The author and her family had a penchant for spruce beer and mead.

By Clara Olshansky
Updated July 18, 2017
Universal History Archive / Getty Images

Jane Austen: one of history's great novelists, keen observer of society, and, apparently, craft brewer. In this Mental Floss article, you can learn about Jane Austen's surprising history as a brewer. Austen brewed spruce beer, a type of beer flavored with various plant flavors, and the whole Austen family shared her passion for brewing beer and mead. (You can check out the Austen family mead recipe here.) It's a fitting time to examine the author's work and life, as she died 200 years ago today, and was even honored with a £10 note by the Bank of England.

In Austen's time, craft brewing didn't quite have the hipster, beard-and-glasses appeal vibe it has now (unless, maybe, the beard was all pointy and the glasses were lorgnettes). It wasn't uncommon in her day for brewing to be part of the women's household duties, and it definitely wasn't un-feminine, despite recent history's more bro-y associations with beer. In fact, brewing beer was a good way to look after the health of your family: in some cases it was safer to drink beer than water.

No, Regency-era children weren't knocking back beer after beer and getting drunk off their asses. There was a type of drink called small beer, which Austen makes reference to in her letters. It's only about 0.75% alcohol, which is less than a sixth of the alcohol in an average beer.

If this kind of thing is interesting to you, you might want to check out George Washington's beer recipe from 260 years ago, or learn about him running one of Colonial America's largest whiskey distilleries. It may also entertain you to know that 18th century poet Robert Burns enjoyed making cheese on the side.

If you're into both booze and Jane Austen, you might also want to check out the Bath Gin Company's book, Cocktails with Jane: Cocktails of a Different Persuasion Served with a Splash of Jane Austen, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a book of forty Austen-inspired cocktails for getting literarily tipsy.