Phil, hope this qualifys as background info, orignally posted 31/1. DC
"A point about the amount of alcohol consumed was that it was considered safer than drinking water in Sam’s day. A weak solution of alcohol was seen as killing off bugs such as cholera (how scientific this is I don’t know). The small beer given to children would have been well watered down - I suspect this may be what Pepys’ daily ‘Morning Draft’ consisted of. (Then again, Sam obviously liked a pint!)
In the churchyard of Winchester Cathedral is the tombstone of the ‘Hampshire Grenadier.’ His epitaph reads:-
“In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia,
who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12th of May 1764.
Aged 26 Years…
Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,
Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer,
Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall
And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.”
There’s a picture of the Hampshire Grenadier tombstone at
Needless to say local brewers (until the 1970s), W Strongs of Romsey
later used the phrase “drink Strong or none at all” in their advertising copy…
Although various interpretations of Thomas’ fate are possible, it seems likely that he died because the beer he drank on that hot May day in 1764 (over a century after Pepys’ time) was too weak to kill off the cholera, typhus or whatever other nasty was in it."