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Cheers! Chicago: Cocktail Celebrations from Osiris to Jerry Thomas to you and me

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02/12/2010

Cheers! Chicago: Cocktail Celebrations photo

Since the dawn of civilization, man has harnessed the power of the process of fermentation and enjoyed the fruits of their labor – or lack of labor, I should say. After all, it was spoiled grapes and grape juice or grain mash they were drinking that had been left over or sitting around untouched or unused. And for as long as we’ve been boozing, we’ve been telling stories about where it came from, how it got discovered, what it’s used for, and what it does to you and to others. As early as 4000 BCE the Egyptians were brewing fermented beverages as instructed by their gods because it pleased them. Historians write that the ancient Egyptians made at least 17 types of beer and at least 24 varieties of wine, and that alcoholic beverages were used for pleasure, nutrition, medicine, ritual, remuneration and funerary purposes. Today’s topic of focus…you guessed it. I mean, they don’t call it aqua vitae (water of life) for nothing.

This month, many of us will experience the romance and passion that is Valentine’s Day. As we all know— passion and romance can be amplified with a little alcohol. But did anyone wonder what it was like to celebrate and enjoy life in ancient times – with alcohol? Believe it or not, there is quite a bit of history of alcohol and romance. We already know about the ancient Egyptian’s experiments…what about the Chinese, the Greeks and the Romans? Well, the earliest evidence of alcohol in China are wine jars that date to about 5000 BCE— produced by fermenting rice, honey, and fruit. People drank when holding a memorial ceremony, offering sacrifices to gods or their ancestors, and while attending the ceremonies of birth, marriage, reunions, departures, death, and festival banquets. They sure knew how to celebrate!

For the Babylonians, beer was the beverage of choice. As early as 2,700 BCE, Babylonians worshipped a wine goddess and other wine deities. As for the ancient Greeks, while they espoused and led moderate lives around the same time period as the Babylonians, let’s not forget the cult of Dionysus and their theory of excessive drinking and intoxication leading you closer to a higher power. As tributes to other nations, leaders would send both concubines and barrels full of fermented goodness, and they were frequently enjoyed simultaneously. And it was only 150 years ago when someone named Jerry Thomas finally said, “hey, let’s take everything we would use to make a beverage or medicine and figure out tasty recipes and ways to combine them and better enjoy them.” Now, drinking became not only medicinal, but also fun and exciting to create, experience and taste.

What was most interesting to learn about all of this was that all of the different beverages were available and accessible to everyone, and were neither elaborate to make nor difficult to store or enjoy.

Remember folks, the booze does not make the celebration. This is why I love what I do, and why I keep doing it: to simply celebrate and enjoy life.

L’Chaim!

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