Q&A: What’s the Story of Lanted Ale?

Froth blowing.

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 betray
Your fre­quent drink­ing coun­try Ale with lant in’t,
Have you no hob­nayls in your boots, dri­ven in
To save the pre­cious leather from the stones
That 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.