Friday, August 16, 2013

And a bottle of...

In honor a National Rum Day (yes, it's a thing!), I thought a look back at the general history of rum would be an appropriate way to honor the holiday - in addition to a nice glass of rum, of course!

One can easily pull together a pile of books on the history of rum, as this liquor was the preferred drink of a colorful cast of characters, including notorious (and highly romanticized) pirates, and the rambunctious crowd that made up the so-called Sons of Liberty. But how did this particular drink come about?

First of all, what is rum?

Rum is a liquor made from distilled molasses. Molasses is the thick, syrup-like remnants of sugar production. As the sugar is refined to produce its familiar white color, what is left behind from boiling the original sugar cane juice is molasses.

Blackstrap molasses, via Wikimedia Commons
Once the molasses is separated from the crystalized, refined sugar, distillers mix the viscous syrup with water and yeast to produce rum. (For a modern example of this process, see this video clip from National Geographic's Ultimate Factories.)

There is a reason why popular imagery of rum maintains such strong connections to pirates, the Caribbean, and life on the high seas... that is because rum was born in the Caribbean - as a by-product of the massive, colonial sugar plantations.

William Clark, "Slaves Cutting the Sugar Cane, 1786," Ten Vies in the Island of Antigua.
The 'when' of rum distilling, it's point of origin, remains obscure. The residents of these islands - including the indigenous population, as well as the European settlers, their servants, and African slaves - certainly drank alcohol, including spiritous liquors. But when did rum first emerge? Some argue that a crude form of rum production first began in the mid-sixteenth century by Dutch Jews in Martinique, but others claim that these attempts to distill sugarcane juice were simply prototypes of rum. Either way, what we do know is that one of the first, unmistakable, reference to rum appears in 1647 when Richard Ligon, a British author and Barbadian planter, documented his time in Barbados.

Instead of calling it 'rum,' however, Ligon made use of rum's earlier (and more interesting) name: "Kill-Devil." The name we are familiar with today came about just a few years after Ligon, around 1650, when documents began to reference the shipment of "rum" (taken from rumbullion, a term from the southwest region of England, meaning "a great tumult.")

Rum initially served as a beverage for slaves, as planters believed it provided the slaves with calories and energy (though, we know now these are empty calories). Some also argue that by plying their slaves with alcohol, the planters helped ensure continued control over their labor force. Over time, though, the planters also began to recognize this liquor as a potential money-maker. As the British colonists in the Caribbean did not have a liquor trade of their own to protect (unlike the French and Spanish, who focused on brandy and wine), Barbadian planters constructed rum distilleries alongside their sugar refineries, making rum a significant outgrowth of the sugar-making process.

Plan of a Barbados sugar factory with adjoining rum distillery, from Richard Ligon's A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1673).
It didn't take long for rum to gain popularity among the people living in the Caribbean, and because of the high alcoholic content, it traveled well on ships moving across the Atlantic Ocean. Rum quickly became a fixture on transatlantic vessels, from the Royal Navy to illegal pirate ships, and through the movement of these ships, rum spread throughout the Atlantic world.

From 1655 to 1970, daily rum rations were an integral part of life for British sailors. 
Rum wasn't just popular with sailors, pirates, and the people living in the Caribbean, but it also took hold in the colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America. By 1660, Boston merchants actively promoted the sale of rum, and Barbados (alone) shipped over half a million gallons of rum to the North American colonies every year.

Popularly consumed as "Rum Punch," which combined the Caribbean liquor with citrus juices (either from lemons, limes, or oranges), sugar, water, and other ingredients (typically more alcohol, like brandy), rum became the drink du jour of colonial life, and punch bowls became a common way for the elite to display their wealth while throwing a swinging party.

An elaborate punch bowl, featured in Hogarth's A Midnight Modern Conversation (1733).
Dr. Alexander Hamilton's sketch of the Royalist Club (a Maryland gentleman's club, 1744) shows that, sometimes, cups were optional. 
Cheaper versions of rum punch made their way to drinkers throughout the colonies, and by the end of the eighteenth century, these mixtures of rum helped fuel the destructive protests against British imperial rule. However, the eruption of conflict between the American colonials and the British proved disruptive enough to the supply of rum and molasses that Americans began to embrace an alternative, homegrown liquor called whiskey, produced by settlers living on the American frontier. The abundance of corn in the newly independent United States kept the price of whiskey low, and made this liquor easier to access, and more cost effective, than rum.

