The noted blogger Fjordman is filing this report via Gates of Vienna.
For a complete Fjordman blogography, see The Fjordman Files. There is also a multi-index listing here.
A plain HTML printer-friendly version is available here.
As always when writing about a specific topic, I have used a combination of different sources when doing research for this essay, but the single most important source of information was A History of Beer and Brewing by Ian Hornsey. His book is perhaps a little bit too much focused on Britain but is overall very comprehensive and well worth reading. It traces the history of brewing from prehistoric times until the turn of the twenty-first century. Another work I found valuable was Richard W. Unger’s book Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Unger’s text contains a little information on brewing-practices in the ancient world and even less of the scientific-industrial brewing that we know after the Industrial Revolution. However, his coverage of the Middle Ages and the early modern period is quite good, and I will quote his work extensively when writing about this period.
Fermented beverages brewed from grains such as rice or wheat have been used in East Asia for thousands of years and played an important role in the early religious life of China. The use of alcohol in moderation was believed to be prescribed by heaven. Inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells as well as fine bronze vessels preserve records of people from the Shang era (second millennium BC) worshipping their ancestors with a variety of alcoholic beverages. Such beverages were used in all segments of Chinese society for hospitality and inspiration. During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup included some of the greatest poets in China’s history, among them Li Bai and Du Fu, known for their love of alcoholic drinks. Beverages made from grapes were not totally unknown in East Asia, but wine was never as widely consumed there as it was in western Eurasia.
Kaffir beer is the traditional drink of the Bantu peoples of southern Africa. It has been likened to “bubbling yogurt.” The shelf-life of the product is restricted to a few days, and “unlike most European beers, African products contain a mixture of acids and alcohols, and have a sour taste.” In Mesoamerica, fermented drinks were known, including one made from cacao beans, but north of Mexico, few or none alcoholic beverages were produced in pre-Columbian times. The Berbers of North Africa grew barley and wheat and made wine for centuries, but beer was unknown in the region until it was introduced in modern times by Europeans.
In South America, chicha is the generic name applied to native beer. This brew typically contains a slight amount of alcohol, 1-3%. The Incas used the drink for ritual purposes. Traces of its making have been found at the city of Machu Picchu. According to scholar Terence N. D’Altroy in his book The Incas, fermented beverages were so much a part of the cuisine in the Andes region “that being forced to drink water was a form of punishment.” The Incas by AD 1500 ruled over a vast empire, stretching from Ecuador to central Chile despite many natural obstacles in this mountainous region. It was held together by rather totalitarian political methods as well as by a very extensive network of roads and chains of runners who bore messages orally or recorded in quipu, a code of knots in colored cords.
Chicha was most commonly associated with maize, but other raw materials could be used. The greatest diversity in wild potato species occurs in the Lake Titicaca region of Peru and Bolivia, where the now-familiar crop was probably domesticated between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago. As Ellen Messer says in The Cambridge World History of Food, “In their Andean heartland, potatoes have always been consumed fresh (boiled or roasted) or reconstituted in stews from freeze-dried or sun-dried forms. They have been the most important root-crop starchy staple, although other cultivated and wild tubers are consumed along with cereals, both indigenous (maize and quinoa) and nonindigenous (barley and wheat). Despite the importance of the potato, cereals were often preferred. For example, Inca ruling elites, just prior to conquest, were said to have favored maize over potatoes, perhaps because the cereal provided denser carbohydrate-protein-fat calories and also was superior for brewing.”
A major turning point in human history was the transition from an extractive economy (foraging and collecting) to a productive, agrarian economy with domesticated plants and animals, the so-called Neolithic Revolution, a term coined in the 1920s by the Australian scholar Gordon Childe (1892-1957). This gradual transition from the life of nomadic hunter-gatherers to more settled communities of food producers happened independently in several parts of the world, but very early (ca. 9000-7000 BC) in the Near East and the Fertile Crescent, where many useful plants and animals were naturally available.
It is theoretically possible that alcoholic beverages could have been made prior to this. Some raw materials of fermentation (i.e. sources of sugar) were naturally available to pre-Neolithic peoples, primarily wild berries and fruits, tree sap and honey. However, it is unlikely that reproducible beers could have been brewed until after the invention of some sort of pottery vessels. The earliest pottery containers we currently know of were produced before 10,000 BC in China and Japan, somewhat later in other regions. In temperate zones there were relatively few abundant sources of sugar. Hornsey writes:
“Thus, for much of Europe, at least, honey is the logical candidate for being the basis of the original fermented beverage, some sort of mead. According to Vencl (1991), mead was known in Europe long before wine, although archaeological evidence for it is rather ambiguous. This is principally because the confirmed presence of beeswax, or certain types of pollen (such as lime, Tilia spp., and meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria), is only indicative of the presence of honey (which could have been used for sweetening some other drink) — not necessarily of the production of mead. For more southerly parts of Europe, and for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, the fermentation of the sap and fruits of tree crops, such as the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.), offers the most likely means by which alcoholic drinks were first produced with any degree of regularity. The date palm was one of the first fruit trees to be taken into cultivation in the Old World (ca. mid-4th millennium BC), and its sap and fruits contain one of the most concentrated sources of sugar (60-70%) known on the planet.”
Moreover, as Hornsey states, “In more temperate zones, mature specimens of trees such as birch (Betula spp.) and maple (Acer spp.) were bored early in the year (January or February) and sap was collected until the trees set bud. In early spring it has been reported that a mature birch can yield some 20-30 litres of sap daily (with a sugar content of 2-8%, plus some vitamins and minerals), some of which can be stored until summer. Such activities are historically attested for in North America, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe, and in many instances it would appear that the sap was consumed ‘neat’….It is thought that sap was more important than fruit juices in prehistoric times, especially in northern Europe, something that can be gleaned from the fact that the Finnish word for sap is mahla, and that this gave its name to the month of March in both the old Finnish and Estonian languages. The sugar levels of tree sap can be concentrated by boiling, and it is of note that maple sugar was manufactured in Europe until the early 19th century (and still is in North America in the 21st century).”
Archaeologist Merryn Dineley claims that ritual brewing in Neolithic ceremonies in Scotland dates back to around 3000 BC. Meadowsweet, the addition of which can extend the shelf-life of such beers by several weeks, was one component of a number of possible prehistoric brews discovered in Scotland. This ale would have been flavored with meadowsweet in the manner of a kvass made by various northern European tribes, including the Celts and the Picts.
We know of several ancient, simply prepared drinks that might have been precursors of what we today know as beer. Kvass or kvas is a fermented beverage, typically with an alcoholic content as low as 1%, which has been consumed in the Baltic region, Russia, the Ukraine and many Eastern and Central European countries for a very long time, often flavored with fruits or herbs. It may constitute a “fossil beer,” and there are those who believe that the beers consumed in early Mesopotamian cultures may have been something resembling kvass.
Recorded human history begins with the rise of urban literate civilization in Mesopotamia, starting with the Sumerians and the cities of Uruk, Ur, Lagash and Kish in the fourth millennium BC. These peoples had access to barley and wheat, which would be regarded as the preferred grains by most brewers. The origin of wheat and barley is believed to lie in the Fertile Crescent. Wild barley grew in Israel and Syria, the Jordan Valley with the extremely ancient Neolithic town of Jericho via eastern Anatolia to Mesopotamia and western Iran. Apart from barley, all of the major cereal crops such as wheat, oats, rye, millets, maize, sorghum and rice have been used to make beer. Some of the oldest written texts in the world contain lists of grains and ingredients for making beer. Sumerian Mesopotamia produced a variety of beers, most of which were probably weaker than European beers of medieval times.
Beer was a popular drink in Mesopotamia during all eras and was consumed by all social groups, interlinked with mythology, religion and medicine, synonymous with happiness and a civilized life. Both filtered and unfiltered beers were brewed. Beer that had not gone through any sieving or settlement phase was drunk through straws in order to avoid gross sediment. Numerous cylinder seals have been recovered which show several individuals drinking through straws from a communal vessel, which supports the notion that drinking beer was a social activity. Beer played a crucial role in the ceremonial life of ancient Egypt, too. Douglas J. Brewer and Emily Teeter sate in their book Egypt and the Egyptians, second edition:
– – – – – – – – –
“The most popular drink in Egypt was beer, and we assume that all Egyptians — rich and poor, male and female — drank great quantities of it in spite of advice such as ‘Don’t indulge in drinking beer, lest you utter evil speech, and don’t know what you are saying’ (from the ‘Instructions of Ani’). Wages were paid in grain, which was used to make two staples of the Egyptian diet: bread and beer. Beer was made from barley dough, so bread making and beer making are often shown together. Barley dough destined for beer making was partially baked and then crumbled into a large vat, where it was mixed with water and sometimes sweetened with date juice. This mixture was left to ferment, which it did quickly; the liquid was then strained into a pot that was sealed with a clay stopper. Ancient Egyptian beer had to be drunk soon after it was made because it went flat very quickly. Egyptians made a variety of beers of different strengths.”
Workers were often paid in grain or grain products such as beer or bread. People at all levels of Egyptian society drank beer. Brewing was not as tied to the temples as it was in Mesopotamia, but there was some government regulation here as well. Breweries in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Syria could be large, but in the warm climate the beer would quickly become undrinkable and could thus not be transported too far or exported to distant regions.
Baking and brewing often went on in shared quarters on the estates of Egypt since these two processes involved the same raw materials and similar equipment. Artistic evidence suggests a strong link between brewing and bread-making, both being domestic duties usually performed by women. Women made much of the beer in medieval Europe, too, until brewing become a capital-intensive industry and gradually became dominated by men. The roles of microscopic organisms in baking and brewing, however, were not fully appreciated until the scientific advances of nineteenth century Europe.
Beer was consumed by many other ancient peoples, too, including the Hittites, Hebrews, Philistines, Thracians, Illyrians, Phrygians and Scythians. Some African peoples, like the Nubians and the Ethiopians, would appear to have developed their own methods of brewing, making use of indigenous raw materials. The Eskimos in the Arctic drank chiefly iced water and warm blood before they were confronted by Europeans and their alcoholic drinks.
Wine has frequently throughout recorded history enjoyed greater prestige than beer and has often been the preferred choice of the wealthy and the privileged. It is difficult to say why. Maybe it was because wine was usually stronger than beer or that it kept longer. We cannot say with certainty that it always tasted better. Regardless of the reason for this, it is a fact that wine was often valued more highly. This attitude arguably still exists today, when beer is often viewed as the drink of the “common man,” while those eating at expensive restaurants will normally prefer a glass of fine wine rather than a glass of beer to accompany their food.
Wine was widely consumed in the ancient Middle East, and sometimes its effects were enhanced by additives. Along with eating and drinking went song and dance. Egyptians and Mesopotamians found it difficult to grow large amounts of grapes on their own and instead imported what they could not make. Thousands of wine jars were deposited in the tombs of the first pharaohs of Egypt at Saqqara (Memphis) and Abydos, the main centers of the recently united country, around 3100 BC. This wine was apparently imported from southern Palestine. It is clear that there was large-scale production of wine in the Levant — present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan — already by this early date. Scholar Patrick E. McGovern elaborates in his book Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture:
“The wild Eurasian grapevine has a range that extends over 6000 kilometers from east to west, from Central Asia to Spain, and some 1300 kilometers from north to south, from the Crimea to Northwest Africa….The plasticity of the plant and the inventiveness of humans might appear to argue for multiple domestications. But, if there was more than one domestication event, how does one account for the archaeological and historical evidence that the earliest wine was made in the upland, northern parts of the Near East? From there, according to the best substantiated scenario, it gradually spread to adjacent regions such as Egypt and Lower Mesopotamia (ca. 3500-3000 B.C.). Somewhat later (by 2200 B.C.), it was being enjoyed on Crete. Inexorably, the elixir of the ancient world made its way in temporal succession westward to Rome and its colonies and up the major rivers into Europe. From there, the prolific Eurasian grapevine spread to the New World, where it continues to intertwine itself with emerging economies.”
Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian botanist, has suggested that the first “wine culture” emerged in Transcaucasia, the region stretching between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, comprising modern Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Not all scholars agree with this theory, but it is clear from archaeological evidence that the Black Sea region and the Eastern Mediterranean contain some of the earliest wine-producing regions in the world. The Phoenicians from present-day Lebanon brought wine to new areas in Spain and Portugal, a number of Mediterranean islands as well as Carthage, the Phoenician-derived North African city which was to prove a serious challenge to the emerging Roman supremacy in the Mediterranean world during the Punic Wars, especially under the leadership of the great Carthaginian general and military strategist Hannibal (ca. 247-ca. 183 BC).
The Phoenicians competed with and taught another wine-loving people, the Greeks, as both groups plied their ships throughout the Mediterranean, traded their goods and planted vineyards as they went. The Greeks adopted the concept of the alphabet from them. Indo-European languages such as Greek and Latin contain more vowels than Semitic ones, so the Greeks invented signs for vowels when they adopted the Phoenician consonantal alphabet. This new script spread together with wine and wine culture. Some of the earliest known examples of Greek alphabetic writing are scratched onto wine jugs, and the earliest preserved examples of the Roman alphabet are inscriptions on drinking cups and wine containers.
The first alphabetic scripts may have been inspired by the Egyptian writing system, which included a set of hieroglyphs for single consonants. The letter “A” came from a pictogram of an ox head (the Semitic word for “ox” was aleph), the drawing of a house (the Semitic word for “house” was baytu) represented the sound “B” etc. A cuneiform alphabet existed in the Syrian city of Ugarit ca. 1500-1300 BC, but this version later died out. A modified version of the early alphabet was used for the Semitic languages Hebrew and Aramaic from about the ninth century BC. After the Persians adopted the use of Aramaic in their vast empire, the concept of the alphabet spread to the Indian subcontinent and from there on to Southeast Asia and other regions of Asia. The Phoenicians exported their Semitic alphabet to the Greeks and eventually the Romans. In the modern era, the Roman/Latin alphabet was then brought by Europeans to the rest of the world. Consequently, all peoples in the world today, except those who use Chinese characters, can ultimately trace their script back to a Semitic-speaking people inspired by a limited number of Egyptian hieroglyphs in the second millennium BC.
Where the Greek alphabet was created is not clear, but it may well have been on some of the islands where the ancient Greeks came into frequent contact with Phoenician traders, for instance Cyprus or Crete, possibly around 800 BC. The period from roughly 800 BC to 500 BC saw the establishment of numerous Greek city-states. By the time of Aristotle in the fourth century BC, Greek colonies existed in southern France, the Iberian Peninsula, southern Italy, Asia Minor and in what is now southern Russia and Georgia. Krasnodar Krai on the Black Sea coast remains an important Russian wine district to this day. This Greek cultural presence was greatly expanded after the conquests of Aristotle’s student Alexander the Great.
The ancient Greeks and Romans were familiar with beer, but to them, drinking alcohol above all meant drinking wine. When Classical authors did mention beer, its most beneficial property was considered to be its ability to soften ivory to make jewelery. Beer was consumed within the Roman Empire, especially in the border regions in the north. Most of the major wine producing regions in Western Europe today, and some of those in Eastern Europe, were established by the Romans, including the famous Bordeaux region of France. Wine production grew so much that some provinces exported wine back to the Italian Peninsula.
By the third century BC the Celtic world consisted of a series of autonomous tribes stretching across much of Europe from Ireland to Poland and Hungary, plus pockets of Celtic influence in Anatolia, the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere. After this, the Celts were more and more under pressure by the advancing Romans and the Germanic peoples. The loss of northern Spain and Italy, but especially France (the Gaul) to the Romans was a serious setback, and the Celts of the Danube soon disappeared. This left mainly the British Isles as a Celtic repository. In Britain, the Celtic-speaking peoples were eventually pressured into Ireland, Scotland (Calcedonia) and Wales. In France, even the name “Gaul” disappeared; its current name comes from a post-Roman Germanic tribe, the Franks, although Celtic speech survived in some northern regions such as Brittany (Bretagne in French).
The standard wine container of the ancient Mediterranean world was the amphora, a clay vase with two handles and a long, narrow neck. It was the invention of the Canaanites, the forebears of the Phoenicians, who introduced it in the Levant around 1500 BC. It was strong and easily stored and became used for virtually any commodity that could be poured: wine, olive oil, grain and garum, the fermented fish sauce so popular among the Romans. According to Julius Caesar, the Gauls in the first century BC were happy to swap a slave for a 25-liter amphora of wine. A slave would have been worth six times more in the Roman marketplace. The amphora was eventually superseded by the wooden barrel for the transport of wine.
As Hugh Johnson says in The Story of Wine, “Wood and metal were the Celts’ favourite materials. So skilful were they with roof beams that some of the more ambitious of the stone vaults of Rome could not have been achieved without Celtic carpenters to make the templates. Iron wood-working tools have been found from the La Tène culture of Switzerland in the fifth century BC which would be familiar in a cooper’s shop today. The earliest barrels even had iron hoops, which gave way to wooden encircling bands in Roman times, only to be reinstated in the barrels of the seventeenth century. The historical trend has been for barrels to become shorter and fatter — otherwise there has been almost no change in form. The Romans soon realized the superiority of the light, resilient, rollable barrel over the cumbersome, fragile amphora, particularly in cooler northern climates with high humidity. The one advantage of the amphora that the barrel did not possess was that it could not be made airtight. Wood ‘breathes’; wine cannot be ‘laid down’ to mature for years in a barrel, as it can in an amphora.”
The Celts drank mead at certain great calendar festivals; otherwise they primarily consumed beer. Author Richard W. Unger writes in his well-researched work Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance:
“In the early fifth century, Orosius said that beer was the typical drink of those living in the high plains of Spain and, in all likelihood, the peoples of Celtic origin in that part of the Roman Empire continued the practice of brewing throughout the Middle Ages as did many others in the lands once ruled from Rome. Beer drinking was identified with Germans, including those who lived on both sides of the northern limits of Roman rule. The description of daily life among Germans in Germania by the first-century Roman historian Tacitus gives a documentary basis for the connection. A law of one German tribe, the Alemanii, set a contribution of beer to be made annually to a temple, so the drink may have had a religious function among the Germans.”
According to authors J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams, the Proto-Indo-European lexicon which has been carefully reconstructed by scholars through generations of comparative linguistics contains words which indicate a diet that included meat, broth, salt, dairy products and the consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer, mead and possibly wine:
“The consumption of milk by adults also has genetic implications in that many people become lactose intolerant after childhood, i.e. become ill when they consume milk. This situation is particularly prevalent in the Mediterranean while lactose tolerance increases as one moves northwards. The ability to consume milk has been seen as a selective advantage among northern Europeans in that it helps replace the necessary quantities of vitamin D which is reduced in regions of poor sunlight. The processing of milk into butter or cheese reduces the ill effects of lactose intolerance. The different alcoholic beverages also merit brief discussion. The word for ‘mead’ (*médhu) is well attested phonologically….There is archaeological evidence for mead from the third millennium BC but it may be considerably older. Beer (*helut) is earliest attested, about the mid fourth millennium BC (Iran and Egypt), but it too may be older. The proliferation of drinking cups that is seen in central and eastern Europe about 3500 BC has been associated with the spread of alcoholic beverages and, possibly, special drinking cults.”
