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Oct 17, 2017

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The History of Booze Part I
by Lora Lewis
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 4.1

Drinking has come a long way since Paleolithic man first realized that a healthy swig of fermented sap took the edge off running from wooly mammoths. By the end of the first millennium, civilizations around the world were indulging in the pleasures of wine and mead, and some were even well on their way understanding the distillation process.

But while B.C. man got the booze flowing, it was his descendants in the next thousand years who elevated drinking to a recreational art form. From the fifth century discovery of the inebriating potential of fermented chewed rice to the travesty of wine-in-a-box, this millennium has contributed a staggering number of milestones to the history of booze. As we prepare to bid the past goodbye and raise a toast to Y2K, let's look back at the happy accidents and painstaking developments that made this the finest millennium of drinking mankind has ever known.

100-400 AD

* An adventurous Aztec hits upon the idea of drinking the boiled sap of a cactus that has been struck and cooked by lightning. The liquid, which becomes known as pulque, proves to induce a state of inebriation. It quickly gains popularity in rituals and keeps people entertained between human sacrifices.

* After bringing pleasure to Chinese and Koreans for centuries, sake is introduced to Japan. The first sake is called kukchikami no sake, or "chewing in the mouth sake." This winning fermentation process involved entire villages chewing rice, chestnuts and millet and then spitting them into a tub to ferment.

* Legend has it that St. Patrick brought the art of distilling from Germany to Ireland and Scotland in the fifth century. It was his way of compensating the pagan peoples for unleashing Christianity on their island nations.

900-1000 AD

* The Grand Price of Kiev is informed by his ambassadors that the religion of Islam forbids strong drink. He responds by becoming a Christian and ordering up a plentiful supply of communion wine from Byzantium.

1000-1100 AD

* The word whiskey is coined from the Gaelic uisce beatha by soldiers of King Henry II after they invade Ireland and discover this nectar of the Emerald Isle.

* Though Russians and Poles still bicker about which country is in fact the fatherland of vodka, we're certain that it first warmed the insides of frozen Slavs sometime in the 12th century. Initially hitting the scene as a crude, rye-based spirit use for medicinal purposes, this libation kills germs but is a far cry from Absolut Citron.

1200-1300 AD

* Ogendai Khan, Ghengis' successor as the Supreme Khan, drinks himself to death in 1241. His death inadvertently halts the Mongol Hordes' advance into Europe just outside Vienna.

1400-1500 AD

* Friar John Corr brings joy to the Scots in the midst of British genocide when he distills aqua vita from eight bottles of malt and ends up with Scotch whiskey.

* Bavarian monks take advantage of the cool winter months to perfect the art of brewing lager beer.

1500-1600 AD

* After years of being kept secret by apothecaries, the method of distilling alcohol or spiritus vini is revealed to the masses by Italian Michele Savanrole.

* Spanish conquistadors run out of wine while busy taking over the Aztec empire. In the true spirit of imposing their will on all things native, they start distilling traditional pulque, resulting in what becomes known as tequila.

* Chevalier de la Croix has a dream in which a voice instructs him to distill his wine twice. Happy with the results, he enjoys one barrel of this new elixir, then stores away the second with the monks of Renorville for a special occasion. Fifteen years later, they open the barrel to celebrate a visit from the Bishop of Saintes, and find that evaporation worked magic on the twice-distilled wine, giving it a new color and richer, mellow taste. This new discovery was called Cognac.

* Legend has it that the first kummel, a liqueur flavored with caraway, is produced by Erven Lucas Bols in Holland.

* The German Beer Purity Law is proclaimed by the Duke of Bavaria, stipulating that only barley, hops and pure water can be used to brew beer.

* English settlers in American establish breweries in New York and Philadelphia.

1600-1700 AD

* Carthusian monks of La Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps create a heady digestif from 130 herbs and essences. The monks are a strict order of the Catholic church, and cannot beg nor work. They subsist on the royalties they receive from each sold bottle of their chartreuse.

* Benedictine Monk Dom Perignon decides to stop fighting the bubbles that mar his winemaking as a natural result of fermentation in a cool climate. This "mad wine" becomes known as champagne.

* Traders in the West Indies use rum profits to buy slaves in Africa, which they sell in the islands for cargoes of molasses. This molasses becomes rum in New York and New England distilleries.

* Gin is invented in the Netherlands from neutral grain spirits flavored with oil of juniper. Originally intended as a remedy for kidney disorders, English soldiers soon find that the drink cures many things that ail them, and their enthusiasm quickly spawns commercial production.

1700-1800 AD

* The British attempt to levy heavy duties on molasses imported to colonial America from the French and Spanish West Indies. This threat to the American way of drinking contributes to pre-Revolutionary unrest.

* Bourbon County, Kentucky, minister Reverend Elijah Craig distills a whiskey that is no less than 160 proof from fermented mash of no less than 51 percent corn and ages it for at least two years in charred oak containers. The result is bourbon whiskey.

* Rye whiskey is produced by the Scotch-Irish in Western Pennsylvania using rye grain and a copper pot distillation method. Congress attempts to tax the new whiskey to help finance the Revolution, but the spirit of rebellion inspires American drinkers to refuse.

* Juleps, heretofore used primarily to disguise the bad taste of medicines, are increasingly prescribed by doctors as morning "pick me ups." These mixtures of water, sugar and liquor become the morning coffee of the upper class, who don't have to be sober for work.

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