A quick history of how we got here today.
“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” — Mahatma Gandhi
I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflection recently in regards to alcohol and how, as a society, we have accepted it so completely as an everyday acceptable part of our lives.
How did this happen?
When was alcohol created, and why did people just naturally take to it?
Outside of the temperance movement in the U.S., were there other societies that rejected the use of alcohol as a whole and how did they make out in the long run?
To satisfy my curiosity, I did a bit of digging and thought others may be interested in my findings for their own knowledge and understanding.
No one knows exactly when human beings began making alcohol, but some have traced its origins all the way back to 7000 BC in which clay pots were discovered in ancient China. It was believed that people were making alcohol from a mix of fermented rice, millet, grapes, and honey.
As time progressed, cultures throughout the world began adopting this process, and within a few thousand years, different cultures were making fermented beverages from different items.
Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians were making beer from stored cereal grains, and this became a daily part of every day. Even laborers were allowed to receive this as a part of their daily rations. They also made wine in Egypt, but due to the difficulty with growing grapes in that region, it was an expensive delicacy.
The weather and climate played a big role in what type of alcohol beverage was produced in what area. Because yeast can pretty much ferment on any type of plant, different areas would use different plentiful crops as their base of choice.
Whereas grapes were considered a delicacy in Egypt, they grew plentiful in Greece and Rome. This allowed these regions to use grapes as their base of choice, and wine was as widespread and available as beer was in Egypt.
In South America, they used grains to make what they call chicha as their drink of choice. In the region now known as Mexico, locals made pulque from cactus sap, while in East African, beer was made from a mixture of bananas and palms in the region.
Lastly, in the area that became Japan, individuals made sake from fermented rice.
Uses in society, religion, and distillation
As time progressed and alcohol became more accepted in society, the uses increased with different authorities deciding they were different benefits to its use.
Greek doctors began adopting its use to treating various illnesses, while poets said it was very helpful as it related to inspiring creativity in their work.
On the other hand, Greek philosophers advised temperance as it related to the overconsumption of alcohol, and many religious leaders warned of its excessive use while still using it in their ceremonies.
Early Jewish and Christian societies integrated wine into rituals but considered excessive drinking a sin. In Islamic regions, praying while drinking was initially forbidden, and this led to eventually all forms of drinking being forbidden.
For much of the initial creation of alcohol, its strength was relatively limited due to the natural tendency for the yeast to die around 13% alcohol content due to the toxicity of the byproduct they created. This maxed out the strength of most drinks to about that amount.
However, distillation is discovered in the 9th century, as Arabic writers describe the process of boiling fermented liquid, taking the gas produced by it, and then cooling it down to create more concentrated alcohol — what we know today as liquor.
At first, this increased strength alcohol was used for medicinal purposes, due to its ability to affect the user so quickly, but with time, liquor became an important trade commodity because it did not spoil with transport as wine and beer did.
It was used to trade different regions for goods such as crops, rubber, and even slaves.
Attempts at prohibition, scientific understanding, and modern-day help
As alcohol became more and more prominently used throughout society, more people had the tendency to abuse it.
While much of the distillation practices were founded in the Middle East, this was one of the first regions to ban the use of alcohol altogether, and there are still 14 countries in which this is true.
Most of us know about prohibition in the U.S. from 1920–1933, but there were many other countries that made the same decision around the same time.
Much seemed to be related to either the religious fear of the harm overconsumption did to society or wanting to show solidarity and patriotism to those fighting in the First World War.
Among those countries that used the latter as a reason, Canada enacted a ban between 1918–1920, and Russia did from 1914–1923. Finland (1919–1932), Norway (1916–1927), and Iceland (1915–1935) all seemed to be related to more moralistic and religious reasons.
As countries allowed alcohol back into society, the issues of which they initially were afraid of (crime, addiction, and moral waywardness) returned, and individuals wanted to better understand how alcohol was made to figure out why it had such an effect on people.
Alcohol still remained a mystery after Louis Pasteur discovered the connection between microscopic yeast cells and fermentation in the 1850s. He discovered yeast cells turned sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol, but he was not sure of the actual process by which this occurred.
It took a number of other scientists and about 100 years for it to finally be understood in 1940 and given the name Emden-Meyerhoff-Parnas pathway.
With a better understanding of this process, the hope was that we would be able to produce more ways to fight the addiction and explain why some people seemed more prone to addiction than others.
One of the somewhat negative effects of prohibition is that many of the programs that were created to help people stop drinking were no longer needed, so when alcohol returned 13 years later, many people had nowhere to turn if they had an issue.
Soon, however, groups such as Alcoholic Anonymous emerged to help people quit with its Twelve Steps. As time progressed, more and more ways emerged based on how everyone differently responds to things.
AINYF was established on May 2nd, 2020 as another avenue to educate others on alcohol and hopefully give individuals the tools they need to create their best version of themselves.
It’s our hope that we’ll continue to put out great content to do so and make our mark on the history of alcohol throughout the world, so we’ll be in someone else’s article writing about this one day.