The sign * indicates that this word is not directly attested in any written source, but it is likely that something similar to this word once existed. Through hard work, Western linguists have backtracked from later, attested Indo-European languages such as Greek, Latin and Sanskrit and carefully reconstructed a suggested vocabulary and grammar for the original Proto-Indo-European language, the hypothetical ancestral language of the entire Indo-European language family, which includes modern English, French, Spanish, German and Russian.
For those speaking Proto-Indo-European, honey (*medhu) was important as the source of mead, which was also called *medhu. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from honey and water, sometimes with added ingredients or spices. It was historically consumed in southern Europe but particularly in the northern regions where grapevines do not grow easily. Honey collection is a very ancient activity dating far back into prehistoric times. In early civilizations honey, created by honey bees as a food source, was used to sweeten cakes and various dishes, in the production of alcoholic beverages and even for embalming the dead. It was appreciated as one of few natural sweeteners and could be stored for years, an unusual and valuable property before the invention of modern refrigeration and food preservation techniques. Due to its antibacterial properties, honey was sometimes utilized to treat wounds.
The presence of honey in a fermented beverage does not automatically make it mead. Honey can be used to add flavor to wine or beer. It is likely that many early alcoholic beverages were of a “mixed” nature, and it may not have been until the first millennium BC that “pure” drinks such as mead and beer began to appear. The supply of honey available to the peoples of Bronze Age Europe was not likely to have been on a scale that would have permitted massive production of mead. It is more realistic, therefore, to assume that mead was reserved for special occasions, and that beer made from grain was the day-to-day drink.
The Minoan civilization which flourished on the island of Crete from about 2000 BC had an advanced economy fueled by trade with Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. Evidence from 1600 BC suggests that the Minoan production of wine had by then been underway for some time. The emerging Mycenaean culture on mainland Greece, whose members spoke an early version of Greek, was probably familiar with wine at this point and soon dominated Crete. After the collapse of Minoan civilization, winemaking was common throughout Greece and the Aegean. As Rodney Castleden states in his book Minoans, Life in Bronze Age Crete:
“Bees were important in the Minoan economy, as the honey they produced was the main source of sugar….The bee was used as a decorative motif. The famous gold pendant found at Mallia seems to show a pair of bees kissing. It has been proposed that it may be a pair of wasps fighting instead, on the grounds that the insects look more like wasps or hornets; on the other hand the Egyptians, with whom the Minoans shared many conventions, tended to portray bees in this way, so it is a difficult image to interpret. Archive tablets at Knossos record offerings of honey to the goddess Eleuthia, so it seems likely that some of the large storage jars at Knossos were used to store honey. One of the many legends surrounding the Knossos Labyrinth is the story of Glaukos, a son of King Minos who, while exploring the labyrinth’s cellars, fell into a huge jar of honey and drowned….Honey does make a very pleasant additive to alcoholic drinks, especially mulled wine, and we may assume that at least some of the distinctively flavoured Cretan honey stored at Knossos would have been stirred into wine for consumption in the sanctuaries.”
Mead was widely drunk in the Baltic Sea region, in Finland, Scandinavia, Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, parts of Central Europe and in Wales more than in England. It continued to be a popular drink in these northern regions for a long time, but consumption gradually declined as beer drinking spread. In Russia mead was widely consumed long after its decline in popularity in the West. It is possible to buy bottles of freshly made mead from commercial producers today, but the drink has by now very much become a product for those with special interests, compared to the far greater importance it once enjoyed.
With the beginning of the colonial period in Western Europe, sugar cultivation was spread to the New World, starting with the Portuguese and the Spanish and continuing with the Dutch, the British and the French. Masses of cheap sugar, often grown by African slaves as plantation workers in the Caribbean islands and the West Indies, were imported to Europe. As prices declined, sugar became increasingly common also among the poor and was used for jams and candy as well as added to the new tropical drinks, tea, coffee and cacao. The availability of imported sugar gradually reduced the traditional importance of honey as a natural sweetener, although many European countries still remain major producers of honey.
The Neolithic Revolution in western Eurasia (there were probably independent inventions of agriculture in East Asia, Mesoamerica and a few other regions), began in the Near East. From this core region domesticated plants and animals, including wheat, barley and other grains used for beer, spread to neighboring regions such as the Black Sea and southeastern Europe, Central Asia and India. Scholar E. E. Kuzmina writes in The Prehistory of the Silk Road:
“The Southwestern Asian (Near Eastern) origin of domesticated animal species is apparent from the faunal remains of domesticated animals found at the sites that are dated more than a thousand years older than the domesticated animal remains found at sites in other regions of the Old World. Second, it is the Southwestern Asian species that spread into other regions. Last — and most important — according to genetic evidence, the only wild ancestor of the domesticated sheep, from which originated all the varieties of modern species in the Old World, was found only in the foothills of the Zagros (eastern Iran). Much later the domestication of local animal species took place in the zones of the secondary civilizations.”
After the end of the last Ice Age (ca. 13,000 BC) came the gradual development of a milder climate similar to today’s from about 9500 to 8000 BC. During this period agriculture was established in the Fertile Crescent and eventually beyond. As the eminent scholar Barry Cunliffe says in his 2008 book Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000:
“By 7000 BC Europe was peopled by communities whose basic subsistence depended solely upon collecting food. Those inhabiting the forests of Europe were mobile hunter-gatherers following their food sources as the seasons determined: others living in the lusher and more varied environments of the major river valleys, the estuaries and around the coasts were foragers with a more sedentary lifestyle. By 4000 BC all this had changed. In all but the most northern and eastern reaches of Europe communities had become food producers, cultivating crops of grain and herding domesticated animals — activities that called for a far more sedentary mode of existence based on village settlements occupied over many generations. It was a dramatic transformation. Mesolithic hunter-gatherers were replaced by Neolithic food producers and with the new regime came the ‘Neolithic package’ — ground stone tools, pottery and rectangular timber buildings, together with domesticated sheep, goats, cattle and pigs, and cultivated cereals.”
According to The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe, which is edited by Mr. Cunliffe but contains essays from other leading scholars, too, farming societies spread from the Near East throughout much of Europe between 7000 and 4000 BC, probably followed by some predominantly male immigration into Greece and the Balkans. As for the rest of Europe, the spread of agriculture happened mainly through idea diffusion. DNA-studies have indicated a certain presence of Near Eastern genes in Greece and the Balkans, but generally speaking there was a strong genetic continuity in much of Europe between the Old Stone Age and the advent of mass immigration from distant lands in the late twentieth century AD.
There is a belief among some archaeologists that the Indo-European language family originated among the early food producers of the Near East and “was swept quickly forwards in the fifth millennium as the language of the colonizing farmers.” This is not an unusual theory, but it is not a convincing one once you take the linguistic evidence into account in addition to the archaeological one. The reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language refers to a material package which did not exist before 4000 BC, possibly not even before 3500 BC.
A marked shift can be detected in the archaeological record between 3500 and 2500 BC in some regions of Central and Eastern Europe north of the Black Sea, with the so-called Pit Grave and Corded Ware cultures. Later the Bell-Beaker complex included much of Western Europe in this new continent-wide configuration of Bronze Age Europe which had begun in the mid-fourth millennium BC. There are many, myself included, who suspect that this shift was closely related to the first wave of the Indo-European expansion.
In The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia, scholar Philip L. Kohl suggests that Sumerian Mesopotamia experienced a “fiber revolution” during the fourth millennium BC when it shifted from cultivating flax to herding wool-bearing sheep to produce textiles. Like other useful innovations, the breeding of robust, wool-bearing sheep spread rather quickly. Current opinion suggests that it was also around the middle of the fourth millennium BC that wheeled transport first appeared, stretching across a vast interconnected region from northern Germany and southern Poland via the Black Sea to Mesopotamia, beginning around 3500 BC.
As Kohl says, “It is shortly after the introduction of wheeled transport that evidence for its massive utilization on the western Eurasian steppes is documented in the excavation of scores of kurgans containing wheeled carts with tripartite wooden wheels. These were not the chariots of a military aristocracy but the heavy, ponderous carts and wagons of cowboys who were developing a form of mobile Bronze Age pastoral economy that fundamentally differed from the classic Eurasian nomadism that is later attested historically and ethnographically.”
It is true that this innovation spread quickly, but the earliest evidence of wheeled vehicles we have today is found in Europe. The people who spoke Proto-Indo-European had their own terminology for axles, shafts and yokes. The PIE word for “wheel” relates to words for “to turn, spin,” whereas “wheel” in Sumerian appears to be a loanword from Indo-European. It is not uncommon in the modern world to borrow words for borrowed technology, which is why many non-Western languages use words like “telephone.” The same principle presumably applied in ancient times. If wheeled vehicles were indeed invented by Europeans, which is not a certainty but a very real possibility, this would have been one of the first times that a revolutionary innovation of global importance came from Europe. It was not to be the last.
Scholars J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams in The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World analyze the IE expansion based on comparative linguistic research. We can roughly date PIE by comparing the suggested vocabulary of this language with the archaeological record. Although we obviously cannot say with certainty that all of the suggested word reconstructions are correct since no written document containing Proto-Indo-European text exists, we know that those speaking PIE must have been familiar with wheeled vehicles since later, attested Indo-European languages contain similar words for this and these languages have not borrowed this vocabulary from each other.
Likewise, the early Indo-European languages shared a vocabulary for a full range of domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goat, pig, dog) and cereals (grain, barley) and the tools to process them and store the result (ceramic pots). The vocabulary associated with metallurgy is very restricted but includes copper/bronze, gold and silver. Gold does not appear anywhere until the fifth millennium. The Varna cemetery close to the Black Sea in eastern Bulgaria from 4300-4200 BC contains several thousand golden objects. Silver does not appear earlier than about the mid-fourth millennium BC when we can find it in Eastern Europe.
All things considered, the first phase of the Indo-European expansion was probably not associated with the slow diffusion of agriculture, but rather with the faster spread of wheeled vehicles after 3500 BC. Whether the introduction of wheeled vehicles directly triggered the initial IE expansion is not known, but it seems plausible that it at least aided this by greatly improving mobility. As author David W. Anthony puts it in his book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, “Neither woven wool textiles nor wheeled vehicles existed before about 4000 BCE. It is possible that neither existed before about 3500 BCE. Yet Proto-Indo-European speakers spoke regularly about wheeled vehicles and some sort of wool textile. This vocabulary suggests that Proto-Indo-European was spoken after 4000-3500 BCE.”
Since grains such as barley were grown in Europe long before 3000 BC, probably before 4000 BC, and since pottery vessels were known there at this time, too, the first European beers may well have been brewed during this time period. We don’t known exactly when the first beers were made from barley in the Fertile Crescent and Mesopotamia, but some time before 6000 BC would a reasonable guess. Since grains and agricultural techniques were introduced to Europe from this region, the first European beers most likely resembled Mesopotamian beers.
The earliest attested wheels are solid, tripartite disc wheels. The invention of the spoke, which made wheels much lighter and transportation swifter, happened later, with spoked wheels and chariots appearing around 2500-2000 BC. It is likely that peoples of the Eurasian steppes were the first to tame the horse, maybe as a meat animal before they figured out they could ride them or use them for warfare. The faster horse-drawn chariot was developed before 2000 BC in the western steppes and contributed to another phase of the Indo-European expansion, although PIE itself was almost certainly dead as a spoken language by 2500 BC.
The first practical spoked wheel horse-drawn chariots are attested in the burials of the Andronovo culture in modern Russia, who practiced sophisticated bronze metallurgy and spread eastwards across the steppes. It is often assumed, though not proven, that they spoke an Indo-Iranian language. The first Chinese words for horses and chariots (and a few other terms) were Indo-European loanwords. Pottery of Andronovo-type has been found in Xinjiang in western China. The first known chariot burial site in Shang Dynasty China dates to about 1200 BC. At the other end of Eurasia, a stone at Bredarör in Sweden dated to around 1300 BC is carved with an image of a chariot with four-spoke wheels drawn by two horses.
Diffusion eastwards in Eurasia of metallurgy and metal weapons and tools during the second millennium BC is certain and acknowledged by Chinese specialists. This external stimulus to the already emerging Chinese civilization spread via the western Xinjiang region, which physically belongs to the steppes, to the Yellow River valley. Silk fabric was developed very early in China, probably in prehistoric times. There is a claim, so far unconfirmed, that traces of Chinese silk have been found on an Egyptian mummy from the end of the New Kingdom period, ca. 1070 BC. Whether this is true or not, there can be little doubt that there were contacts across Eurasia more than a thousand years before what is often seen as the beginning of the Silk Road. According to David W. Anthony in The Horse, the Wheel, and Language:
“The Eurasian steppe is often regarded as a remote and austere place, poor in resources and far from the centres of the civilized world. But during the Late Bronze Age the steppes became a bridge between the civilizations that developed on the edges of the continent in Greece, the Near East, Iran, the Indian subcontinent, and China. Chariot technology, horses and horseback riding, bronze metallurgy, and a strategic location gave steppe societies an importance they never before had possessed.…The road from the steppes to China led through the eastern end of the Tarim Basin, where desert-edge cemeteries preserved the dessicated mummies of brown-haired, white-skinned, wool-wearing people dated as early as 1800 BCE. In Gansu, on the border between China and the Tarim Basin, the Qijia culture acquired horses, trumpet-shaped earrings, cast bronze ring-pommel single-edged knives and axes in steppe styles between about 2000 and 1600 BCE. By the time the first Chinese state emerged, beginning about 1800 BCE, it was exchanging innovations with the West.”
The details of which culture spread where and exactly what language they spoke are still debated by scholars, but the effects are clear: Between 1600-1200 BC you could find horse-drawn chariots in use throughout almost the entire landmass of Eurasia, from the borders of Shang Dynasty China via Egypt, Crete and Anatolia to Northern Europe. This corresponds to the period of the ancient Vedas and the emergence of Vedic Sanskrit in India. Peoples speaking Indo-European languages played a vital role in the diffusion of wheeled vehicles.
Where Proto-Indo-European was first spoken has been debated for more than two centuries, sometimes in a politicized manner. While the question has not been fully settled, the case for northeastern Europe is stronger now than it was a few generations ago. I therefore agree with author David W. Anthony when he says that “I believe with many others that the Proto-Indo-European homeland was located in the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas in what is today southern Ukraine and Russia. The case for a steppe homeland is stronger today than in the past partly because of dramatic new archaeological discoveries in the steppes.”
In India, Sanskrit literature is very wide ranging in its content and includes among its most widely known works romantic comedy, theoretical linguistics, economics, sexology (the Kama Sutra), lyrical verse as well as history and moral fables. It is a very self-conscious literary tradition, but whether India gave birth to the entire IE language family is highly questionable. As Nicholas Ostler writes in his interesting A Language History of the World:
“A dialect of Indo-Iranian, it is first heard of in the North-West Frontier area of Swat and the northern Panjab (now in Pakistan), spoken by peoples who have evidently come from farther north or west, and who like to call themselves arya (later a common word for ‘gentleman’, and always the Buddhists’ favourite word for sheer nobility of spirit). Somehow their descendants, and even more their language, spread down over the vast Indo-Gangetic plain, as well as up into the southern reaches of the Himalaya (‘snow-abode’) mountains, so that by the beginning of the fifth century BC the language was spoken in an area extending as far east as Bihar, and as far south, perhaps, as the Narmada. Sanskrit literature from the period, principally the epic poems Mahabharata (‘Great Bharata’) and Ramayana (‘The Coming of Rama’), is full of military exploits and conquests. The result was the present-day situation, a northern Indian heartland, stretching from sea to sea, of languages more or less closely related to Sanskrit.”
In the book Indo-Aryan Controversy, edited by Edwin Bryant, scholars Asko Parpola and Christian Carpelan from the University of Helsinki, Finland, have joined the debate regarding where the original homeland, or Urheimat, of the Proto-Indo-European language was. A number of Indian nationalists, eager to preserve the “purity” of Sanskrit, argue that this was in India and that there was no invasion of India from the northwest of people speaking an Indo-Aryan language. They do have one negative argument in their favor: the written language of the Indus Valley Civilization from the third millennium BC has not yet been deciphered. However, most Western scholars assume this to be a Dravidian language from the second-most important linguistic family on the Indian subcontinent after Indo-European.
Moreover, there are those who argue that even the Dravidian linguistic family was not native to India but was introduced from the northwest at an earlier date, perhaps related to the spread of agriculture from Mesopotamia. Besides, a PIE cradle in India is not consistent with what we do know about the early spread of Indo-European languages, or with the fact that the reconstructed vocabulary of PIE contains words for plants and animals which usually belong in a cooler, northern climate, not elephants or animals from a warmer region such as India.
Parpola and Carpelan support the most commonly suggested theory, which I happen to share, that Proto-Indo-European was spoken in the fourth millennium BC by peoples living north of the Black Sea in what is today the Ukraine and southern Russia. This is consistent with what we currently know from a combination of archaeological, linguistic and possibly genetic evidence. They demonstrate, convincingly in my view, that the ancestors of the smaller Uralic language family, which includes modern Finnish and Hungarian, very early exchanged a significant number of words with peoples speaking PIE. This strongly indicates that both Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic were initially spoken somewhere in Eastern Europe.
If we assume that the earliest expansion of PIE was at least aided by the introduction of the first wheeled vehicles, which were known in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region in the centuries prior to 3000 BC, this would explain why the Indo-European language known as Proto-Greek is believed to have entered Greece from the north in the generations before 2000 BC. The ancestors of the Romans probably entered the Italian Peninsula from the north somewhat later, and during the creation of the Roman Empire there were still speakers of pre-Indo-European languages in the Iberian Peninsula in the far southwestern corner of the continent. Indeed, the only language from Stone Age Europe which survived the Indo-European expansion, Basque, can be found in Spain. This makes sense if we postulate that the IE language family was born in northeastern Europe and spread eastward and westward from there. We know that the speakers of Proto-Indo-European were familiar with mead or some related fermented beverage containing honey. As Asko Parpola and Christian Carpelan point out, mead was widely consumed in northeastern Europe well into historical times:
“Old Russian historical records tell that by AD 1000 or earlier, the aristocracy and monasteries owned many and often large bee woods (with 100-500 tree cavities, but only some 10-20 occupied at a time). These were looked after by a special class of peasants called bortnik, who could also own bee trees (usually between 100 and 200), but had to pay the landlord a rent. Cut ownership marks were put on the trees, sometimes on the back wall of the cavity. Large amounts of honey and beeswax were produced in Russia, and the honey was both eaten and used for making mead. The aristocracy needed mead for its parties in large quantities. At a seven-day feast held in AD 996 to celebrate the Russian victory over the Turks, 300 large wooden tubs or about 5000 liters of mead was drunk. Bee-keeping declined in the late seventeenth century as Tsar Peter the Great imposed a tax on bee-keeping income and founded a sugar industry. This reduced the demand for honey, and vodka and wine were produced instead of mead, which until then had been the usual alcoholic drink in Russia.”
