We spend a lot of time thinking about drinks but I was still taken aback by the impact that six beverages had on world civilization. In his book, A History of the World in Six Glasses, Tom Standage explores the effect that beer, wine, distilled spirits, tea, coffee and Coca Cola had on civilization and world history. It’s nothing short of remarkable.
Six Glasses discusses the anti-bacterial properties of beer, wine, distilled spirits and tea that helped battle human disease at a time when the water you drank could literally kill you. By mixing water with wine, distilled spirits and tea, the wine literally worked as a cleansing agent, killing the microbes in the water and saving people’s lives who drank wine and tea. On the cusp of the industrial revolution in England, tea had spread across all class lines and the number of people dying from water-borne diseases decreased significantly. The increase in the population allowed the industrial revolution to take root in England.
Standage investigates each of his beverages in detail, from the first production of the beverage to its perfection and its impact on society. Standage further conjectures on how each of these beverages shaped the modern world. Beer arose as a by-product to the movement of humans from hunter gatherers to an agrarian society and helped the first urban societies to flourish. Wine was a key component in the development of the basic tenets of the Western World by the Greeks and then the Romans, which occurred in ancient drinking symposiums, and then assisted in the spread of the Catholic church across Europe. Distilled spirits literally built America. Modern philosophy, and a great deal of political unrest, was born and spread across Europe in 17th and 18th centuries in coffee houses. It was tea that birthed the industrial revolution and modern global commerce. Coca Cola become the symbol for American ideals, democracy and advertising in the 20th century. In the dawn of the early 21st century, Standage conjectures that the next great beverage shaping the world’s future will be water, itself, as water supply and clean water continue to be of great concern.
Who knew that drinking could have such a huge impact on civilization, society and history. The next time you have a cocktail party, remember the Greek and Roman drinking symposiums and the spirits, and early cocktails, that literally shaped America. Cheers!