England it was illegal for brewers to make their own barrels. This was to protect the livlihood of coopers.


Brandenberg prohibited illicit brewing to protect the municipal economy, which relied on beer revenues. And, of course, to increase tax revenue.


Brandenberg prohibited both brewing and serving alcohol on Sundays and high holy days.


Beer was first sold in glass bottles in Germany.


With the spread of Puritanism, attacks on intoxication and ale-houses increased.


Each sailor in the English navy received a daily ration of a gallon of beer.

beer in the 16th century

Queen Elizabeth I

Late 1500s

Queen Elizabeth I of England drank strong ale for breakfast.


Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible  replaced the sale of beer with vodka at state-run taverns.


The first beer brewed in the New World was at Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony in Virginia. However, the colonists didn’t receive it well.. They wanted beer from England.


The last recording burning of a ‘brew witch.’ Brew witches (or beer witches) were men and women who were blamed for problems in brewing. Such executions were a distressing feature of beer in the 16th century


We’ve had a look at beer in the 16th century. Now it’s time to see what happened during the History of Beer in the 17th Century.

Books on History of Beer in the 16th Century

Bennett, J. Ale, Beer and Brewsters in England: Women’s Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600. NY: Oxford U Press, 1996.

Hornsey, I. A History of Beer and Brewing. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003.

Smith, G. Beer: a Global History. London: Reaktion, 2014.

Unger, R. Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Philadelphia: U Pennsylvania Press March 2007.

Unger, R. A History of Brewing in Holland, 900-1900. Leiden: Brill, 2001.