Later, Catherine the Great abolished all taxes on bee-keeping, and in 1800 there were some 50 million beehives in the Russian Empire. Although gradually replaced by beer, mead has deep roots among the Germanic peoples of northwestern Europe, too. In Norse mythology, the “mead of poetry” was an intoxicating beverage that made anyone who drank it a poet or a scholar. Valhalla or Valhöll (“hall of the slain”) was a gigantic hall where warriors who had died in combat, the einherjar (lone-fighters), got beer and mead served by female valkyries and enjoyed an eternity of fighting and revival. The chief god Odin himself enjoyed wine, which in the northern regions was imported and therefore presumably rare and expensive. John Lindow writes in Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs:
“Thus there appears to be endless mead at Valhöll, and it is at the source of all waters. In the Gylfaginning section of his Edda, Snorri Sturluson used these and other sources to create a vivid picture of Valhöll. At the very onset of the piece, he reads a skaldic stanza in such a way as to suggest that Valhöll was thatched with shields of gold. Later he says that the valkyries are to serve there, that the einherjar feast each day on the flesh of the boar Sæhrímnir and drink the mead provided endlessly by the goat Heidrún each night after doing battle during the day. The tenth-century poems Eiríksmál and Hákonarmál have scenes set in Valhöll, where Odin and the others await the arrival of the human kings Eirík Bloodax and Hákon the Good. Valhöll was therefore an important mythological conception as far back as our written records go.”
According to Ian Hornsey, “Welsh ale, or cwrw, appears to have been the preferred beer of much of western Britain, second only to mead in popularity, and it retained its unique characteristics until at least the 18th century. The relative importance and value of mead and ale in Wales, during the Anglo-Saxon period, can be gauged by some of the laws according to Hywel Dda which, for a tribute, specifies that a farmer should render ‘one vat of mead, nine fistbreadths in diagonal length‘. If this was unavailable then ‘two vats of bragot (spiced ale)‘ were to be paid and, failing this, ‘four vats of common ale‘ would be acceptable. This clearly values mead at twice the price of bragot and quadruple the price of ale. Hywel Dda (died 949 or 950), was ‘king of all Wales — except the southeast‘; a sort of Welsh version of Alfred the Great.”
The drink was there before any Germanic-speakers had arrived in the islands. The Greek explorer and geographer Pytheas called the drink the local residents made curmi. Just before 300 BC, Pytheas stopped at the Phoenician city of Cádiz in present-day Spain and traveled along the Atlantic coast until he reached Britain. He accurately estimated its size and the distance from north Britain to the Greek city of Massalia (Marseilles) at 1,690 km; the actual distance is 1,800 km. He visited some northern areas and told of Thule, the northernmost inhabited land, possibly Norway. Iceland has been suggested, too, but we have no proof that this island in the middle of the North Atlantic was inhabited before the Early Middle Ages.
The Germanic-speaking Angles and Saxons who migrated across the North Sea to Britain during the Early Middle Ages certainly brewed ale, and Saint Patrick was said to have had a brewer in his household in Ireland in the fifth century AD. Wine was the common drink among all social classes in southern Europe. It was imported to the northern regions, but since it was expensive it was seldom consumed by the lower classes.
Brewing did not stop with the collapse of Roman authority; it continued among the Celtic, Germanic and Slavic peoples. When Iceland became fully settled, predominantly by Norwegians but sometimes with Celtic wives from Ireland or Scotland, Icelanders were known to import malt for ale brewing as well as mead from the mainland. Monasteries were the only institutions in this period with the necessary resources to allow large-scale brewing. By the ninth century AD, and possibly earlier, northern Europeans had mastered brewing on a large scale. Most beer was nevertheless still made at home, typically by women as part of the regular household chores of preparing food. The beer made in the monasteries was probably initially similar to home-brewed beer, but the scale of production was very different. Monks introduced a new form of organization which served as a model for later developments.
The rule of St. Benedict, promoted by the Carolingians, called on monks to live within their own community and be self-sufficient; it also required them to offer hospitality to travelers. Both expectations forced houses of monks to produce beer for their daily diets. They could have kept to milk and water, as was the case at the abbey of Lindisfarne, England, but the monks there as elsewhere shifted to beer and wine when given the opportunity.
During the Early Middle Ages, many Irish monks worked in Continental Europe. One of them was Gallus or Saint Gall, who accompanied the Irish monk Columban on his travels. Saint Gall remained with a few companions in present-day Switzerland in the early 600s. Monasteries later sprang up at the place which became a center of learning. Charles Martel appointed Saint Othmar as custodian of St Gall’s relics. The Abbey of Saint Gall today harbors an extremely rich medieval library.
The Plan of Saint Gall is a unique document from the early 800s. It depicts a Benedictine monastic compound including churches, workshops and a brewery, which makes it the oldest preserved layout of a brewery in Europe. The Plan of Saint Gall offered a model for Carolingian administrators to follow in spreading monasticism. The best breweries produced beer for noblemen and royal officials, others for the brothers in the monastery and finally simple breweries produced beer for pilgrims and the poor. The Plan was idealized, but it did reflect reality to some extent. Charlemagne himself kept a brewer at his court, and large monasteries were typical of the Carolingian Empire. Author Richard W. Unger explains:
“Monastic brewing was not limited to the borders of the Carolingian Empire. Through the early Middle Ages it spread widely in the British Isles, to many parts of Germany, and to Scandinavia. The English abbot Aelfric in a tenth-century work has a novice answer the question of what he would drink with the following response: beer if I have it and otherwise water. At the abbey of Bec in northern France at night monks were to have water or beer if they were thirsty. There, as at other monasteries, it was a matter of choice between the two. At the monastery of Selje near Bergen in Norway, which dates from just after 1100, a brewery was built next to the kitchen with a connecting doorway. It was not the only monastery with such an arrangement. At Vadstena in Sweden around 1380 the bishop ordered that the bakery be attached to the old brewery, so the pattern represented on the St. Gall Plan was used in Scandinavia as well. Making beer in a nunnery was also apparently a common practice and even abbesses were known to make small or weak beer.”
The English writer Michael Jackson (1942-2007) was widely considered one of the world’s leading experts on beer by the time he died. No, I am not referring to the pop star with the strange gloves and the questionable love for children but the Jackson known as the “beer hunter.” In prehistoric times, the cultivation of cereal grains spread from the Fertile Crescent into southeastern Europe. One of the paths of brewing led north and west through Armenia, southern Russia and the Ukraine to Slovakia, Bohemia and Bavaria in southern Germany, with its capital city of Munich (München in German). The last two in particular were to become famous brewing regions. As Michael Jackson states:
“Both have plentiful supplies of good water from snowy mountain ranges, and each has the soil and climate to grow excellent barley and hops. All they needed to achieve greatness was a more scientific approach to brewing. For that we have to thank St. Benedict (480-547 A.D.). Inspired by Jesus’ time in the wilderness, St. Benedict fathered modern monasticism. His rules said that monks must support themselves. The early abbeys, in Italy, farmed, grew grapes and made wine for their tables. When the movement spread north across the Alps, the cooler climate favored barley and beer. As the church and the monasteries were the early seats of study and learning, so were they the birthplaces of brewing science. Munich, the Bavarian capital, is known in German as Munchen, which means ‘monks.’ Among today’s Munich breweries, the names Augustiner, Franziskaner and Paulaner bear witness to monastic origins. Just to the north of the city, the former Benedictine monastery of Weihenstephan (‘Sacred Stephen’) accommodates what is claimed to be the world’s oldest brewery, said to date from 1040, and the most famous university faculty of brewing. Half a dozen or so breweries in Bavaria are still owned by religious orders.”
European monasteries also maintained viticulture. In addition to making wine necessary to celebrate the Christian mass they produced large quantities to support the maintenance of the monastic movement itself. Among the ancient Greeks, Plato had praised the moderate use of wine as beneficial but was critical of drunkenness. The physician Hippocrates identified numerous medicinal properties of wine, and it came to be seen as a necessary element of life for the Hebrews. Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible are consistent in their condemnation of drunkenness, but Jews and Christians can use modest amounts of wine in their religious ceremonies, in sharp contrast to Muslims. The Christian Church saw wine as a gift from God and advocated its moderate use while rejecting abuse of it as a sin. The religious use of wine among Christians was anticipated in the cult of Dionysus, son of Zeus and the ancient Greek god of wine, theater and agriculture, known as Bacchus to the Romans.
Modern Westerners usually live in houses with easy access to chlorinated tap water, which may not always taste great but can usually be drunk safely and without making you sick. In the past, access to clean water was far from obvious. In this situation, drinking beverages containing modest amounts of alcohol could sometimes be safer and healthier than drinking potentially polluted water. Because of its alcoholic content, wine is an excellent vehicle for dispensing various medical agents. Patrick E. McGovern writes in his book Ancient Wine:
“Wine was the prime medicinal agent of the ancient, medieval, and early modern worlds, up to the nineteenth century. Then, other curative compounds, which were isolated and purified by chemical methods or synthesized, began to displace it. It was the most common ingredient in ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Syrian medicines, which was readily administered by drinking or external application. Most important, people who drank alcoholic beverages, as opposed to straight water, in antiquity were more likely to live longer and reproduce more. As Paul advised Timothy (I:5.23): ‘No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.’ Ancient armies were ‘inoculated’ against disease by mixing wine with the uncertain water supplies that they came upon in their journeys. In addition to the alcohol, the polyphenolic aromatic compounds in wine have antiseptic properties. These antioxidants, including resveratrol, cyanidin, and quercetin, are stronger even than the chemically related phenol or carbolic acid, the antiseptic that the English surgeon Joseph Lister introduced in the late nineteenth century.”
Although many wines and beers contained a rather low concentration of alcohol, there is no doubt that medieval Europeans must have drunk considerable quantities of alcohol. In the sixteenth century, alcohol beverage consumption reached 100 liters per person per year in Valladolid, then the capital of the Kingdom of Spain, and average peasants in northern Europe could consume hundreds of liters of beer per year. Modern consumers of beer fall far behind by comparison. In 1995 the Belgians, among the most avid beer drinkers in the modern world, consumed on average 102 liters per person per year, less than half the amount of urban populations in the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance. Richard W. Unger elaborates:
“Alcohol in general, and beer in particular, ‘was the ubiquitous social lubricant; every occasion called for a drink’ in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Drinking was a social activity looked on by people of the day with neither suspicion nor awe. The society did not know about alcoholism. The concept simply did not exist. People thought alcohol therapeutic and a normal part of life, that is except for the very poor. Excessive drinking did exist and was frowned on, but moralists complained about overeating in the same sentences that they complained about too much alcohol. It was a society in which food was far from plentiful, so drink, especially beer, was perceived as an integral part of the diet, a source of nutrition and good health, rather than as a drug taken for recreation. Beer often had a low alcohol content and was taken at meals which consisted of sizeable proportions of carbohydrates that would have slowed absorption of alcohol and also mitigated its effects.”
Humulus lupulus, the hop plant, was used very early in Finland and the Baltic region. Dozens of different plants or plant-derived products have been employed for flavoring and preserving beer over the millennia. Gruit or grut was a mixture of herbs widely used in Europe before the coming of hops. Its actual composition was subject to local variations from Poland to Scotland, but bog myrtle (Myrica gale), marsh rosemary (Ledum palustre) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium) were almost invariably a part of the mixture. The Romans raised hops in vegetable gardens, yet no-one said it could be valuable in making beer. We have no knowledge of this being done before the Middle Ages. The use of hops gave beer greater durability than gruit and was arguably the most important development in medieval brewing.
Hops were used for flavoring and preserving beer at least from the middle of eight century, and were commonly cultivated in some regions by the ninth century. At this point tenants had to pay dues in hops at certain French monasteries such as St. Remi and St. Germain. Indications of a growing trade in hops have been found during excavations at York in England. At Hedeby, the principal port of Viking Age Scandinavia in the western Baltic, archaeologists have found traces of hops dating from tenth century. Hungary at this time had gained a reputation for raising hops. Hops were grown in monastic gardens in Germany in the eleventh century, in England in the twelfth and in Austria by about the same time. The growing of hops is documented from a monastery in Turku in southwestern Finland by the thirteenth century but was probably practiced earlier in this region. The Kalevala, the national epic of Finland which was written down in the nineteenth century, describes the creation of the world in 200 verses, but needs 400 in order to explain the origins of beer. After 1200, brewers in Bremen, Hamburg and other northern German towns made hopped beer for export.
Scandinavia had been gradually Christianized during the Viking Age from the ninth to eleventh centuries, starting with Denmark and continuing with Norway and Sweden. In spite of, or perhaps because of, their late adoption of Christianity, all of the Nordic countries were to adopt a prominent Christian cross in their national flags. The peoples further east in the Baltic region stubbornly clung to their pagan religion. This prompted crusades from recently-converted Scandinavians and German bishops to pacify the region. One such campaign took place in Tallin, Estonia. Norman Davies tells the story in his book Europe: A History:
“On 15 June 1219, the Danish expedition to Estonia faced disaster. The native Estonians had just submitted to King Valdemar the Victorious, who was preparing to baptize them. But they rushed the Danish camp at nightfall, killed the bishop, and drove the crusaders towards the sea. According to legend, the fate of the battle only turned when the heavens let fall a red banner with a white cross, and a voice was heard urging the Danes to rally round it. Valdemar triumphed; the city of Tallin or ‘Danish Castle’ was founded; and Denmark adopted the Dannebrog or ‘red flag’ as the national flag. Since then, every independent nation has adopted a flag of its own. Many, like the Dannebrog, bear a cross — the red cross of St George in England, the diagonal blue cross of St Andrew for Scotland, Sweden’s yellow cross on a blue ground. Switzerland adopted Denmark’s colours, but a different cross. The Union Jack of the United Kingdom, which combines the crosses of SS George, Andrew, and Patrick, was first flown after the Irish Union on 1 January 1801….Following the example of the Netherlands (1652), most modern republics have adopted simple tricolours or bicolours.”
The Dannebrog (“Danish cloth”) is the oldest state flag still in use. From Denmark, the concept of having a national flag spread throughout Europe and eventually the entire world. The city of Riga in Latvia was created in the thirteenth century. The centuries of influence of German culture is still evident in Riga’s Art Nouveau or Jugendstil architecture. The forced Christianization of the Baltic region ended with Lithuania in the late 1300s, the last pagan nation in Europe. By this time, Judaism was the only other allowed and (barely) tolerated religion on the European Continent, apart from the regions under Muslim rule in the far south. The process of turning Europe into an almost entirely Christian continent took a thousand years from Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and even then a few pockets of paganism could be found here and there in remote areas.
Along with knights and lords followed German influences in the Baltic region and eventually in Central and Eastern Europe. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, tens of thousands of German settlers poured into Silesia, Bohemia, Poland, Hungary and Transylvania. According to A History of Western Society, Seventh Edition, “With urbanization came Germanization. Duke Boleslaw’s charter for his new city of Cracow in Poland stated that ‘the city of Cracow was converted to German law and the site of the market, the houses and the courtyards was changed by the duke’s officials.’ Boleslaw specifically excluded Polish peasants from becoming burgesses, because he feared the depopulation of his estates. New immigrants were German in descent, name, language, and law. Towns such as Cracow and Riga engaged in long-distance trade and gradually grew into large urban centers.”
The more durable hopped beer allowed brewers to reach a wider market, which created a need for more commercial investments and credit connections with buyers. The size of breweries grew along. Men and mostly women still made ale at home, but for the first time in Europe there was the possibility of making a living producing the drink. By the seventeenth century brewing was a male-dominated craft, although women could still be found in the beer trade as sellers. The High Middle Ages in Europe was characterized by the growth of towns and a commercial revolution. A distribution system for beer in taverns was being established as well. In Poland, even law courts operated on occasion in taverns, which by the thirteenth century had become a common part of life in northern Europe.
Northern Italian cities, Venice in particular, dominated European trade with the East and with Oriental goods, aided by a geographic location which provided easy access to the Adriatic Sea and Eastern Mediterranean ports as well as overland routes to the regions north of the Alps. Beginning in the late twelfth century, the opening of new silver mines in Germany, Bohemia, France, Italy and England led to the minting and circulation of vast quantities of silver coins, which paralleled a large increase in the quantity of international trade. Demand rose for sugar, pepper, cloves and other Asian spices, for fine wines from the Rhineland, Burgundy and Bordeaux, luxury woolens from Flanders and Tuscany, furs from Russia and Ireland, silk from Constantinople or even from China. Lombard and Tuscan merchants exchanged these goods at the town markets and regional fairs of France, Flanders and England.
Long-distance trade was risky and could only be practiced by professionals, who often shared the risks in order to minimize them. Business procedures changed radically and commercial accounting became more complex as new firms had to deal with shareholders, manufacturers, customers, branch offices and employees. In developments in banking, sales on credit and the use of Indian numerals in accounting, Italian merchants led the way. The commercial revolution of the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance generated a great deal of wealth and laid the basis for the development of capitalism.
Lübeck is today renowned for its excellent marzipan, but in medieval times the city was the “capital” of the Hanseatic League, a mercantile association of northern European towns. Lübeck was founded in 1143, but the protection treaty signed with Hamburg marks the League’s real beginnings. From the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries it controlled trade from Novgorod in northwestern Russia via Reval (Tallinn), Hamburg and the Baltic Sea to England and the North Sea. It connected with Italian merchants and with ports in France, Portugal and Spain, thus linking the trading networks of northern Europe with those of southern Europe.
The ships of the League’s cities carried furs, copper, fish, grain, timber, wine and other products. At cities such as Bruges and London, Hanseatic merchants established foreign trading centers called “factories.” Merchants from the towns of the Hanseatic League used various forms of pressure to dominate the northern European markets, often successfully in the port city of Bergen amidst the scenic fjords of western Norway, but less so after the sixteenth century as the Hansa grew weaker and other state structures grew stronger.
There were different reasons why a specific town or city came to lie where it did. Often it was strategic location from a military or commercial point of view. Towns could also grow out of older fortifications or from great cathedrals or monasteries, as traders would settle nearby. Some Italian seaport cities such as Venice, Pisa and Genoa had been centers of commerce in ancient times, and for Italy, trade with Constantinople and the East, while diminished, had never stopped entirely in post-Roman times. Paris, together with northern Italian cities such as Milan, Venice and Florence, led non-Byzantine Europe in urban population. Completely new towns were founded, too, for instance Berlin and Munich.
