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Beer is a drink usually made of malted barley, water and yeast.

Historically, beer was an important part of the diet of seamen. It was a rich source carbohydrates and provided much needed additional protein.

In Cook’s day, the making of beer began with soaking barley in water and leaving it to sprout. When the grain sprouted it was dried and finely ground into a powder called ‘malt’.

Malt was then mixed with hot water in a vessel called a "mash tun". This mixture – called ‘wort’ was left to stand, then poured into copper bowls and boiled with hops, the flowers of the hop vine (humulus lupulus). Hops imparted a bitter flavour, and were also believed to act as a preservative.

After cooling, the hopped wort was put into fermenting vessels and mixed with yeast. It was then left to ferment, usually for five or six days.

At the end of fermentation the liquid – now called beer - was strained and poured into wooden casks. This process was called ‘wracking’.

Beers could differ in flavour and alcoholic strength depending on the amount of malt used, and the length of the fermentation process.

The beer distributed to seaman aboard ship was dark, thick and relatively low in alcohol. It was often made using a large amount of hops in the hope that this would prevent the beer from becoming foul during long periods at sea.


Prepared by: Turnbull, P
Created: 4 October 2001

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000031

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