THE HERE & NOW: For centuries leading up to the mid-1800’s, devout Christians in Great Britain were expected to share their wealth with the Church. In many religions, the gift of a tithe was expected to equal 10% of the parishioner’s wages. (Tithing is still practiced today.) Those who could contribute their “fair share” were given special treatment.
In Berkshire, England, for example, the tithe gifts to the church were usually given on Christmas Eve. Those who gave generously were invited to the vicarage where they were treated to ale, bread and cheese. (This was not actually a gift from the church, but a right of the tithe payers.)
The Vicar himself was required to brew 4 bushels of malt into ale, and provide 2 bushels of wheat for bread, and half a hundredweight (50 lbs.) of cheese. Whatever wasn’t consumed was given to the poor. Sometimes they would get bread on Christmas Day. And cheese. But never beer . . .
THE HEREAFTER: Beer was regarded essential in life, and just as important in death. In Egypt at the time of the pharaohs, it was believed that beer in some form was needed to nourish the ka, the spirit of the dead.
Sometimes tomb walls were decorated with drawings relating to beer, brewing, and sharing beer with the Gods. Gifts of miniature wooden breweries and brewsters have been found in ancient tombs, placed there to please the Gods who decided the eternal fate of the deceased. Special beers were brewed for the dead, including “Beer That Does Not Sour,” and “The Beer of Truth.”
Throughout Asia, Africa, South and Central America, it is still customary to offer opened containers of beer to the thirsty spirits of the Dead. A very sad custom still exists . . . that of pouring perfectly good beer on a fresh grave.