Who made the first alcoholic beverage?

Before we jump right into craft distilling, it’s probably helpful to understand how distilling started.  Let’s take a trip back to 9,000 B.C. Along with the jewelry and cave paintings we find from ancient man, we’ve also found fragments of jars with evidence of fermentation and honey.  A hot day of trying to find plants to eat that won’t kill you?  You could enjoy a nice mug of fermented beverage, flavored according to what was available. Ginger, orange peel and cinnamon were a few of the popular choices.  Hopefully you finished your plant research first, before downing your beverage of choice.  There certainly wasn’t a drive-thru to get a late-night burrito after a few mugs! And deciding that the oddly shaped mushroom can’t be all bad could potentially be your last decision. At least some of us survived that period, it seems.

Some of you may also think of the Egyptians.  Cleopatra, in between her conquests of the ancient world’s most powerful men, was likely drinking wine.  Maybe that was it – who doesn’t have a problem with falling on their asp when they’ve been drinking?  Ah, ancient mystery solved.

As Man progressed up the evolutionary and technological ladders, so did his beverages.  I’m sure most of you are familiar with the stereotypical Viking – long blonde beard, giant battle ax in one hand, a horn of mead in the other.


Photo courtesy of HomeBrewTalk.com

What’s mead?  A fermented beverage made from honey.  So a long day of pillaging and plundering?  No problem, here’s your horn of mead.  Go forth and plunder again.  If you can figure out where to plunder, considering some mead could be high-octane stuff!

Land ho, said Columbus!  And wait, look, there are already people here. Never mind, let’s colonize!  Fast forward a few hundred years, right after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  You’ll find farmers that have leftover grain, which is harder to store and transport than say, a jug of whiskey.  The newly formed government, in an effort to fund programs like paying off unpaid war debt (sound familiar?), wanted to tax the whiskey the farmers were making. The threat of insurrection, here, a little militia action, there: historians call it The Whiskey Rebellion, a “successful” action by the government to suppress opposition to the country’s laws. And the first tax on alcohol in the shiny, new United States was born.

Next time: Part Deux, Prohibition! 

About Jeanne Runkle

Jeanne Runkle currently lives in San Diego, and is a certified bartender and craft liquor expert. Her specialty is the brown stuff, whether it's bourbon, rye or good old American whiskey. She can sometimes be found stalking the aisles of a liquor store near you, answering your random whiskey questions.

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