London, Paris, Vienna, Cologne and many other European cities began as Roman colonies or military camps. Where towns grew on the land of a Roman settlement, a rectangular shape with major streets laid out in a cross can often be found at the historical heart of the city. Paul Hohenberg and Lynn Lees elaborate in their book The Making of Urban Europe, 1000-1994:
“Dutch towns oriented around a canal often grew by the addition of parallel streets and waterways, also producing a grid pattern that followed the design of the engineers. Most frequently, however, less purposefully constructed cities had irregular or radial designs reflecting their slower, more organic development. A round wall enclosed the maximum area for a given length — and expense — of perimeter, which accounts for the fact that there were planned circular towns as well. Unusual sites dictated unusual forms. Venice grew to cover a set of islands in a lagoon; Blois developed a trapezoidal shape at a crossing of the Loire river as it grew around a promontory on which a castle and an abbey were sited. Other towns were located along a river and developed asymmetrically on both banks. Truly irregular plans with mazelike streets haphazard in length and width are rare in most of Europe, occurring primarily along the southern periphery in areas influenced by Muslim civilization. The Moorish towns of southern Spain and Balkan towns built during the period of Ottoman rule are the most extreme European cases of irregular building patterns.”
The textile industry in the Low Countries brought into being a populous cluster of cities, among them Bruges, Ghent, Ypres and Brussels. Situated next to the English Channel, Flanders had easy access to English wool and developed a close economic relationship with England. “Wool was the cornerstone of the English medieval economy.” Flanders for while imported beer from Holland; shiploads of it made their way from Gouda, Delft and Haarlem via Mechelen to Leuven in the fifteenth century before local brewers learned to imitate the hopped beer from the north. By 1500, Flemings were definitely beer drinkers.
After 1568, a civil war raged in the Low Countries between Catholics and Protestants with powerful Spanish interference. The northern provinces united under the leadership of Prince William of Orange (1533-1584). In 1578 Philip II (1527-1598), under whose rule Spain was the most powerful country in Europe, if not the world, sent his nephew to crush the revolt once and for all. The cities of the south gradually fell: Bruges, Ghent, and finally the financial capital of northern Europe, Antwerp. Calvinism was forbidden in these territories, which became the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium) and remained Catholic; the northern provinces led by Holland declared their independence and remained Protestant. Several times the Dutch broke the dikes and flooded the countryside to halt hostile troops. The United Provinces were supported by Queen Elizabeth I of England. The defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English in 1588 ended the Spanish attempts to impose religious unity on Western Europe by force.
In the sixteenth century, Dutch and Flemish immigrants to England provided expertise on how to brew hopped beer. In the countryside in northern Europe and in England in particular, ale without hops remained popular for some time, but its popularity declined. By the year 1600, London was the greatest center of beer production in Europe. Richard W. Unger writes:
“Hamburg might be the largest producer in north Germany in the sixteenth century but Wismar and Lübeck often made more than 50 percent of the amount of beer that came from Hamburg and Gdansk in Poland could even produce more. Dutch towns matched or exceeded Hamburg output in the first half of the sixteenth century, but, with the exception of Haarlem, they lagged well behind after the revolt against Spanish rule. Big towns in the southern Netherlands, the new urban centers like Antwerp and Brussels, were producing much more beer than Hamburg by the early seventeenth century, and Flemish towns, like Ghent and Bruges, enjoyed significant recovery in output in the years after the Dutch Revolt. Despite expansion in many continental towns, no place in northern Europe could compare in the production of beer by the late sixteenth century to the burgeoning and prosperous English capital city.”
The cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh were the centers of Scottish brewing. Hopped beer also expanded in the Danube Valley in the later Middle Ages, but its expansion was less extensive in Eastern Europe than in the markets of Western Europe. Other drinks, even mead, continued in day-to-day use in the Russian Empire for centuries. King Gustav Vasa (1496-1560), who arguably shaped modern Sweden more than any other person, set up a royal brewery at the university town of Uppsala about 1540 to make beer in the Hamburg style. There was a brewery within the Stockholm Castle at an even earlier date. In Denmark, Copenhagen got a royal brewery to supply the court, the navy, the overseas trading companies and to a limited degree the public, but it was not until 1616 that the extremely active Christian IV (1577-1648), king of Denmark, Norway and Iceland, set up the establishment.
The beer border moved south during the Renaissance. In Paris the scale of production was quite large, but the French capital was the largest city in that part of Continental Europe. By the Late Middle Ages viticulture was practiced throughout most of Europe except the far north. The wines produced in the Rhine and Moselle valleys were often better than those produced further east and so were traded, but transportation raised the cost. Wines still had a problem with deterioration and often had to be consumed when they were very young. From 1590 to 1620 in Nuremberg a liter of wine cost as much as 6.1 liters of beer and at Vienna 4.5 liters of beer. In Hamburg or Cracow, wine was even more expensive. In northeastern Europe beer enjoyed a significant price advantage over wine, and hopped beer was more durable. At Strasbourg in the same period wine cost only 1.2 times as much as an equivalent quantity of beer, so beer had trouble penetrating into southern France and beyond. Richard W. Unger explains in his book Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance:
“The years from around 1450 to the early seventeenth century were a golden age for brewing. Though levels of output as well as the number and size of breweries varied — from Flanders to the Celtic Sea to northern Scandinavia to Estonia and Poland to Austria to the upper reaches of the Rhine River — brewing expanded in those years. It grew as population increased. In some places in northern Europe, it grew faster then the population. It enjoyed unprecedented economic success. Beer invaded new parts of Europe, claiming or reclaiming territory where wine was the preferred drink. The higher quality of hopped beer compared to its predecessors, the greater efficiency of producers over time, and improved distribution all combined to make beer an increasingly popular drink. With acclimatization of the process of making hopped beer came signs of brewers gaining full mastery of the new technology. Figures for production and for export suggest that such mastery was achieved around 1300 in north Germany, around 1390 in Holland, around 1470 in the southern Netherlands, and after 1500 in England.”
Though beer could be made from literally any grain, the usual components were oats, wheat, rye and barley. The strong connection between barley and beer was a product of the closing years of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In 1487 Duke Albert IV of Bavaria issued a regulation for the making of beer in Munich, saying that only barley, water, yeast and hops could be used. That Reinheitsgebot, first stated in Munich brewing regulations of 1447-1453, was repeated in 1516 and from that date applied to all of Bavaria. Unger again:
“The Bavarian Reinheitsgebot more or less drove all grains but barley out of the brewing process in the duchy, something accomplished at Nuremberg by law in 1290 and 1305. The Nuremberg restriction seems to have been unique not only because of the early commitment to barley, but also because it remained in effect no matter the relative prices of different grains. In the 1530s, brewers in Upper Austria used a combination of malts made from wheat, barely, and oats, but a government regulation of 1560 required that henceforth they could use only barley. Their counterparts in Bohemia, an exporter of malt to Austria and Bavaria, used barley and wheat….Despite the general drift toward barley as the principal grain in brewing, there were some prohibitions on its use in beer in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, largely in southern and southeast Germany. Breslau, for example, said brewers could no longer use barley in 1573 and again in 1622. Such restrictions were typically short term and based on the price and availability of grain rather than on the type or character of the beer being produced. By 1650 such restrictions were rare.”
Bavaria in southern Germany is without doubt one of the world’s most important brewing regions. Just north of Munich is the hill of Holy St. Stephen ( Weihenstephan ) with a still-active brewery that makes wheat beer and traces its history back to 1040, possibly to the year 768. It is widely regarded as the world’s oldest operating brewery. In 1602 the duke of Bavaria opened his own Hofbrauhaus (court brewery) in Munich, but the great Oktoberfest, the festival held in late September and early October each year, first occurred in the city in 1810. It now attracts millions of visitors and has been copied in other cities and countries. Only six breweries are permitted to serve beer at the festival: Augustiner, Paulaner, Spaten-Franziskaner, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräu. Those who want to test the great beers made by Bavaria’s hundreds of rural brewers can do so in Munich’s Alpine hinterland.
Alcohol-based hospitality has played a key role in the cultural fabric of Europe. As the English archaeologist Andrew Sherratt puts it, “Wine if the life-blood of the Mediterranean, and its proscription by a conquering Islam is eloquent testimony to its deep symbolic significance, both secular and religious.”
In his book The Story of Wine, Hugh Johnson calls Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “The man who was to have the most profound effect of any individual on the history of wine.” The Islamic ban on alcoholic drinks was not universally enforced; the ruling classes in particular took many liberties. Yet it discouraged the development of beer and wine witnessed in European monasteries. The Ottoman Empire finally chased wine out of some of its oldest-established strongholds in the Middle East. As the Ottomans swept through the Levant it almost ceased to be a useful source of wine for export, as it had been for many centuries.
One exception was Santorini. The only value of this windswept rock to its Turkish masters was for any taxes they could extract from it, and the only possible crop on its raw volcanic rock was the vine. The island’s wine became the staple Eucharistic wine of Turkey’s great Christian foe, Russia. Wines from Crete were bought by Venetian merchants and traded north over the Alps. The wine traditions of southeastern Europe were greatly disrupted, though not totally destroyed, by Turkish Muslims, often at least as much by heavy taxation as through outright bans. Recurring Turkish slave raids in the region constituted another problem.
The Hungarian leader and general János (John) Hunyadi (ca. 1407-1456) is today virtually unknown outside of Hungary and the Balkans, but he probably did more than any other individual in stemming the Turkish Muslim invasion in the fifteenth century. His actions spanned all the countries of southeastern Europe, leading international armies, negotiating with kings and popes. He died of plague after having destroyed an Ottoman fleet outside of Belgrade in 1456, three years after the fall of Constantinople. His work slowed the Muslim advance into Europe, and his son Matthias Corvinus (1443-1490) became a prominent monarch. Hungary is especially famous for its sweet Tokaji wine, often spelled Tokay in English. It is doubtful whether at any time since contacts with the ancient Greek settlements in the Black Sea that the valley of the Danube has been without wine. Hugh Johnson explains:
“Neither Attila and his Huns, nor the Avars who succeeded them (to be crushed in due course by Charlemagne), nor the Magyars who founded the Hungarian nation had any motive to destroy the amenity of vineyards. The Church played its usual role in the Middle Ages in propagating and stabilizing winegrowing, encouraged by such enlightened monarchs as Bela IV, who imported Italians and Flemings skilled in wine, and the famous wine-lover King Matthias Corvinus, whose realm stretched (briefly) from Bohemia to the Carpathians….Tokaji was much the finest wine of the Habsburg Empire, which stretched from Dalmatia to Poland, so the Emperors appropriated its best vineyards, and used it, as the Dukes of Burgundy had used their Beaune, for impressing and ingratiating themselves with foreign monarchs. Peter the Great of Russia and Frederick I of Prussia both rapidly became addicts. The Tsars established a Commission for Hungarian Wines at St Petersburg to ensure regular supplies, leased vineyards (but banned foreigners from buying them), and took vines to the Crimea to try making their own. What did not go to Vienna, Moscow, St Petersburg, Warsaw, Berlin, or Prague was snapped up by the grandees of Britain, The Netherlands and France.”
The House of Habsburg was a prominent royal house in Europe from the Renaissance until the early twentieth century. It supplied almost all of the elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1452 and 1740 as well as rulers of the Austrian and Spanish Empires. The defense of Christian Europe from Islamic Jihadist aggression was the mission of the Habsburgs. The Turks ruled much of Hungary in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries until the area was conquered by the Austrians. The development of the Austrian Empire was intimately linked to that of the Ottoman Empire. Both states were formally dissolved after the First World War, which was triggered by the national aspirations of their former subject peoples in the Balkans. Here is a quote from the book Civilizations of the World by Richard L. Greaves:
“After the division of the Habsburg crown in 1555 between its Spanish and Austrian branches, the Austrian monarchy consisted of three major units, the hereditary provinces of Austria itself; the so-called crown of St. Wenceslas, comprising Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia; and the crown of St. Stephen, including Hungary, Transylvania, and Croatia. Bohemia and Hungary had become part of the Habsburg dominions in 1527 after the Battle of Mohács, though much of Hungary was still contested. Indeed, only the continuing threat of the Turks in southeastern Europe could have united so disparate a group of peoples — Germans, Czechs, Magyars, Croats, Slovaks, Slovenes, Italians, Romanians, Ruthenians — under a single head. Turkey may in this sense be said to have engendered the Austrian monarchy; nor was it a coincidence that the final expulsion of Turkey from Europe in the early twentieth century should have been followed shortly after by the collapse and dismemberment of the Habsburg empire. The histories of Turkey and Austria rose and fell together.”
The knowledge and use of coffee beans spread from its original homeland in Ethiopia in East Africa to nearby Yemen at some point during medieval times. It was probably here in the Arabian Peninsula that coffee beans were first roasted and brewed. The drinking of coffee was initially associated with members of the mystic Sufi orders, who used it to stay awake and pray, but it eventually slipped into everyday use despite several attempts by the authorities and religious scholars to ban it as un-Islamic. The drink spread via the Arabian Peninsula and the Read Sea to Egypt in the early sixteenth century and was introduced to Constantinople and the rest of the Middle East in the mid-1500s. From there it was carried to Italy and beyond.
The Middle Eastern coffeehouse was and is primarily an institution for the only full members of an Islamic society, Muslim men. Women did not have access to it. The discriminated non-Muslim dhimmi populations were generally not welcome, either. Ralph S. Hattox explains in his book Coffee and Coffeehouses:
“All this is not to suggest that Christians and Jews did not frequent coffeehouses. On the contrary, if only from the fact that Greeks and Armenians are constantly cited as having done much to introduce coffee to Europe, we know that they were quite familiar with it. But would they have been regular habitués of a coffeehouse with a predominantly Muslim clientele? It is, at best, unlikely. Coffee and the coffeehouse had developed very strong ties to the greater part of Muslim society….Muslim society had taken it as its own institution, one in which the participation of non-Muslims was not essential and in which, in certain circumstances, their presence might be considered offensive. We must assume that the general tendency in the society toward religious separation applied to the coffeehouse as well.”
The coffeehouse as it developed in Europe reflected European culture, which meant greater freedom and freedom of movement for women. Author Mark Pendergrast elaborates in Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World:
“It wasn’t until 1689 when François Procope, an Italian immigrant, opened his Café de Procope directly opposite the Comédie Française, that the famous French coffeehouse took root. Soon French actors, authors, dramatists, and musicians were meeting there for coffee and literary conversations. In the next century the café attracted notables such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and a visiting Benjamin Franklin….Certainly coffee lessened the intake of alcohol while the cafés provided a wonderful intellectual stew that ultimately spawned the French Revolution. The coffeehouses of continental Europe were egalitarian meeting places where, as the food writer Margaret Visser notes, ‘men and women could, without impropriety, consort as they had never done before. They could meet in public places and talk.’ Increasingly they did so over coffee that was not nearly so harsh a brew as the Turks made. In 1710, rather than boiling coffee, the French first made it by the infusion method, with powdered coffee suspended in a cloth bag over which boiling water was poured. Soon they also discovered the joys of sweetened ‘coffied milk’ or ‘milky coffee.’“
Many French citizens took to café au lait, particularly for breakfast. In the early seventeenth century, coffee was still an exotic and expensive beverage in Europe used as a medicine, just as cacao was in the beginning, but its use was spreading. John III Sobieski (1629-1696), King of Poland, routed the Ottoman armies during the 1683 Battle of Vienna. Leading a combined force of Polish, Austrian and German troops, he attacked a numerically superior Turkish army until their lines were broken and the invaders ended the siege and fled in confusion.
According to legend, the fleeing Turks left behind hundreds of sacks filled with coffee beans, which were used by the locals. In the early 1700s, Vienna was certainly filled with coffeehouses where people ate cake and read newspapers, another innovation which rapidly increased in popularity at the time. Coffee was known throughout German-speaking Central Europe by the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Mark Pendergrast writes:
“Coffee and coffeehouses reached Germany in the 1670s. By 1721 there were coffeehouses in most major German cities. For quite a while the coffee habit remained the province of the upper classes. Many physicians warned that it caused sterility or stillbirths. In 1732 the drink had become controversial (and popular) enough to inspire Johann Sebastian Bach to write his humorous Coffee Cantata, in which a daughter begs her stern father to allow her this favorite vice….Later in the century, coffee-obsessed Ludwig van Beethoven ground precisely sixty beans to brew a cup. By 1777 the hot beverage had become entirely too popular for Frederick the Great, who issued a manifesto in favor of Germany’s more traditional drink: ‘It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the like amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors.’ Four years later the king forbade coffee’s roasting except in official government establishments, forcing the poor to resort to coffee substitutes.”
These restrictions on coffee making failed, of course. Coffeehouses took London by storm in the late 1600s and early 1700s, although the British would soon develop a famous taste for tea. Edward Lloyd’s establishment Lloyd’s Coffee House eventually evolved into a major insurance company, mirroring the rise of England and Britain as the dominating seafaring nation of the world. Gregory Dicum and Nina Luttinger elaborate in The Coffee Book:
“Lloyd’s of London also evolved from a coffeehouse, one that primarily served seafarers and merchants. In his late-seventeenth-century coffeehouse, Edward Lloyd established a list detailing what ships were carrying, their schedules, and their insurance needs. Underwriters came to his coffeehouse to sell shipping insurance and merchants came to keep track of the ships. From this tradition emerged Lloyd’s of London, today one of the largest insurance firms in the world. Attendants at this institution are still called ‘waiters,’ as they were in the former coffeehouse three centuries ago. Another echo of this era in today’s society is the tip. Tipping is thought to have originated (at least in name) from a tradition that began in seventeenth-century English coffeehouses and taverns. These establishments often hung a small brass-bound box, inscribed ‘To Insure Promptness’ (TIP), into which patrons dropped extra coins to encourage speedy service.”
The coffee beans were exported from the Yemeni port of Mocha. Beans were gradually smuggled out and planted elsewhere in the world by the Dutch and others, in Java and Southeast Asia, in South America etc. Today, in Africa only Ethiopia from which the coffee shrub originally spread ranks among the ten largest producers of coffee, the others being non-African nations such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, India, Mexico, Peru and Central American countries Guatemala and Honduras. Ironically, West African states like Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon are among the largest producers of cacao beans, an American plant, in the world. This is the result of the globalization of ideas and goods as well as plants and animals conducted by Western Europeans in the modern era, an event which affected virtually every corner of this planet for good or bad.
While it is indisputable that the very concept of coffee drinking was introduced to Europe via the Middle East, many of the ways in which global consumers now prepare the beverage, modified by Western tastes and technological ingenuity, differ considerably from traditional Arabic and Turkish coffee. Satori Kato, a Japanese American chemist, is credited with the invention of instant coffee in 1901. Melitta Bentz, a German housewife, invented the paper coffee filter in 1908, commonly used for drip brew all over the world.
In 1901 an Italian named Luigi Bezzera in Milan sought a way to shorten the coffee breaks of his employees. He introduced pressure to the brewing process, thereby reducing the time needed to brew. The new coffee drink, caffè espresso or espresso (espresso means “fast” in Italian), became popular and is also the base for many other drinks such as lattes, cappuccino and macchiato. In 1961 Italian Faema created a machine with an electric pump that forced water through the coffee. This machine marks the beginning of the pump-driven machines from which almost all espresso machines in use in the twenty-first century are derived.
