Barley for Mild Drinks?

A follow-up question occurred to be as I was looking over D & C 89:17 for my last post. A phrase jumped out at me, and I think it’s deserving of its own discussion. D & C 89:17 reads:

17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain. (emphasis added)

Can someone please tell me what these “mild drinks” made from barley are, that we are supposed to drink?

I’m wondering, because to my eye, this looks awfully like a scriptural injunction to drink beer. We are forbidden from drinking “strong drinks” and “wine,” yes. But those prohibitions don’t necessarily include beer, do they? After all, applying some basic interpretation principles, if “strong drink” means “any alcohol,” there is no need to break out wine as a separate category. So “strong drink” must mean some subset of alcoholic beverages, rather than “any alcohol.” Is that subset likely to include beers (the least alcoholic of the major alcoholic drinks)? That seems like an unusual read. And when you combine the two specific prohibitions (“strong drink” and wine) with verse 17’s commandment to drink “mild drinks” made from barley, well, it starts to look like a commandment to avoid hard liquor and wine, and instead drink beer. (Perhaps Nate or Aaron can help me out here, but I think I’ve read somewhere that young Joseph Smith sold mild beers for a time, to help his family’s financial situation).

Is there another way to read this verse? (Other than the obvious — perhaps the commandment has changed since it was written). Are we supposed to be making barley tea or barley-water like they do in Korea? What mild barley drinks exactly are we supposed to be drinking? And has someone explained this — I never noticed that part of the verse till now.

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32 comments for “Barley for Mild Drinks?

  1. Matt Evans
    September 14, 2004 at 2:02 pm

    The mild barley drinks at the time of the Word of Wisdom were beers with alcohol levels ranging from about 1 to 4%.

  2. Matt Evans
    September 14, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    I may have spoken too soon. According to this website (by a former Mormon), there were two barley drinks at the time of the Word of Wisdom, “beer” and “small beer.” Beer had 5% alcohol and small beer had 1% alcohol. If this is right, then the qualifier “mild” presumably designated small beer.

  3. Mark B
    September 14, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    If you really want to make the argument to your bishop that a few beers at the Stadium or even a cocktail or two at the Cravath summer outing should not be an impediment to your receiving a temple recommend, you’ll find much more helpful language in verse two:

    “To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint,”

    This led to varying understandings of what the WoW meant, leading to things such as two entries in my great-great grandfather’s journal, where on one page a certain brother was tossed from the seventies quorum for habitual drunkenness, and on the next page, he (my g-g-grandfather) received a keg of whiskey in payment for some work he had done for another saint.

    Problem is, Kaimi, that the current interpretation sinks both the “small beer is ok” and the “in all things, moderation (wisdom, anyone?)” readings.

    As Warner Wolf might have said: “If you took BYU and the 26 points: YOU LOSE!!!”

  4. September 14, 2004 at 3:10 pm

    It’s beer, plain and simple.

    The Word of Wisdom was not a commandment when it was given. Many of the early saints smoked, drank tea and coffee and downed a shot or two. Even after the Word of Wisdom came out. I see no reason to try and rationalise that there was some non-alcoholic barley drink hey drank. The Word of Wisdom was completely different 171 years ago than it is today.

    Early saints drank beer. Period.

  5. Bryce I
    September 14, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    My mission trainer and I left a pitcher of barley tea to steep in the refrigerator for a **long** time. It was pretty strong when we took it out. My trainer, who was a convert to the church, tried some and pronounced it indistiguishable from bad coffee.

    No point, just a story in case you want to try coffee without breaking the Word of Wisdom.

  6. john fowles
    September 14, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    rye for the fowls

    No wonder I like rye bread so much.

  7. sid
    September 14, 2004 at 5:21 pm

    What about coffee substitute drink made from Barley? I saw something t heat looked like instand coffee granules made of barley at the local Whole Foods Market a while back. It tasted quite ghastly, though!!!

  8. September 14, 2004 at 5:22 pm

    Mugicha! We used to drink it on my mission in Japan.

