A History Of The World In Six Glasses

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“A History of the World in Six Glasses” by Tom Standage explains the major role that certain drinks had on the developing world. Beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola played an influential and vital role in agriculture, human development and globalization. Beer heavily influenced the influx of agriculture and the transition from hunting and gathering nomadic groups to agricultural-based societies. The discovery of beer is associated with the domestication of cereal grains.

The exact date or time period that beer was discovered is unknown but what we do know is that gruel [cereal grains boiled in milk or water] that was left sitting around for a few days went under a metamorphosis. The gruel became fizzy, bubbly, and pleasantly intoxicating. Although this new found beer was not the first form of alcohol that early humans drank, its ingredients were the most abundant, easy to harvest, and easily stored. Once the beer was discovered its quality greatly improved through the process of trial and error. Because beer was made from cereal grains this influenced the decision of traveling groups to start small settlements near the cereal crops, thus having easy access the ingredients of beer and a reliable food supply. These “small” settlements grew into bigger communities that revolved around the crops of which beer was made from. On page 13 it says “. . . the ability to store cereal grains encouraged people people to stay in one place…”. This shows that the main ingredient [cereal grains] was the reason people settled down. With the increasing popularity of beer the demand increased as well. Because of this the amount of farming [agriculture] increased and the need for hunting and gathering decreased. This is what led to the downfall of the hunter- gatherer societies.

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These newfound farmers eventually settled down into small areas around the Fertile Crescent [where humans first started farming and establishing major settlements. Wine was already available in ancient Mesopotamia but only small amounts, which meant it was a delicacy. Wine was also extremely expensive to transport because it had to be transported down from the mountains of which it was made. For the Mesopotamians wine was an exclusive drink that would only touch the lips of the wealthiest most important citizens. However for the ancient Greeks and Romans everyone drank wine. It was just a matter of what wine you drank. It was seen as a level of civility and refinement, for example high class Romans knew how recognize and tell a good wine from a bad one. They drank the finest vintages while the low class drank the lowest vintages. But what was considered most important was how one would behave after the drank the wine. The Greeks believed in mixing water and wine, it was the middle ground of not drinking wine at all and becoming blackout drunk or what the Greeks considered to be barbarians. Wine first became widespread in Greece and the correlation of ones social status and the wine they drank was in Rome. Wine also played an important role in religion. It is thought that Christians are one of the reasons wine production stayed steady if not increased. On page 86 the book says “the Christian churches need for communion wine played an important role in keeping wine production going during the dark ages after the fall of Rome”. However not all religions embraced the use of wine like the Christians. Muslims banned wine in all its forms even for medicinal uses. This abstinence from alcohol is because two of Muhammad’s disciples engaged in a fight at a drinking party.

When Muhammad asked the Allah how to prevent this from happening again, his answer was to avoid alcohol. However some muslims found a loophole, they believed Allah wished for a complete ban on alcohol it was the overindulgence of alcohol. After the middle ages, Europe was awakened by the discovery of ancient knowledge, safeguarded by Arab scholars. This of course was the new found knowledge of distillation. This process which involves vaporizing and recondensing a liquid to separate and purify its individual components. This process dates back to the 4th millenium BCE, however it was not used for alcohol. It was mostly used to make perfumes and freshwater. Wine only started to be distilled by arab chemists who used it in their experiments. On page 97 it says “The Arab scholars who first distilled wine regarded the result as alchemical ingredients of medicine, not an everyday drink”. These new drinks became more widespread in the Age of Exploration, where explorers would durable compact form of alcohol aboard their ships. These new drinks became so important thattheir taxation and control becamehuge matters on political importance. By the thirteenth century medical schools were blossoming all over Europe, and distilled wine was known as aqua vitae which translates to “water of life”.

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