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Alcoholic beverages date back to
the very early part of man's history. Many archaeologists believe that wines
made from grapes have existed for more than 10,000 years and that drinks such
as mead and beer have existed for even longer. Throughout its history, alcohol
has been used socially for many diverse purposes, such as calming feuds, giving
courage in battle, sealing pacts, celebrating festivals, and seducing lovers.
Historians speculate that prehistoric nomads may have made beer from grain &
water before learning to make bread. The Celts, Ancient Greeks, the Norse, Egyptians,
and Babylonians all have records of production and consumption of alcoholic
drinks. Alcohol was included in the Egyptian burial provisions for the journey
to the afterlife.
With agriculture came regular and
larger supplies of the raw materials required for fermentation and distilling.
The first civilizations to form around a fixed agricultural life style are the
Sumerians around 4000 b.c. The evidence that alcohol was produced here has been
confirmed by archaeological findings and images on many of their cuneiform tablets
which show images of alcohol being drunk. A description of the making of beer
on an ancient engraving in the Sumerian language followed by a pictograph of
bread being baked, crumbled into water to form a mash, and then made into a
drink that is recorded as having made people feel "exhilarated, wonderful
Civilization continued to flourish
and so did alcohol consumption and production .We know that the ancient Egyptians
were drinkers, because they invented the first straws ...for drinking beer that
still contained wheat-husks. There are also some passages within their texts
referring to the social problems associated with drunkenness, and a 1600 BC
Egyptian texts contain 100 medical prescriptions calling for the use of alcohol.
There is evidence from Babylonian, another of the early cradles of humanity,
clay tablets detail recipes for beer, in fact we know that the Babylonians knew
how to brew 20 different types of beer. All these early civilizations grew barley
and this may have been cultivated strictly for brewing. The Babylonians drew
up the one of the world's first legal texts, and included in the law was a set
of rules to regulating drinking houses.
Distilled spirits have their origin
in China and India in about 800 BC. Alcoholic drinks such as wine and beer are
produced primarily through fermentation of a fruit or grain of some kind. Drinks
such as Brandy, Cognac, and Sake are created by distilling these ferments yielding
what is often a more potent drink. The distillation process did not make its
way to Europe until the eleventh century.
When the Greeks and the Romans took
up the mantle of being the greatest civilizations on earth, other than wine,
the majority of their drink was often flavored with herbals like balsam, dandelion,
mint, and wormwood seeds, and even crab claws & oyster shells for flavorings.
The Greeks worshipped the god Bacchus, the god of wine. The Romans worshipped
the same god under the name of Dionysus. The form of worship usually took the
form of an orgy of intoxication, and their literature is full of warnings against
intemperance. There is writing, which tells how Caesar toasted his troops after
crossing the Rubicon, which began the Roman Civil War. It was the Roman legions
who around 55 BC introduce beer to Northern Europe.
The beers and ales of Medieval Europe
were actually rich in proteins and carbohydrates, making them a good source
of nutrition in that society. It is theorized that hops, which are now an universal
ingredient in beer making, date back to Babylonians in the eighth and ninth
centuries BC. In Europe hops were primarily medicinal plants which were added
to beer to make both the drink and the medication taste better. This process
soon became standard in the production of the beverage.
But alcohol consumption continued
to grow and by the middle ages many monasteries made beer to nourish their monks
and to sell to the people. (The reason the monks were so intensively concerned
with making beer was because they wanted a pleasant tasting, nutritious drink
to serve with their meals, which were frugal at best, especially during the
fasting periods. As the consumption of liquids was not considered to break the
fast, beer was always permitted.) The consumption of beer in the monasteries
reached astounding levels: Historians report that each monk was allowed to imbibe
5 liters of beer per day. Before the Middle Ages brewing was left to women to
make since it was considered a food. During the middle ages the emphasis began
shifting from family tradition to centralized production, providing hospitality
for travelers and pilgrims. Home breweries became Inns, Taverns and Public Houses
as beer remained at the heart of almost every culture and subculture. The middle
ages were a superstitious time and occasionally distilling/brewing failures
were blamed on "brew witches" or even the devil. The last known burning
of a "brew witch" took place in 1591. By the end of the middle ages
most of Europe and in fact most of the world were beginning to master the art
of brewing and distilling.
But it was not until the Renaissance,
as with so many things, that distilling and brewing became an art. Brewers became
one of the first occupations to form a guild, and continuity was set with old
Brew-"masters" teaching their apprentices the proper techniques. The
Renaissance is not simply known for the burgeoning of Art and Culture, but also
of Science. The thermometer was invented along with other implements used in
the creation of alcohol. This led to a more controlled scientific method of
production. Science continued to advance into the Industrial revolution creating
steam power, refrigeration and the science of microbiology. As technology advanced
it became possible to distill spirits and produce alcohol at much purer and
higher strength. The making of alcoholic spirits like gin, brandy and sambuca
only started some one thousand or so years ago. Germany, Belgium, and Britain
soon evolved as distinct brewing cultures. Countries developed national spirits,
which were identified, and gave identity to these countries. Russian Vodka,
Scottish Whisky, Mexican Tequila, the Greeks have Ouzo and the Italians Strega
and Sambuca, and there are hundreds more.
Americans during the time of the
American Revolution, for the most part showed little concern over drunkenness,
and spiritous liquors had become the greatest factors in colonial commerce.
