In a brief exchange with @HappyBeerTime and @bierocratie on Twitter last month we agreed to see what we could find out about the practice of ‘lanting’ ale – that is, adding urine to it.
It turns out this has been written about fairly frequently especially on ‘Wacky Word of the Day’ type blogs, probably at least in part because of the sheer glorious grottiness of the idea.
Here’s what Sally Magnusson has to say in her 2011 book The Life Pee: How Urine Got Everywhere:
The eponymous Tinker of Turvey claims in 1630 to have “drunke double-lanted ale, and single-lanted”. Thirty years later the anonymous Renaissance drama, The Marriage Broker, includes a lament that: “My hostess takings will be very small,/ Although her lanted ale be nere so strong.” John Wright’s burlesque Mock-Thyestes in 1674 has a character “dead drunk with double lanted ale” and by 1691 the practice is so common that it wins a place in John Ray’s North Country Words: “To leint ale: To put urine into it to make it strong.”
But not everyone approved. The brewers’ bible, The London and Country Brewer, complained in 1743 of the “nasty, horrid and detestable piece of cunning and knavery… of putting chamberly, or human urine, into their pale or amber twopenny malt drink.”
Another frequently quoted instance can be found in a 1639 comic play by Henry Glapthorne called Wit in a Constable:
I doe believe you sir, your face does tel me,You’r one that feed on bacon and bagpudding,Your nose by its complexion does betrayYour frequent drinking country Ale with lant in’t,Have you no hobnayls in your boots, driven inTo save the precious leather from the stonesThat pave the streets of London.
But is any of that convincing evidence for this actually happening in practice? The references are mostly in comedy and it strikes us that it’s probably a folk legend highlighting the backward habits of bumpkins, and/or the foul cunning of brewers and publicans. (See also: KFCs mutant chickens.)
And, as it happens, these historians on Reddit tend to agree with us.
Before we’d really be willing to believe that anyone was putting wee in beer we’d want to see something like a brewers’ manual advising on how to go about it, and perhaps explaining why on earth you would bother; or an official document recording instances of it occurring in the real world.