Posts Tagged ‘drinks’

We normally do not write about movies here, but I had to share this documentary because it is brilliant! Prohibition: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

Prohibition Doc by Burns and NovickIn all fairness, I do have a soft spot for the 1910s-1920s. (I think I would have made an excellent spunky suffragette.) However, if you’re interested in American history, or just a well-made documentary, you should probably check this one out. I learned a lot about the era, and I really enjoyed all of the actual footage used.

Interesting tidbits among many that can be learned from the documentary:

After 1830, the average American over 15 years old drank almost seven gallons of pure alcohol a year! That comes to about three times as much as we drink today. Frankly, I don’t know how they functioned properly. If I drank three times the amount I drink now, I’d be completely useless.

The figures in terms of the economic consequences of Prohibition are staggering! In the state of New York, prior to Prohibition, nearly 75% of the state’s tax revenue came from taxes on liquor. Nationally, Prohibition cost the U.S. $11 billion in lost tax revenue. On top of which, it cost America another $300 million to enforce a practically unenforceable law.

I knew women played a large role in the Dry movement. With rampant alcohol abuse and the fact that spousal rape and abuse were not illegal, who can blame them? The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was quite a force. It’s still around, too. It is the oldest non-sectarian woman’s organization if the world. It also played a large role in women’s suffrage. What I did not know was there was another large, powerful woman’s group which was behind Repeal. The Woman’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform was founded by heiress and the first woman to serve on the Republican National Committee, Pauline Sabin.

Also, my new favorite historical figure is Lois Long the indelible flapper and writer for the New Yorker.


Watch Women in PROHIBITION Lois Long on PBS. See more from Ken Burns.

All of the facts (except maybe the bit about the WCTU which is on their website) can be found on the documentary or on the doc’s website: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/  You can basically watch all of it online, if that suits better.
A big thanks to PBS for funding such stellar productions.
Another big thanks to my pal, Brandon, for giving me the documentary as a Christmas present. I love it!

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This past weekend I went back to my college haunting grounds for a fellow swimmer’s wedding. Throughout the weekend we consumed several pints of beer. That’s what happens when you attend an Oktoberfest beer tasting then meet up with the groom and groomsmen at a piano bar and the reception is held at a local brewery. However, it was over margaritas and gin & tonics between the ceremony and the reception that I had the greatest time. We were “that” table. The loud table filled with twenty-something’s laughing so hard we almost peed our pants and choked on French Fries.  I haven’t laughed that hard in months.

So how about a few facts about our favorite hard alcohols? Again, all quotes are pulled from Tom Standage’s A History of the World in Six Glasses. Since I downloaded the book to my Kindle I am unable to give page numbers.

Liquor in General, i.e. the discovery of distillation

“Drinks provided a durable and compact form of alcohol for transport on board ship and found a range of other uses. These drinks became economic goods of such significance that their taxation and control became matters of great political importance.”

“When knowledge of distillation spread into Christian Europe did distilled spirits become more widely consumed.”

“Distilled drinks proved particularly popular in the cooler climes of northern Europe, where wine was scarce and expensive. By distilling beer, it was possible to make powerful alcoholic drinks with local ingredients for the first time.”

“In Europe, aqua vitae was called “burnt wine,” rendered in German as Branntwein and in English as brandywine, or simply brandy.”

Rum (I really dislike rum), but it can be healthy! Read on

“Rumbullion, a slang word from southern England that means “a brawl or violent commotion,” may have been chosen as the drink’s nickname because that was frequently the outcome when people drank too much of it.”

“The inclusion of lemon or lime juice in grog, made compulsory in 1795, therefore reduced the incidence of scurvy dramatically. And since beer contains no vitamin C, switching from beer to grog made British crews far healthier overall… The Royal Navy’s unique ability to combat scurvy was said by one naval physician to have doubled its performance and contributed directly to Britain’s eventual defeat of the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805. (It also meant that British sailors became known as “limeys.”)”


“One reason was that many of the settlers were of Scotch-Irish origin and had experience of grain distilling. The supply of molasses, from which rum was made, had also been disrupted during the war. And while grains such as barley, wheat, rye, and corn were difficult to grow near the coast—hence the early colonists’ initial difficulties with making beer—they could be cultivated more easily inland.”

