Welcome to season 2! Grab your favorite potation and join Em and Jesse for a tour of the history of alcohol, from monkeys getting drunk on fermented apples, to the earliest written recipe for beer, to rules surrounding the making and serving of drinks in the Middle Ages. With some fun digressions on the domestication of watermelons and the importance of grain/flour in Gilgamesh.
By ‘drink,’ Ford Prefect meant alcohol. . .
To be clear, the cans of old fashioned the Dane is offering have like four servings in them (obligatory “or one serving if you try hard enough”). Having been pregnant for most of 2020, I have not yet tried them. Anyway, per Wisconsin rules a brandy old fashioned consists of: a cherry + orange slice muddled in the bottom of the glass with sugar and bitters, a shot of brandy (probably usually Korbel), ice, and top it off with some type of lemon-lime soda (Em uses ginger beer). Garnish with additional cherries and an orange slice. I’ve had bartenders in not-Wisconsin give it to me without the soda, which is–not good. I’ve heard that Wisconsin consumes the most brandy per capita in the US. Actually, in 2019, Wisconsinites consumed over half of the Korbel brandy sold worldwide. So. That’s a claim to fame for sure.
Our recommended nonalcoholic drink to go with this episode is ginger beer and lime.
2/ In contrast to the aquatic ape theory, I’m calling Dr. Jesse’s theory about the fermented apple-eating monkeys the drunken monkey theory, and no one can stop me. [Awesome!–JN]
Jesse: Here is a a great beginning article on the history of alcohol from National Geographic, “A 9,000-Year Love Affair,” by Andrew Curry, Feb 2017, vol. 231, no. 2: link. Many of the specific dates, recipes, and general info discussed in this episode are at least briefly mentioned in this article. (May require a subscription.) Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the history of alcoholic drinks.
3/ [8:32] “I know enough that if you want to have a city, which means that…people have specializations in things…” This insight and many others brought to you by Ryan North’s How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler.
I am having a hard time finding anything on Google that isn’t about c-rations eaten by soldiers during the Vietnam War–most of what I know about post-war rationing I learned from museums I visited in the country. I remember one exhibit that talked about how people had coupon books for rice, meat, vegetables, and tofu, and how people who traveled abroad often brought back items like electric fans, and I think sneakers and radios. I feel like one guy mentioned trading a pair of sneakers for a plane ticket.
4/ [15:27] The Harappan or Indus script. I’m guessing they’d have to find a longer text using the script to really decipher it, but you can read about all the arguments on that page. And here’s more on cuneiform, including a nice view of the evolution from pictograms (which I believe count as proto-writing) to the actual script.
5/ [18:05] Bai jiu (白酒) is actually usually made from sorghum, although some regions do use rice or other grains. It’s a pretty ubiquitous spirit in China. Wikipedia has a pretty good rundown of all the varieties beyond the cheap to extremely cheap stuff you can buy in the supermarket in China.
7/ [24:45] Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.
9/ [33:35] Gilgamesh is my favorite epic–we’ve talked about it in several previous episodes, notably 3 (note 27) and 23 (note 5). Not only does bread figure into a major plot point, but flour is used in conjuring when Gilgamesh has a series of prophetic dreams when Gilgamesh and Enkidu walk to the cedar forest in tablet 4.
A song about the Mesopotamians. Possibly not very explanatory.
Nineveh, for those not raised in the Jewish tradition (Abrahamic tradition?), is the city the prophet Jonah is sent to with orders to tell them to repent.
Ashurbanipal and his library.
10/ [38:35] Unfortunately, the Wikipedia entry for Tall Bazi, Syria is in German. Here is a beer recipe based on the archeological evidence from Tall Bazi.
11/ [41:45] We talked about the building of the pyramids in our episodes on Passover and Easter (see episode 3 notes 3 and 5). Here is a website about the village, and here is the site’s article on feeding the workers (with a particular emphasis on the bakeries). For more on the history of beer, see Richard Unger Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Chapter 2 opens with a section called “Beer before the Middle Ages: Mesopotamia and Egypt.”
12/ [46:43] The copper ingot complaint is called the complaint tablet to Ea-nasir. The British Museum has a much more high-res photo here (because of course it does). And you can read a translation here.
13/ Cacao wine: technically cacao is the fruit of the cocoa plant, so I guess making wine with it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise (we did start the episode talking about fermenting apples). My understanding is that a lot of the chocolate flavor we think of develops during the roasting stage, so I’m not sure how much the wine would taste like chocolate as we think of it. Here’s a recipe I found that uses cacao nibs, but I’m not sure how authentic it is. Honestly, I’ve never been sure of what a cacao nib is except a form of chocolate for people who think they’re too sophisticated for normal chocolate.
14/ [49:35] Mayan drink–balché.
15/ [50:20] Sorghum beer is still very popular (like every other type of beer!).
16/ [55:15] Here’s Wikipedia’s rundown of the Judean Date Palm, and here’s a 2020 article from The Atlantic about the effort to bring it back.
18/ [1:02:03] The Chester harrowing was discussed in episode 8–see note 26.
For more on the additives and mixings, see Richard Unger, Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
20/ [1:10:50] Sacramental wine is a big part of a lot of Jewish holidays, including Purim (which happens to be happening as this is posted).