Humankind has had a long history of using plants and weeds for their intoxicant, medicinal or social properties. Throughout the world and through the ages, plants have been smoked, chewed, applied on, or ingested, and their use has been accompanied often by elaborate social and religious rituals. As Mark Twain once declared (perhaps tongue in cheek): "to cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did; I ought to know because I have done it a thousand times".
Drinking is shared by groups of people around the world involved in alcoholic beverages. Although the type of alcohol, social attitude toward (and acceptance of) drinking varies around the world, nearly every civilization has independently discovered the process of brewing beer, fermenting wine or distilling liquor. Alcohol and its effects have been present wherever people have lived throughout history. Drinking is documented in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, Greek literature as old as Homer, and Confucius' Analects. Given its continuing popularity and the failure of alcohol Prohibitions, drinking may remain a part of human life interminably.
In I Timothy, Paul advises his young disciple: "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and for thine often [i.e., common] infirmities."- It might amuse Paul to learn that after nearly two thousand years the United States government finally agrees with him. In its most recently issued guidelines for nutrition, the federal government acknowledged that a modest intake of alcohol is not harmful and might even have benefits for the heart.
At the risk of touching off another conflagration between Union and Confederacy, I have to admit that the mint julep, a libation that on its home turf is more hotly debated and glorified than proper barbecue, more often than not fails to please, and for some fairly obvious reasons. The problem comes in its lack of balance. To take bourbon, which is by nature the sweetest whiskey""distilled, as it is by law, from a mash consisting of at least 51 percent corn""and combine it simply with sugar or sugar syrup and mint leaves, depending on which of the dozens of vociferously defended recipes you follow, is setting up a tripod with a missing leg, as it were.
Most great cocktails consist of an alcohol blended with a sweetener and something sour or bitter, for balance. I have chanced across heretical recipes that add a couple of drops of Peychaud's bitters, but rounding the drink out properly with some type of citrus or other juice would prove a sacrilege that would have purists screaming murder. I love bourbon and I love mint, but the thought of downing a tall julep, with all that alcohol and all that unmitigated sugar, makes my mouth thick and brings on reflections of hangovers sure to come.
Here, then, is roughly the same thing, done to an unimprovable turn yet largely ignored in the current boom of cocktail culture. Could it be simply the dowdiness of its moniker that causes the Old-Fashioned to be trampled underfoot in the heavy traffic of the younger drinker? One thinks invariably of a favorite aunt or of Grandpa's hunting buddies downing a few over cards. It is aptly named, being as direct a descendant as we can tell from what may be the first real American cocktail. When bitters and vermouth began entering the American market in the early nineteenth century, they immediately changed the way people took their drinks, opening up the practice of mixing cocktails.
Jerry Thomas, author of the first recipe book of American cocktails, cites an early version of the Old-Fashioned as simply whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water with a bit of lemon garnish. The drink evolved to include a wedge of orange and a cherry, all muddled with the sugar to release their aromatics, atop which the whiskey""rye makes a slightly grippier version than bourbon""and ice are added. There is also a school that gives it a goose of seltzer. The bitters and citrus balance the sweetness and allow a lyrical interplay with the hooch. If it got a PR makeover and were renamed the Old-School, you might see a serious spike in interest in this erstwhile star. But then, cocktails don't care who drinks them, and what's better than having an intriguing, history-drenched ace in the hole to pull out when everyone else in your party is ordering a vodka and tonic?
Cavemen brewed a beerlike substance, evidenced by cave drawings of beer like substance pong in 10,000 B.C. In 7000 B.C. wine production begins in China. It's good stuff, but you feel sober an hour later. Years after the flood, Noah gets wasted and strips to his birthday suit, confirming that he did bring two of everything in 2304 B.C. In 2000 B.C. booze takes root in Greece. Bacchanalia is born 1,000 years later, and young boys start looking kinda good. The supposedly immortal Alexander the Great croaks at age 32 after drinking just a bit too much at a party in 323 B.C. In 200 A.D. Pulque, a precursor of tequila, gains popularity in Mesoamerica. What good is human sacrifice without body shots?
In 800 A.D. alcohol is first distilled by Muslim chemists. Woo-hoo! The hard stuff is finally here! At the Battle of Hastings, Norman invaders conquer the Saxons, who lost in part because they were so damned drunk in 1066. In 1405 the first written record of whiskey is scribbled in Ireland, on a bar napkin. The Mayflower lands at Plymouth Rock, bearing more beer than water. That's why they wore belt buckles on their hats in 1620. In 1650 gin is invented in Holland. Soon after, a drunk dude decides that wood would make for super-comfortable footwear. European settlers in the West Indies begin distilling sugarcane into rum.
The first rum distillery opens in Boston, and thus Beantown's rich tradition of responsible drinking is born in 1657. In 1743 gin consumption in Britain reaches a peak of three gallons per person per year. George Washington buys his way into the Virginia House of Burgesses with 144 gallons of hooch in 1758. In 1787 The Founding Fathers celebrate the Constitutions's ratification with a legendary bender. America, fuck yeah. There is a God! The first batch of bourbon is made by a Baptist minister in 1789. In 1792 Absinthe is invented. "The Green Fairy" is blamed for homicides, suicides, and that Baz Lurhmann movie.