“1791 there were over five thousand pot stills in western Pennsylvania alone, one for every six people.”

Now, who wants a cocktail?

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First and foremost, you should know that I’m not a wine snob. I’m perfectly content with the two-buck-chuck from Trader Joe’s. When I wine shop, especially at Trader Joe’s, I try to stay under $5, elsewhere I try to stay under $10. Big spender here. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy wine, but I am apparently incapable of picking up on the subtle flavors and idiosyncrasies. Besides, the people who smell and swish and spit out their wine drive me nuts. I always feel that they’re showing off, their knowledge and their wealth. I tend to associate wine people with rich people, an association that apparently goes far far far back in history.

Without further ado, I give you the second installment in my history of drink series, with some fascinating factoids on wine.

Drinking Bacchus by Guido Reni, c.1623

“Thanks to this kind of propaganda, wine and its associated drinking paraphernalia became emblems of power, prosperity and privilege.” (the propaganda being obelisks and pottery featuring wealthy wine drinkers.)

“Typical mixing ratios of water to seem to have been 2:1, 5:2, 3:1, and 4:1. A mixture of equal parts water and wine was regarded as ‘strong wine'” (The Greeks drank wine at symposiums, or discussions, and diluted the wine with water).

“Plato saw drinking as a way to test oneself, by submitting to the passions aroused by drinking: anger, love, pride, ignorance, greed, and cowardice. He even laid down rules for the proper running of a symposion, which should ideally enable men to develop resistance to their irrational urges and triumph over their inner demons.”

“Green and Roman wine gods, like Christ, were associated with wine-making miracles and resurrection after death; their worshipers, like Christians, regarded wine drinking as a form of sacred communion.”

“Modern European drinking patterns crystalized during the middle of the first millennium and were largely determined by the reach of Greek and Roman influences…In the north of Europe, beyond the reach of Roman rule, beer drinking, typically without the accompaniment of food, is more common.”

All passages pulled from Tom Standage’s The History of the World in Six Glasses.

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Sorry for the woe-is-me attitude in the last past few posts of mine, but no more! And what better way to cheer me and everyone else up than a little history of one of the blues’ favorite things–alcohol! I recently finished reading A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage. I’m sure many of you noticed that the book was on my “currently reading” list for a very long time. Like the biography of Gypsy Rose Lee it was very interesting, but not an I-can’t-put-it-down kind of book. The History of the World in Six Glasses starts with beer, then moves to wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola. I’m pretty sure I highlighted 3/4s of the book and will share some of the more interesting factoids, starting first with beer.

First of all, I had no idea that beer was so old. I always figured that wine was the oldest alcoholic beverage, but the fermentation of wheat and other grains was accidentally discovered by peoples in the Fertile Crescent. Early beer was drunk from a large communal bowl via a straw and often had bits of grain and other floaties. After the lovely beer picture are some direct quote facts from the book.

“It seems likely, however, that both bread and beer were derived from gruel. A thick gruel could be baked in the sun or on a hot stone to make flatbread; a thin gruel could be left to ferment into beer. The two were different sides of the same coin: Bread was solid beer, and beer was solid bread.”

“The obvious conclusion was that beer was a gift from the gods.”

“Most references to drunkenness in Mesopotamian literature are playful and humorous…Similarly, Sumerian myths depict the gods as very fallible, human characters who enjoy eating and drinking, and often drink too much.”

“writing was originally invented to record the collection and distribution of grain, beer, bread and other goods.”

“Toasting someone’s health before drinking beer is a remnant of the ancient belief in beer’s magical properties.”

I don’t know about all y’all, but I still think that beer is kind of magical. Yum yum yum.

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Boston is a wonderful city full of culture, history and beauty. Yet Boston is also a very strange city, full of oxymorons and seeming ideological discrepancies. For example, Massachusetts was one of the first states to legalize gay marriage–a very liberal move–but, they have very strict drug and alcohol rules.

On my birthday a friend tried to order me a shot and the bartender gave her a knowing look and said he couldn’t give us shots, but he could give us “shooters.” As far as I can tell though, a shooter is a shot with ice and a straw and a slightly larger glass. I’m not sure what purpose this serves. The same amount of alcohol is included in the shooter as in the shot, but I guess the straw encourages slower drinking, so that could be the reason.

