Strong alcoholic beverages


Strong alcoholic beverages



A bit of history


In Europe during the Middle Ages, beer was an everyday drink for people of all classes and ages. A document of the time mentions nuns having a monetary allowance measured at six pints of beer for each day. Alcoholic beverages such as cider and apple wine were widely available during these years; grape wine remained the prerogative of the upper classes.


With the unsanitary conditions of medieval Europe, drinking alcoholic beverages helped avoid waterborne diseases such as cholera. It was safer to drink wine and beer than water, which was usually taken from contaminated sources. The alcohol in the drinks helped them to be disinfected and preserved for months. For this reason, they were kept aboard sailing ships as an important (or even the only) source of liquid for the crew, especially during long voyages. Alcohol is also an effective anesthetic, and it served people as a source of energy for hard work.


Distillation of ethyl alcohol


The first references to the distillation of ethyl alcohol C2H5OH are from Greek alchemists working in Alexandria in the first century AD. Distilled water was known since 200 AD, when Alexander Aphrodisius described the process of making it. Arab scientists Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber), Al-Kindi (Alkindus), and Persian scientist Muhammad ibn Zakariya Al-Razi used distillation in their alchemical experiments. In the eleventh century, Avicenna mentions distillation as a method of obtaining essential oils. Among the inventions of the "father of chemistry" Jabir ibn Hayyan was a moonshine machine for the production of alcohol.


Distillation of alcohol in China was known during the Han dynasty (I-II century), but archaeological excavations indicate that alcohol distillation became widespread during the Jin and Song dynasties (X-XIII century).


In Europe, alcohol distillation became known from the XII century, according to the works of medics of the Salerno School of Medicine.


In 1500, the German alchemist Jerome Braunschweig published Liber de arte destillandi (Book on the Art of Distillation). This was the first book devoted to the subject of distillation. In 1651, the scientist John French published The Art of Distillation, a practical guide concerning the distillation of alcohol.


The development of distillation technology made possible the mass production of strong alcoholic beverages. Trade in such drinks began to take a noticeable scale by the XVI century, but the first mentions appear much earlier: 1334 - brandy, 1485 - English gin and whiskey, 1490-1494 - Scotch whiskey, 1520-1522 - German brantwein (schnapps), late XV-early XVI century - Russian and Polish vodka. Different types of such drinks became known under the term of Latin aqua vitae - "water of life". This was the name of Gaelic whisky, French brandy and, probably, vodka; the same term gave its name to the Scandinavian alcoholic beverage of 37.5-50% strength - aquavit.


In the early modern period (1500-1800), Protestant leaders such as Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, leaders of the Anglican Church, and even the Puritans believed that alcohol was a gift from God and was created for pleasure and to keep people healthy; drinking was seen as a sin.


Until the early 18th century, attitudes toward drinking were positive with moderate consumption, while drunkenness was condemned.


Despite the existing ideal of moderation, alcohol consumption was generally high during this time. In the 16th century, consumption of alcoholic beverages reached 100 liters per year per person. In Valladolid, Spain, and Poland, peasants consumed up to three liters of beer per day. In Coventry, England, the average amount of beer and ale consumed was about 17 liters per person per week. Swedes consumed 40 times as much beer as they do now. English sailors received a gallon of beer a day, while soldiers received two-thirds of a gallon (a gallon is a measure of volume in the English system of measures, corresponding to 3.79 to 4.55 liters, depending on the country of consumption). In Denmark, the usual consumption of beer was one gallon per day for an adult. It is important to note that modern beer (3-5% alcohol) is much stronger than beer in the past (about 1% alcohol).


Most wines produced in Northern Europe at that time were light-colored, light-flavored and low in alcohol. Such wines could not be aged and eventually became musty. Wine producers did not consider it necessary to incur the expense of aging wine. By the 16th century, aged wines were made only in Mediterranean countries. In the 17th century, two developments occurred that revolutionized the wine industry in the production of aged wines. The first was the use of cork and glass bottles, which allowed wines to be stored in a virtually airtight environment; the second was the rise in popularity of fortified wines such as port, madera, and sherry. The addition of alcohol was used as a preservative, allowing wines to survive long sea voyages to England, America, and the East Indies.


The production and distribution of spirits was slow. Throughout the sixteenth century they were drunk mainly for medicinal purposes. In the sixteenth century, moonshine was created. The word "samogon" in the sense of a home-produced drink appeared in Russia in 1917. Samogon is a product of the distillation of brogue, in contrast, vodka is not a distillate - it is made from alcohol obtained by rectification in a special rectification column.


Sparkling champagne made its debut in the 17th century. One of the first propagandists of sparkling wine was the French monk Perignon. Pierre Perignon introduced a number of innovations in the technology of its production, opened the possibility of blending, combined the juices of different grape varieties, began to pour wine into bottles with thick glass, which allowed to safely retain carbon dioxide, which previously destroyed the barrels. Perignon was one of the first to make barrel stoppers from cork oak bark.


The grain was the original product for whisky. Its origins are unknown, but it has been produced in Ireland and Scotland for centuries. The first written mention of whisky in Ireland dates back to 1405, the production of whisky from barley is first mentioned in Scotland in records from 1494.


The drink known as gin (Dutch for "juniper") is made by adding juniper berries to alcohol. The French changed the name to genievre, the English changed it to "geneva" and then modified it to "gin" ("gin"). It was originally used for medicinal purposes. In 1690 in England was adopted "Act to encourage the distillation of brandy and spirits from grain", and within four years the annual production of spirits, mainly gin, reached almost a million gallons. It should be noted that the word "corn" in the British English of the time meant "grain" in general, while in the American version of English it refers mainly to sugar corn.


In the 18th century, the British Parliament passed laws to encourage the use of grain for distilling spirits. In 1685, gin consumption in England was just over half a million gallons, but by 1714 had already reached two million gallons. In 1727 production reached five million gallons; six years later there were eleven million gallons of gin produced.


The English government actively promoted gin production to utilize the surplus grain produced and to raise revenue. Encouraged by government policy, cheap drinks flooded the market. In their consumption, London's growing urban poor found solace in the harsh realities of city life. The so-called gin epidemic ensued.


To reduce the negative consequences, Parliament in 1736 passed a law banning the sale of gin in quantities over two liters and sharply increasing taxes on it. However, the drink reached its peak seven years later, when a country of six and a half million people drank 18 million gallons of gin a year. Most of the drink was consumed in London and other cities; in the countryside, the population largely consumed beer, ale, and cider.