A really interesting article in this month's History Today in which James Nicholls reviews attempts to regulate alcohol in Britain over 5 centuries.
In Britain, concerns over drunkenness go back a long way. The first Licensing Act, passed in 1552, required alehouse-keepers to acquire a licence from local justices on the grounds that ‘intolerable hurts and troubles’ arose from drunkenness in ‘common alehouses’. The following year rules were introduced strictly limiting the number of wine taverns that could open in any one town. This legislative distinction between common alehouses and more exclusive wine taverns reflected a long-standing social stratification of drinks in Britain. Lack of native viticulture made imported wine an elite drink,while ale, and later beer (made with hops,which were only widely used from the 15th century),were associated with more popular drinking cultures.The full article can be read here
Those of you want a more up to date analysis of alcohol policy should read an excellent blog by Mark Easton of the BBC - The myths of boozed-up Britain