There were so many technological improvements in farming in the seventeenth century, with new crops and methods, that historians have dubbed it an agricultural revolution. The Netherlands and England were the leaders in implementing these changes. The dynamic middle-class society of republican Holland was the most advanced nation in Europe in agriculture, in shipbuilding and navigation as well as in commerce and banking. The Dutch provided models for others to emulate and Amsterdam grew rapidly in size and importance.
The Dutch made a successful grab for present-day Indonesia and the lucrative trade with the Spice Islands. In the East they encountered the Chinese habit of tea drinking, which the Dutch and later English East India Companies brought back go Europe. The Dutch were the leading commercial power of their time and by 1650 had the greatest merchant fleet the world had ever seen with some 10,000 ships, despite the fact that they had been at war with Spain more or less continuously for generations. Hugh Johnson writes in The Story of Wine:
“With ruthless vigour the United Provinces established colonies in the East and West Indies, in North America, in Ceylon, and at the Cape of Good Hope, discovered Tasmania and New Zealand, fought in the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, and twice against England, and repelled an invasion by Louis XIV, all within the space of one lifetime. Dutch commercial enterprise introduced so many new stimulants and narcotics to Europe, in the form of brandy, beer — so much stronger than the mild-flavoured ale drunk in most northern countries — tea, and coffee, that wine almost fell by the wayside. But as the dominant trading nation, with far more ships than any other, the Dutch also called the tune in the growing and distribution of wine. The Netherlands, like Venice, made its fortune importing and exporting the same goods. Transit trade was the livelihood of Amsterdam, which grew rich by linking the Baltic with the Mediterranean and the Indies (despite such formidable obstacles as a harbour approach so shallow that big freighters had to be piggybacked over the shoals by pumped-out lighters lashed alongside).”
After having enjoyed a production boom in the Renaissance period due to the rise of urban brewing and the use of hops, by the seventeenth century beer met with new challenges. Rising incomes meant that more people could buy beer, but some chose to buy wine, which enjoyed greater prestige but had traditionally been too expensive for many consumers, at least in the north. Rising commerce in wine made the drink more available, and the greater use of bottles and the development of the corkscrew around 1700 made it easier to get, keep and drink wine. However, the introduction of entirely new drinks posed a challenge to both wine and beer, first with the tropical non-alcoholic beverages cacao, coffee and tea and then with the near-simultaneous rise of distilled alcoholic beverages.
The production of distilled gin, first in the form of genever or Geneva gin with its distinctive juniper flavoring, rose rapidly in the seventeenth century in Holland and England. With much stronger drinks followed more serious social problems related to the excessive drinking of alcohol. The sometimes unattractive spectacle of public drunkenness, which was and is more common among northern Europeans than among southern Europeans, increased greatly. The changes were expressed graphically in the English painter William Hogarth’s (1697-1764) prints of Gin Lane (1751) as a place of debauchery and the destruction of the family and public order compared to Beer Street, where all is peaceful and people appear healthy.
Through natural processes of fermentation the maximum alcohol content of a wine rarely exceeds 15%. To create beverages with 20% or more you need the aid of distillation. Distillation is a method for increasing the alcohol content of a liquid already containing ethyl alcohol by utilizing the different boiling points of water (100 °C) and alcohol (78 °C). The distillation process separates the alcohol from other parts of the solution by heating the liquid to 78° Celsius, a temperature sufficient to boil alcohol but not water. The resulting steam (vaporized alcohol) is collected and condensed, returning it to liquid form — but a liquid with a much higher proportion of alcohol than before. The resultant distillate is matured, often for years, before it is sold. Distilled spirits include aquavit, brandy, gin, rum, vodka and whiskey.
Some crude form of distillation was employed in the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean in the production of perfumes. In 2007 a team of archaeologists in Cyprus discovered one of the world’s oldest perfume “factories.” Dozens of distilling stills, mixing bowls, funnels and bottles were found preserved at the site, dating from about 1850 BC. Cyprus in ancient Greece had the mythological status as the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and the Greek equivalent of the Roman Venus. An early and crude form of distillation did exist in China and Egypt and was practiced by Greek alchemists in Alexandria. Nevertheless, I have found no convincing references to the existence of anything resembling beverages such as whiskey or brandy in either ancient Europe or Asia. Hugh Johnson, normally a well-informed man, is quite explicit in stating that distilled beverages were not known by Roman times:
“It was the mark of fine wine with the Romans, as it is with us, that it improved with age. Horace, in one poem contemplating his end, seems more concerned about parting from his cellar of wonderful old wine than from his wife. Very sweet wines will usually keep well without turning to vinegar, but the Romans had no means of increasing their alcoholic strength to preserve them. No yeast will continue to ferment when the alcohol level reaches fifteen or sixteen per cent of the wine. Distillation was unknown. This, then, was the strongest drink they knew.”
Distillation of nearly pure alcohol (ethanol) appears to have been a development of medieval times. Ironically, it is possible that alchemists in the Islamic-ruled Middle East contributed to its development. Middle Easterners in the Early Middle Ages employed a method that could produce a distilled beverage from wine. Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber in Latin) around AD 800 developed new methods in alchemy and made experiments with heating wine, which were followed up by al-Razi (Rhazes) and other scholars whose work was later known in Europe.
In the Cambridge World History of Food, James Comer writes about distilled beverages. Several European alchemists, searching for the “elixir of life,” experimented with distillation. They believed that they had extracted the “essence” or “spirit” of wine and that repeated distillations resulted in aqua vitae — Latin for “water of life.” This substance was initially used as a medicine. According to Comer, “both the Irish and the Scots claim to have produced liquor from grain (in contrast to brandy from wine) since the beginning of the last millennium; the Scots called it uisge beatha (pronounced wisky-baw) and the Irish called it uisce beatha. Both meant ‘water of life,’ and the English term ‘whiskey’ derived from them.”
The first real brandy that was not thought of as medicine is said to have been distilled around 1300 by Arnaldus de Villa Nova (ca. 1235-1311), a Catalan alchemist presumably familiar from Spain with writings in Arabic about distillation, who became professor at the medical school of Montpellier in France. During the fifteenth century, better methods for cooling the still’s head developed. This led to increased production of distilled beverages, which spread rapidly across Europe. France became a center of the brandy industry. Vodka originated in Russia in the fourteenth century, its name deriving from Russian voda (“water”). The drink, typically containing 40-50 % alcohol, was first made in northeastern Europe, i.e. in the Baltic region, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. Considerable and sometimes excessive amounts of it are still consumed here. Sweden and Finland, too, are significant producers of vodka.
The first definitive proof we have of whiskey making comes from the fifteenth century in both Ireland and Scotland, although there are persistent yet still-unproven claims that production in this area dates further back in time. Whiskey is always aged in wooden containers, usually of white oak. In addition to Irish and Scotch whiskey, the United States and Canada are now large producers and consumers of whiskey. Whisky or whiskey (both spellings are used) is a distilled liquor made from cereal grains and could be called a distilled beer, whereas brandies such as cognac are made from grapes and could thus be labeled distilled wines. Cognac is named for the town of Cognac north of Bordeaux, France, one of three officially demarcated brandy regions in Europe; the others are the towns of Armagnac in France and Jerez in Spain.
A constant theme in the discussion of brandy was fire, because beverages are “burnt” or distilled over the flame of a still, because distilled alcohol is capable of combustion, and because of the “burning” sensation experienced by those who drink it. Comer again: “First called ‘brandy wine’ (from the Dutch brandewijn), brandy means ‘to burn’ or ‘burnt’ in Dutch as well as in other languages, such as the German Brand and the Middle English ‘brand.’ Brandy is more expensive to make than grain spirits because it must be distilled from fruit and, in the case of cognac, from wine (Ray 1974). As noted, brandy first emerged as medicine in the eleventh century and only later became popular as a beverage.”
According to James Comer, in the sixteenth century the prominent Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus “had employed the Arabic term alcool vini to describe spirits. But it was not until 1730, when the Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave used the word alcohol to mean distilled spirits, that it became commonly understood that ale, wine and distilled beverages all owed their mood-altering capabilities to this chemical.”
The porter of English brewers, first made in 1722, was a dark strong beer related to modern stouts. It cost less than ordinary beer, kept longer, was more robust and needed less care in handling. London porter breweries became industrialists of a type different from any seen before anywhere. In the 1820s, English brewers created beers designed to survive the long sea voyage to Britain’s colonies in Asia, especially India, the “jewel of the crown” of the British Empire. These highly hopped ales were less bitter and paler in color compared to porter and become known as India Pale Ales.
The village of Hoegaarden in Flanders was a small enclave able to evade supervision by any authority and grew into a significant exporter of beer. Brussels producers took advantage of the growing urban population. However, such successes constituted anomalies; the general picture in eighteenth century Europe was one of a retreat of brewing and consumption of beer. This changed in the nineteenth century when an entirely new industry was born, using steam engines and mechanized processes. Britain was the undisputed technological leader during the first stages of the Industrial Revolution, also in brewing. As author Richard W. Unger says:
“Scientific advances in eighteenth-century England (such as the use of the thermometer) were the start of a long series of developments which came to fruition in Bavaria, Austria, Denmark and later in Holland, Brabant, and England in the late nineteenth century. Mechanization and the use of steam engines to help with the heavy work was followed by the introduction of refrigeration, which made possible control of the environment in breweries. The developments came at the same time as research on yeast which, combined with other advances, made it possible to produce a consistent and reliable pilsner beer of high quality and competitive price. With an improved product which brewers could distribute along ever improving transportation networks and the invasion of the brewery by chemists who put the process of making beer more than ever on a scientific basis there was to be another age of prosperity with beer production and consumption spreading throughout the entire year and throughout the entire world.”
Developments in the making of wine and beer were intimately related to other scientific and industrial advances of the era. In the 1750s the Scottish physician Joseph Black studied a gas he called “fixed air,” which we know as carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the first gases to be described as a substance distinct from “air.” The Englishman Joseph Priestly, the discoverer of oxygen, began his own experiments involving “airs” in Leeds, where he lived close to a brewery. The air immediately above the surface of the beer brew fermenting in the vats had recently been identified as Black’s fixed air. John Gribbin explains in his book The Scientists:
“Priestley saw that he had a ready-made laboratory in which he could experiment with large quantities of this gas. He found that it formed a layer roughly nine inches to a foot (23-30 centimetres) deep above the fermenting liquor, and that although a burning candle placed in this layer was extinguished, the smoke stayed there. By adding smoke to the carbon dioxide layer, Priestley made it visible, so that waves on its surface (the boundary between the carbon dioxide and ordinary air) could be observed, and it could be seen flowing over the side of the vessel and falling to the floor. Priestley experimented with dissolving fixed air from the vats in water, and found that by sloshing water backwards and forwards from one vessel to another in the fixed air for a few minutes, he could produce a pleasant sparkling drink. In the early 1770s, partly as a result of an (unsuccessful) attempt to find a convenient preventative for scurvy, Priestley refined this technique by obtaining carbon dioxide from chalk using sulphuric acid, and then dissolving the gas in water under pressure. This led to a craze for ‘soda water’, which spread across Europe.”
Joseph Priestley had invented artificially carbonated water in 1767 at a brewery in Leeds, England. In 1771 the Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman, too, developed a process to make carbonated water, but carbonated soft drinks, known as soda or soda pop, were created in the nineteenth century. John S. Pemberton (1831-1888) invented Coca-Cola in the USA in 1886.
The great English natural philosopher Michael Faraday is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking investigations of electricity and electromagnetism, but he was also Humphry Davy’s scientific assistant and did important chemical work on his own. Faraday managed to liquefy many of the gases known in the 1820s, among them ammonia in 1823, but some gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen still proved too difficult at that time. These gases were eventually liquefied by other Europeans in the generations that followed.
The field of low-temperature physics, or cryogenics, emerged during the nineteenth century as an extension of the European chemical and electrochemical revolution. The proliferation of academic research laboratories and their move into fields required relatively expensive apparatus. “Cryogenics demonstrates the interpenetration of industry and science in the second industrial revolution — in particular, the budding refrigeration industry, which had emerged as a rival to natural ice in the late nineteenth century, especially for brewing lager beer and shipping meat to Europe from Argentina and New Zealand.” Academic physicists instigated their own low-temperature programs, which again led to the discovery of such physical phenomena as superconductivity and superfluidity in the twentieth century.
In the late 1700s, leading European scholars learned that when a gas is cooled, its volume is reduced by a predictable amount. Pressurizing a gas by forcibly squeezing its molecules closer together reduces its volume. The first person to liquefy a substance that normally (i.e., in temperatures we experience daily) exists as a gas was Gaspard Monge, a French scholar primarily remembered for his achievements in mathematics, especially descriptive geometry, but who did work in physics and chemistry as well. Monge produced liquid sulfur dioxide in 1784, but most gases were not liquefied until the mid-1800s. In the 1840s the Irish physical chemist Thomas Andrews (1813-1885) suggested that every gas has a critical temperature above which it cannot be liquefied even under greater pressure. His concept of critical temperature led to a breakthrough in the liquefaction of many so-called permanent gases.
The English natural philosopher James Prescott Joule was a scientific brewer whose father had made good money from making beer. At an early age, James Joule was given a laboratory adjacent to the brewery premises. Here is a quote from his biography in the excellent book The Oxford Guide to the History of Physics and Astronomy, edited by John L. Heilbron:
“Joule was educated at home and by the natural philosopher John Dalton. As the son of the wealthiest brewing family in Manchester, England, he had the opportunity to choose his profession freely….The brewery and Manchester industry in general made an ideal environment for studying the most current problems in science and technology. The new forces of electricity and magnetism then enjoyed the attention of most people interested in natural philosophy….Expressing phenomena numerically had become a habit of Joule’s when he worked in the brewing world….The experiments drew on the thermometric skills he had acquired in the brewery, and invoked a close collaboration with the local instrument maker and natural philosopher John Benjamin Dancer. Joule and Dancer produced the most precise working mercury thermometer available at the time. Their contemporaries still used air thermometers….Joule was characterized as a ‘gentleman specialist’ for having established the mechanical equivalent of heat through exact measurement, but his related reflections on the dynamical nature of heat and its significance for thermodynamics carried little weight before he began his collaboration with William Thomson. Thomson made ‘Joule’s constant’ (the ratio of mechanical work to heat) the building block of the science of energy.”
Few physicists understood or took seriously what Joule argued since he was a brewer by profession and an amateur scientist. Fortunately, the young William Thomson, often known as Lord Kelvin, realized the importance of his work and collaborated with Joule for years on studies of the relationship between work and heat. Joule collaborated with Lord Kelvin on developing a thermodynamic (absolute) temperature scale, the Kelvin scale from 1848, where absolute zero (0 K) constitutes the absence of all thermal energy. The magnitude of the degree Celsius, the centigrade scale named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius and normally used in everyday life, is exactly equal to that of the kelvin, but 0 K is -273.15 °C.
The Frenchman Sadi Carnot in 1824 published a theoretical account of steam engines whose importance was not fully grasped until some years later. The First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, was enunciated in 1842 by the German physician and physicist Julius Robert Mayer. He related mechanical energy to thermal energy. Mayer’s original studies were carried out whilst he was employed as a ship’s doctor in the Dutch East Indies in 1840. He noticed the difference in the color of venous blood when taken in tropical conditions as opposed to when it was taken in colder climates. Local physicians informed him that the bright red color was typical of tropical conditions. The consumption of oxygen required to maintain body temperature is less there than in colder countries. Mayer understood that by burning the same amount of food, the body could produce different proportions of heat and work, but the sum of the two had to be constant.
Although their starting points were very different, Joule and Mayer are generally regarded as the co-discoverers of the principle of energy conservation, which constitutes a fundamental part of all branches of physics and physical chemistry. The German scholar Hermann von Helmholtz placed the principle on a better mathematical basis in 1847 when he clearly stated the “conservation of energy” as a principle applicable to all natural phenomena. The German physicist Rudolf Clausius, building on Carnot’s work, introduced the concept of entropy and stated the ideas of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which stipulates that the total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system always increases over time. The German physical chemist Walther Nernst in the early 1900s formulated the Third Law of Thermodynamics, which basically says that it is impossible to reach absolute zero of temperature.
The principle of vacuum refrigerators is based on the fact that water in a sealed container can be made to boil if the pressure is reduced (the “boiling point” of 100 degrees Celsius refers to the situation when the external pressure equals one atmosphere; water can be made to boil at lower temperatures on a mountain top). The heat necessary for evaporation is taken from the water itself. Reducing the pressure further lowers the temperature until freezing-point is reached and ice is formed. The Scottish scholar and chemist William Cullen (1710-1790) gave one of the first documented public demonstrations of artificial refrigeration, and the United States inventor Oliver Evans (1755-1819) designed, but did not build, a refrigeration machine which ran on vapor in 1805. Ian Hornsey writes in his history of beer and brewing:
“The earliest machine of this type was constructed in 1755, by Dr William Cullen, who produced the vacuum necessary purely by means of a pump. Then, in 1810, Sir John Leslie combined a vessel containing a strong sulphuric acid solution along with the air pump, the acid acting as an absorbent for water vapour in the air. This principle was taken up and elaborated upon by E.C. Carré, who in 1860 invented a machine that used ammonia as the volatile liquid instead of water….The first compression machine was manufactured by John Hague in 1834, from designs by the inventor, Jacob Perkins, who took out the original patents, and recommended that ether was used as the volatile agent. Although Hague’s machine can be regarded as the archetype for all ‘modern’ refrigerators, it never really got past the development stage, and it was left to the Australian, James Harrison, of Geelong, Victoria, to finalise the practicalities and produce a working version, which he did in 1856. By 1859, Harrison’s equipment was being manufactured commercially in New South Wales, and the first of them (which used ether as the refrigerating agent) came to Britain in 1861.”
Once the reliability of compression machines had been established, British breweries took up the idea of acquiring ice-machines and refrigerators. Until the final decades of the nineteenth century, the only way to reduce the temperature of a liquid had been natural ice. The new methods of refrigeration meant that brewing could be carried out during the summer months, too. This was a small revolution, and commercial refrigeration was primarily directed at breweries in the 1870s. The early refrigeration systems used very large volumes of cooling water. In 1879 a transatlantic liner brought the first load of mechanically-chilled American beef to Britain whilst the first batch of frozen meat was imported into England from Australia.
