Healthy "Mild Drinks," Then and Now

Let's put the question of meat in the Word of Wisdom aside for a moment and, for our microbiome's sake, let's talk about "mild drinks."  

Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for the swine [BTW - why would swine be mentioned here unless it was intended that the Saints would keep them for meat - they’re obviously not for pulling the plough] and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.
— D&C 89:17

Ever WONDER what that mysterious "mild drinks" is referring to? You won't be the first to assume this is pointing us toward Postum (yum), and you probably won't be the last. After all, didn't Camilla Eyring Kimball self-reportedly drink barley coffee in the lean years of the Great Depression? But no, a mild drink made from barley was a staple in the layman's diet dating back to at least Medieval Europe and one that really took hold on American Colonial soil. Here, It was called "small beer" and boasted only a faint trace of alcohol while being chock full of Lactobacillales (a good bacteria) and beneficial enzymes. 

There is a 1757 recipe, "To Make Small Beer," attributed to George Washington and even Benjamin Franklin, while condemning what he saw as the too-frequent indulging in beer (as we would faintly recognize it today), is said to have sung the praises of "small beer." Produced in nearly every household, it was often had with breakfast and throughout the day and given to both children and servants. In a day when water supplies were questionable, small beer was considered safe and healthy.  

 Photo courtesy of Angela 

Photo courtesy of Angela 

While every good housewife knew how to make small beer, she would not have known the technicalities of just why it was so safe and healthy. It has to do with your second brain...the gut, the real seat of your immune system. Mild barley drinks were probiotic! Regardless, I don't think I would have the courage to brew my own small beer. My bishop is a fan of real, fermented sauerkraut, but I really don't know what he'd say if he saw a pitcher of small beer brewing on my counter. The good news is...

There is a fantastic home-brew gaining a foothold in the LDS community that has neither the stigma of small beer nor the complication. It's called water kefir, and it is like probiotic, fizzy soda-pop. It is made with "grains," howbeit they are not the kind you can plant in the ground and then expect a crop. The grains are little transparent, squishy colonies of good yeasts that feed on sugar and belch out carbonation. This isn't an article on how to make water kefir -- I will leave that to the many real food/traditional foodie websites out there. But I am thinking that water kefir follows along the path of the "spirit of the law" regarding the mild drinks of Joseph Smith's day. 

One day, who knows, we may try our hands at making a real, mild, barley drink. But for now, thank goodness there is water kefir. Farmers back in the day would have looked forward to taking a break from the plowing with a nice cool jug of small beer to fuel up those muscles and quench their thirst. And I can assure you, nothing is better after a hot day of working outside than some probiotic homemade sodie-pop. 

What say ye? Ever tried it?