The first serious and effective efforts to regulate liquor consumption, particularly
within the army, occurred during the war. Following it, social conditions weakened
traditional controls over drunkenness and consumption increased even further.
The early temperance movement developed
among New England Federalists; the most prominent spokesperson was Benjamin
Rush, author of Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits on the Human Mind
and Body (1785), who was one of the first to challenge popular beliefs in the
health benefit of spirits. He recommended for temperance and health the use
of fermented alcoholic beverages rather than spirits. This early movement relied
on the technique of persuasion to bring about such temperance. Congressional
attempts to impose a tax on distilled spirits resulted in the Whiskey Rebellion
During this time, the brewing industry
was the most prosperous of the beverage alcohol industries. Because of the competitive
nature of brewing, the brewers entered the retail business. Americans called
retail businesses selling beer and whiskey by the glass saloons. To expand the
sale of beer, brewers expanded the number of saloons. Saloons proliferated.
It was not uncommon to find one saloon for every 150 or 200 Americans, including
those who did not drink. Hard-pressed to earn profits, saloonkeepers sometimes
introduced vices such as gambling and prostitution into their establishments
in an attempt to earn profits. Many Americans considered saloons offensive,
Prohibition had its roots back in
the temperance movements of the nineteenth century. The cultural climate in
the U.S. at that time was apt to accept such an idea, which was compatible with
popular contemporary notions of personal perfection. Prohibition in the United
States was a measure designed to reduce drinking by eliminating the businesses
that manufactured, distributed, and sold alcoholic beverages. The Eighteenth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took away license to do business from the
brewers, distillers, vintners, and the wholesale and retail sellers of alcoholic
The first prohibition law was passed
in Maine in 1851, and some twelve states followed suit. Eighteen years later,
the National Prohibition Party was formed, which won its first seat in the House
of Representatives in 1890. Another three years, and the Anti-Saloon League,
a powerful political force in later years, was formed. Throughout the second
half of the century, various anti-alcohol measures were enforced in states all
over the Union.
By 1906, the movement was well under
way, fueled by anti-alien and anti-Roman Catholic sentiments among the Protestant
middle classes. The conflict between rural and urban lifestyles was becoming
more apparent with the growth of the cities, which were perceived by country-dwellers
as hotbeds of crime and vice. Employers were concerned, as they always had been,
about the effects of alcohol on the efficiency of their workforce. These factors,
combined with a temporary Wartime Prohibition Act, introduced in World War I
to save grain for food, led to total Prohibition in 33 states by 1920.
Some prohibition leaders looked forward
to an educational campaign that would greatly expand once the drink businesses
became illegal, and would eventually, in about thirty years, lead to a sober
nation. Other prohibition leaders looked forward to vigorous enforcement of
prohibition in order to eliminate supplies of beverage alcohol. After 1920,
neither group of leaders was especially successful. The educators never received
the support for the campaign that they dreamed about; and the law enforcers
were never able to persuade government officials to mount a wholehearted enforcement
campaign against illegal suppliers of beverage alcohol.
The laws were enforced easily in
rural communities where the population was most sympathetic. But in the cities,
an enormous industry grew up around the production, transportation and sale
of contraband beer and liquor. The bootleggers (named after the practice adopted
by travelers in the Midwest in the 1880's, who concealed liquor in their boots
when trading with Indians) began by importing booze over the Mexican and Canadian
borders, and from the Caribbean.
Smuggling became harder when customs
officials became aware and purchased faster boats. The gangsters then resorted
to other means to acquire their liquor. "Medicinal" whiskey was still
available in drug-stores, on real or forged prescriptions. Denatured alcohol,
legally used in other industries and treated with noxious chemicals to render
it undrinkable, was "washed" of its poisonous additives and diluted
with tapwater. Worse still, illegal corn liquor stills were used to produce
frequently toxic "rotgut". Coroners reports for the first five months
of 1923 reveal that a hundred people had perished from drinking contaminated
hooch. Officials at the time believed the figure to be much higher.
The damage was not limited to public
health. Because of the complexity of the operations, the bootleggers quickly
organized themselves into alliances and cartels that could control their activities.
Law and order began to break down as corruption spread virus-like into public
life. In a famous trial in Indiana in 1923, it was revealed that protection
monies were paid to: "the mayor, the sheriff, a judge of the city court,
the prosecuting attorney for the county, a former sheriff, a former prosecuting
attorney, a deputy sergeant, a justice of the peace, an influential lawyer,
and former deputy sheriffs, detectives, policemen, petty lawyers, bartenders,
caberet singers and notorious women." In other words, just about everybody.
As the cartels grew, and gang rivalry
diminished, so the power and profits were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
Al Capone's annual earnings were estimated at the time of his arrest to be $60
million. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, an elaborate syndicate of organized
crime, built on the multi-million dollar bootlegging industry, had survived.
The American Mafia branched out into narcotics, gambling, prostitution, loan
sharking and extortion, concerns they still control today.
The best evidence available to historians
shows that consumption of beverage alcohol declined dramatically under prohibition.
In the early 1920s, consumption of beverage alcohol was about thirty per cent
of the pre-prohibition level. Consumption grew somewhat in the last years of
prohibition, as illegal supplies of liquor increased and as a new generation
of Americans disregarded the law and rejected the attitude of self-sacrifice
that was part of the bedrock of the prohibition movement. Nevertheless, it was
a long time after repeal before consumption rates rose to their pre-prohibition
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