Drinks of the World by James Mew and John Ashton., London:The Leadenhall Press, 1892.

by Gaz Regan · Thursday, July 10th, 2014 · gaz regan's library

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Article from the 1892 New York Times review of Drinks of the World :-

‘Man must drink quite as much as he must eat to live, for the human body contains 70 per cent, of water. We carry our blood through some twenty-eight miles of tubing, and at every breath we exhale moisture, and from the surface of our bodies there is in every twenty-four hours an evaporation of two to three pounds of water. Extolling water as the best fluid for slaking man’s thirst and granting that all alcoholic fluids might be dispensed with, the book under notice shows that no sooner had humanity risen in the scale of civilization than it took to fermenting the juices of fruits or of decoctions made from the steeping of grain. Whenever there was starch or sugar present, alcohol was the resultant natural fermentation, and man became a brewer. Like fire, he found that alcohol was a good servant and a bad master.

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The object of the “Drinks of the World” is to instruct the general reader and to give him an idea of the any fluids man partakes of. You have something presented about them all from toast water, the superlative virtue of which Mr. James Sedgwick extolled in 1725, to brandy, that potent fluid Johnson said must be drunk by the man “who aspires to be a hero”. From Egyptian records, wine is known to have been common in the country 6,000 years ago, and later Pliny and Horace vaunt the wine of Mareotis. The Assyrian has left a wine list, interpreted to-day, and the catalogue includes eleven various vintages. Both Assyrians and Egyptians took their beer. The Hittites were wine drinkers, and they have left us a sculptured tablet which shows two women hobnobbing over their glasses. The Egyyptian was a realist in art, and he drew a fair lady certainly half seas over.

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The authors do not tell us very much that is new regarding the wines of the Greeks or Romans. With our modern tastes Falernian, Massican, Coecuban, and Surrentine would not be considered palatable. The disagreeable features of the Roman wines were their admixtures with salt and their flavorings with pitch or herbs. Wines pickled, smoked, and tarred could not have been pleasant. Sometimes we have thought that the whole matter of Roman wines wanted reconsideration, for the most conservative of all things are human tastes.
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Of Danish and Norwegian Vikings and how they taught the early Britons to make beer the authors tell us much. Mead, made of honey and water and then fermented, is fully described in Beowulf. In the Bayeux Tapestry we see men in a drinking bout taking huge draughts from drinking horns. We have, as it where, a relic of the time left us in our invitation “Will you take a horn?” Anglo-Saxons were steady drinkers, and there is no question that the monks often took more ale or wine than was good for them. Extra wine and ale was permitted on saint’s days, and with Anglo-Saxons there was a saint or two for every day in the year. In Scandinavia wine was imported from Spain, Italy and France, and they brewed for themselves strong mead.
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Treating the subject of modern wines, difference of quality is shown to depend on soil and treatment of the grape. The alcohol varies. In strong ports and sherries it may be from 16 to 25 per cent. In clarets, hocks, and other light wines it ought not to exceed 7 per cent. It is questionable whether any wine containing over 13 per cent of alcohol is not “fortified” or “doctored”. For the best information on this extended subject the reader who wants to know may consult the learned Vizetelly in his excellent work “The Wines of the World”.
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Who invented brandy? There is a queer legend that the devil was once entrapped on earth and held in durance for some centuries. The returning to his own kingdom he found it empty. Longing for subjects he went to Nordhausen, invented brandy, put up a distillery there, and from that time to this sheol has never been lonely. It is supposable that brandy is the Dutch “brand-wijn” of the German “brannt-wein” or burnt or distilled wine. In the modern period brandy was first called Nantz, from the town of Nantes, and our Puritan forefathers knew it thoroughly under that name. In time “right good” Nantes turned into the more delicate cognac of to-day. The tippling habit was common among women in the seventeenth century, and Queen Anne, because she liked her liquor overmuch, was sometimes called “Brandy-aced Nan”. The Spectator, scathing the excesses of the so-called ladies of the day, advises one of them “to be sure and have a bottle of brandy by her bedside for fear of fainting in the night”.

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Gin, we know, is alcohol flavoured with the berries of the juniper. Massinger tells us of a drunkard in his “Duke of Milan” who was fuddled with Geneva gin, which seems to have exactly suited early English tastes. Perhaps Dutch William brought it most into use. Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751) shows the vice of gin drinking. To-day Schiedan is the gin metropolis, “the Mecca of the Dutchman, the birthplace of his beloved schnapps”. Bottles of gin are current in 1892 in some parts of Africa as a species of coin. How was the name of Old Tom given to gin? It is related that it was sold in a surreptitious way in 1733 by a man who had for a sign a black cat, but Notes and Queries doubts this, and shows that one Tom Hodges sold gin: hence “Old Tom”.
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On the subject of liqueurs the authors are interesting. The derivation of the word is thisty, a kind of lucas a non lucendo, a trifle Max Mullerish. There is a Sanskrit root, “laks”, or “lauce”, to see; but we do not see it. Herb wines were the arly products of the domestic stillroom, and sweet fluids with a basis of alcohol were turned out. Montaigne writing of his travels in Italy, says that the Jesuits or the Jesuates of Vicenza, before they exercised an important role, distilled waters of different herbs and flowers. The history of monastical liqueurs would be curious. There is, as it were, a “litany of flasks”. We have “Liqueur de Chartreux, des Benedictines. des Carmes, des Trappistes, des Peres de Garaison, liqueur du P. Kermann”. and it is really strange that some good liqueur is not made in this country with a religious label on it. All these French monastic liqueurs are good, honest, and wholesome. Eau de Dantzic, that compound with floating fragments of gold in it, does it not recall to present gullible humanity the “potable gold” of past credulity?
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The history of beer, tea, and coffee is given, Tea in 1588 had its virtues presented by the good Father Giovanni Pietro Maffei, who, writing of his travels in China, declared that the use of it caused the Chinese “to live a long and happy life, without pain or infirmity of any sort”. In the time of Charles II (1660) an effort was made to impose a tax of 8d. on every gallon of tea made. It was found impossible to watch teapots, so, in William and Mary’s time a duty of 1s. a pound was levied on tea. The authors give various methods of making coffee, but England is the country with the worst coffee in the known world. As to aerated drinks, beginning with ginger beer and concluding with soda water, something is told about them all. It is curious to learn that the manufacture of effervescing water was begun in England in 1789.’

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