In 1853, Joule and Thomson showed that when compressed air, and certain other gases, held at temperatures between 0 and 100 °C are allowed to expand through a porous plug or valve, the temperature falls. The heat effect on the expansion of gases is known as the Joule-Thomson effect. In 1895 the German Carl von Linde (1842-1934), an engineering professor at the Technische Hochschule in Munich where he had students like Rudolf Diesel and had developed a practical refrigerator in 1876, patented an efficient apparatus in which the Joule-Thomson effect was applied to the liquefaction of gases. As scholar Kostas Gavroglu says:
“The development of thermodynamics, especially James Prescott Joule’s and William Thomson’s proofs that the temperature of a gas dropped when it expanded very quickly, provided the necessary background for the investigation and the understanding of the properties of matter in the very cold. Thomas Andrews’s experiments determining the critical point — the temperature at which a gas whose pressure is increased at constant volume liquefies — and Johannes Diderik van der Waals’s discussion of the continuity of the gaseous and liquid states brought further insights into the characteristics of very cold fluids. The nineteenth century saw remarkable developments in the large-scale production of cold, especially through the development of the vapor compression process that led to different types of refrigeration machines and refrigeration processes. The plentiful availability of artificial cold transformed the preservation, circulation, and consumption of food. By the end of the nineteenth century the Linde Company had sold about 2600 gas liquefiers: 1406 were used in breweries, 403 for cooling land stores for meat and provisions, 204 for cooling ships’ holds for transportation of meat and food, 220 for ice making, 73 in dairies for butter making, 64 in chemical factories, 15 in sugar refining [and some] for other purposes.”
By the late nineteenth century, breweries were the largest users of commercial refrigeration units, though some still relied on harvested ice. In the early twentieth century, standards were reached for home refrigerators, the construction of trains and ships with large refrigerators, the installation of special refrigerators in slaughterhouses, the design of new hotels with air cooling systems etc. This revolution in refrigeration happened parallel to another revolution in transportation, and the combination of the two was to have global consequences.
Before 1830 in England, George and Robert Stephenson built a sequence of locomotives which established the basis for a new generation of engines with tube boilers and horizontal cylinders. There was a meteoric growth of railroads throughout the Western world and beyond after this, when Stephenson’s Rocket had showed the tremendous potential of the new innovation. Railroad construction in turn stimulated growth of ironworks and engineering workshops. Transcontinental railroads played a major role in opening up the American West for settlement and agriculture, and the characteristic pioneer railroads on the prairies usually had a line of telegraph poles alongside the track. Railroads were important in Canada and the USA, but also in South America and in Asia. In Argentina they were used to settle parts of the country with agricultural potential and gave ranchers access to ports and distant markets.
The paddle wheel had been known in China for centuries, but Asians never invented engines. The American engineer Robert Fulton (1765-1815), who had heard of James Watt’s steam engine on a visit to England, introduced the first commercially successful steamboat in 1807, a paddle steamer operating on the Hudson River. In general, however, the first steamships were really sailing ships with auxiliary engines. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that steamships primarily used the steam engine. The idea of the screw propeller had been proposed in 1753 by the mathematician Daniel Bernoulli, known for his theoretical work on fluid mechanics, and the Frenchman Frédéric Sauvage (1786-1857) demonstrated its capacities in the 1830s. Propellers were further improved by the Swedish-born inventor John Ericsson (1803-1889) and the Englishman Francis Smith (1808-1874) in the late 1830s.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the construction of ships shifted from wood to iron hulls, and again to steel from the late 1870s on. Iron ships could be made of almost any size. The brilliant English engineer Isambard Brunel (1806-1859) designed the first large iron, propeller-driven transatlantic steamships, the Great Western and the Great Britain. The Great Eastern, launched in 1858, was the largest ship built during the nineteenth century. Ships grew larger and more powerful, which sharply reduced international transportation costs. The steam ship had great advantages in speed and flexibility. Around 1800, letter-writers in England could expect to wait up to two years for an answer to a letter to Calcutta, India. By the end of the century, the journey could be made in a few weeks. The technology for building wooden sailing ships, too, improved greatly during this time period, but in the end it was impossible for such ships to keep up with the competition from the motorized ships.
The new transportation and cooling techniques for the first time made it possible to export bulky goods such as grain and meat, or for that matter wine and beer, not just to other countries but to other continents. The United States and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Argentine and Uruguay were soon to show that they could offer food at cheaper prices than Europe herself. Historian J. M. Roberts writes in The New Penguin History of the World:
“The American plains, the huge stretches of pasture in the South American pampas and the temperate regions of Australasia provided vast areas for the growing of grain and the raising of livestock. The second was a revolution in transport which made them exploitable for the first time. Steam-driven railways and ships came into service in increasing numbers from the 1860s. These quickly brought down transport costs and did so all the faster as lower prices bred growing demand. Thus further profits were generated to be put into more capital investment on the ranges and prairies of the New World. On a smaller scale the same phenomenon was at work inside Europe, too. From the 1870s the eastern European and German farmers began to see that they had a competitor in Russian grain, able to reach the growing cities much more cheaply once railways were built in Poland and western Russia and steamships could bring it from Black Sea ports. By 1900 the context in which European farmers worked, whether they knew it or not, was the whole world; the price of Chilean guano or New Zealand lamb could already settle what went on in their local markets.”
Better transportation also led to more migration from Europe. Before 1800, there was little European emigration except from the British Isles, but this now changed. Roberts again:
“After , something like sixty million Europeans went overseas, and this tide began to flow strongly in the 1830s. In the nineteenth century most of it went to North America, and then to Latin America (especially Argentina and Brazil), to Australia and South Africa. At the same time a concealed European emigration was also occurring across land within the Russian empire, which occupied one-sixth of the world’s land surface and which had vast spaces to draw migrants in Siberia. The peak of European emigration overseas actually came on the eve of the First World War, in 1913, when over a million and a half left Europe; over a third of these were Italians, nearly 400,000 were British and 200,000 Spanish. Fifty years earlier, Italians figured only to a minor degree, Germans and Scandinavians loomed much larger. All the time, the British Isles contributed a steady flow; between 1880 and 1910 eight and a half million Britons went overseas (the Italian figure for this period was just over six million). The greatest number of British emigrants went to the United States (about 65 per cent of them between 1815 and 1900), but large numbers went also to the self-governing colonies.”
Unfortunately, faster and more extensive communications increases the risk of spreading diseases from one region of the world to another. The grape phylloxera is a pest native to North America which had for generations made it difficult to transplant European vines to this region, although the reason for this was not properly understood. The local vines are naturally resistant to it. The louse did not survive the weeks at sea onboard the sailing ships, but the speed of the new steamships brought phylloxera to Europe in the 1860s. It caused tremendous devastation among European vineyards for decades, but the problem was eventually overcome by grafting resistant American rootstocks onto Old World vines. One of the positive side effects of this disaster was the growing importance of science in winemaking.
While refrigeration for commercial purposes had been introduced in the nineteenth century, its potential was fully realized in the twentieth century. The Swedish engineering students Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters invented the gas absorption refrigerator in 1922. The first refrigerator to see widespread use was the General Electric “Monitor-Top” refrigerator from 1927. Introduction of home freezer units occurred in the United States in the 1940s, and frozen foods began to make the transition from luxury to necessity in the Western world during the second half of the twentieth century.
In the USA in 1930, Charles Seabrook and his brothers began experimenting with the freezing of vegetables. Their partnership with Clarence Birdseye founded the frozen food industry. Birdseye had observed how Eskimos in the Arctic use ice to quickly freeze freshly-caught fish straight through. When the frozen fish were thawed and eaten there was relatively little difference in taste. He concluded that it was rapid freezing in the extremely low temperatures that made the food retain some of its freshness — a procedure called flash freezing. Unlike the Eskimos, Westerners could also create artificial ice even in warmer climates. Birdseye’s company began leasing refrigerated boxcars to transport frozen foods by rail in 1944.
The American chemical engineer Thomas Midgley Jr. (1889-1944) w hile working for the company General Motors discovered that adding tetraethyllead (TEL) to gasoline prevented internal combustion engines from “knocking.” Unfortunately, as a side effect the addition of lead resulted in the release of huge amounts of toxic lead into the atmosphere, which caused serious health problems. Early refrigeration units used nasty and dangerous chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and ammonia. In 1930 Midgley discovered dichlorodifluoromethane, a chlorinated fluorocarbon (CFC) which he dubbed Freon. It soon became widely used it refrigerators. The negative effect of CFCs upon the ozone layer became widely known from the 1970s on, after which their use was phased out. One historian has stated that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.”
It is difficult to say exactly when ice cream was “invented.” Various cultures around the world have used natural ice in combination with drinks, fruits or berries for thousands of years, but whether this constitutes ice cream is debatable. Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making is a 2009 book by Jeri Quinzio on the social history of ice cream. In the preface, Quinzio dispels some popular myths. Marco Polo may or may not have tasted ices in China in the thirteenth century, but he did not bring recipes back to Italy. There are no references to such information in the books or letters of the time. When Italians were experimenting with freezing techniques three centuries later this was a native development in post-Renaissance Italy and the dynamic, experimenting Europe of the Scientific Revolution.
Italians, with their talent for combining great food with commercial skills, played a major role in the development and spread of ice cream. Quinzio’s book traces the history of the cold delight from seventeenth century Italy. “Scientists and inventors have been as important to the development of ice cream as cooks and confectioners. Italian scientists experimenting with freezing in the sixteenth century inspired confectioners to create ices and ice creams in the seventeenth.” At the time, Naples was a part of the Spanish Empire. Wealthy Europeans were enjoying new food products from the Americas such as cacao beans or tomatoes, which were soon used by the people of Naples as toppings on the culinary innovation known as pizza.
Long before anyone had made ice creams, ice and snow were highly valued. They were hard to get, difficult to store and expensive, in other words perfect status symbols. In the mid-sixteenth century, Italian scholars learned that immersing a container of water in a bucket of snow that was mixed with potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, would freeze the water. Eventually they found that common salt would work as well as saltpeter. For centuries ice and salt were used for freezing in this way. Mixing salt with ice lowers the ice’s freezing point, causing it to melt. As it does, heat is transferred away from the ice cream mixture and it freezes.
In addition to wine coolers, this technique made possible all sorts of fanciful ice artistry. The famous and influential French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was visiting Florence when he wrote, “It is customary here to put snow into the wine glasses, I put only a little in not being too well in body.” Eighteenth century Italians were celebrated for their ices, and Italian confectioners delighted in sending diners ices to the table disguised as slices of turkey or peaches. The French were better at providing us with printed guides to its making.
There were improvements in the transportation and storage of natural ice, which was a serious industry at the time, but the major breakthrough came when advances in electrochemical technology made it possible to artificially create ice. These changes were becoming clearly evident by the turn of the twentieth century, when other European countries as well as the United States were employing new techniques to challenge the traditional Italian leadership role in ice cream making. During the nineteenth century, a number of events, inventions and innovations brought about enormous changes in the production and consumption of ice cream. Jeri Quinzio tells the tale in Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making:
“The invention of ice cream freezers with built-in churns, the expansion of the sugar industry, and especially the development of the ice business all helped make ice cream a household word and a family treat. Ice, the winter crop of frozen ponds, lakes, and rivers, gave America its favorite summer dessert. For years, ice had been harvested and used to chill drinks, preserve food, and freeze ice cream. But it had been limited to those few who could afford it and had the means to store it.” Moreover, “Until the middle of the nineteenth century, ice cream making was a local business. Confectioners and cooks made small amounts of ice cream and sold them directly to their customers or occasionally to a local hotel or caterer. But ice cream, like so many other products, was about to become a large-scale commercial enterprise. Many factors were responsible for the change. The improvements in freezers, the plentiful supply of ice, and the low cost of sugar were all responsible for expanding production. Now, with the advent of the railroad, distribution was about to be transformed.”
While ice cream existed in pre-industrial Europe, it was the Industrial Revolution that laid the foundations for the global industry we have today where you can buy delicious cold sweets even in tropical countries in the middle of the summer. All this is certainly appreciated by lovers of ice cream, of which there are hundreds of millions, but it was not the most important part of the history of refrigeration. The real revolution was that the use of home refrigerators in our kitchens made it possible for ordinary consumers to keep fruits and vegetables edible longer and to store fish and meats safely for prolonged periods of time. Refrigeration has thus improved nutrition for countless millions of people around the world.
During the Industrial Revolution, the development of hydrometers and thermometers allowed the brewer more control over the process and greater theoretical understanding of it. This marks the beginning of brewing science. One of the questions faced by natural scientists was the Aristotelian doctrine of “spontaneous generation,” or abiogenesis, which propounded that “life” was continually being created out of inanimate matter. The Italian physician Franceso Redi (1626-1679) around 1665, in a fine example of the proper use of the experimental method, placed clean linen cloths over jars containing fresh samples of meat. Flies, attracted to the meat, laid eggs on the cloth. Maggots could later be seen on the cloth, but not on the meat, which proved that maggots grow from eggs and do not develop spontaneously. Unfortunately, Redi failed to convince all of his contemporaries.
Since ancient times, observers had been fascinated with fermentation, which could transform grape juice into wine, but they failed to explain the process. It was the great Frenchman Antoine–Laurent Lavoisier in the 1780s who established the fact that organic compounds consist basically of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. He did not fully understand the process of fermentation, but his work was a milestone in reaching a scientific understanding of the principles behind it. Another pioneering French chemist, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, proposed that fermentation was instigated by the action of oxygen on fermentable material. Huge advances were made during the nineteenth century, aided by improved microscopes.
Some of the best work to disprove spontaneous generation was carried out by the German scholar Theodor Schwann, a pioneer in cell theory in biology and medicine. He allowed air to pass freely over previously heated organic substrates (meat and hay infusions), but only after it had passed through very hot glass tubes. Such infusions failed to yield “life.” In 1837 Schwann demonstrated that alcoholic fermentation was the result of a living organism, not an inanimate chemical mass. He described the morphology of yeast, which he named “sugar fungus,” from which the generic name Saccharomyces emanates. There was nevertheless opposition to the idea of yeast as a living organism from many leading chemists such as the Swede Jöns Jacob Berzelius and the Germans Justus Liebig and Friedrich Wöhler.
In spite of this, by the mid-nineteenth century an increasing number of scholars believed that yeast was a living organism; even Berzelius had admitted as much by 1848. In the 1850s, H.G.F. Schröder (1810-1885) and T. von Dusch (1824-1890) conducted experiments in which they studied the role of air in decomposition. It was known (the principle was by then used for the preservation of food) that decomposition could in many cases be prevented by heating the material and excluding air from it.
The highly influential French scholar Louis Pasteur published work supporting the idea that yeast consists of living cells responsible for fermentation. By the 1870s most authorities had accepted his tenet that “there is no fermentation without life.” This applied not only to alcoholic fermentation, but to the myriad of other fermentations carried out by bacteria. Pasteur did more than any other person to establish acceptance for the germ theory of disease, which makes him a towering figure in the world history of medicine. In addition to pioneering medical advances such as discovering the first effective vaccine for rabies he worked with problems related to the wine industry, which in France is a matter of national pride. He studied bacteria in the microscope and identified which ones caused a particular wine disease. He demonstrated that these bacteria needed access to oxygen to live and reproduce. The most common is the vinegar bacterium, which is present in all wine and will eventually make it turn to vinegar (Old French for vin aigre, “sour wine”). Vinegar has been used since ancient times in Asian and European cuisines, but it was Pasteur who showed in 1864 that it results from a natural fermentation process.
For thousands of years, one of the challenges faced by all human cultures has been how to preserve food and prevent spoilage. A number of methods such as drying, salting and smoking have been employed. The canning of food was invented in the early 1800s by the French confectioner and brewer Nicolas Appert (1749-1841), prompted by Napoleon Bonaparte’s offer of 12,000 francs to the man who could invent a useful way of preserving food for his army. For years Appert experimented with various packaging techniques. He eventually found that food wouldn’t go “bad” if you placed it in champagne bottles, corked them loosely, immersed them in boiling water and hammered the corks tight. This practice preserved the food for extended periods, but the reason for this was still unknown. Later in the nineteenth century, tin cans made canned food available to urban populations throughout the Western world, especially when easy-to-use can openers had been developed by the early twentieth century. Cans are cheap and more resilient than fragile glass jars. Hornsey explains:
“Coincidentally, Appert was the son of an innkeeper, and also gained experience in brewing and pickling before becoming a chef and a confectioner. Gay-Lussac found that food treated by Appert’s method was quite stable, but as soon as it was exposed to air, fermentation and/or putrefaction set in. Further experiments enabled Gay-Lussac to prove that air was the causative agent, and that if liquid foods were actually boiled, and then exposed to air, then the onset of the two processes was delayed. He also found that if brewer’s yeast was heated, it was incapable of initiating fermentations. The proposition that yeast was a living organism, not a chemical compound, was not made until the mid- to late-1830s, when the results from three totally independent pieces of work appeared. It should be emphasised that these treatises coincided with the development of much-improved microscopes and, in order of publication date, the first to appear was the French mechanical engineer, Charles Cagniard-Latour, who, in 1835 (with additions in 1837), microscopically monitored the changes that yeast underwent over a period of fermentation.”
Louis Pasteur knew of Appert’s work, but his careful scientific methods succeeded in convincing the skeptics. Pasteur had developed an interest for chemistry and biology and focused on the souring of milk and the fermentation of sugar to alcohol. In the 1860s he developed a method, now known as pasteurization, which uses the application of heat to destroy human pathogens in foods. Appert’s method of cooking the food to a temperature far in excess of what is used in pasteurization (typically around 60-70 °C, but this varies according to the product) can destroy some of the flavor. Pasteurization does not intend to kill all microorganisms, only to reduce their number to prevent them from causing diseases.
Complete sterilization has negative effects on the taste of the food. The optimal temperatures for the preservation of various foods with minimal damage to flavor were worked out by two scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA, Samuel Prescott (1872-1962) and William Lyman Underwood (1864-1929) in 1895-96. Their work represented a milestone in the development of food technology and food science.
Several sources I have seen, including Ian Hornsey in his A History of Beer and Brewing, claim that something that could be compared to pasteurization was employed in China and Japan before Pasteur, but even if this should be true the process was not fully developed or understood there. It could not be so until the invention of high-quality microscopes in nineteenth century Europe. Pasteur explained why the process worked, which is why it should properly be named after him. The distinction is not trivial; the establishment of microbiology created modern medicine as we know it, and this development did not take place in East Asia.
Emil Christian Hansen (1842-1909), a mycologist and fermentation physiologist from Denmark, was the first brewery scientist to culture and describe brewery yeasts. His work commenced in 1879 after he was appointed to the Carlsberg Laboratories in Copenhagen. A lot of his early work involved the study of diseases affecting beer production, just as Pasteur and others had done for the wine industry. Hansen worked out a method of isolating a single cell from a culture of yeast. In 1883 he had achieved the isolation of the world’s first single-cell culture and introduced pure-culture methods into the Carlsberg brewery. It became known as Saccharomyces carlsbergensis and is used industrially in the production of lager beers.
Lager-brewing seems to have originated in southern Germany, where beer has been made since late medieval times by a bottom-fermentation process where the yeast sinks to the bottom of the brewing vessel; before that, the type of yeast used tended to rise to the top of the fermenting product. Such beers came to be called lager (from German lagern, “to store”). The first lagers in Bavaria were dark brown in color, and the dark version is known as a Munich-style lager. “ Lager “ refers to yeast that requires a slow fermentation and has nothing to do with color.
