This drinking history timeline shows major event in alcohol and drinking around the world. It presents them over the past 12,000 years in chronological order.
- Alcohol in Antiquity to the Ancient Greeks
Anthropologists have suggested that humans may have first settled in specific places in order to cultivate the ingredients of beer. And it may have preceded bread as a staple.
- Alcohol among the Greeks and Romans
Many of our beliefs, attitudes and practices regarding alcohol began among the Greeks and Romans.
- Alcohol in the Middle Ages
Alcohol in the Middle Ages spanned hundreds of years. Progress was slow. But there was one revolutionary change in alcohol.
- Alcohol During the Renaissance: 15th & 16th Centuries
Alcohol had the reputation of a saint. No medical prescription was complete without it, nor, indeed, was any meal. Mothers brewed ale for their children.
- Alcohol in the 17th Century: Age of Discovery
Sparkling wine developed. The English stored still (non-sparkling) wine in cellars over the winter. During that time yeast caused a secondary fermentation.
- Alcohol in the 18th Century: Age of European Expansion
George Washington was his new nation’s first large distiller. His wife, Martha, enjoyed daily toddys.
- Alcohol in the 19th Century: Emergence of Temperance
During the 19th century, the story of alcohol was largely the emergence of temperance sentiment.
- Alcohol in the Early 20th Century: Temperance/Prohibition
The treatment of alcohol and drinking changed dramatically. The growth of the temperance movements led to prohibition in many countries.
- Alcohol in the Mid-20th Century: 1934 to 1979
The story of alcohol in the mid-20th century was largely uneventful. Yet The Judgment of Paris signaled a major world-wide revolution in wine.
- Alcohol in Recent Decades: 1980 to Today
The history of alcohol in recent decades will be familiar to many people. If so, enjoy this stroll down memory lane. And try to imagine what may lie ahead for alcohol and drinking.
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Humans have used alcohol for thousands of years. It has provided needed nutrition and caloric value. This helps explain the frequent lack of nutritional deficiencies in some populations even today whose diets are generally poor. The levels of amino acids and vitamins increase during fermentation.1 Modern food technology uses enrichment or fortification to improve the nutrition of foods. But fermentation nutritionally enriches naturally.2
The desire to raise grain for brewing encouraged the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to settling in agricultural communities. This was the beginning of civilizations.
Alcoholic beverages have long served as thirst quenchers. This is important in a world in which water has generally been either unhealthful or questionable at best. Ancient writers rarely wrote about water, except as a warning.3
In the late eighteenth century most Parisians were poor. They had the choice of drinking alcoholic beverages or water from a very polluted Seine.4 Coffee and tea were expensive. People didn’t commonly consumed drink them on a daily basis in most of Europe. That didn’t occur until the mid-nineteenth century.5
Alcohol has historically been therapeutic or medicinal. It has clearly been a major analgesic, and one widely available to people in pain. It has not only provided the caloric energy needed for hard labor, but also a relief from the resulting fatigue.
Alcohol has frequently served as a medium of exchange. For example, in Medieval England, ale often paid tolls, rents and and debts.6
Problematic Use Stressed
Historians and chroniclers tend to note problems rather than normalcy. They often write about any problems caused by alcohol abuse. Rarely do they write about the non-events of its typical, moderate consumption. But they’re both important parts of the the world’s drinking history timeline.
The founding Director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism concluded that “… alcohol has existed longer than all human memory. It has outlived generations, nations, epochs and ages. It is a part of us, and that is fortunate indeed. Alcohol will always be the master of some. But for most of us it will continue to be the servant of man.”7
The story of alcohol is fascinating. Alcohol has long played a major role in human life. And it continues to do so today. This drinking history timeline helps us discover the story.
Let’s begin our exploration!
Readings for Drinking History Timeline
Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1985.
Bickerdyke, J. The Curiosities of Ale and Beer. An Entertaining History. London: Hardpress, 2013.
Blocker, J., et al. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003.
Charters, S. Wine and Society. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006.
Crofton, I. A Curious History of Food and Drink. NY: Quercus, 2014.
Doxat, J. The World of Drinks and Drinking. NY: Drake, 1971.
Eames, A. Secret Life of Beer. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2013.
Esteicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. NY: Algora, 2006.
Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation. Leiden: Brill, 1970.
Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. NY: Putnam’s, 1965.
Gately, I. Drink. A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008.
Johnson, H. The Story of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2005.
Patrick, C. Alcohol, Culture and Society. Durham: Duke U. Press, 1952. Reprint, 1970.
Shapiro, M. Alcoholic Drinks of the Middle Ages. Milpitas, CA: SCA, 1992.
Symonds, J. Wine, Women and Song. Students’ Songs of the Middle Ages. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2002.
Unger, R. Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Philadelphia: U Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
1 Ghaliounqui, P. Fermented Beverages in Antiquity. In: Gastineau, C., et al. (Eds.) Fermented Food Beverages in Nutrition. NY: Academic Press, 1979. Pp. 3-19. Pp. 8-9.
2 Steinkraus, K. Nutritionally Significant Indigenous Foods Involving an Alcoholic Fermentation. In: Gastineau. Pp. 35-57. Pp.. 36.
3 Ghaliounqui, p. 3.
4 Braudel, F. Capitalism and Material Life. NY: Harper and Row, 1979, pp. 159-160.
5 Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1985, pp. 251, 254, 351, 359, 366.
6 Watney, J. Beer is Best. A History of Beer. London: Peter Owen, 1974, p. 16.
7 Chafetz, M. Liquor: The Servant of Man. Boston: Little, Brown, 1965, p. 223.