Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze

Think

Source: National Geographic
Source: National Geographic

drinks are a bit of fancy, something that is peripheral to human existence? Think again.

[Dr.] Zarnkow…. and others have shown that alcohol is one of the most universally produced and enjoyed substances in history—and in prehistory too, because people were imbibing alcohol long before they invented writing. Zarnkow’s Sumerian beer is very far from the oldest. Chemical analysis recently showed that the Chinese were making a kind of wine from rice, honey, and fruit 9,000 years ago. In the Caucasus Mountains of modern-day Georgia and the Zagros Mountains of Iran, grapes were one of the earliest fruits to be domesticated, and wine was made as early as 7,400 years ago.

All over the world, in fact, evidence for alcohol production from all kinds of crops is showing up, dating to near the dawn of civilization. University of Pennsylvania biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes that’s not an accident. From the rituals of the Stone Age on, he argues, the mind-altering properties of booze have fired our creativity and fostered the development of language, the arts, and religion. Look closely at great transitions in human history, from the origin of farming to the origin of writing, and you’ll find a possible link to alcohol. “There’s good evidence from all over the world that alcoholic beverages are important to human culture,” McGovern says. “Thirty years ago that fact wasn’t as recognized as it is now.” Drinking is such an integral part of our humanity, according to McGovern, that he only half jokingly suggests our species be called Homo imbibens.

Have a look at this National Geographic essay on drink and its place in human civilization: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-addiction-booze-human-culture/

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ICYMI: The Economist Tells the Early History of IPA Beer

Source: Economist.com
Source: Economist.com

The Economist’s December 24, 2016 copy carries an enjoyable short history of the India Pale Ale:

Beer is for drinking. But beer is also an occasion for conversation—and, if good enough, a subject for it, too. That is where India Pale Ales, or IPAs, come into their own. Few beers incite and enrich conversation as much. Their distinctive character—the “firm bitterness [that] lingers long and clean” in one, the “complex aromatic notes of citrus, berry, tropical fruit and pine” in another—spur discussions that spill over from tap rooms to websites with ease. The plethora of craft brewers that has sprung up over the past few decades provides ample scope for arguments about the relative merits of local brews and far-flung ones—with far-flung, these days, meaning from more or less anywhere on Earth.

And then there is the beer itself. A child of Britain’s industrial revolution and imperial expansion that rose to world-straddling greatness, IPA went on to be humbled by its upstart rival, lager. It had all but vanished when plucky supporters restored it to life and once more put the world at its feet. Here is a beer with a back story.

Read more at http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21712029-lagers-may-be-ubiquitous-india-pale-ales-are-beers-backstory-history

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Outlaws of the Lakes: Bootlegging and Smuggling from Colonial Times to Prohibition

Photo credit: AlcoholReviews.com
Photo credit: AlcoholReviews.com

I picked up a copy of this book at the airport in Traverse City, Michigan, where, funny enough, I was attending a conference on alcohol regulation. Boy, I am glad I did.

Edward Butts did a fine job of putting together 23 chapters on drinks smuggling around the Great Lakes. The tales of mischief and intrepid dealing start in the 1690s when the scoundrel Antoine Laumet de la Mothe de Cadillac smuggled brandy about Lake Huron and Michigan. Butts carries the reader forward to the 1930s and the mayhem wrought by Al Capone, the Purple Gang, and other brutes who would do anything for a buck—be it selling toxic drinks or murdering those who interfered.

The cast of characters is quite something: Joyous Jenny, Gentleman Charlies Mills, and the “Pistol Packin’ Parson” J.Q.L. Spracklin. The structure of the book as a collection of free-standing yarns means you can pick it up and dip into it whenever you like. Keep it on your nightstand, in your desk at work, or on a shelf in your loo.

Outlaws of the Lakes is an enjoyable piece of amateur history, and has some great illustrations in it. For anyone interested in true crime tales or the lesser-known aspects of Prohibition history, this book will be a treat. Copies can be purchased online here.

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