Wednesday, January 10, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Man's early production of alcohol tied to religious world

By Joan Namkoong
Advertiser Food Critic

In the beginning, there was Earth with all its bounty. Then nature created a chemical process, fermentation, by which wild yeast could break down sugar in plant material to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Man, in his early stages of civilization, soon discovered fermentation and the intoxicating qualities of alcohol, and they have been in matrimony ever since.

Man’s association with alcohol spirit has been historically documented in just about every ancient civilization. Its origins certainly began with rustic creations using sugary juices that were left to ferment in vessels or jugs. These early concoctions were often tied to religious ceremonies, as the creations undoubtedly took the drinkers to a new realm of enlightenment and spirituality.

This intoxicating journey was often attributed to outer-worldly forces, symbolically associating alcohol with the gods. Sophisticated potable spirits evolved in European civilizations like the Greek and Roman Empires, in the Middle East with the Egyptians, the Americas with the Incas and Mayans, and even in Asia with the Chinese Dynasties.

The importance of spirit to man can be seen in the development of many modern terms. The sacred phrase "water of life" has been uttered in every language and has become the root of many present-day terms.

Whiskey, though there is disagreement between the Scots and Irish on exactly who was the originator, comes from the Celtic word "uisgebaugh," meaning "water of life." The modern term is used to describe the malted grain spirit coming from the region.

The French eau de vie and Latin aqua vitae are "water of life" terms used to describe any of a number of spirits that could be categorized as clear, distilled fruit brandies.

Scandinavian countries treasure their aquavit, again translated "water of life" (is that an echo I hear?), describing the gin-like liquor with a pronounced caraway flavor. Even vodka, with the Russian root voda, meaning "water," can be included in this hallowed group.

The need for spirits in ancient life can be seen in the wide variety of products that were used to produce alcohol. In historic times, the key factors in using something for the production of alcoholic beverage were the relatively low cost and the wide availability of the product in the particular locale.

It seems logical: Everyone wants a large supply of spirits, so why not use as the main ingredients whatever is cheapest and most abundant, and at times unusable for anything else?

In Europe and Russia, grain, potatoes and grapes provided the best basis for vodka, whiskey and wine. In the Americas, grain (particularly corn, barley and wheat), were the choice for bourbons and beers. Mexican tequila relied on the agave (a cactus-like plant worthless for much else) as the source for production.

In more recent times, rum production took a relatively useless byproduct of sugar production, molasses, and converted it into a favored spirit with an industry of its own.

Man is encouraged to drink in religious scripture, yet condemned for over-indulgence. Spirits are exalted for its therapeutic effects until over-imbibing creates troubles and health problems. We conclude, then, that humans were given drink to enjoy and relish, but always in moderation, for it is the way we celebrate our existence.

Speaking of using up abundant ingredients, it’s the time of year again when the trees are heavy with sweet

Island tangerines. While the fruit is great as a morning pick-me-up, think about using some of the fresh-squeezed tangerine juice in this afternoon cooler.

Tangerine Tickle

  • 1 shot (1/2 ounces) Bacardi Limon Rum
  • 3 ounces fresh squeezed tangerine juice
  • 1/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce Simple Syrup (or 1 teaspoon sugar)
  • 1 ounce 7-Up

Combine ingredients in tall zombie glass and fill with cubed ice. Garnish with lemon wheel and straw.

Sean Nakamura can be seen behind the bar at Alan Wong’s Restaurant.

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