Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday in History: Beer

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
-Benjamin Franklin (though he was actually talking about wine and... you know what? Never mind.)
You can find all sorts of charts and graphs with details on various economic information through an amazing project at MIT. This image was found on wikipedia, used there (and here) with permission.

Beer is a big deal. It pretty much always has been.
Leeuwarden, Friesland, a city in the Netherlands that has today roughly the same population as Chattanooga, Tennessee. It became a township 1435, and fifty or so years later, it couldn’t have been very big, but just because your town is small doesn’t mean that you’re safe from major events.
Some well-meaning civic officials had decided in 1487 that a great way to stimulate the local economy would be to make sure that local beer makers were the only ones making money there. So basically, the only beer that could be consumed in Leeuwarden was the beer that had been made in of Leeuwarden. Pubgoers could not even have their favorite beer from the city next door.
But that didn’t mean that innkeepers didn’t still have any. One evening, customers ganged up on an innocent barkeep and got him to admit that there was still some Koyt from Haarlem in his back room. They wouldn’t rest until he sold it to them, so what was the poor man to do? Not sell it?
When patriotic policemen just doing their job showed up to enforce the “nothing but Leeuwarden” law, the patrons were understandably upset. And what happens when alcohol consumption and high tempers collide? The ensuing fight may have ended when the beer-drinking instigators escaped to a nearby house, but the conflict was far from over.
On this day in history in 1487, eight thousand people marched into Leeuwarden demanding that the ban be lifted and that they be allowed to once more buy and enjoy their favorite beers, whether they were from a city south of Amsterdam or from a faraway land. The well-meaning civic officials chose to ignore this demonstration, and the demonstrators chose to react to their lack of reaction by sacking the city.
The ban was lifted eventually, but not immediately, to show the protestors that the officials were doing it “because we want to, not because you told us to.” But the happy beer drinkers were just glad to have their favorite beer back.
Beer is a big deal. If there’s one lesson we can learn from this historical event, it’s definitely that you should make sure that your local beer is good before you ban everyone else’s.

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