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.
* Distillers finally discover a way to separate the intoxicating power of wormwood or Artemisia absinthum from its bitter-tasting leaf. The result is absinthe, a tart, green combination of the herb and alcohol that has a flavor somewhat like liquorice. The "green fairy" becomes the most popular drink of distiller Henri-Louis Pernod, and is a favorite of such fin de siecle notables as Oscar Wilde and Vincent Van Gogh.
* Auguste Denis Lagoute founds a liqueur factory and absinthe warehouse in Dijon, France. His claim to fame is the development of Crème de Cassis, the black current liqueur that, when mixed with white wine, becomes the fruity kir.
* French apothecary Antoine Peychaud mixes the Sazerac brandy cocktail in New Orleans and America's first cocktail is born.
* Sir Winston Churchill's mother asks the bartender of the Manhattan Club to invent a cocktail; the Manhattan quickly catches on.
* Coca-Cola is invented, inspiring a new breed of mixed drinks.
* The term highball is coined at a St. Louis saloon that caters to railroad workers. At this time, a drinking glass is called a ball, and workers who only have time for a quick drink take to calling their whiskey and water a highball.
* The Kaloyannis brothers in Constantinople produce Ouzo 12 from a recipe of pressed grapes, aniseed, fennel, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon and cardamom.
* After 18 years of mixing liqueurs, Italian Gaspare Campari invents his namesake liqueur from herbs and quinine. The recipe remains a closely guarded secret thereafter.
* James Pimm concocts Pimm's, a gin sling made with made with herbs and liqueurs. The drink sells as the house specialty at his London oyster bar and later becomes a popular drink that is distributed throughout England.
* German immigrants bring bottom-fermenting lager to America and start a brewing revolution.
* Jagermeister, a well-guarded recipe of 56 herbs and spices, is invented in Germany.
* The Martini is invented by a bartender in tiny Martinez, California.
* Absinthe, along with mind-altering substances cocaine, opium and cannabis, are banned in the Western world. Pernod, which has many of the properties of absinthe but contains no wormwood, takes its place in cocktails.
* The Singapore Sling is invented at Raffle's Hotel in Singapore.
* Prohibition puts an end to legal (and decent) drinking in America, but bathtub gin and homemade stills soon pop up to ease the drought. Cocktails become increasingly popular to mask the taste of this inferior booze.
* FDR toasts the end of Prohibition with a "Dry Martini."
* Vodka production begins in the United States, but sales are slow.
* Canned beer is introduced by Kreuger Brewing Company.
* A creative bartender at Hollywood's Cock 'N Bull uses an overstock of ginger beer to create the Moscow Mule.
* Trader Vic invents the Mai Tai at Hinky Dink's restaurant.
* Ramon Marrero creates the Pina Colada at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico.
* Vodka finally catches on, and the Screwdriver is well on its way to being the most popular drink in America.
* JFK's lust for Daiquiris makes the drink a pop culture trend.
* No longer the red-headed stepchild of European wineries, California finally gets some respect as a winemaking region. Wine spritzers take the disco era by storm.
* The Tequila Sunrise causes millions to fall off their platform shoes.
* The Harvey Wallbanger makes Americans forget the gas crisis.
* Bartles and James introduce wine coolers, beer-sized bottles of wine and fruit juice. The concoctions develop a huge following in fern bars and at high school parties.
* The world's first microbrewery, New Albion Brewing Company, opens in Sonoma, California.
* Masochistic college students across America discover the inebriating possibilities of Jell-O and vodka.
* California wineries flip the bird in the face of stodgy European tradition by casting corks aside and marketing wine in a box.
* The decade of excess inspires such concoctions as Sex on the Beach, Grape Crush and Screaming Orgasm.
* The burgeoning microbrew industry adds panache to an old stand-by with the introduction of fruit-laced craft beers.
* The Martini makes an unprecedented comeback to the drinking scene. New twists on an old classic include such inventions as the Rose-Tini and Chocolate Martini.
* Unable to leave a good spirit alone, distillers target a new drinking demographic with flavored vodkas. Everything from chili peppers to gold dust can be seen floating in vodka bottles.
* Sweet-tasting, highly alcoholic "alco-pops" become the drink of choice among young Europeans. Manufacturers face accusations that their products target underage drinkers, but sales show no signs of abating.
* Catering to American's love of instant gratification, beverage producers begin offering their products in pre-mixed bottles. It's now possible to enjoy a Mudslide or Margarita straight from the grocer's refrigerator case.
* The Cosmopolitan becomes a drink of choice at hip and trendy retro nightspots.
* Always clamoring for newer and better ways to get pissed, British and Irish club-goers turn vodka-snorting into a nasal-burning trend.
* Wine coolers get a make-over and reappear on store shelves as fruit-infused party wines.
* Champagne producers warn of a potential shortage as the millennium celebration nears. The Y2K paranoid stock bubbly along with ammunition and freeze-dried food and bunker down in their wine cellars.
Depending on how you look at it, mankind's ongoing fascination with new alcoholic pastimes is either a tribute to our persistent creative spirit or a sign of our increasingly desperate need to escape reality. Regardless of what our drinking history says about our life and times, one thing's for sure; the urge to experiment with the potential of alcohol won't soon be a thing of the past. A thousand years from now, drinkers will no doubt sip futuristic libations that make the Zombie seem as archaic as pulque. And they'll probably be doing it in zero gravity.
So here's to the next millennium of drinking. May it be as innovative and satisfying as the one we're leaving behind.
Now would someone please get me a Cosmo?