A social history of alcohol raises two great questions: To what extent are human beings willing to go for pleasure, even when that pleasure might ultimately cause pain, and why? To what extent are other human beings willing to go to restrict that pleasure, even when the restrictions might cause chaos, and why?
The extent to which our forebears, the original American colonists, consumed alcohol is amazing. There wasn't a single abstainer among the Founding Fathers, and they and their generation drank from morning to night, perhaps starting the day with rum or brandy and ending with a mixed drink called a hotchpotch. Furthermore, they drank on the job and while shopping, at weddings and funerals, and even in the courtroom, passing around a bottle while guilt or innocence was being decided by judge or jury.
Because of their loneliness and increasing alienation from the Motherland, because of the unsanitary nature of other beverages of the time, and because of their belief in the medicinal powers of booze caused them to drink so much. In fact, there was an insurance company in colonial times that raised its rates ten percent for the non-drinker, believing him "thin and watery."-
Candidates would vie with one another to see who could spend the most money on booze for the voters. And the voters felt they were entitled to as much of the stuff as they could get; after all, they would often have to travel long distances over hard roads to get to a polling place. George Washington lost his first bid for elective office because he did not buy enough spirituous beverage for his voting populace. He did not make the mistake a second time.
In 1794 the Whiskey Rebellion occurs. Consult a middle schooler if you can't remember what that was, 'cause we can't either. The word cocktail first appears in print. Literacy rates skyrocket in 1806. In 1832 Abraham Lincoln receives his first liquor license and emancipates frontiersmen from sobriety. Fifteen states declare alcohol illegal in the 1850s; booze consumption jumps by 63 percent. Naturally. In 1862 The martini is invented. Olive drownings reach epidemic proportions. In 1863 Vin Manani, a cocaine wine that Pope Leo XIII endorsed, arrives. It's addictively delicious!
The Manhattan is invented ... at the behest of Winston Churchill's mother in 1874. In 1888 Absinthe enthusiast Vincent Van Gogh cuts off left ear lobe to impress a girl. It totally worked. Seriously, give it a try. The teenage Ernest Hemingway begins his life in the cups as a cub reporter in Kansas City in 1916.
In 1919 the National Prohibition Act is passed. Americans can't drink but are allowed to wear funny hats. Franklin Roosevelt decides to celebrate his election with a drink, and repeals Prohibition in 1933. In 1934 the Bloody Mary (Breakfast of champions) is invented at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
In 1976 Vodka becomes America's best-selling spirit, knocking gin from its boozy perch. Future Boozer-in-Chief George W.Bush is arrested for DUI. John Bonham dies in 1980 after an all-day bender. It was a shock. He took such great care of himself. Going to war? Yes. Buying a beer? No. The U.S. government raises the drinking age to 21 in 1984. In 1998 a hung-over David Wells pitches a perfect game and in 2007 the American ban on absinthe is lifted. Bring on the murder-inducing hallucinations!
According to various apocryphal stories, the custom of touching glasses evolved from concerns about poisoning. By one account, clinking glasses together would cause each drink to spill over into the others (though there is no real evidence for such an origin).
According to other stories, the word 'toast' became associated with the custom in the 17th century, based on a custom of flavoring drinks with spiced toast. The word originally referred to the lady in whose honor the drink was proposed, her name being seen as figuratively flavoring the drink.
The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting "is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words "Ëœlong life!' or "Ëœto your health!'"-
In many cultures, toasting is common and to not do so may be a breach of etiquette. The general theme of the common brief toasts is "good luck" or "good health". At formal meals in certain countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, the first toast to be proposed is traditionally the Loyal Toast ("The Queen"). This may be adapted in other countries to give a loyal toast to the appropriate Head of State.
So you have to give a toast. Oh, don't be nervous. You'll probably do great. It's hard to fail completely. And even if you do, it's not like people put awkward and embarrassing videos on the Internet, right? So what's there to be nervous about? There are no bad 10-second toasts. There are no good 10-minute toasts. No one in the whole recorded history of people talking has ever said, "I wish that speech were longer."
No insults or vulgar stories belong in your toast. We know they're funny. But your aunt doesn't. Unless your aunt is Gilbert Gottfried. If you practice your toast in front of a mirror, remember: a mirror won't tell you that you aren't as hilarious as you think you are. That's what friends are for. A toast is a chance to say what we always mean to say to the people we love. That's why you're giving the toast. Be sincere. And specific. Your sister is more than totally awesome. She's a role model, an inspiration, a friend who's really been there for you.
Watch how much you drink. Its just an innocent little drink, but drop your guard and alcohol will wrestle you to the ground and pummel your guts until you beg for mercy. As you deliver the perfect toast, you need to look and see that glass in your hand you know the one you've been pointing at the guest of honor. It doesn't have to be the first glass you've held that night. But it better not be your seventh.
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