Age of Indulgence: Beer and Wine in the Era of Jane Austen


My thanks to the Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Region for the opportunity to research and present this lecture. This web page gathers many of the quotes, references, and resources featured in my presentation.

Age of Indulgence: Beer and Wine in the Era of Jane Austen
Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Region
Sunday, July 12, 2015

Goose Island Brewpub
The Karl Strauss Room
1800 North Clybourn
Chicago, IL 60614

The writings of Jane Austen open for us the door to the culinary lives of late 18th & early 19th century England. Her personal letters offer us a glimpse of the consuming passion for alcoholic indulgence, including and especially beer and wine. This lecture presented by Lucas Livingston links the writings of Jane to historically accurate processes for brewing beer and winemaking and brings to light many sources, cultural practices, and traditional small-batch recipes. From the orange wine of Godmersham Park to the spruce beer rations of the British military, fermented beverage was as much a daily commodity as food and water. As the intriguing drinks so casually mentioned by Jane and her contemporaries nearly faded into history, the current international craft beer revival has breathed new life into the experimental beer and wine revolution. We will also discuss a few modern commercial and home-brewed recipes that capture the spirit of beer and wine in the era of Jane Austen.


Most of the following quotes from Jane Austen’s personal letters are from the Brabourne Edition, available online.

The Bottle being pretty briskly pushed about … the whole party … were carried home, Dead Drunk. – Jack and Alice

Sir Arthur never touches wine, but Sophie will toss off a bumper with you. – The Visit

By-the-bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire, and can drink as much wine as I like. – Letter to Cassandra, Nov. 6, 1800

I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error. – Letter to Cassandra, Nov. 20, 1800

The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. Luckily the pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions, will make good amends for orange wine. – Letter to Cassandra, June 30, 1808

The real object of this letter is to ask you for a receipt, but I thought it genteel not to let it appear early. We remember some excellent orange wine at Manydown, made from Seville oranges, entirely or chiefly, and should be very much obliged to you for the receipt, if you can command it within a few weeks. – Letter to Alethea Bigg, Jan. 24, 1817

I find time in the midst of port and Madeira to think of the fourteen bottles of mead very often. – Letter to Cassandra, Oct. 26, 1813

The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. – Letter to Cassandra, June 30, 1808

We hear now that there is to be no honey this year. Bad news for us. We must husband our present stock of mead, and I am sorry to perceive that our twenty gallons is very nearly out. I cannot comprehend how the fourteen gallons could last so long. – Letter to Cassandra, Sep. 8, 1816

1816 – The Year Without a Summer

“But all this, as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, is flight & fancy & nonsense–for my Master has his great Casks to mind, & I have my little Children”–it is you however in this instance, that have the little Children–& that I have the great cask–, for we are brewing Spruce Beer again… – Letter to Cassandra, Dec. 9, 1808

I had once determined to go with Frank to-morrow and take my chance, &c., but they dissuaded me from so rash a step, as I really think on consideration it would have been; for if the Pearsons were not at home, I should inevitably fall a sacrifice to the arts of some fat woman who would make me drunk with small beer. – Letter to Cassandra, Sep.1 8, 1796


A Very Simple And Easy Method Of Making A Very Superior Orange Wine.
This is a very simple and easy method, and the wine made according to it will be pronounced to be most excellent. There is no troublesome boiling, and all fermentation takes place in the cask. When the above directions are attended to, the wine cannot fail to be good. 
– Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861

To every gallon of water put 4 lbs of honey, and for 20 gallons add as follows: 2 oz of nutmeg, half an oz of mace, half an oz of cloves, 2 ozs of race-ginger, all just bruised, and sewed up in a linene bag; then add a large handful of sweet briar with the above, boil it all together for an hour, skimming it all the time it boils; then drain it off. Add a little balm to it, if it does not work, turn it and let it stand a day or two. Then add the juice of 6 good lemons, with the rind of them and your bag of spices in the barrel. Stop it up close for 10 or 12 months. Then bottle it for use. You may add some more spices if you like it. – Martha Lloyd’s Household Book

The traditional Georgian Wassail is a non-alcoholic mulled cider and was, hence, not included in this discussion. The popular alcoholic analog of mulled wine, however, is found throughout much of Europe, including my personal favorite, German & Austrian Glühwein. The mulling spices make for a good beer, too! C.f. yours truly’s Morgue Brewing Krampuslauf.

Two gallons of water, two oz. Cream of Tartar. Two lbs of lump sugar. Two lemons sliced, 2 oz. of ginger bruised. Pour the water boiling on the ingredients, then add two spoonfuls of good yeast; when cold bottle it in stone bottles, tie down the corks. It is fit to drink in 48 hours– a little more sugar is an improvement; glass bottles would not do. – Martha Lloyd’s Household Book

Spruce beer is to be brewed for the health and conveniency of the troops which will be served at prime cost. Five quarts of molasses will be put into every barrel of Spruce Beer. Each gallon will cost nearly three coppers. – 71st British Highland Regimental Orders, June 1759

[Each post should keep enough molasses on hand] to make two quarts of beer for each man every day. – 71st British Highland Regimental Orders, Winter 1759

Take 7 Pounds of good spruce & boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out & put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor & and boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle & put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milkwarm in the Cooler put a pint of Yest into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask. It will keep a great while. – Journal of General Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797), Governor-General of British North America

To make Small Beer – Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste – Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall. into a Cooler put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler. Strain the Beer on it while boiling hot let this stand til it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold cover it over with a Blanket. Let it work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask. leave the Bung open til it is almost done working – Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed. – Notebook of George Washington, 1757


In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia, who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12th of May 1764. Aged 26 Years. In grateful remembrance of whose universal good will towards his Comrades, this Stone is placed here at their expence as a small testimony of their regard and concern. 

Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,
Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer,
Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall
And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.
This memorial being decay’d was restor’d by the Officers of the Garrison A.D. 1781.
An Honest Soldier never is forgot
Whether he die by Musket or by Pot.
The Stone was replaced by the North Hants Militia when disembodied at Winchester, on 26 April 1802, in consequence of the original Stone being destroyed. And again replaced by The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1966. – Epitaph of Thomas Thetcher, Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England.


  • New Belgium’s Pear Ginger Beer
  • Forbidden Root’s Shady Character
  • Forbidden Root’s Sublime Ginger
  • Forbidden Root’s Root Beer
  • Bass Ale
  • Goose Island India Pale Ale
  • Goose Island Honker’s Ale
  • Goose Island Vintage Ale Series

Steele, Mitch. IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. 2012.
An authoritative history of the India Pale Ale, English October Pale Ale, and English brewing.

“Chapter 37 – Beverages – Recipes.” Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861. <>
A virtual treasure trove of traditional recipes for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks popular in 19th century England, including Orange Wine, Elderberry Wine, Ginger Wine, Ginger Beer, Effervescing Gooseberry Wine, Lemon Wine, Malt Wine, and more.

Beverages <>
A helpful collection of some alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages popular to Jane Austen’s time.

Orange Cream <>
With a brief discussion of orange wine and the history of oranges in England.

Ross, Josephine. Jane Austen: A Companion. Rutgers University Press, 2003, p. 53-56.

Drinking Tea, Wine, and Other Spirits in Jane Austen’s Day. April 30, 2008. <>
Enjoyable, but replete with hyperbolical statements and little to no citations.

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