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Alcohol The Seeds Of Agriculture

Most people assume that humans first domesticated grains for food. Wild grains would have been time-intensive to harvest, difficult to process into an edible form, and would have been poor in nutrient quality relative to other available foods. Grains may have been valued for purposes of intoxication first, and only later as a source of food.

Archaeologists have long pondered the question of which came first, bread or beer. Early man may have taken up agriculture to get high on booze. Archaeologists have identified traces of alcohol in prehistoric sites, which suggests that the thirst for alcohol was an incentive for Neolithic man to start growing crops. Alcohol became the seeds of agriculture.

Alcohol is a product that has provided a variety of functions for people throughout all history. From the earliest times to the present, alcohol has played an important role in religion and worship. Historically, alcoholic beverages have served as sources of needed nutrients and have been widely used for their medicinal, antiseptic, and analgesic properties. The role of such beverages as thirst quenchers is obvious and they play an important role in enhancing the enjoyment and quality of life. They can be a social lubricant, can facilitate relaxation, can provide pharmacological pleasure, and can increase the pleasure of eating. Thus, while alcohol has always been misused by a minority of drinkers, it has proved to be beneficial to most.

While no one knows when beverage alcohol was first used, it was presumably the result of a fortuitous accident that occurred at least tens of thousands of years ago. However, the discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs has established the fact that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period, and it has been suggested that beer may have preceded bread as a staple; wine clearly appeared as a finished product in Egyptian pictographs around 4,000 B.C.

While the art of wine making reached the Hellenic peninsula by about 2,000 B.C., the first alcoholic beverage to obtain widespread popularity in what is now Greece was mead, a fermented beverage made from honey and water. However, by 1,700 B.C., wine making was commonplace, and during the next thousand years wine drinking assumed the same function so commonly found around the world: It was incorporated into religious rituals, it became important in hospitality, it was used for medicinal purposes and it became an integral part of daily meals. As a beverage, it was drunk in many ways: warm and chilled, pure and mixed with water, plain and spiced.

The Hebrews were reportedly introduced to wine during their captivity in Egypt. When Moses led them to Canaan (Palestine) around 1,200 B.C., they are reported to have regretted leaving behind the wines of Egypt (Numbers 20:5); however, they found vineyards to be plentiful in their new land. Around 850 B.C., the use of wine was criticized by the Rechabites and Nazarites, two conservative nomadic groups who practiced abstinence from alcohol.

In 586 B.C., the Hebrews were conquered by the Babylonians and deported to Babylon. However, in 539 B.C., the Persians captured the city and released the Hebrews from their Exile (Daniel 5:1-4). Following the Exile, the Hebrews developed Judaism as it is now known, and they can be said to have become Jews. During the next 200 years, sobriety increased and pockets of antagonism to wine disappeared. It became a common beverage for all classes and ages, including the very young; an important source of nourishment; a prominent part in the festivities of the people; a widely appreciated medicine; an essential provision for any fortress; and an important commodity. In short, it came to be seen as a necessary element in the life of the Hebrews.

With the dawn of Christianity and its gradual displacement of the previously dominant religions, the drinking attitudes and behaviors of Europe began to be influenced by the New Testament. The earliest biblical writings after the death of Jesus (cir. A.D. 30) contain few references to alcohol. The later writings of St. Paul deal with alcohol in detail and are important to Christian doctrine on the subject. He considered wine to be a creation of God and therefore inherently good (1 Timothy 4:4), recommended its use for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23), but consistently condemned drunkenness (1 Corinthians 3:16-17,5:11,6:10; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 13:3) and recommended abstinence for those who could not control their drinking.

The Middle Ages, that period of approximately one thousand years between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the High Renaissance (cir. 1500), saw numerous developments in life in general and in drinking in particular. In the early Middle Ages, mead, rustic beers, and wild fruit wines became increasingly popular, especially among Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Scandinavians. However, wines remained the beverage of preference in the Romance countries.

