Okay, we always knew it: mental asylums in the era of the Great Confinement could not have been all bad, that would be just too un-Foucaultian. So the article by Niall McCrae in History of Psychiatry finally proves it: at least they had beer!
Routine distribution of alcoholic beverages to mental hospital patients would be a fanciful prospect today, yet in the formative decades of lunatic asylums, beer was standard issue. A staple item in the supposedly healthy Victorian asylum diet, beer also served as inducement for patient labour. Around the mid-1880s, this commodity was abolished throughout Britain’s mental institutions. This paper explores the factors that combined to condemn the beer barrel to asylum history, and, in particular, how this small comfort for inmates fell foul of the medicalization of the asylum and of the professional project of psychiatry.