So what exactly is alcohol anyway, who invented it where did
it come from?
So let’s think about this and break it down.
If you were a cave man thousands of years ago, you may have
stumbled across some fruit that had fallen from the trees in the autumn. These fruit may have
split and over ripened. Being a hungry caveman, you may have gorged yourself on
these sweet fruit and noticed some funky side affects you didn’t quite
understand…. but seemed quite fun!
So what was going on? As the over ripened fruit lay split,
natural yeasts in the air settled on the sugars in the fruit and started
eating, producing a compound called
ethanol, which is the type of alcohol found in drinks today.
This is natural fermentation, and it
is this process that humans have understood, developed and taken advantage of
for thousands of years, leading to the alcohol industry that we know today.
Quite the journey from the caveman and the humble over ripened fruit!
It’s not accurately known when humans first consumed
alcohol, but there is evidence from Chinese clay pots dating back
9000 years that they contained an alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.
It is known that the
ancient Egyptians drank beer which they fermented from grains that they
stored after harvest specifically for this purpose.
Fermentation rapidly became understood across the world. Yeast
will essentially ferment any natural sugar so people were able to produce
ethanol from any plant source that was available to them. We have already seen
that the Egyptians made beer from grains and due to a different climate, the
Romans and Greeks fermented grapes to produce wine.
Fermented beverages had a relatively low alcohol content of
up to approximately 13%. The reason for this is that the by-products produced
by the yeast during fermentation are toxic to the yeast and kills it, after
which of course, fermentation can no longer occur. For thousands of years
therefore, 13% was about as strong as anything could get.
This is where distillation
comes in and allows us to make our gin.
Arabic text dated back to the 9th Century describes the process of
boiling fermented liquids to vaporise the alcohol. The science bit is that
alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water so it vaporises first and
separates from the water. By catching this vapour and then cooling it down, you
end up with a concentrated alcohol solution, far stronger than any fermented
Initially used as a medicinal products, these stronger
spirits started to become an important trade commodity as they didn’t spoil,
unlike beer or wine. Rum from the Caribbean, Brandy and Gin from
Europe, all quickly became an important global trading currency and became an
important part of World trade and exploration.
Cool stuff eh?!