The archetypal pale, bottom-fermented lager which most consumers will be familiar with today was first brewed in 1842 in a city called Pilsen, or Plzen, in western Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic. Local brewers there suffered from stiff competition from imported Bavarian beer but enjoyed some natural advantages; the water in the vicinity was extremely soft with minimal amounts of dissolved solids, which permitted the brewing of very pale, delicately-flavored beers. Bohemia has ancient brewing traditions and grows wonderful hops, whereas neighboring Moravia has plenty of great barley. Bohemians were also fairly well abreast of technological developments. Carl Balling, a professor of chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute in Prague, lectured about the living nature of yeast as early as the 1840s.
Josef Groll (1813-1887), a Bavarian brewer, created the world’s first clear, golden lager beer in Pilsen in 1842. He ended up with an extremely pale drink compared to the dark Munich lagers he knew. As the innovation grew in popularity, the people of Pilsen in 1898 renamed their beloved beer Pilsner Urquell (Plzenský Prazdroj in Czech), which means “The pilsner from the original source” in German. This is the original pilsner beer, copied by breweries around the world. Its golden color was a novelty at a time when glass vessels were gradually replacing earthenware vessels. The Romans had sometimes used drinking vessels (but not wine bottles) made of glass which displayed the color of their beloved wines. The Roman glassmaking traditions continued in medieval Italy as well as in other parts of Europe. Authors Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin tell the tale in their cultural history of glass:
“Glass making was well developed in Germany and France at the end of the Roman Empire and this tradition continued, finding its highest development in Bohemia. Recent developments in medieval archaeology have now allowed us to see that fine glass was not an Italian preserve. There were, in fact, two different glass-making traditions in Europe. That in the north, in Germany, France, Flanders, Britain and Bohemia, was, certainly until the early fifteenth century, just as sophisticated as that in Italy, even if it used different techniques and produced other styles of glassware. In Bohemia, the wealth created by the silver mines brought the prosperity that enabled people to buy the exceptionally fine, colourless and thin glass, which was being made there by the fourteenth century. This was the continuation of an earlier tradition and in due course the Bohemians would even outdo the Italians.”
The new beer quickly established a fervent following for itself, and thanks to a well-developed transport system which included railways and canals, supplies could be made available to all major towns within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and beyond. At one stage a train laden with this new beer left Pilsen every morning with supplies for the imperial capital of Vienna. Nevertheless, it took years for the new, pale lager style to be copied by Bavarian brewers following rising popular demand.
Spaten Brewery in Munich launched a pale lager in 1894. Their brewer at that time was Carl Sedlmayr, son of the renowned brewmaster Gabriel Sedlmayr Jr. who was an advocate of the use of the steam engine in the brewery. Along with the Austrian brewer Anton Dreher he had toured dynamic England and Scotland in 1833 and managed to gain access to a few breweries. The visitors were fascinated by the industrial methods they observed and the fact that British brewers could produce beers of consistent strength, achieved with the aid of the saccharometer. Dreher’s Schwechater Brewery in Vienna became the first to brew bottom-fermented Vienna-style lager in 1841, which soon proved very popular.
The innovation spread until pilsner became the most common form of beer consumed in the world. It reached the USA and Canada as well as Australia in the late nineteenth century via German-speaking immigrants, at a time when ice-making machines were beginning to be a part of general brewing equipment. Pale-colored bottom-fermented lagers made by pure yeast cultures soon predominated in New World brewing, including American Budweiser which by 2009 is the world’s highest volume selling beer.
In southern Bohemia lies the city of Budweis, which competes with Pilsen for being the center of Czech brewing. Beers from this town come under the generic name of “Budweisers.” Such was the fame of these beers that American brewers used the name Budweiser for one of their beers when they opened a brewery in Missouri in 1875. This clash of names has resulted in endless legal battles between the American company and its Czech rivals.
In the history of wine, the late seventeenth century was a great turning point due to the introduction of corked glass bottles for transporting and selling wines. This made it possible to store wines for many years and let them mature, which for some though not all wines can improve their taste. This revolution affected the world of beer, too. Ian Hornsey explains:
“It was during the 17th century, we believe, that the first glass beer bottles were used. Before that, leather, earthenware and stoneware were the favoured materials. For almost two hundred years, beer in a glass bottle was a ‘boutique’ drink, and it was not until the 1860s, with the invention of the chilled iron mould, that glass bottles could be relatively cheaply mass-produced. Prior to this, bottles were hand-blown, and thus expensive. A major development in glass bottle manufacture was the American Owens bottle-making machine, of 1898, which was the first source of cheap, mass-produced glass bottles. In the early years of the 18th century, Bristol was an important centre for glass manufacture, and large quantities of bottles were exported to America and Ireland. Instead of going out empty, they went full of beer, and the longevity of the bottled product, as opposed to cask beer, was quite noticeable, especially on the journeys across the Atlantic.”
Needless to say, this industrial mass production of glass bottles affected numerous other products in addition to wine and beer, for instance jam or milk. Aluminum beverage cans for beer or soft drinks had their breakthrough in the second half of the twentieth century. Being lighter and non-breakable, cans had many advantages over glass bottles, and containers protect their contents from light. Modern breweries today use stainless-steel equipment, automated operations controlled by electronic computers and package beer in aluminum cans and plastic containers. Brewing has become a huge global industry. In any decent bar you can buy bottles of export-beers from many different countries. As a response to brewing on the very large scale, smaller breweries and “microbreweries” have become more abundant from the 1980s onward. These smaller breweries can often make beers with more distinct flavors.
In his Great Beer Guide, beer writer Michael Jackson lists some of his favorite beers. One of them is the Guinness Extra Stout from Ireland: “The world’s most famous dry stout. Arthur Guinness was a county brewer in Ireland before setting up in Dublin in 1759. It was originally an ale brewery, but began to make porter in the 1770s. During World War I, fuel restrictions made it difficult for British maltsters to roast their grains, but this was still permitted in Ireland. ‘Plain Porter’ was dropped in the 1970s and, despite a brief revival of that style in the 1990s, Guinness is best known in both Ireland and Britain for its Extra Stout.”
In the Netherlands, Heineken is the most internationally famous brand. It traces its history to a brewery in Amsterdam from 1592, but the first Heineken became involved with the brewery in 1864, at which time white beer and porter were being produced there. Lager brewing of dark brown beers began in 1869 and today’s yeast culture was introduced in 1886. Among other Dutch brands, Grolsch is easily recognizable with its distinctive swing-top bottle.
Wine usually has a higher alcohol concentration than beer. Whereas the average beer normally contains 4-5 percent alcohol, the so-called barley wines contain 8 percent or more. Some very fine strong beers are made in Belgium. The Trappist beers, produced by a strict order of monks in several Belgian monasteries, are highly regarded by connoisseurs. Chimay is perhaps the best-known of the Trappist abbey breweries. Another brand is Orval. As Jackson says, “The abbey’s name derives from Vallée d’Or (Valley of Gold). Legend has it that a countess lost a gold ring in a lake there, and vowed that she would establish a monastery it if were ever returned. A trout appeared from the waters with her gold ring in its mouth, and she was as good as her word. Monks have occupied the site, in the Ardennes, since 1070. Today’s 1930’s abbey is an architectural gem, and the beer a classic.”
Rodenbach Grand Cru is a Flemish Red Ale that is extremely tasty, but as many highly distinct beers it enjoys small sales compared to mainstream beers like Carlsberg or Heineken. Jackson is a fan of Belgian beers. According to Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide:
“Light-tasting lagers will quench the thirst, but wheat beers do the job much better, whether the Belgian style like Hoegaarden or the German Weisse/Weizen types. The most refreshing beers of all, after the first shock of their sour tinge, are Belgian ‘red’ ales such as Rodenbach. In the same mood, a fruit beer can be an attractive drink with which to greet guests at a barbecue or party. If people went to the pub simply to quench their thirsts, they would probably have one pint, then leave refreshed. Most beer-lovers prefer to stay longer than that. One pint of cold, fizzy lager might be quenching, but more can become bloating. The colder the beer, the more its carbonation is released in the warmth of the stomach, with uncomfortable effects. An hour or two in a good pub offers sociability. The most social beers are less cold and gassy, softer, and appetizing, like English bitter, an ale from Belgium, or a German Altbier or Kölsch. It has been argued that all beers are sociable, but [they] must be modest in alcohol. It is excessively modest to fall asleep, or worse, in the pub, and immodest to be roused by alcohol to aggression.”
The dominant ingredient used for brewing in East Asia throughout most of recorded history has been rice. Whether such fermented beverages should be classified as “rice beers” or “rice wines” (the latter being the most common designation) is debatable. Japanese sake is closely related to Chinese rice wine. A number of Asian countries produce a few beverages similar to Western beers, usually as a result of direct exposure to German, Dutch, British or other European brewing traditions. These include brands such as Singha in Thailand or Tsingtao in China, a pilsner-style beer and the only Chinese beer widely known outside its home country. In the early 1900s, Tsingtao was a German port the way Hong Kong was British and Macao Portuguese. Germans initially founded the brewery, but it is currently Chinese-owned.
In Japan, locally made European-style brews joined sake and related Asian beverages after the Meiji Restoration in the late nineteenth century. The brewery in Sapporo opened in 1876 and claims to be “Japan’s oldest brand.” It can now boast of having brewed the world’s first “ space beer.” This happened in 2008 after a five-month mission during which barley was grown for the first time in a Russian laboratory on board the International Space Station (ISS). Sapporo Breweries used the crop of this barley grown in space to create 100 liters of Space Barley. The beer was brewed as part of joint research conducted with Okayama University.
There is no particular reason why this essay came to focus on beer, not wine. It’s a result of my personal preference, and perhaps indirectly because I come from a chilly Scandinavian country where grapes are rarely grown and where people have historically had a closer relationship with beer than with wine. Nevertheless, you cannot write about alcoholic beverages or about European culture in general and not say something about wine. Consequently, I will include a few words about wine traditions in Europe and beyond. Much of the following information is taken from The World Atlas of Wine, 6th edition, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, a fine and richly illustrated work updated as of 2007.
Probably no other country on the planet is more closely associated in the popular imagination with wine than France, and there is a reason for that. Geographically situated between the influences of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, the country has a temperate climate with many different types of soil, which makes it excellent for growing a variety of grapes. In addition to favorable natural conditions, we should not count out the ingenuity and skills of the French people as an explanation. France has many top-class wines, but has also managed to classify and control them with greater precision than most other countries have done, although some critical voices have suggested that the French AOC system of certification for wines, cheeses and other agricultural products can at times be too rigid and bureaucratic.
The Mediterranean city of Marseille (Massalia) was founded around 600 BC by Greek settlers. The art of winemaking may thus have been known on the coast of southern France, but it was the Romans who spread this knowledge throughout most regions of the country. In the late Roman Empire, Bishop Saint Martin of Tours (AD 316-397) spread both Christianity and viticulture, which remained a potent combination in medieval European monasteries.
Good wines depend upon several factors: The type or mix of grapes used, the climate and the soil at the vineyard and the skills of the winemaker. Wines from the best winemakers are called grand cru, French for “great growth,” and a wine produced in a year of optimal climatic conditions becomes a vintage wine. The best wines are stored in oak barrels and then bottles, sometimes for years. There are vineyards throughout much of France, but some of the most important regions include Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Alsace, the Rhône and the Loire Valley, beautiful Provence as well as the island of Corsica.
Bordeaux near the Atlantic coast of southwestern France is the world’s largest region for the making of fine wines. Viticulture here dates back to Roman times, but the history of Bordeaux as a major exporter begins in the High Middle Ages prior to the Hundred Years’ War, when the English were heavily involved in French affairs. Increased demand led to the expansion of local vineyards. The Bordeaux region is divided into 36 districts, which in turn are divided into communes, and within these communes are individual vineyards called châteaux. Almost 90% of the wine currently produced there is red. The best reds from this region have been highly priced by international buyers for centuries, yet Bordeaux alone produces anything from 500 million to almost a billion bottles of wine every year. Not all of it is of top quality.
Almost all Bordeaux wines are blended wines made from a combination of different grapes, the most common red varieties being Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which are now extensively used in other countries as well, and Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes for white ones such as the sweet dessert wines from the Sauternes area. In the view of Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, the foremost red wine districts within the region are Médoc north of the city as well as Pessac-Léognan in Graves just south of the city of Bordeaux. Some of the renowned brands are Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Pétrus.
Burgundy (French: Bourgogne) north of Lyon in east-central France produces red and white wines in about equal measure. The most famous ones, often referred to as Burgundies, are red wines made from Pinot Noir or whites made from Chardonnay grapes. Chablis is a very dry white wine renowned for its taste and aroma. The five most important wine growing areas are Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Beaujolais and Mâcon. As with a number of other French regions, we have definite proof of viticulture in Burgundy only from the Roman period (second century AD), although it has been suggested that the local Celts practiced it even before the Roman conquest. Burgundy became an important wine producing region during Charlemagne’s era in the Early Middle Ages and has remained so ever since. Burgundy-type wines have been copied in a number of other countries, with varying success.
The pale or pinkish bubbly wine from the Champagne region east of Paris, the northernmost and coldest important area under the vines in France, has since at least the nineteenth century been associated with luxury and celebration. Champagne is made from the red Pinot Noir, the white Chardonnay or the dark Pinot Meunier grape. It is possible to make white wines from red grapes, but this is rarely done in practice simply because there is usually no important reason to do so. One of the few major exceptions to this rule is Champagne made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The French call such wines Blanc de Noirs, or “white of blacks.”
Important Champagne brands include Dom Pérignon, named after the seventeenth-century Benedictine monk who made major contributions to the development of this wine, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Pommery and Laurent-Perrier. While the popularity of this sparkling wine from Champagne had increased since the seventeenth century, many technical problems hampered its further growth. Too many bottles still exploded in the cellars or contained too little gas. Some of these problems were solved thanks to the efforts of Madame Clicquot in the early nineteenth century. Hugh Johnson writes in The Story of Wine:
“In all of history only one woman is known as ‘the widow’, without qualification. It if is true that the perfectionism of Dom Pérignon earned for Champagne a unique place as the wine of princes and palaces throughout Europe, it is no less true that Nicole-Barbe Clicquot-Ponsardin, widowed with a baby daughter in 1805 at the age of twenty-seven, found the way to make it the celebratory wine of the entire world. The Russians, with their unerring taste for the most effective liquor, were her improbable allies in her enterprise — not her countrymen (though many were her rivals), nor the British, whose bilious taste for brandied wine only gave way to Champagne later in the century. In Russia she conquered a wider market for her sparkling wine than Champagne had ever known. In order to supply it she was obliged to industrialize its manufacture. The firm her husband started was a little country practice; as a widow she transformed its yellow label into the most widely recognized on earth.”
Champagne and Sherry led the way with their use of capital-intensive industrial techniques to make modern wines. >From a total sales figure for sparkling Champagne at the end of the eighteenth century of perhaps 300,000 bottles, after the industrialization of methods the annual sales had reached twenty million bottles by 1853. Aided by railroads, motorized ships, automobiles and airplanes, sales continued to grow throughout the twentieth century, reaching 200 million bottles of Champagne annually at the turn of the twenty-first century.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, stretching from Provence along the Mediterranean coastline to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border, is in terms of the sheer bulk of production the single most important wine-growing region in France, and maybe the world. Alsace close to the German border is a white wine region, although some red and rosé wines are made there, too. With its Germanic cultural ties, Alsace makes some of the best French beers, next to the northern regions close to beer-drinking Belgium and the Netherlands.
Producers in the Loire Valley make mainly white wines. The Château de Goulaine in the Loire Valley claims to have produced wines under the same family for over 1000 years. Those in the Rhône region of southern France next to the Rhône river valley from Lyon to Avignon produce mainly red ones, many of them from the dark-skinned Syrah grape, but white wines from the aromatic Viognier grape are made, too. The French combine local wines with many different types of food, among them the hundreds of national varieties of cheese.
The Etruscans in north-central Italy grew and traded wine before the Roman era. We know that the Greeks grew vines in the Italian south during their colonization movement. Syracuse in Sicily, founded in the 700s BC, was one of the most populous Greek cities and home to such great figures as the natural philosopher and mathematician Archimedes. Viticulture flourished in Roman times when it spread to every part of the Empire where grapes could be grown. Pompeii near modern Naples was a center of the Roman wine trade similar to what Bordeaux would later become in France. Together with its sister city Herculaneum it was buried during an eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Because Pompeii was buried under a thick layer of ash and pumice until excavations began in the eighteenth century, it provides us with a unique snapshot of Roman daily life, literally frozen in time.
According to Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, Italy has creativity and good taste, but less precision and regulation of its winemaking industry than France. Perhaps no other country has a greater variety of local styles and grape varieties than Italy. The Italian Peninsula is blessed with plenty of sunshine and interesting local climatic variations due to its many mountains. Whereas wine can be successfully produced in only some parts of Germany, it can be grown in almost all regions of Spain and Italy. Grapes are grown from Lombardy in the north via Umbria and Marche east of Rome to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia in the south. The best-known Italian wines abroad are clearly the red ones, but the country produces some decent white ones, too. To an Italian meal, wine often plays the most important supporting role.
One of the most significant wines produced in the northwest is Piemonte wine, made in the province of Piedmont with its capital Turin close to the Alps. The types of wine — like the topography and climate — vary to the extreme in this region. They include red wines like Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape, but the red Barbera grape is common, too. The sparkling wine Asti is made from the white Muscat grape. Northeastern Italy north of Venice is white wine territory, with its famous Soave wines made from the local Garganega grape. Northern Italy between Milan, Turin and Genoa is the most affluent part of the country. The technology of winemaking is more sophisticated here than elsewhere in the Peninsula, thanks in part to the demand from neighboring Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well as more distant markets such as the USA and Britain. Two of the country’s leading wine schools are situated here, and Italy’s most important wine fair is held each spring in Verona.
Tuscany, with the great historical cities Florence, Siena and Pisa, is above all known for its Chianti wines, probably the most famous wines of all Italy. The Chianti Classico region stretches from Florence to Siena. The Italian statesman Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) had a powerful influence on Tuscan wine and created the modern recipe of Chianti wine, with the red Sangiovese grape as its base. The Antinori family have made Chianti wine since the fourteenth century and led a renewal of the Tuscan wine industry in the twentieth century by bringing in new ideas and French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon in addition to traditional ones like Sangiovese. These new red wines defied traditional Italian classification but were highly successful from the 1970s onward and were termed “Super Tuscans.”
Dry white Frascati wines come from the Latium region near Rome. Central Italy is blessed with perfect natural conditions for the creation of fine wines. Winemakers have modernized in recent years and introduced international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon in addition to native varieties. The sunny regions south of Naples, including Sicily, have often been known more for the quantity than the quality of wine produced there, but they, too, have improved significantly in recent years and contributed to the growing reputation of Italian wine among international consumers. Southern Italy has long been famous for making inexpensive wines full of taste.