By the millennium, the most popular form of festivities in England were known as "ales," and both ale and beer were at the top of lists of products to be given to lords for rent. As towns were established in twelfth-century Germany, they were granted the privilege of brewing and selling beer in their immediate localities. A flourishing artisan brewing industry developed in many towns, about which there was strong civic pride.

The early modem period was generally characterized by increasing prosperity and wealth. The Protestant Reformation and rise of aggressive national states destroyed the ideal of a universal Church overseeing a Holy Roman Empire. Rationality, individualism, and science heavily impacted the prevalent emotional idealism, communalism, and traditional religion. Protestant leaders such as Luther, Calvin, the leaders of the Anglican Church and even the Puritans did not differ substantially from the teachings of the Catholic Church: alcohol was a gift of God and created to be used in moderation for pleasure, enjoyment and health; drunkenness was viewed as a sin.

A beverage that clearly made its debut during the seventeenth century was sparkling champagne. The credit for that development goes primarily to Dom Perignon, the wine-master in a French abbey. Around 1668, he used strong bottles, invented a more efficient cork (and one that could contain the effervescence in those strong bottles), and began developing the technique of blending the contents. However, another century would pass before problems, especially bursting bottles, would be solved and sparkling champagne would become popular.

The original grain spirit, whiskey, appears to have first been distilled in Ireland. While its specific origins are unknown there is evidence that by the sixteenth century it was widely consumed in some parts of Scotland. Distilled spirit was generally flavored with juniper berries. The resulting beverage was known as junever, the Dutch word for "juniper." The French changed the name to genievre, which the English changed to "geneva" and then modified to "gin". Originally used for medicinal purposes, the use of gin as a social drink did not grow rapidly at first. However, in 1690, England passed "An Act for the Encouraging of the Distillation of Brandy and Spirits from Corn" and within four years the annual production of distilled spirits, most of which was gin, reached nearly one million gallons.

The seventeenth century also saw the Virginia colonists continue the traditional belief that alcoholic beverages are a natural food and are good when used in moderation. In fact, beer arrived with the first colonists, who considered it essential to their well being. The Puritan minister Increase Mather preached in favor of alcohol but against its abuse: "Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan; the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil". During that century the first distillery was established in the colonies on what is now Staten Island, cultivation of hops began in Massachusetts, and both brewing and distilling were legislatively encouraged in Maryland.

Rum is produced by distilling fermented molasses, which is the residue left after sugar has been made from sugar cane. Although it was introduced to the world, and presumably invented, by the first European settlers in the West Indies, no one knows when it was first produced or by what individual. But by 1657, a rum distillery was operating in Boston. It was highly successful and within a generation the manufacture of rum would become colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry.

Alcoholic beverages have long served as thirst quenchers. Water pollution is far from new; to the contrary, supplies have generally been either unhealthful or questionable at best. Ancient writers rarely wrote about water, except as a warning. Travelers crossing what is now Zaire in 1648 reported having to drink water that resembled horse's urine. In the late eighteenth century most Parisians drank water from a very muddy and often chemically polluted Seine. Coffee and tea were not introduced into Europe until the mid-seventeenth century, and it was another hundred or more years before they were commonly consumed on a daily basis.

Not to be underestimated is the important role alcohol has served in enhancing the enjoyment and quality of life. It can serve as a social lubricant, can provide entertainment, can facilitate relaxation, can provide pharmacological pleasure and can enhance the flavors of food. From prehistoric times people have enjoyed socializing with each other. A natural outcome of this socialization was a formal, designated place of meeting. Early meeting places, or public houses, were a "center for social, religious and political events". Villages and towns often sprang up surrounding these establishments. When meetinghouses or churches were built as the center for religious life, these public houses remained a center for politics, business, and socialization.

The Ohio Land Company was formed in The Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence at the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia. At the Bull Tavern in Phoenixville, land was purchased from the Delaware Indians. Many, like Dilworthtown, also served as courtroom and prison. And let's not forget, the original owners of the Historical Society's historic houses also ran taverns to serve the needs of the local and traveling public.