  9. Mark B
    September 14, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    Having never tried coffee or tea, I always wondered if they taste as ghastly as the substitutes–Postum, Pero, herb teas (smell good, taste like burnt water), mugicha (actually, not too bad iced on a 90/90 day in Osaka).

    Or do they only become drinkable if you add enough sugar, honey, etc.?

  10. sid
    September 14, 2004 at 5:28 pm

    Mark B., real coffee and real tea tastes a lot better than any barley or any other tea or coffee substitutes!!! I tried Postum and herbal teas after converting, but, gave up after a couple of attempts!!!

  11. Lisa F.
    September 14, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Mugicha is a great drink — hot or cold.

  12. Chad Too
    September 14, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    At first I thought mugicha tasted like water that had been strained through the sand at the bottom of a really big public ash tray. Little by little I came to like it. Now I find it very refreshing here in the muggy Southern summers.

  13. Terry Blodgett
    September 14, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    I think “mild barley drinks” originally meant non- or low- alcoholic beer. In Germany it is becoming more and more acceptable upon conversion to switch from “light” beer with 5 or 6 percent alcohol to dark, malt, or kinder beer. These are considered to be health beers in Germany because of their rich nutritional contents, and they contain only about 1/2 to 1% alcohol.
    Terry Blodgett

  14. September 14, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    There’s a drink made of barley and unfermented hops called Malta that’s very popular in Latin American countries — and totally Mormon-kosher. It’s super-high in carbs, though, and makes you (by which I mean, me) fat.

  15. September 14, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    I was pretty sure I had a sweet barley drink somewhere in my life (a non-alcoholic drink) and maybe it was Guatemala. I just remember that when I had it I thought something along the lines of: “finally I can have that mild barley drink the Word of Wisdom talks about.”

  16. Nathan Tolman
    September 14, 2004 at 6:29 pm

    In Taiwan they had straight up barley tea. It was great, especially with some honey mixed it. I cooled it off in the winter and drank it like iced tea. Good stuff.

  17. Bryce I
    September 14, 2004 at 10:30 pm

    Google search for “mild barley drinks”

    Top result is a Canadian page about malt scotch whisky, followed by some anti-Mormon stuff and an article about Korean barley tea. LDS stuff follows.

    I’m not sure what I expected. I guess I was hoping for some really interesting recipes.

  18. Hidarigahen
    September 15, 2004 at 2:51 am

    I agree about mugicha. First time reaction: cigarette butts in water.

  19. Mardell
    September 15, 2004 at 8:03 am

    Jeremy Malta is very popular in New York and least withe the Latin Americans. You can buy it in every corner store.

  20. September 15, 2004 at 11:21 am

    When comparing strong drinks (like whiskey with 40-75% alcohol, rum with 40-95% alcohol and brandy with 40% alcohol), is it any wonder beer at 3-4% is considered a mild drink?

    And for the record, coffee tastes gross. Tea doesn’t. Or at least Lipton’s Iced Tea doesn’t taste gross. It is very good.

  21. September 15, 2004 at 11:31 am

    The smell of coffee is delightful. I’m not sure about taste. If I had the opportunity to drink coffee I’m sure I could pick a favorite in time.

    What I’d really like is to get some Morcafe or Guatemalan corn coffee (that is perfectly ok for Mormons to drink). Kaimi has let me know he’s got a friend who is going to get him some. I need to find my own Morcafe dealer. If I had Morcafe and could find a place that made these little Guatemalan sweet rolls, I’d be in heaven.

  22. ronin
    September 15, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Kim, I will have to disagree with you – coffee, if properly made can taste absolutely superb!!! However, I can understand why you might think coffee is a horrible tasting drink, if one tries the swill that they sell in most coffeeshops these days. Very few coffeeshops, outside of independents in Seattle or Portland take pride in making wonderful tasting espresso-based drinks

  23. September 15, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    You can rant all you want, ronin, but I will never be convinced to drink coffee ever again.

    That being said, it won’t take much arm twisting to make me sit in a room with brewing coffee.