Traditionally, the history of viticulture in the Iberian Peninsula has been taken to start when the Phoenicians founded the trading post of Cádiz in Andalusia around 1100 BC. However, while the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans contributed greatly to the spread of viticulture throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond, it is possible that native Iberians cultivated vines before the Phoenicians and the Phoenician-derived culture of the city of Carthage exercised any significant influence there. Andalusia is today world famous for its Sherry, a fortified wine produced mainly in the Jerez de la Frontera area. When Ferdinand Magellan and his crew in 1519 left Seville for what was to become the first successful circumnavigation of the Earth, they spent more money on Sherry than on armaments.
Most of Spain, with the exception of certain mountainous areas, is excellent for growing grapes, the major challenge being the dry climate in some regions. The country is currently one of the largest producers of wine in the world, next to France and Italy. Viticulture is practiced everywhere in the Peninsula, from fertile Galicia on the Atlantic coast to the Canary Islands, the volcanic archipelago off the west coast of North Africa. La Rioja and Navarra in the north, Castilla-La Mancha south of Madrid and Catalunya in the east produce some of the best Spanish brands. Much of the production is exported, but Spaniards themselves are great consumers of the liquid. The white or pink sparkling wine known as Cava is Spain’s equivalent of France’s Champagne, made with similar methods but from different grapes. 95% of it is produced in Catalonia, most of it in the Penedès region just outside of Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and with some of its most delicious food.
La Rioja is justly famous for its high-quality red wines, yet the Ribera del Duero region east of Valladolid and north of Madrid has due to investments and expertise after 1980 challenged Rioja as the foremost red wine region in Spain. Both regions make extensive use of the native Spanish black grape known as Tempranillo. Ribera del Duero is situated around the Duero River, which, as it flows west into Portugal, becomes the Douro Valley, home to the Portuguese vineyards that give rise to Port. Port wine is a fortified wine, i.e. one with a heightened content of alcohol (about 20%) due to added distilled beverages such as brandy. It is typically a sweet red wine, but it does exist in other varieties and is often served as a dessert wine. It received its name in the seventeenth century when much of it was exported to other European countries via Porto in northern Portugal, at the mouth of the Douro River.
Famous fortified wines include Port and Madeira from Portugal, Sherry from Spain, Vermouth from France and Marsala from Italy. During the early modern period, when a number of Western European nations engaged in frequent travels to distant lands, there was a growing market for fortified wines such as Port, Madeira and Sherry. These were well suited to survive long sea voyages due to their high content of alcohol, which functions as a natural preservative. Only later did they become appreciated in their own right because of their flavor. While Portugal ‘s international reputation is based primarily on fortified wines, the country also produces some fine table wines, particularly in the north.
Portugal has retained many of its local grape varieties while updating its techniques, which has allowed it to produce modern red and white wines with a distinct taste. As with their Spanish neighbors, Portuguese viticulture owes a lot to the ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and above all the Romans. These traditions were disrupted during centuries of Islamic rule but were gradually restored after the Christian Reconquista. Portuguese wines are produced from the northern regions via Algarve to the Azores. Dão and Bairrada, between the cities of Porto and Lisbon, are home to some of the country’s oldest wine districts. The Madeira Islands in the Atlantic Ocean produce the popular Madeira, a fortified wine which along with Port is among the world’s foremost strong, sweet wines.
Germany is rightfully considered beer territory, but also includes some of Europe’s most northerly significant vineyards. Much of present-day Germany was never a part of the wine-loving Roman Empire, but the regions in the far west and south were. This is where we find the oldest cities — Cologne (Köln), Trier and Augsburg — and the most important wine districts today. The primary area is the Rhine region in the southwest close to the border of France. German viticulture stretches in a belt beginning south of Cologne via Bonn, Mainz and Trier on the banks of the Moselle River to Heidelberg, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart and on to Freiburg and the Black Forest (German: Schwarzwald) region close to the border of Switzerland.
Just like their Swiss neighbors, the people of the Black Forest have made cuckoo clocks since the early eighteenth century. In addition to these regions there are a few vineyards in East Germany in the Dresden area of Saxony and along the river Elbe. As a curiosity, it could be mentioned that when Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz around 1440 developed his famous printing press, he derived it from the screw-type wine presses employed in the Rhine Valley.
White wine accounts for the bulk of production and for the vast majority of German export wines. Red wines are challenging to produce in this chilly climate. Some reds are nevertheless grown here, much-appreciated by the locals. German white wines include cheap ones of low quality in addition to some of the highest international standing. Especially cherished are those made from the aromatic white grape known as Riesling, which together with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most highly regarded white grape varieties in the world, grown in Austria, Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, North America, the Ukraine and even in China. In addition to Riesling, Müller-Thurgau is a commonly used white variety, and Gewürztraminer is another aromatic wine grape. For reds, Spätburgunder, the German name for Pinot Noir, is the leading grape. One specialty is icewine (German: Eiswein), a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The most expensive ones of these are usually made in either Germany or Canada.
The most internationally renowned wine regions are those of Continental Western Europe described above, but grapes have historically been grown in most regions of the continent except the far north. In the Nordic countries, a few decent wines have been created in Denmark and southern Sweden, and on rare occasions in Finland or Norway, but these countries are probably too cold to ever become major producers of this particular beverage. That doesn’t mean that Scandinavians cannot leave their mark elsewhere. In the Ribera del Duero region, oenologist Peter Sisseck from Denmark in 1995 established the winery Dominio de Pingus, which soon made one of the rarest and most expensive wines in Spain.
As mentioned before, it is conceivable that fermented beverages were produced in prehistoric times before the introduction of agriculture, for instance based on honey or wild berries instead of grains or grapes. Alcoholic beverages made from fruits or berries enjoy some commercial importance today, especially in cold climates but also in warmer regions based on pineapple or other tropical fruits. Since “wine” is usually defined as a beverage made from grapes, fermented beverages derived from other fruits are often called f ruit wines. When the sugar source for fermentation is apple, the beverage is called a cider; perry if it has been made of fermented pear juice. Cherry and black currant wines are made in chilly Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland. Plum wine and cherry wine are popular among many home winemakers and plum wine is fairly common in Korea, Japan and to some extent in China.
The Romans introduced permanent roads to Britain for the first time, a necessity for a highly organized and military society. In addition, they brought with them a literate culture and the creation of towns with public buildings and theaters. Finally, they brought the knowledge of wine. The Domesday Book, the remarkably detailed survey of England completed in 1086 for William the Conqueror, mentions forty-two vineyards. English vineyards existed as an accompaniment to castles or monasteries in the south, but they were never extensive. We know that wine was produced in Wales and southern England in medieval times, but the local climate is challenging and imports from France and Continental Europe made it difficult to establish a financially viable industry there. The same goes for Scotland. Most Welsh and English wines produced today, and there are some, are white, similar to the majority of those from Germany and other northerly regions such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland.
Although the British have never been major producers of wine, they have sometimes had a significant impact on the development of wine-related technology. Many wines improve in quality during barrel and bottle storage, but the ancient Greeks and Romans drank almost all of their wines within a year of production. The Englishman Kenelm Digby in the seventeenth century has been credited with the creation of the modern wine bottle by making bottles in his coal-fired glass house that were stronger and cheaper than before. This made it possible to store wine longer and let it mature for years. The shape of the bottle changed to accommodate these developments. It is not a coincidence that many wines that we now consider classics, for instance the Port wine from Portugal which became popular with British consumers, can be dated back to this era. The bottles used for Port changed radically during the course of the eighteenth century and resembled modern glass bottles in shape by the late 1700s.
The Swiss are enthusiastic wine drinkers, yet only a tiny amount of Swiss wine is exported, in sharp contrast to Swiss cheese or chocolate which is world famous. Vineyards can be found in almost all cantons, even north of Zürich, but especially concentrated in the French-speaking regions of the south and west, around Geneva, Lausanne and Neuchâtel. Most Swiss red wine is grown in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino, the southernmost canton of Switzerland.
Austrians make more red wines than the Germans do, although white ones predominate here as well. Vineyards can be found within the city limits of Vienna itself. Most major wine regions, including Wachau, Burgenland, Kremstal and Kamptal, are concentrated in the east, from Graz to Vienna, in a belt stretching along the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. Austrians also manufacture high-quality wine glasses. Wine is grown in many parts of Hungary, from scenic Lake Balaton via the outskirts of the city of Budapest to the Romanian border. The most famous Hungarian wine is Tokay, a white dessert wine.
In the Czech Republic, grapes are grown in both Moravia and Bohemia. Although Czech wines are popular locally, they are not nearly as well-known abroad as Czech beer. Wine is produced more extensively in neighboring Slovakia, especially around the capital city of Bratislava in the southwest and in the east close to the borders of Hungary and the Ukraine. Wine was grown in Slovenia, which borders Italy in the west, the Alps in the north and the Adriatic Sea and Croatia in the south, before the Roman period, at least since the time of the Celts and the Illyrians tribes. Most Slovenian wines are white and consumed locally, just as they are in Switzerland. Primorska is currently Slovenia’s most prominent wine region.
In the Balkans, Croatia is a traditional wine country, with grapes grown for both red and white ones inland in the Zagreb region, but especially along the Dalmatian Coast, from Split to Dubrovnik. Croatians have a rich tradition of employing indigenous grape varieties. Wines are made in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Montenegro, in Albania and in Macedonia from the city of Skopje to the border of Greece. Wines in Serbia are especially grown south of the river Danube, starting from Belgrade and continuing southwards and eastwards, although vineyards exist further north as well. Most Serbian wine is still consumed locally. The Ottoman Turks, as Muslims, previously disrupted the wine traditions in this region. The most successful wine exporting countries in Eastern Europe in recent years are the ones close to the Black Sea, Romania, the former Soviet republic of Moldova and especially Bulgaria.
Bulgarian wine production dates back to ancient times, at least to the Thracians, but it was the Romans who truly developed the local wine industry, followed in the Middle Ages by the Christian Church with its monks and monasteries. The Rila Monastery was founded in the tenth century by St John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. As in Serbia and Greece, Bulgarian monasteries played an important role in preserving an Orthodox Christian cultural identity during centuries of Islamic occupation. A cultural revival followed by armed rebellion in the late nineteenth century was brutally suppressed by the Turks, before Bulgarians finally achieved independence. Decent wines are grown around the city of Varna on the beautiful Black Sea coast and inland to the south and the regions north of the capital city of Sofia, south of the Danube. Subsequent to the downfall of Soviet-sponsored Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Bulgarian vineyards benefitted from widespread privatization and substantial investments in new technology. The vineyards use both local grape varieties and international ones such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Romania has linguistic and cultural ties to France and Italy. The Greeks brought vines here 3000 years ago, and in post-Roman times, German colonists introduced new grape varieties to Transylvania. The pest phylloxera in the 1880s destroyed many vineyards here as elsewhere in Europe. Some grape varieties have been introduced from France, but a number of indigenous grapes remain in use, too. Wine is grown next to Hungary in the west, Serbia and Bulgaria in the south, Moldova and the Ukraine in the east and near the coastline east of Bucharest. The Black Sea, the Danube Delta and the mild climate create a welcome place for grape vines to thrive. Romanian wine has been known more for the cheap price than the quality, but Romanians are making an effort to study advances in wine technology, plant physiology and pathology, stainless steel storage tanks, mechanical grape harvesters etc. Most wine is consumed locally, but Romania is nevertheless a major exporter of affordable wines.
Wine production, although again mainly for local consumption, continues east along the northern coast of the Black Sea, via Odessa and the Crimea in the Ukraine and southern Russia to Georgia, Armenia and the Caspian Sea. Locally produced wine can be found just outside of the Armenian capital city of Yerevan or in Tbilisi in Georgia, which rank among some of the oldest wine producing areas in the world, possibly the oldest of them all.
Few people did more in ancient times to spread the knowledge and love of wine than the Greeks, and this heritage is upheld in modern Greece. Local grape varieties, some of them with roots back to Antiquity, are now grown next to imported ones that are popular with international consumers. There are significant climatic and topographic differences between the northern regions, say, the districts north of Thessaloniki, and the Peloponnese peninsula south of Athens, and this obviously has consequences for the types of wines produced in the different districts. Wine was a major trade item in ancient times, and Greek wines, both from the mainland and from islands such as Crete, were very popular.
Wine was exploited in Crete by the Minoans before 2000 BC, and Cretan wines were highly priced as export products in late medieval Europe. Some of the Aegean Islands, for instance Rhodes and Samos, still have significant industries, although the most original wines are arguably produced on the volcanic island of Santorini. Cyprus, too, has one of the oldest wine cultures in the world, with Cypriot wine being traded at least as early as 2300 BC. The western Mediterranean island of Malta has long winemaking traditions as well.
Viticulture in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa has been severely hampered by centuries of Muslim rule, with the Jewish state of Israel, some still-Christian regions of Lebanon and a few pockets in North Africa as notable exceptions. While you can still find traces of winemaking in North African countries such as Algeria and Morocco, which owe more to recent French influences than to ancient Roman ones, the most important wine country on the African continent by far is South Africa, especially the region surrounding Cape Town where many wines of good international export quality are created. European, especially Dutch, settlers planted European vines here as early as in the seventeenth century.
The Phoenician wine traditions were barely tolerated for Christians under Islamic rule, but Lebanese wine production was partly revived under French colonial influence in the nineteenth century and still remains significant, with a few brands of good international standard. Israel has an export industry of kosher wine, produced according to Jewish religious dietary laws. The modern wine industry there was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the estate Château Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux, a French member of the influential Rothschild family of European Jewish bankers and an ardent Zionist. Centuries of Islamic rule had virtually decimated the ancient viticulture in the region based on native grape varieties. Consequently, Israeli wines are primarily based on imported French grapes.
In the late twentieth century, European producers had to face increasingly serious challenges in the creation of affordable quality wines from some former European colonies. Innovation and experimentation in the Americas and in Australia has inspired new thinking among Old World producers. According to The World Atlas of Wine, 6th edition, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, Canadian wine is produced close to the city of Vancouver on the Pacific coast, in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast and especially in Ontario south of Toronto, the Niagara Peninsula next to the Great Lakes and the US border being the country’s most prominent region in this regard. Icewine is chilly Canada’s most important export wine.
Some vineyards exist in Mexico as well, but they lag behind their northern neighbors in development. Because the US market is so enormous, American tastes are of great importance to producers everywhere. The opinions of US wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. and his ratings have had a major influence not just on consumers but on makers of wine, even in other countries. Wine is grown is virtually all states in the USA, among them Washington State, Oregon, New York and Pennsylvania, yet California is by far the most important region under the vines in the New World, dwarfing the output of the rest of North America combined.
Vitis vinifera, the European grapevine, was introduced to California by the Spanish in the eighteenth century. The current industry, established after the end of the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the United States (1919-1933), began when the Russian winemaker André Tchelistcheff (1901-1994), who had studied fermentation and microbiology in Europe, arrived in Napa Valley, California in 1937. The international breakthrough for the American industry began with a famous wine competition organized in Paris in 1976, where French judges did blind tasting of top-quality wines from France and California and ranked the Californian ones as best in each category. The so-called Zinfandel grape may have originated in Croatia and was transferred to the United States in the nineteenth century. It is now grown primarily in California and the USA and can here produce quality wines comparable to many good European ones. California alone currently produces more wine annually than the entire continent of Australia, which has itself become a major global player in the industry.
Spanish missionaries brought viticulture to their new Latin American colonies in the sixteenth century. Wine is produced in Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Brazil, but above all in Chile and Argentina, which are clearly the most internationally significant exporters of inexpensive, yet perfectly decent wines in this part of the world. According to the respected English wine writer Robert “Oz” Clarke, New World wines are more adventurous than their European counterparts. In Chile, Argentina, the United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, winemakers are exploring, creating and thriving. “The wine world,” he notes, “has never been wider open or more interesting, and your children may be drinking altogether different wines than you are.” When asked to name the most exciting wines in the world, he mentions Chile for its Merlots, Cabernets and Carmenères; and Argentina, where Malbec, Bonarda and Torrontés (an indigenous white variety) are the cutting-edge grapes.
British settlers brought vines to Australia and New Zealand. Good but not necessarily cheap wines are grown on both North Island and South Island in New Zealand. Making wines in dry Australia is challenging, but technological advances have made this possible. Breakthroughs in cooling techniques proved a major advance for viticulture in warmer regions, and new means of transportation made possible global exports of bulky goods. Because of Australia’s fine weather, vintages are slightly less important there than in Europe, where bad weather can potentially ruin a crop. Australia has developed distinct styles that it can call its own. Wine production is concentrated in the southeast, from the Adelaide region via Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney to Brisbane, with some additional production near Perth in Western Australia. The Shiraz grape (known as Syrah in France) produces fine red wines, as does the Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasmania is a cool climate region best suited to white grape varieties.
The largest Asian producer of wine is Japan, although some production takes place in South Korea and increasingly in China and other countries. This production is not yet internationally significant, and these countries all have their own traditional alcoholic beverages that differ substantially from the Western ones, but the trend could potentially become interesting in the future. The increasingly affluent Asian middle classes have developed a taste for Western-style wines and beers, and while they primarily import Western brands for now, it is not unthinkable that they may decide to produce more of it themselves in the future. These nations certainly have the financial and technological means to do so if they want to.
In writing this, I am not condoning excessive use of alcoholic beverages, just like I am not condoning excessive use of many other things. Since ancient times, the mantra has been that the use of wine in moderate amounts is fine, but excessive drinking is a vice. This is still sound advice. People who drink too much and proceed to beat family members do unfortunately exist. Alcohol-induced violence or health problems constitute serious problems. There are persons who are predisposed for alcoholism, possibly genetically, and are incapable of limiting themselves to consuming only modest amounts of alcohol if they drink any at all.
For most of us, however, a glass of fine wine or beer constitutes a source of joy when taken in good company or along with a fine meal. A disproportionate amount of the wines and beers enjoyed for celebration and socializing around the world come from the European wine- and beer-making traditions, directly or indirectly. Even those brands that are not made in Europe, for instance wines from Australia or Argentina, stem historically from the European wine culture and use grape varieties brought there by Portuguese, Spanish, French or Italian settlers. The same goes for beers from the Unites States and Canada, which are often local versions derived from original German, Dutch, Czech, British, Irish, Flemish or Danish beers.
The history of alcoholic beverages forms an important part of European culture and reflects the development of European civilization itself. From the wines enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans we have the medieval monasteries, the development of urban capitalism and the growth of science and industry. Europeans got some of the fundamental building blocs of civilization such as agriculture and writing from the Fertile Crescent. It is likely that early European beers in 3000 or 4000 BC closely resembled Mesopotamian ones.
However, Europeans eventually progressed far beyond anything achieved in the Middle East either in ancient, medieval or modern times. Modern beers produced in twenty-first century Europe have very little in common with original Mesopotamian beers apart from the name and the fact that they are fermented beverages made from cereals. Although alcoholic drinks have been produced for thousands of years by the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the Persians, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Aztecs and the Incas, the Europeans were the only ones to provide a correct scientific explanation for the fermentation process and establish truly scientific brewing. This mirrors society in general and illustrates the fact that modern science was born in Europe, not anywhere else.