From Today I Learned on Reddit:

Beer was the most popular drink for breakfast before coffee became popular

The reference given doesn't seem reliable

1 Answer 1


The claim is very open-ended: Where and when?

Below, I reference a draft version of an article by Jim Chevallier that later appeared in "Consuming Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century: Narratives of Consumption, 1700-1900", edited by Tamara S. Wagner and Narin Hassan, Lexington Books (March 28, 2007). He provides references to support his claims.

In ancient Rome, the working classes began the day with bread soaked in wine. [...] At the start of the eighteenth century, the prisoners in the Bastille – some of whom were surprisingly well fed – were still given bread and wine for their breakfast.


Wine, beer or brandy would have been more or less available in different areas


It does seem that in France, at least, breakfast was frequently limited to a liquid of some sort. Le Grand is quoted above on the idea that the lower classes often replaced breakfast with spirits. Tobias Smollet seems to confirm this when he has a Picard peasant girl serve Roderick Random chocolate and spirits for breakfast.


the 1744 account from Canada seems to refer to brandy – here with bread – as the most popular choice, even with other options available.

From a 1716 German dictionary, quoted by Chevallier:

"Common people usually take a beer-soup, Marperger lists a number of north German beers as especially appropriate. If one adds spices and an egg such soups are comparable with any soup made with wine when it comes to giving physical strength. A wet stomach should prefer bread with butter or toasted white bread drenched in sect or Spanish wine. Some people enjoy sweets - things preserved in sugar like ginger or cherries, others dislike them because of their sweetness, so that everyone has to experiment in order to find out what goes well with his stomach.” The fondness for beer soup however seems specifically German

Perhaps the most likely source for the quote?

Medieval English breakfasts consisted of alcoholic beverages, cold meats, dark bread, and frumenty. From this developed the Classic English breakfast that expanded to a very wide range of foods, high in fat and high in calories, …. three grains, barley, oats, and wheat became the basis of Anglo-Saxon breakfast. Barley, the "poor-man's wheat," was "drunk" at breakfast as ale or beer, until replaced by coffee and tea during the 18th century.

Conclusion: fermented alcoholic drinks were known to be consumed at breakfast in different cultures, including beer-soup (which very different to the beers we drink today), ales, wine and spirits. However, different geographies, classes, periods and individual families had different preferences, making the overall claim that beer was the most popular breakfast drink too broad to be true.

  • 2
    Also, it is worth noting that lack of safe drinking water small beers have been fairly popular throughout history and didn't carry same stigma as beverages with higher alcoholic content.
    – rjzii
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 13:33

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