  24. Silus Grok
    September 15, 2004 at 4:20 pm

    Though I don’t drink it now, I sure do love the taste of coffee… especially the heart-attack-inducing way my mom would fix it for me during the chilly summer afternoons when we camped up in the mountains: with crushed Oreos and whipping cream. Mmm.

  25. Chris Hansen
    September 17, 2004 at 2:35 pm

    Perhaps some history will help.

    First of all, the Word of Wisdom was given “not by way of commandment”, and wasn’t understood or followed as such. People did as they pleased, and it wasn’t until later that they actually considered using it as a consideration for one’s worthiness – i.e. in the minutes of the 1883 School of the Prophets, they discussed whether one would be required to follow it in order to receive a Temple Recommend. Temple recommend. Certainly wasn’t a baptismal recommend question!

    Regarding who did what, Joseph Smith had a drink of coffee every morning for his entire life. Up until his death. And, yes, he did drink beer regularly, and the harder stuff only occasionally, generally when higher ranking visitors came to Nauvoo.

    Now, about Beer. Brigham Young used to own a beer brewery in downtown Salt Lake City, and drank himself as well as sold to the saints. Beer was never considered a taboo, as it was considered to be in the mild drink category. Many/most of the adults drank it, at least occasionally as they could afford it.

    So, we may ask, why did the emphasis change? Well, when the Church jetisoned plural marriage and the United Orders, they had to concentrate their teachings elsewhere, didn’t they? And, sure enough, if one reads the talks given by the General Authorities after the manifesto, and the other changes to doctrine and ordinances over the next 20-30 years, one sees the changes to the emphasis on the Word of Wisdom.

    Funny thing, though, I wonder why the eating of meat teachings have never been espoused.

    Take care!


  26. Dana spadafora
    February 26, 2005 at 5:25 am

    I am apalled at what seems to be a large number of church members rationalizing the drinking of beer. Commandments may change as needed for the times. As for me, I follow the prophet without question.
    As for mild barley drinks, it is a very stange assumption indeed that one has to let them ferment to the alchohol stage. The liquid left after soaking barley is very cleansing to the body. And although it doesn’t taste very good is very good for the body.
    I got this info from Jack West Living the full words of wisdom tape. It had a very interesting story with it. He toured as a speaker with the church educational seminars.

  27. Kaimi
    February 26, 2005 at 11:01 am


    I don’t know if others are reading this as a rationalization to drink beer — I know that I’m not, and I suspect that most of our readers aren’t.

    I’m specifically asking a question (see the original post) and I’ll add your answer to the data points that have been given.

    I do suspect myself, that this part of section 89 _is_ about mild beers. I suspect that for a number of reasons — it makes sense in the text; plus the fact that the Word of Wisdom as we know it wasn’t really enforced until about the turn of the century, and the various references in History of the Church and leaders’ journals to alcohol consumption.

    I’m fine with the principle of modern revelation. I know that the meaning of the WOW has changed, and I’m certainly not intending to go drink any beer myself.

    I’m really just asking the question as a matter of historical and intellectual inquiry, not as an attempt to justify any beer drinking. And I suspect that most of our readers understand that.

  28. a random John
    February 26, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    I have always thought that keeping the WoW was more about living the current interpretation of the WoW, which seems to be loosely based on Section 89, rather than on a strict reading of the passage. This is a bit problematic in that the current interpretation can’t be found in the scriptures. Not too big of a problem though since missionaries/primary/ym/yw programs all teach the basics of the current interpretation.

  29. Lisa Fischer
    March 2, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    I’m a recent convert to the church, baptized in July 2002, and the Words of Wisdom seem to evoke many different interpretations within the church members, which doesn’t help a convert with what is allowed and what’s not. What I do know is that “Malta” is a drink in Latin American countries that, in most forms, is non-alcoholic because it’s not fermented. Perhaps those are the types of “mild drinks” from barley that the WoW references.

    I don’t understand why Joseph Smith drank beer but now it’s not considered appropriate. However, I lived with a parent that drank too much beer. Mild or not, beer can still intoxicate the person & awful things happen every day because of people drinking too much beer. Perhaps that same question came up at the turn of the century and it was decided that even beer was not appropriate because it could turn someone into an alcoholic even though they only drank beer.

