What better guest writer to launch Spirited Endeavours than our own Kristin Peturson-Laprise, author of Castanet’s Happy Gourmand column? And what better topic than a bit of history on what we all hold so dear (especially if someone is trying to take the glass before we’re finished that last sip).
A tipsy romp through the history of spirited endeavours
By Kristin Peturson-Laprise
For thousands of years mankind has gathered to toast the past, present, or future with a glass in hand. That raised glass has been seen around the world, and has had many different libations over time. The sentiment has always been a strong one - at times jubilation, at times frustration, at times sorrow.
Tom Standage captured our attraction to drink in his book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses ~
“Some have served to highlight the power and status of the elite, and others to subjugate or appease the downtrodden. Drinks have been used to celebrate births, commemorate deaths, and forge and strengthen social bonds; to seal business transactions and treaties; to sharpen the senses or dull the mind; to convey lifesaving medicines and deadly poisons.”
Don’t drink the water
Many of the most popular beverages through history have been types of alcohol, often because the water wasn't fit to drink. Becoming tipsy as a result of drinking such beverages was generally considered an added bonus. Nowadays we imbibe not out of necessity, but for pleasure of the drink and the company. We can enjoy knowing we are part of a long history.
Alcohol has been a significant part of the evolution of civilization
A symposium was originally defined as a private wine drinking party, as Greek philosophers believed it to be the perfect occasion to discover the truth on any topic as the participants debated. Granted, there was also a fair bit of debauchery that ensued as consumption increased. The ideal drinker was said to be Socrates, as he could party hard with the rest, but did not show any ill-effects the next day.
The ancient Romans took the idea of a social gathering one step further by creating the convivium, a banquet at which guests were served different wines, as befit their social status.
Alcoholic drinks have been the passion of people throughout history - beer, wine and spirits. Their rise in popularity was due, in part, to the supply of ingredients and the advances of culture. We’re not just supporting local businesses when we raise a glass, we’re contributing to the general economy and our culture.
He was a wise man who invented beer ~ Plato
Beer fans will be happy to know that it was the first popular drink. As far back as 2700 BC, Sumerian King Gilgamesh is said to have turned into a human, abandoning his wild ways in the wilderness, after an evening of good food and beer enjoyed in a shepherds' village.
In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, beer was considered a valuable commodity, even used as a sort of currency. Archeological sites have included vessels that apparently were used for measuring out beer rations for payments for goods.
Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. ~ Plautus
Beer was later overshadowed by wine, with the rise of the Greek and Roman empires, but it remains, to this day, a more popular drink where these civilizations did not reach, like Northern Europe. This helps to explain why Oktoberfest, not a wine festival, is the social event of choice in Germany.
Wine has been around an even longer time - archeological evidence seems to date it back much farther than beer, around 9000 B.C. in what is now Iran.
It was a beverage reserved for the elite class, however. It didn't become popular with the general population until about 870 B.C. Who knew wine snobs were around that early?
Wine, too, became a currency, and traded over long distances, resulting in different styles. The shape of the amphorae in which the wine was transported became part of a region's signature, and helped buyers and sellers guarantee the style being sold. The first wine buffs were the ancient Greeks; many writers noted their preferences. Yes, it's true, they had wine tasting notes even then.
Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy. ~ Frank Sinatra
Spirits were a much later innovation, not developed until well into the modern age. The Arabs were the ones who carried on the work of the ancient philosophers, most notably in Cordoba, Spain. Ancient Greeks and Romans had distilled liquids to make perfumes and essential oils, but it was the Arabs who applied the technique to wine, about 1000 A.D.
These fortified beverages (port, sherry, madeira) became popular in trade, as they survived the changing temperatures of seafaring voyages even better than beer or wine. If you've ever tasted beer or wine left in a hot car, you know the value of this. It was not long before the technique spread, and Northern Europeans were applying it to beer, creating whisky.
I pity them greatly, but I must be mum, for how could we do without sugar and rum? ~ William Cowper
The next wave of exploration to the New World brought the invention of rum, a spirit that could be made locally in the Caribbean from sugarcane, as opposed to imported from across the ocean. From that point on, there was a drink for anyone who wanted it, in any country of the western world.
Here in the Okanagan, our cup runneth over with local libations.
Not only do we have fruit orchards from which we can produce a number of spirits, we have the vineyards which have become world-famous with our local wine industry. And with the sense of entrepreneurship that blossoms in our region, the evolution of craft breweries was only a matter of time.
Enjoying a drink is a pastime that will never go away, because it speaks to our very essence. All of these beverages are an evolution of art and science, and they are intrinsic to our social structure. The drinks evolve, as we evolve.
Isn't it nice to know you could be contributing to the advancement of humankind? That deserves a toast!
Interested in writing for Spirited Endeavours? That is an amazing coincidence, because we’re interested in hearing from you. Drop me a line [email protected]
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.