history of alcohol

The discovery of alcohol was probably a happy accident.  Cavemen, watching wild animals gorging on over-ripe fruit, may have been perplexed to witness the beasts slowly drop their guard, begin to wobble to and fro, perhaps topple over and kick their feet in the air, before passing out where they fell, straight into blissful slumber.  Where could they sign up for that?  Just eat some of that fruit?

The earliest bar that has been unearthed goes back 13,000 years, tucked inside a cave in Israel.  There they’ve found a mortar used to crush grain and produce alcohol.  Jugs have also been discovered, dating back to the Stone Age, that seem to have been designed for holding fermented beverages.  As far as you travel back in recorded history there is evidence of humans using alcohol. 

In Ancient China rice wine was considered food for the spirit and was a staple of religious ceremonies, before and after battle parties, births, marriages, funerals, and festivals.  In Giza, the pyramid builders were allotted a gallon and a half of beer a day, and alcohol was one of the essential items stored away in tombs for the after-life.  The Dionysian cults of Rome were a celebration of wine, the great liberator, that freed the imprisoned normal self through acts of madness and ecstasy.

The Middle Ages, and the science of distillation, brought hard liquor to the table, and spirits, such as whiskey and gin became common drinks, often healthier than the water that was available at the time.  The boiling and yeast growth that went into the production of alcohol, killed off microorganisms, and made it safe from diseases such as cholera.  Stored in wooden barrels or clay jars, alcohol could be stored for months without the risk of contamination.

When the Mayflower left England for the New World in 1620, it was carrying more alcohol than water.  The colonists brewed beer in three potencies, X, XX, and XXX, fermented wine from different fruits, and distilled their own spirits, or the water of life, as it was referred to.  In the 1650s, rum made its way northward from the Caribbean and became a popular ingredient in mixed drinks.

The Hindu Ayurvedic texts, dating back to 400 BC, regard alcohol in moderation as medicine, but poison if consumed in excess.  Although some countries have banned alcohol entirely, and some temperance movements, such as the one that resulted in Prohibition in the 1920s, see no amount of alcohol as being a safe amount, most of history sides with the ancient Hindu outlook. 

Both the early Catholic and Protestant churches believed that alcohol in moderation is a gift, while drunkenness is a danger and a sin.  Increase Mather, an influential clergyman in Massachusetts, during the time of the Salem Witch Trials, was of the opinion that God made the wine, the Devil made the drunkard. 

Those who drink to the point of extreme intoxication, may well be serving out damnation here on earth.  Either that, or bringing it to others.  If you’ve ever had a drunk buy you a drink at the bar, and then proceed to abuse your ear all night, you already know what it’s like to suffer through a small eternity.

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