Alcohol is a massive part of human culture. It's one of the biggest contributors to the global economy, the reason we feel pick-pocketed after the weekend. We know a lot of you are enjoying a "Dry January" so we thought we'd serve you a pint of knowledge, starting with a list of countries with an interesting history of booze.
The first evidence of alcohol in China are a selection of jars dating back to 7,000 BC that were found in Jiahu. They make China the first recorded country in the world to create and consume alcoholic beverages - 9,000 years ago. The historic drink was made from rice, honey, and fruit, and we're sure it would have tasted a lot better than most Baijiu today (rice alcohol) which has a hint of dirty socks and can be used to clean engine parts.
Alcohol first appeared in the Indus valley civilization during the Chalcolithic era, between 3000 BC - 2000 BC. Sura, a drink brewed from rice meal, wheat, sugar cane, grapes and other fruits, was popular among the Kshatriya warriors as well as the peasant population. We're sure it must have been an excellent blend because it was considered a favorite drink of Indra, the King of the Gods. Most Indian farmers today still devote a portion of their crops for making alcohol, and to make farming a little more fun.
A huge chunk of our understanding of ancient wine has been gleaned from a yellow residue which was excavated by Mary Voigt in the northern Zagros Mountains of Iran in 1968. The residue was named Chateau Hajji Firuz. The jar containing the sample, meanwhile, could have contained up to 9 litres of hooch and was found with five similar jars buried along a "kitchen" wall in a Neolithic mud-brick building (5400 - 5000 BC). Perhaps the kitchen of the famous neolithic bar, Fred and Barney's.
Although wine making reached the Hellenic peninsula by about 2000 BC, the first alcoholic beverage to obtain widespread popularity in the area was mead, a fermented beverage made from honey and water. By 1700 BC, wine making was commonplace and during the next thousand years wine assumed the role it has in much of the world today. The ancient Greeks incorporated it into religious rituals, medicine and hospitality where it became an integral part of daily dining. It was drunk in many ways: warm or chilled, pure or mixed, plain, spiced or to help kick the head off a Persian yelling "This is Sparta!"
Alcohol played a huge role in colonial America - right from the country's birth. The Puritans took more beer and wine than water on the Mayflower for their New World journey. Oh how they've changed. It's worth mentioning that at the time drinking booze was much safer than drinking water which was usually sourced from places of sewage disposal, much like Budweiser today. Alcohol played a huge part in the construction of the new world as it gave the workers energy, nourishment and the ability to construct asymmetric buildings.
The origin of the Bloody Mary is somewhat unclear but Fernand Petiot claims to have invented the drink in 1921 while working at the 'New York Bar' in Paris. Later known as 'Harry's New York Bar', the watering hole became a frequent hangout for Ernest Hemingway and other expatriates. According to Petiot, the first two customers for whom he made the drink were from Chicago. "They say there is a bar there named the Bucket of Blood", he said, "and there's a waitress there everybody calls Bloody Mary. One of the boys said that the drink reminds him of Bloody Mary, and the name stuck." In the 1930s Petiot tried without success to change the name of the Bloody Mary to the "Red Snapper."
There are as many ways to make a martini as there are stories of its origin but there are two which are most commonly told. One claims a New York bartender named Martini invented the drink in 1912 at the Knickerbocker Hotel. The other, meanwhile, says it was invented by Professor Jerry Thomas in San Francisco around 1850 for a miner on his way to Martinez, California. The story goes that a miner placed a nugget of gold on Jerry’s bar and said, "make me something special". The result was the Martinez, the alleged prototype of the Martini.
The Martinez was first published in The Bartenders Guide in 1887, the first bartenders manual of its kind, and was made with a full wine glass of sweet vermouth, one ounce of Old Tom Gin, some bitters and a dash or two of maraschino. Most people didn't like sweet vermouth as the mixer so it became progressively drier as the years went by.
The martini became a business man's drink in the 1930's for the simple reason you could leave the office for a half hour lunch, have three martinis, and come back for a meeting completely smashed without smelling of whiskey. 007 has helped with its popularity - as well as how people like it to be made - and if you don't know how Bond likes his drink, we're shaken to our core.
From the October 24, 1949, issue of Time Magazine: "In the dimly lighted bar of the sleek Park Hotel, Turkish intelligence agents mingle with American engineers and Balkan refugees, drinking the latest Yankee concoction of vodka and orange juice, called a 'screwdriver'." It was a recipe made by Americans but not in America. American Oil rig workers abroad were given American canned goods, including cans of orange juice. The engineers would poor vodka and mix it with their screwdrivers carried in their tool belts.
A group of them came to a New York bar and asked them to make a vodka-OJ and told their bartender jokingly to mix it with a screwdriver, the bartender asked why and the name stuck. The modern day interpretation, however, is "it's called a screwdriver cuz if you drive after a few you're screwed".
You've probably heard the saying "hair of the dog", but where did it come from? It predates Shakespeare's time and it all started with contracting rabies. The medical theory of the day was to apply the hair of the rabid dog that had bitten you into the relevant bite wound. It was thought 'the demons that sicken you would then vanish'. We feel for those patients.
The high-tech treatment fell by the wayside but the idea of going back to the demon that had bitten you stuck, becoming a metaphor for Jack, Jim, and that Russian mutt Smirnoff. It's now one of the oldest idioms in the English language and if you're sick of drinking Bloody Marys for 'Hair of the Dog' we've got a different option called the Corpse Reviver. Popular in the 1930s, it was served with breakfast in hotels known for hosting socialites and party animals.
2 parts cognac
1 part apple brandy or Calvados
1 part sweet vermouth
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Looking at the ingredients it's no wonder it cures a hangover - it just gets you smashed again - with the alcohol much more prominent than in "Hair of the Dog" recipes today. You have to have some big Calvados to order one in the morning, but it should put a smile on your waiter's face.