They did not boil water before drinking it, because they did not know about contaminants in the water. People got sick from drinking the water. So for awhile, they thought beer was literally better for you. They did not yet know that it was the process of making the beer that pasteurized their water, and it could have been done to just the water on its own.
My understanding is that alcohol was used as an everyday way of making drinking water safe (ie a disinfectant), and that “wine” and “beer” were typically heavily diluted compared to how we consume them today, dilution necessary to make that antiseptic function practical.
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