episode #88 a history of alcohol

Evidence of intentionally fermented beverages exist in the form of jugs dated as early as the Neolithic period (c. 10,000 BCE) when a fermented drink was produced from honey and wild yeasts, and so mead is a grandfather of all fermented alcoholic drinks.

Grapevines were being cultivated for the purpose of making wine in the mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas by 6000 BCE.

Wine production and shipping throughout the Mediterranean were important businesses for Egypt around 3000 BCE. Romans made wine from the wild grapes that grew in the countryside grapes with the yeasts necessary for fermentation already growing on their skin. The wine was important in their commerce as well. When Plato arrived on the scene, he advised that wine was beneficial to health and happiness, but only in moderation (400 BCE). As time passed, one philosopher after another began to criticise drunkenness, as alcoholism presumably became more common. Alexander the Great was known for his drunkenness as well as his ability to conquer other cultures.

A medical school in Italy developed distillation, meaning that a much purer, stronger alcoholic drink could be developed in 1100 CE.

In the 1600s, drunkenness became a widespread problem in England, with both beer and wine commonly abused, beer was not just a drink it was also food. It contained valuable nutrients. Protestant leaders in Europe maintained that alcohol was a gift from God and could be used in moderation for pleasure, enjoyment and health but drunkenness was always a sin. 

Gin was first created in Holland by physician Franciscus Sylvius as a medicine. It was sold in pharmacies and was said to relieve kidney and stomach ailments as well as gallstones and gout. The juniper berry which gin is derived from was said to have medicinal qualities which contributed to its popularity. Gin gained substantial popularity in 17th century England during the reign of William of Orange. By 1733, the London area alone produced 11 million gallons of gin. The poor in London found relief from the difficulties of urban poverty in the cheap liquor. Drinking cheap gin became endemic in the early 18th century, causing many social problems. However, gin-drinking was reduced after 1751 when duty was charged.

A documentation of rum dates back to as early as the 14th century, the first distillation took place in the Caribbean. Drinking rum became common in Britain in the 18th century. The British navy gave sailors a daily rum ration. 

Whiskey is believed by most to have originated in Scotland. However, the first written record traces back to Ireland in the year of 1405 dubbed as aqua vitae (water of life).

Derived from the blue agave plant, tequila is first thought to have been produced in the city of Tequila, Mexico. The Aztec people have also been recorded as fermenting alcohol from the agave plant even earlier. Mass production of the distilled spirit began around 1600 in the territory of modern day Jalisco.

The origins of vodka are lost in the mists of time but it is believed it was first made in Eastern Europe either in Poland during the 8th century or Russia during the 9th century. Vodka was originally only used as a medicine and would have had a much different flavour and even colour than it does now.


Caro Emerald: Liquid Lunch

Amy Winehouse: Rehab

Quantic: Ginger Wine

Florence + the Machine: Delilah

Gogo Penguin: Quiet Mind

Flying Lotus: Hunger (feat. Niki Randa)

Zero 7: Distractions

Aphex Twin: Gwely Mernans

Roÿksopp: The Alcoholic

Community radio midnight show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass is aired Sunday, Tuesday and Friday night at midnight (GMT), that means you stay late on Saturday, Monday and Thursday. A new episode is aired every Sunday midnight on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.