    That’s just my view.

  30. Mark
    March 12, 2005 at 7:54 am

    Lisa, please realize that Joseph Smith lived in a different time than we did, and you will never hear of him as drunk and disorderly. Then the Word of Wisdom was not a commandment like it is today. Plus if we went by the letter of the law, drugs are not mentioned. That is why we have a living Prophet to follow. Thankfully!

    As for me, I try to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter. It is hard for me to not eat as much meat because I am a 285 pound Powerlifter, but I feel my rewards are better because of my obedience.

    Ka’imi, it did sound to me like people were rationalizing drinking beer as well at various times. I am looking for barley drinks so that I can drink to stay within the guidelines of the Word of Wisdom. I have never had beer of any sort light, or heavy before.

    How about a direct quote from the Sunday School Manual;

    President Heber J. Grant, the seventh President of the Church, taught that “the Word of Wisdom … would solve the economic problems … of every … country, if it were obeyed by the people of the world” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 48). How do you think this could be so?

    Consider the amount of land, money, and other resources that are used to produce harmful substances, advertise them, purchase them, and treat the consequences of their use. For example, in 1985 the cost in America of health care and lost productivity related to the use of tobacco was approximately $65 billion (see Ensign, Sept. 1986, 61). The costs of the production and use of alcohol are also very high. Consider the potential economic impact of using these resources for beneficial purposes rather than destructive ones.

    Obeying the Word of Wisdom blessed one missionary in an unexpected way. While he was teaching a man about the Word of Wisdom, the man looked into his eyes and asked, “Do you mean to tell me that you have never tried drugs, smoked a cigarette, or tasted alcohol in any form?” The missionary looked directly at the man and spoke with a strong voice, “No, sir. I never have.”

    The missionary later described the experience that followed: “A power went through me at that moment and I knew why I had always kept the Word of Wisdom. I am grateful that when I came to that moment in my life, I was able to bear a strong testimony of the importance of the Word of Wisdom because I had always been obedient to it.”

    My thoughts are that this was made a Commandment, and the Lord expects those who have been commanded to, to follow it. What they did in the past is irrelevent to our present teachings from our Living Prophet.

  31. Mark
    March 12, 2005 at 8:08 am

    I have one more comment. I am very glad I have obeyed the Word of Wisdom for one other reason. I have been in Iraq now for almost a year and a half, and I am one of the few not missing alcohol terribly.

    So chalk one more up for the Word of Wisdom!!!

  32. Lisa
    April 4, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    I think it’s interresting how modern saints seem to interpret the meat part of the WoW, too.
    The part of the WoW that kinda makes me cower with embarassment is the part that reads “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints who are or can be called saints.” The meat part is really hard; for me at least. it’s easier to say I will never drink strong drinks (at least if you interpret that as alcoholic drinks, all coffee etc.) than to say I will only eat meat of any type if I am in a famine.
    Now for a bit of what may be considered a radical interpretation:
    If I were to take only fruits and vegetables and other herbs in their season and grains in their original state, my body probably would not be “starving” for nutrition if I didn’t eat my meat, and refined garbage on most days. Americans are certainly not starving for lack of food, but we most certainly have individuals with famine for foods that actually feed the body. My experience has taught me that I can’t even tolerate wheat very well if my body is all tore up from eating meat, processed foods, not enough pure water, etc..
    I am seriously considering trying to eat whole grains and fruits and veggies seasonally and less and less meat to see if I can go without meat easier.
    I’m trying to figure out what to get for food storage if I feel so bad when I eat wheat. This is what came to me, very personally, just for me I emphasize. Maybe it’s an answer for others as well.

    Also, I have a dear friend from East Germany who was converted in the 70’s who was furios when he made his pilgrimage to Utah to be among the saints and a leader provided caffeinated soda at a church function. Back then, at least where he came from , the members who drank even caffiene were considered pretty wild. Beer was an absolute no-no to that group of saints.
    Of couse the church at that point, met in secret, and was very sparse. So the variance mus’ve been quite large.

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