The godfather of modern libertarianism, Albert Nock, was in his prime during Prohibition. Needless to say, he railed against it, noting once that it’s absurd to regulate something that, in nature, flows as freely as water.
He’s right, of course. And the fact that it flows as freely as water has made it a form of recreation and escape for nearly 10,000 years. We don’t know for sure why the Chinese in the Yellow River Valley (where 9,000-year-old pottery with alcohol residue was found) were drinking alcohol, but they weren’t Neanderthals, so presumably, there was a large measure of recreation involved.
It’s no surprise that there’s a ton of interesting and fun alcohol trivia.
I’m working on a definitive list of such, but for now, I offer this batch:
1. Government Created the Great London Gin Craze
The Great London Gin Craze was a pretty scary thing: kids getting soused, women selling themselves for a gin and tonic with lemon spritzer (okay, I embellish).
It resulted from government interference. William of Orange and his allies in Parliament wanted to punish the French for, among other things, their ongoing support of deposed King James, so they banned the importation of French brandy. Parliament pushed through the Distillation Act of 1690 to promote the interests of powerful landowners. Parliament then increased the tax on beer, making gin the cheapest alcoholic drink in the land. And then, for the cherry on top, Parliament exempted distillers from the requirement to accept billeted troops (in other words: “you either make gin or soldiers are going to bang your daughter in your own home”).
By 1730, London was flooded with gin and all the horrifying problems associated with it.
2. How Slavs Took Over the World
Prior to the 1930s, vodka was confined to areas of Russia, Poland, and Scandinavia. Today, it is the number one alcohol in the world. Some estimates say it is used in 25% of all alcoholic drinks.
Contemporary aside: Today, Russian vodka is largely restricted to Russia. #Ukraine
3. Dorothy Parker was Liberal, Slutty, Drunk . . . and Great
Dorothy Parker was, by all moral accounts, low.
But man, she was brilliant and funny. Her humor was so biting, Vanity Fair fired her when she refused to curb her sarcastic excess.
She was also a drunk and had a wicked sense of humor to go with it. She was the only female member of the notoriously drunken Algonquin Round Table, which included notables like James Thurber, Ring Lardner, and (the otherwise laconic) Harpo Marx.
One of Dorothy’s best quotes: “If you laid all the girls at Vassar end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Also: While on her honeymoon, responding to a persistent editor about a looming deadline: “Look. I’m too f____ing busy. . . . And vice-versa.”
4. A Toast for Every Day of the Week
English sailors used to toast a different thing every day of the week. It varied among sailors, but this is a common list:
Sunday: Absent friends
Monday: Queen and country
Tuesday: Health and wealth (not sure where scurvy fits in)
Thursday: The King
Friday: A willing foe
Saturday: Wives and sweethearts (may they never meet)
5. Alcohol is for the Greatest
“It is the unbroken testimony of all history that alcoholic liquors have been used by the strongest, wisest, handsomest, and in every way best races of all times.”
That’s fin de siècle George Saintsbury, weighing in with a very politically-incorrect notion but, ahem, a remarkable one. Ol’ George was a wine connoisseur, literary critic, and snob.
I admit, the quote above isn’t really a fact, but the words stimulate on a few levels. Surely, an enterprising conversationalist can make use of it tonight at the bar.