Alcohol Consumption Throughout Human History
It’s hard to imagine a time without refrigeration, but modern refrigeration techniques only go back a few generations. That means there was no cold beer until relatively recently in human history. Throughout history people have utilized many different techniques to preserve food and extend its life into the barren winter months so they could continue to eat when food wasn’t readily available. One of these methods was fermentation.
It is believed that humans first realized the potential of fermentation 10 million years ago when they ate fruit that had fermented and caught a buzz. Over time, humans discovered how to control fermentation and began using it as a means to preserve crops. Beer was one of the earliest results, and there is evidence slaves in Egypt were given a daily stipend of beer as they were building the pyramids. Around the turn of the millennium the Roman Senate ordered grape vines to be cultivated in order to provide a stipend of wine to each Roman citizen, evidence that cultivation with the sole purpose of producing alcohol goes back thousands of years.
There’s a funny quote attributed to the late Ova Haney, the former Master Distiller of Four Roses before Jim Rutledge. When asked why bourbon was made with corn he replied that if they had grown rice here it would’ve been made with rice. Different kinds of alcohol are made in different regions by tradition because that was what they grew there and that’s what they needed to be preserved. For that reason, bourbon is heavily associated with Kentucky while Champagne is heavily associated with France and beer is heavily associated with Germany.
What you drink and how you drink it can also have a strong correlation to your surroundings. When you head out to a neighbor’s backyard barbecue you’re likely to grab a 6 pack of beer, whereas if you are going to a steakhouse for dinner you will probably be having wine with your steak. If you’re celebrating a major milestone you’re probably going to be reaching for the Champagne. And if you’re turning 21 you’re probably going to be doing shots with your friends.
Just as alcohol categories diversify regionally, so do drinking traditions. In Hungary, Gypsies drink brandy in the morning. Germany celebrates beer for an entire month during Oktoberfest. Kentucky celebrates bourbon year round, but especially during The Kentucky Bourbon Festival, The Bourbon Classic, and The Bourbon Affair.
In the United States we tend to think of alcohol as something that marks the line between work and play. Alcohol is generally an integral part of our celebrations. Whether it’s a wedding or a new job we’re always toasting to something. But it’s important to keep the celebration responsible by not drinking and driving. As long as alcohol is used moderately and responsibly it has certain health benefits. For example, it's been shown to reduce the odds of developing Type II Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Alzheimer’s. It can have positive mood altering effects by releasing endorphins at the same rate one would see in running and meditation. Alcohol has been a part of human history from the beginning, and as long as it’s used in the proper context it will continue to be a positive part of human life.