A Brief History Of Alcohol
Did you know the word “Honeymoon” origins from the traditional English custom of drinking mead (fermented beer consisting of Honey and water) for a month after a wedding.
The fact as to when alcohol was first discovered is still not known but it’s likely that the early farmers saw the fermentation of some fruits and may have liked the fizzy taste and tangy aroma which led to the productions of alcohol like a beverage. History of Alcohol is interesting as it is different in most parts of the world.
Over time, alcohol has played a major role in the people’s social, economic, financial life apart from affecting sex, religion, traditions and many such phases of life. However, its role may have varied from culture to culture and religion to religion, but while it has been beneficial to most, it has also been misused by many.
In countries like France and Italy, wine is consumed as regular food and not as an alcoholic beverage, in the same way in Germany and U.S. people think of beer as a necessity and hence the amount of consumption is very high. The journey of Alcohol has been diversified in different eras and regions, with many a variant ingredients and unique ways of productions.
INDIA: Several mythological writings, Vedas, and spiritual texts have short descriptions about ancient drinks like Soma and Sura. Soma-ras which was popularly known as Amrit is known to be the drink of gods. It was said to have the ability to make its drinker immortal. However, Sura was a fermented drink made of rice, sugarcane, grapes, wheat & many other fruits and was considered to be the favorite drink of the God’s king Indra. It has been mentioned in the scripts that the warriors used to consume it, giving them courage and strength for the battles to fight. However, none of the ancient texts mention if the drinks were alcoholic, but many of their effects make them seem so.
By the 800BC, barley and rice beer production had started in India. Alcoholic beverages can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. The timeline of alcohol consumption can be seen between 3000 – 2000 BC. Many medieval texts including the ayurvedic texts mention that alcoholic beverage if consumed in limited amounts can be beneficial for the body and if taken in excess can intoxicate it. The great Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana depicts alcohol consumption in different ways. In Ramayana, the good people are shown to be pure vegetarians and the devils or bad people are shown to eat meat and consume alcohol whereas, in Mahabharata, this bad and good discrimination based on alcohol consumption is not done.
In the middle ages, the alcoholic content in the brewed beverages was low as compared to what it is now. During the rise and fall of several dynasties in the Indian subcontinent, a few things common in all of the high-class people was consumption of the expensive alcoholic beverage. While the poor servants, labors, and soldiers used to consume fermented beverage made of rice, millet, wheat, and barley. During the rule of Maurya Dynasty, the earliest reference to grape wine was found in the writings of Chanakya. And after that during the Mughal era, all sorts of alcoholic beverages were banned as it was against Muslim norms, but during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, wine found its way back to India through various French and Portuguese merchants.
During the British rule, the economy saw a rise in Alcohol industry. Many vineyards and breweries were established in various parts of the country with the invasion of Portuguese colonists. And the alcohol consumption kept on rising in India ever since to where it stands today. India has become the hub for all sorts of International brands of Liquor.
China: Alcohol is termed as the “Water of History” as its existence can be dated to about 7000 BC. Legend has it that the earliest mention of alcohol production in Chinese History was of Xi Di and Du Kang of Xia dynasty around 2000BC- 1600BC. Earlier the alcoholic content in beverages was limited to 4%-5%.Later on, when people discovered that with the addition of cooked rice in water, in midst of fermentation increased the alcoholic content, production of stronger beer with 11% content started (1000 BC).
Ancient Chinese considered alcohol to be auspicious during various religious ceremonies and used to offer it to the spirits during sacrifices in the Shang Dynasty during 1600 BC-1046 BC. It is believed that the history of Chinese Alcohol is about 4000 years old. During the Zhou Dynasty, alcohol was regarded as a sacred drink and only the people who made a great sacrificial offering to the gods, Earth, and the ancestors were allowed to drink it. After wards, with the development of many other breweries around the region, alcohol became common drink among the people, so much so that it was regularly consumed along with food.
Wine became very popular during the Tang Dynasty and was highly praised by the poets of that era. It also became a ritualistic offering to the Royal Ancestral Temple. According to the records of Marco Polo, rice and grain wine were consumed commonly and became the main source of income to the government’s treasury. In the beginning, millet was commonly used in manufacturing, hence the name “Yellow Liquor” (huangjiu) was given. Later on, rice beer became more popular. In the beginning of 19th century, fermented drinks were majorly in demand, due to its soothing fragrance and sharp & sweet taste. Though these beverages were consumed regularly, some cases of misuse were also noted and hence several laws against the production of wine were enacted and repealed several times around 1100 BC and 1400 AD.
Western Culture: From the ancient times to the modern times, alcohol has played an integral part in every religion and custom. Some called it the devil’s drink while others offered it to the gods and drank it ritualistically.
A drink is in itself a good creature of God,
and to be received with thankfulness,
but the abuse of drink is from Satan,
the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil.
(Increase Mather, Puritan clergyman, Wo to Drunkards )
Nearly in 10,000BC, Anthropologists believe that the discovery of beer might have preceded the production of bread. The earliest alcoholic beverage may have been made from fermented berries and honey.
The Babylonians even had wine god/goddess, who were offered beer and wine regularly. The beer was very popular among them and was consumed very often. However, there were no punishments for drunkenness, Likewise, the favorite drink among the Greeks was Mead.
The ancient Greeks actually had a drinking game, and it’s more hardcore than beer pong
Around 1700BC wine making was common and it found its place in religious offerings, ceremonies, oath taking ceremonies, medicines and in showing good hospitality. It was savored in various ways like cold, warm or mixed with spices. Though Xenophon (431-351 B.C.) and Plato (429-347 B.C.), were both critical drinkers they did give out several health benefits of alcohol. The Macedonian king, Alexander The Great (336BC-323BC), was known for his drunkenness. Among many other kings, King Cyrus of Persia (525 BC), also praised the benefits of consumption of a moderate amount of wine.
Alexander The Great
From earliest of times, alcohol has played a major role in religion, economy, lifestyle, pleasure and many others. Times, when alcohol was rejected by few religions, have been rare, and even then somehow it found its way back to the table just like what happened in King Jahangir’s rule.