A History of the World in 6 Glasses
" Tom Standage starts out the introduction with a quote from
Karl Popper, a philosopher of science during the twentieth century. Popper mentions, “there is no history of mankind, there are only many histories of all kinds of aspects of human life” (pg 1). As many know, there are indeed many aspects to human life and mankind throughout the years of development. The variety of different aspects were the result of changes that occurred to the human race. One such aspect of the early humans was thirst itself. Different beverages soon began to replace water, a necessary yet original and dull drink. Before we knew it, these drinks soon began to shape human culture and society as well.
Standage starts out with probably the first primary beverage, beer. “Beer was not invented but discovered” (pg 11). The discovery of beer was inevitable; early civilizations sprung from grain-cultivating villages in the Fertile Crescent. At first beer was a social beverage, but the drink took more importance in the community. Beer then became a form of edible currency. Men, women, and even children were paid in sila of beer. In Ancient Egypt, the builders of the famous pyramids were paid in beer as well. In addition, taxes were in bread and beer. To keep record of each household's payments, officials kept track on cuneiform tablets, the first form of writing. "It was consumed by everyone, rich and poor, men and women, adults and children, from the top of the social pyramid to the bottom. It was truly the defining drink of these first great civilizations" (pg 30). In other words, beer lead to writing as well as the first forms of government.
The next drink, wine, is just as old as beer. In Mesopotamian culture, wine was seen as an exotic drink for the elite. The Greek soon developed formal drinking parties, or symposion. The Greek saw wine as a primary aspect of their culture, as the type of wine one drank "indicated how cultured you were"
(pg 56). The Greek culture was absorbed by the successors of Mediterranean trade, the powerful and well-known Romans. The Romans, on top of acquiring Greek gods and goddesses, also “copied” the
Greek symposion , later called the convivium .
Symposion and convivium both were centers for overall social interaction.
In the Mediterranean, the climate was perfect for viticulture. For some regions, wine cultivation replaced most wheat production, sometimes resulting in local food shortages. Merchant ships were often laden with decorated amphorae , or Greek wine jars. “By the fifth century BCE, Greek wine was being exported as far afield as southern France to the west, Egypt to the south, the Crimean Peninsula to the east, and the Danube region to the north” (pg 67). Wherever the amphorae went, Greek culture followed. Wine clearly dominated Mediterranean trade.
The Greek and the Romans both added water to their wine to dilute the strength. Near the first millennium, Arabs invented distillation, the process which includes boiling alcoholic drinks to raise the alcohol percentage. In other words, this rids the fluid of the water, leaving a “compact” form of alcohol. Distillation therefore made drinks stronger, intoxicating their drinkers faster. Spirits aided the human civilization especially during the Age of Discovery. Europeans often used the Triangular Trade
Route, connecting Africa, Europe, and the New World. Altered versions of spirits contained Vitamin C, eradicating the risk of scurvy for sailors.
In the New World, sugar cane businesses were prospering, leading to mass production of rum.
Merchants often used rum in deals with foreigners, promoting global interaction. The Colonies of
America, too, loved rum. Citizens of New England began to distill alcohol themselves, which was far cheaper than importing it. Despite the English Molasses Act’s efforts to stop them, the colonists still persisted on smuggling molasses and making rum. “Henceforth, the