History Lesson on the Rocks...with a Twist
Alcohol is rooted in ancient Egyptian times (BC), as Egyptians used fermented grains for making prototype forms of beer. They created the process when working to refine the production of raised breads by calculating how to add beer sediment to live yeast. I always though that wine would’ve come first, but in fact it was a close second to beer. Wine’s role in history was more ceremonial in it’s earnest beginnings, but later evolved to be used in culinary and celebratory forms. In later years (AC), the Latins perfected the art of distillation by using vaporization of alcohol to produce a higher alcohol level than the naturally ferminted liquid. In Europe, people generated wine for medicinal purposes and as distillation was perfected it was considered the “extraction of the spirit” of the wine which led to the name “spirits” for distillates. Not only medicine, but also the ancient practice of alchemy evolved from the European orgins of distillation. Alchemy is the science of transforming ordinary metals into gold, but in this case people believed alchemy could apply to alcohol by extracting the essential life force from it’s human shell bringing fourth eternal youth. Of course, today we know the truth is that abuse of alcohol brings fourth childish behavior.
In the process of man seeking eternal youth, the distillation of alcohol continued to be perfected and spirits grew inquality. Probably the first spirit to be taken seriously was Brandy (or Congnac) born of the Cognac region of Western France. People noticed that the spirits responded well to being aged in wooden casks and as the process grew in popularity so did the manufacturing of these wooden casks. Soon Irish and Scottish wiskey began to blossom under a different distilling process, as different regions of Europe each accquired their own unique distilling styles. Over time, many countries have tried to duplicate the Scotch Irish distilling process but their results still can not compare. The difference stems from the use of specially designed kilns where malted grain is dried as well as quality spring water used in the mash base. The distilled grain of cereals also produces other spirits such as Kornschnaps, which are sometimes flavored with berries to produce gin or some of the flavored schnaps we know today.
Spirits are also distilled from many fruits, such as grapes, apricots, plums, pears, peaches, berries … etc … True rum is distilled from ferminted sugar cane juice (but more frequently today we use a molasses based version) while true tequila mostly comes from the ferminted juice of the agave cactus. Where a distilled drinks stops being a spirit and becomes a liqueur is a bit hazy. The main difference is that a liqueur drink it must have some obvious aromatizing element. Some liqueurs have as long a history as the Scotch Irish whiskey, but most notably those produced by the old French monastic orders.
The great cocktail era was born in the 1920’s with the advent of the Jazz Age. As I’m sure you all know, a cocktail is a drink
consisting of 2 or more ingredients mixed together by shaking, stirring or blending. In the past, all cocktails had a spirit base and the 5 main spirits that provided the base for a true cocktail were vodka, gin, rum, whiskey or brandy. Nowadays, cocktails may include both wine bases and/or non-alcoholic mixed drinks. The term cocktail is said to be derived from the tale of a bartender who poured left over drinks into a large container in the shape of a cockerel and then serve this mixture from the tap at the tail of the container to the hard up customers who could not afford to buy a pure drink, hence “cocktail”. The term cocktail can be traced back to the 19th century, but it’s true origin is uncertain.
Yesterday I saw a horrific car accident in which an elderly couple lost their lives. Throughout the evening I contemplated the value of life and how truly short it is. That evening I decided to visit my neighborhood bar. I seldom do so because I don't really drink, but my mind was weighted down with some heavy thoughts that needed to be rinsed in a bit of vodka. The bar was slow with only a handful of us to chatter over a few drinks in the lull. I watch one regular customer who shuffles in daily. He’s a well known man about town who once had a lucrative business and several assets. An unfortunate financial decision stripped him of all of this as well as his will to live. Each night that passes he drowns his sorrows and relays the same sob story of how he was once on top of the world with a young bride, fancy cars, multiple homes, a yacht and a valuable reputation. He seeks sympathy for his losses, mostly bragging about scoring a woman half his age because of his wealth and how she is gone from his life like all of his other possessions. At first, I sympathized with him… as I watched him down whiskey doubles back to back. Then, after repeated subjection to his tales and indecent proposals I had to express to him that I was growing weary and my patience had run thin because it was ultimately clear that all of his suffering was his choice. It wasn’t the love lost that bothered him so, but the status of having a trophy wife among his trophies that were lost. Realistically what he had lost was his soul, long before making a terrible financial choice with his business. I explained that he should take this time as an awakening, sober up and rebuild his life, and expect from life only what he puts into it… as a real person and not a status symbol. Sadly, I don’t think he listened… he just turned to a different patron and told the same tales seeking an answer he wanted to hear instead.
Life is what you make it. Sometimes you are ripped from your comfort zone and you have to find yourself all over again. I've been there...more than once even! My life has dealt me many bad hands, but I have never lost my ability to prevail. I just seem to keep turning lemons into lemonade… and the day I lose that ability is the day I will no longer know the value of life. I pray that day will never come, and I pray that you know the value of your life… it’s short, so when life hands you lemons make lemonade instead of drowning in whiskey doubles and contemplating what could have been. You never know when you may be handed your last glass.