Tuesday, 8 May 2018

American Wino


Today is a day that will live in revelry: A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where and When Humankind has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present is released in the good ol' US of A. It's published by Three Rivers Press and you can read all about it, or even purchase it by following this link, or by toddling down to a bookstore.

The book should feel at home on that continent, as it has two chapters devoted to American drinking: one on the Wild West saloon and what it was actually like; and one on the subject of Prohibition and how, contrary to myth, it actually pretty much worked.

So in celebratory spirit, and in no particular order, here are some facts about drinking in America taken from the book.

1) In 1797 the largest distillery in America produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year. It was owned by the great distiller of early America, a man called George Washington.

2) The Pilgrim Fathers weren’t meant to land at Plymouth Rock, but the Mayflower had run out of beer. So they had to stop there.

3) American settlers, unless they lived very close to a brewery, drank spirits because they were easily transportable. A Kentucky breakfast was defined (in 1822) as ‘three cocktails
and a chaw of terbacker’.

A cocktail here is in essence exactly what it sounds like: a ‘Cock tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters’ (1806). Whiskey for breakfast could be considered a challenge even then, so by mixing in a little fruit juice, or whatever came to hand, you
could take in all the health-giving benefits of an alcoholic breakfast (which were still believed in) and not vomit.

4) A lot of the booze sold in Old West saloons was fake. Here is a contemporary recipe for making something apparently indistinguishable from rye whiskey.

Neutral spirit, four gallons; alcoholic solution of starch, one gallon; decoction of tea, one pint; infusion of almonds, one pint; color with one ounce of the tincture of cochineal, and of burnt sugar, four ounces; flavor with oil of wintergreen, three drops, dissolved in one ounce of alcohol.

5) Prohibition didn't fully end until 1966 when alcohol became legal in Oklahoma.

6) Prohibition is a major reason that Italian food became popular in America, but to find out why, you will have to buy the book.

A Short History of Drunkenness can be bought from all good bookstores, and, I suspect, some bad ones. And purchased at all the usual sites on the World Wide Web. Follow this link for much more information.

And remember that Americans have always liked a tipple. There was a man called Frederick Marryat who travelled the USA in the 1830s and wrote a book trying to describe this new country to old Europe. He records that in the USA:

If you meet, you drink; if you part, you drink; if you make acquaintance, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink.


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