Tag Archives: scurvy

Cheers – An Alcoholic View of History

There are many different versions of history, a feminist one, a communist one and so on. I would like to propose a new one – an alcoholic view of history.

Sitting one evening in my study, with something interesting in a small glass, I began to muse on the importance of alcohol in human history. Whilst casting my mind round about possible examples, such as the improvement in English glassmaking during the sixteenth century that led to the development of bottled beer and sparkling wine, I finally settled on three key drinks that have shaped the history of the world.

The early explorers, making long sea voyages, suffered greatly from scurvy. An inability to preserve food without destroying vitamin C led to this terrible disease. It had long been known that fresh food could prevent and cure scurvy, but it wasn’t until the latter part of the eighteenth century that British doctors and sea captains finally discovered an effective cure. The most practical was Lime Juice, it worked but was very acidic and difficult to drink on its own. The Royal Navy soon realised that by mixing it with the other staple drink of the Navy, rum, and adding a little sugar a very palatable mixture could be created – now called a Daiquiri after a part of Cuba.

Preserved food, even after the scourge of scurvy had been conquered, was still unpalatable and led to many internal problems. Suitable medicines to deal with these gastric upsets had been developed during the eighteenth century but many were very bitter, hence their generic name ‘Bitters’. Again alcohol came to the rescue, mixed with gin they gave it a lovely roseate colour, the Pink Gin had been invented.

Or arrival in tropical climes, many Europeans fell victim to dreadful diseases of which malaria was chief, an extract of a South American plant was found to help control the diseases, but unfortunately Quinine was terribly bitter. An extract was slightly more palatable, but mixed with gin it proved to be magnificent – Gin and Tonic.

So here is an alcoholic view of history.
Daiquiris and Pink Gin enabled the British to sail the seven seas.
Gin and Tonic allowed them to live anywhere.
And so was the Empire Born!

p.s Would I have come up with this theory if I hadn’t been enjoying something interesting in a small glass? – probably not.


Filed under Alternative History