At first I thought I was crazy. How could such a blue state have such strict rules about alcohol? And sex? Now, I’m not an expert on the sex toy industry, but I’ve only seen one “adult” store in Boston. At home, where I went to school and other cities I passed many more. But then I read this passage in American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare the Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee about how the Minsky brothers got around prohibition and moralists during their burlesque shows:

“the following afternoon, Herbert installed red, white, and blue lights in the center of the footlights trough and wired them to the ticket booth, where he was stationed every night. If he saw a cop in uniform or suspected one had infiltrated the audience in disguise, he threw on the red light. At once the act downgraded into a tamer version of itself–a “Boston,” they called it, named after that city’s especially vigilant enforcers of decency.”

This crazy discrepancy that I experience today has a history! Who knew? I guess it makes sense, considering Massachusetts was initially settled by puritans.

I have no overwhelming or interesting comments to make on this observation, but it fascinates me as it’s a real life example of how our past, our history, affects us today.

Also, fun fact, Boston is nicknamed Beantown because the Puritans took Sunday as a day of rest to its most extreme, i.e. no cooking. So on Saturdays the Puritan women would cook up some beans for the next days cold meal.

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Cocktails: Our New Wingman?

The other weekend, I went to a swanky cocktail lounge with some friends. Imagine the kind of establishment where the cocktails cost you your first-born, the men are wearing suits, and the bartenders are “models who serve.” If it weren’t for the company, I probably would not have chosen to go to this bar or have had a great time, but when in Rome…

Anyway, from the extensive cocktail menu, I chose a libation from a long list of fruity concoctions that had as many ingredients as calories and fancy, complicated names that give British royalty a run for their money. After drinking this mixture, that was essentially a Cosmopolitan, I decided that no, I am indeed not a frou-frou chick-drink kind of gal.

Yes, I appreciate themed cocktails, pink martinis, and Champagne, but I’ve never been able to stomach sweet drinks that mask the flavor of less than remarkable liquor. Give me some top-shelf gin and I’m happy. Why add the extra calories with all that simple syrup, juice, and garnish. Unless you are on a beach, the only acceptable fruit for a drink is a wedge of lime or lemon. For my personal palette, sweet and sugary should be left for dessert, and an alcoholic beverage should have integrity.

That being said, I ordered a gin martini with Bombay Sapphire as my second round. It’s a no-nonsense, classic drink with my favorite flavorful type of hard liquor. It tastes good, looks good in your hand, can be sipped all night, is relatively cheap in comparison to other mixed martinis, and won’t stain your dress if you spill a little while being shoved around in a crowd.

One of the girls in our group asked me what I was drinking, and the conversation went something like this:
Her: “A plain gin martini? No olives, no twist?”
Me: “Yup, gin and Vermouth. Shaken not stirred, like James Bond.”
Her: “Wow! Isn’t that strong?”
Me: “Yes, well it is a good top-shelf liquor, and I really like the flavor of gin.”
Her: “Well that’s impressive. That’s the kind of drink a guy would find sexy.”

I’m used to people’s reactions to my drinking habits (what with that hallow leg, Irish blood, and all) but it was the last part that got my wheels turning. What is it about drinking a strong, traditionally masculine cocktail that makes it sexy?

Woman Drinking Whiskey
I thought back to historical drinking habits and found that they don’t usually include women. The ancient Greek symposium was a male-only affair and in Western culture up until the Edwardian period, men would remove themselves for Port after dinner while women waited in a frilly, pastel salon. Maybe drinking habits and attitudes changed during the loose morals 1920’s when women started frequenting establishments that offered dancing, contraband booze, and free mingling with unmarried men.

Women always had their “girly” drinks, including mulled wines, ratafia, and sherry. So when and why did drinking “masculine” drinks become acceptable and appealing? Maybe it is because men think we can play with the boys and keep up with them. Maybe it is the juxtaposition of the soft and feminine with the hard-edged and manly drink. Maybe men are just hoping we will get drunk faster.

I don’t really have an answer for you, but it is something that I think about more now. The next time I meet a guy at a bar, I might just lead with “what are you drinking?” The polite reciprocation of the question and my answer are bound to get the same admiring response that my friend gave me, and maybe my “sexy drink” will get me a sexy man.

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