The History of Social Drinking
Human History is Kind of a Party
We all have a social drinking history. Our first taste. Our first party. “That craziest time when…” Some of our fondest memories begin with drinking. Many of us meet our significant others over drinks. We conduct business, mourn loved ones, and celebrate milestones in the communal atmosphere of bars and entertainment venues. Our hobbies tend to have a relationship with drinking, too. Who doesn’t grab a beer at a concert? Is it a proper dinner party if wine isn't involved? Even sanctioned events like 5Ks and half-marathons have made alcohol a focal point, turning the finish line into its own excuse to indulge.
Human history has its own stories to tell as well.
Archeologists continue to uncover new evidence pushing back the establishment (or the discovery, gift, whatever you want to call it) of fermentation. It is possible that humans were creating alcohol as early as 12,000 BCE, but we know for a fact that mixtures of fermented rice, honey, and fruit were being joyously consumed in 7,000-6,600 BCE in what is now modern-day China. By 3,000 BCE, numerous civilizations were producing alcohol, in many instances by specialists who included herbs, flowers, and tree resins for flavor. Some of these concoctions, stored in specialized containers, have been discovered in “remarkably preserved” condition.
"Tomb of Nakht" image by Wikipedia
The development of alcohol is especially interesting to historians because it parallels the established development of civilization itself. Alcohol was first developed in the murky, fossilized past called “prehistory,” but by the time “civilization” began, with writing, agriculture, and irrigation, alcohol was being produced on a commercial scale (at least by Mesopotamian standards). Some people grew the grain, other people made the booze, others yet shaped or cast the containers to preserve it, and everyone, working together, reaped the benefits. This has spurred a tantalizing question: was society created by a collective need for reliable food sources or from a general interest in getting tipsy?
"Oldest Depiction of Beer Drinking" image by Armstrong Journal
Alcohol was Important in the Formation of Early Civilizations
Published in 2021, Edward Slingerland’s Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization is an amazing account of how alcohol shaped history and helped create the world we live in today. His central thesis is that our assumption—that calculating sober people are less trustworthy, and that social drinking is a way to bond and “open up”—is scientifically correct. In moderation, alcohol affects our minds in ways that support the collective good, which is to say, society. Without it we probably never would have trusted each other enough to begin living in communal, mutually beneficial groups. Whichever came first, bread or beer, beer was certainly the more important.
In the Americas, in Asia, in the Near East, societies advanced fermented concoctions from what was geographically available and worshipped delightful, inebriated deities. The Greeks had Dionysus, the Celts had Sucellus, and the Egyptians had Tenenet (the goddess of both childbirth and beer). Keep in mind that the first miracle Jesus performs in the Gospels, effectively his big coming-out-as-God moment, was the famous water-into-wine trick.
"Dionysus wondering where the wine went" Image by Greek Mythology
Alcohol and civilization’s love affair continued into the modern era as well. During the industrial revolution, beer became safer to drink than water. India Pale Ale, the perennial favorite of craft breweries, was developed to keep potables from spoiling on long pacific voyages. Citrus was introduced to grog—the rum staple of British sailors—to prevent scurry. The Gin and Tonic was introduced in the 1700s to treat malaria. To this day beer keeps better than water in regards to bacterial contamination, and there is scientific evidence for the legitimate benefits of red wine.
"Somewhat Valid" Image by Toad & Co.
Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Alone
The one constant thread in the history of alcohol is that drinking is a predominantly social act. Even when school mistresses reached for a pint as readily as bawdy sailors, they did so in public places: in halls, inns, pubs, ballrooms, break rooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums, saloons, speakeasies, canteens, roadhouses, in church, after church, on picnics, during fiestas, beneath fireworks—the world has never lacked places to drink, and for most of human history, when you drank, you drank with others.
"A Good Time All Around" image by Tech Explorist
The crucial aspect of social drinking is that the focus is not on the drinking but rather on the social benefits conferred by the drinking. Many of Plato’s symposiums begin with Socrates diluting the wine with water, so they can get to philosophizing without getting drunk. American college students know that the pilgrims put down on Plymouth Rock because they were running out of beer, but these adventurers were not partiers. Increase Mather, a curiously named Puritan minister, called alcohol a “good creature of God,” but advised temperance to avoid becoming a hell-bound drunkard.
Well, it’s always been easy to have too good a time. Worrying that you’re drinking too much is about as common as drinking too much itself. After a decline in the 1980s and 1990s, alcohol has once again found itself the most popular kid in school. There is one big difference between the 21st century’s rise in alcohol consumption and historic trends. Today’s heavy drinkers are drinking alone. In place of the social magic—of strengthening personal bonds and creating new relationships—people are turning to alcohol as a dopamine trigger in order to relax and unwind in private. One study showed that alcohol’s unreliable results (angry drunks vs. people like yourself, who tell everyone in their phonebook they love them) is more closely related to the presence of other people than a person’s own psychology. Which is to say that you simply can’t get the civilization-changing benefits of drinking unless you’re doing it with others.
The Future of Social Drinking
While the COVID 19 Pandemic did not help reverse any trends in isolated drinking, it is not hard to imagine the psyco-social vacuum created by lockdown. Luckily for us, the history of social drinking is far from over. Recent developments have created health-conscious, socially-aware alcohol alternatives. Ritual Zero Proof offers alcohol-free whiskey, tequila, and rum. Monday Zero Alcohol Gin tastes and burns like gin, but that’s it.
Sentia Spirits has taken alcohol alternatives a step further. With a team of scientists at GABA labs, they successfully identified the psychological effects of that special 2 or 3 three drink window and recreated them using a health-friendly mixture of botanicals and spices. The result: a way to get the social benefits of drinking without the calories, the hangovers, the overindulgences.
"After 9,000 years fermentation was due for an upgrade" Image by Sentia Spirits
Whether you want to keep it James Bond classy with a martini, grab a SeaQuench (a thirst-quenching Gatorade-like beer), or opt for the next evolution, the “new booze” of a Sentia botanical spirit, the point is clear. Keep having fun. Society is counting on you.