BIT Blog

An Iguana's History of Booze (part one)

Long before people were recording human’s roles in history, they were drinking. How do we know? Well, there’s a much more interesting question that will distract you from our pure speculation. That is: what did the combination of rotten grain and spit taste like? And who the hell put it in their mouth first and decided it wasn’t going to kill people, but was in fact a good thing? Chewing grain and spitting it out led to the first fermentation. As the grain rotted, propelled by the beastly, yeasty enzymes, the grain turned from sugar into an alcoholic mash. Tasty.

The oldest documented boozing comes from Asia circa 4000 B.C.E. Sumerians, Egyprians, Babylonians and Mesopotamians dabbled in beer and wine. Though originally intended for religious ceremonies, it leaked out to the public and after that, well, there was just no containing it. This officially makes alchol the oldest and most common drug ever. Top that Chinese Opium dens! Even the strict practices of the Old Testament Jews allowed for drinking in celebratory measure.

Then there were the Greeks and Romans who had a slightly different take on things. Booze was a crucial element in the worship of the libation deity (Dionysus / Bacchus) and the orgies that ensued to honor them (called Bacchanalia.) It was also a necessary part of daily life in which orgies ensued if you took a stroll through the neighborhood and ran into a few friends(called bacchanalia …notice the lower case b.) Besides, considering drinking water came the communal sewer, it’s easy to see why wine would be the optimal choice.

Africa got busy making firewater out of everything they got their hands on: millet, maize, honey, bamboo, palm, and any fruit possible. That’s clearly this iguana’s type of ancient civilization. While most Native Americans evolved without intoxicating beverages and first learned of their tragic and powerful effects with the Europeans, Mexico and Central America were hopping with their own homebrews. Central and South Americans got down like the Africans, making chicha out of nearly everything: fruits, flowers, sap, tubers and …of course, corn. The Tarahumara of northern Mexico made beer from agave, the precursor to our modern, beloved tequila.

Moving to the hard stuff, China produced the earliest recorded distilled liquor from rice in 800 B.C.E. Strangely many cultures had the technology to distill liquor, but it wasn’t popular (big question mark in this iguana’s simple mind.) Not until the middle ages, around the eighth century did spirits earn their rightful place. It was not long afterwards that medieval iguanas began to imbibe and distill. 

To read more keep an eye out for next week's blog, which will continue liquor history (as well as the iguana’s place in the world of distillery) until the present.