The terms used for these public houses varied by region. In New England, tavern was the most popular term. Inn and tavern were used interchangeably in the Middle Atlantic States, and the term ordinary was used in the southern colonies. An ordinary implies that a meal was offered "at a set time and price to the public", while an inn implies overnight stays, and tavern simply means food and entertainment.

Whether called an inn, tavern, or ordinary, a public house offered food, drink, socialization, and a place to spend the night for road-weary 18th century travelers. The type of beverages that were permitted to be served were often specified in the tavern license. In 1722, William Barns was granted a license to sell only "beer and ale." However, in his license renewal of 1726, he was granted permission to sell "wine, beer, syder, ale, brandy, rum, and other strong liquors". While taverns were an important local meeting place, it was necessary to maintain proper order within your establishment. In William Barns' 1726 license he was not "to suffer any unlawful game to be used in his house." Failure to keep order could result in loss of license. Sleeping accommodations were somewhat different than what we would expect of an inn today. In the 18th century, it would not be unusual to share a bed with one or more fellow travelers. This was a practical solution during cold weather, as more people in a bed made for warmer night's sleep. Sometimes the accommodations might just be pallets and blankets on the floor. With this type of accommodation, you would want to be sure to get to bed early to grab a prime spot near the fire in order to keep warm during cold weather.

The early taverns were not opened wholly for the convenience of travelers; they were for the comfort of the townspeople, for the interchange of news and opinions, the sale of solacing liquors, and the incidental sociability; in fact, the importance of the tavern to its local neighbors was far greater than to travelers.

By the close of the seventeenth century the word ordinary was passing into disuse in America; public houses had multiplied vastly and had become taverns, though a few old-fashioned folk--in letters, and doubtless in conversation--still called them ordinaries. The word inn, universal in English speech, was little heard here, and tavern was universally adopted. Though to-day somewhat shadowed by a formless reputation of being frequently applied to hostelries of vulgar resort and coarse fare and ways, the word tavern is nevertheless a good one, resonant of sound and accurate of application, since to this present time in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and in other states such large and sumptuous caravansaries as the Touraine and the Somerset Hotel of Boston are in the eye and tongue of the law simply taverns, and their proprietors inn-holders or tavern-keepers.

When America began its movement into the vast West, the saloon was right behind, or more likely, ever present. Though places like Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico already held a few Mexican cantinas, they were far and few between until the many saloons of the West began to sprout up wherever the pioneers established a settlement or where trails crossed.

Saloons also served up volumes of beer, but in those days the beer was never ice cold, usually served at 55 to 65 degrees. Though the beer had a head, it wasn't sudsy as it is today. Patrons had to knock back the beer in a hurry before it got too warm or flat. It wasn't until the 1880's that Adolphus Busch introduced artificial refrigeration and pasteurization to the U.S. brewing process, launching Budweiser as a national brand. Before then, folks in the Old West didn't expect their beer to be cold, accustomed to the European tradition of beer served at room temperature

When Prohibition finally ended, the word "saloon"- had virtually disappeared from American vocabulary and legal establishments once again opened in abundance, referring to themselves as "cocktail lounges"- and "taverns."- Whether it's called a saloon, a speakeasy, a bar, or a tavern, these many recession proof businesses will no doubt, live, not only in our rich history, but long into the future.

At one time, there were thought to be over 100,000 speakeasies in New York City alone, New Jersey claimed there were 10 times as many as before the amendment, and Rochester, New York, twice the number. The same became true all over the nation. Even today, don't we still see the vestige remains of the Old West Saloon as the professional woman may peer down upon the bar waitress, who may peer down upon today's prostitute? And though the gaming tables and spittoons may be long gone, the tavern or bar remains an establishment that is apparently free from the effects of the economy and will, no doubt, always remain a place where business people continue to make deals and people frequent to chase away their cares.



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