How beer caused the Industrial Revolution

brewery inside

Just found this article debunking the myth of the traditional Irishness of Guiness, by an economic historian I really like, Cormac Ó Gráda (via MR).

Not only is it fun to read but it tends to confirm what I have been thinking for a while and hope some day to demonstrate, that beer caused the industrial revolution.

Well not exactly, but that large-scale brewing before 1750 was a good indicator of quick industrialization in the late 18th century-early 19th. A good example here is a comparison between the Netherlands and Belgium. The former did not industrialize early on while the latter did. I do not know exactly how strong was the brewing sector in the Netherlands before the 1750s but I suspect it was not flourishing, at least not on a large scale. Indeed, there are few important traditional breweries left in the country and many elements seem to indicate that by 1650-1700 beer consumption had diminished compared to stronger spirits (reminding in that the Irish case).

In Belgium on the other hand, there are hundreds of traditional beers, some of them very old. One possibility may be that, considering how bulky the ingredients to brew beer are (hop, coal, etc.), major breweries could only develop next to cheap energy and cheap transportation. Of course both production factors would also prove pivotal in the industrial revolution.

Admittedly I have no idea how well does the theory holds if considered at a regional level in France, Germany and above all England, nor if it still works once Austria, Italy and Bohemia are included; but I suppose it might work.

PS: the system might also work with bricks, and maybe sugar and chocolate, all the things that required large amounts of energy.

2 Responses to How beer caused the Industrial Revolution

  1. Emil says:

    Before pasteurization beer did not “travel” well (unlike wine or spirits), so large beer production => many beer consumers nearby => high density of consumers with time and money to spare => readily available capital and skilled workers; wine and distillates require energy, too; I suppose beer production was not cause but symptom of early development. See the “beer street and gin lane” debate …

    • Ben says:

      It goes without saying that beer itself did not cause industrialization, but that the factors that fostered beer production at a large scale may have been the same as those that triggered industrialization (at least in part).

      I didn’t know this beer street v. gin lane debate. Thanks for the pointer.

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