Whiskey would rule the day in the United States from that point (and may even continue to do so today, depending on who you ask). But rum managed to make a successful comeback in the latter-half of the twentieth century. Now it is impossible to find a bar that doesn't have some sort of rum in stock, and popular drinks like a rum and Coke helped solidify this Caribbean spirit's place in the average liquor cabinet. From sugar, slaves, drunken colonials, to elaborate twentieth-century cocktails, rum certainly remains a liquor worthy of further discussion and appreciation.

Happy National Rum Day!

Mai Tai cocktail with ingredients, via Wikimedia Commons

Sources and further reading:

- Dun, Richard S. Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713. The University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
- Foss, Richard. Rum: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.
- Grimes, William. Straight Up or on the Rock: A Cultural History of American Drink. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
- Smith, Frederick H. Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History. Gainesvill, FL: University Press of Florida, 2008.
- Thompson, Peter. Rum Punch & Revolution: Taverngoing & Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Again, with the women!

I must admit to a small level of guilt that has been nagging at me since my last post. While the imagery surrounding women and drunkenness is a point of interest, which has a perceptible connection to the past, I felt that female imbibers didn't exactly end up in the best light. To remedy the situation, I thought it would be useful to examine a more positive relationship women have cultivated with alcohol over the years.

As a woman myself, and one who can appreciate a fine glass of beer or bourbon, I have long been intrigued (or at times frustrated) with the way drinking women tend to be portrayed. First, women aren't supposed to be habitual drinkers (see last post). Second, women drink wine. Beer is a "guy's" drink, and women who do appear as beer drinkers (in movies/TV/other forms of entertainment) they appear as either masculinized, or overly sexualized. Moreover, the notion that there are women in the world who not only like, but they also prefer beer to wine, seems to surprise some.

German Barmaid, via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, news articles began to emerge that, in essence, pointed out, "Hey! There are women who like beer! Even more than wine! How strange!" It isn't just a case of, yes there are women who drink beer and they like it, but the overall percentage of women who regularly drink beer as their beverage of choice is growing. In 2009, a Gallup poll found that 21% of women in the US preferred beer to wine, but in 2012, a new poll showed beer winning out over wine among women aged 18-34.  Women aren't stopping at drinking beer either - many have become active brewers, too. The Wynkoop Brewing Company out of Denver hosted an all-female brewing event earlier this year to showcase the talent of female brewers working across Colorado. So the news that women are into beer shouldn't be that surprising (and I must echo the exasperation of Kelly Tidd from Denver Off the Wagon that drawing attention to the fact women drink beer really isn't "news").
Domestic brewing simply could not
compete with large-scale production.

Historically, this isn't even close to news at all. In fact, for centuries women served as the primary producers of ale and beer, particularly in England. Judith Bennett's study on the subject, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters, reveals the long, and very strong, connection women had to brewing first ale and then beer.* While Bennett's study focuses on women in England from 1300-1600, Sarah Hand Meacham's study, Every Home a Distillery, shows that this connection between women and the production of alcohol persisted in Britain's American colonies. So if women have such a long history of working as brewers (or brewsters^), then why all the surprise?

A commercial brewery,
circa 18th c.
As brewing developed into a commercial industry across Europe over the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, breweries tended to hire men over women. While women continued to participate in the trade, over time the noticeable presence of women in breweries faded away. Female brewers often worked out of their own homes, but as the commercial supply of beer began to replace what families usually brewed at home, the overall association of women and beer simply came to an end.

The loss of this connection did not occur everywhere, however. Evidence of women who persisted in brewing throughout the centuries appears across Latin America, particularly in Peru, where women continue to produce a traditional brewed beverage known as chicha beer.

Chicha beer is a maize-based beverage, which is produced in a similar manner as beer. There is one noticeable distinction in the preparation of chicha, and that involves the mastication of the germinated maize, as the enzymes present in saliva help break down the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars. In other words, the brewer chews up and spits out the maize before brewing it into beer.

The history of chicha beer is still new to me - I first learned about it through the Discovery Channel series Brew Masters, in which the master brewer of Dogfish Head Brewery, Sam Calagione, visited Peru to learn the technique behind chicha brewing.

The details surrounding chicha brewers fascinated me for a number of reasons. First, the continued presence of women in brewing throughout history is interesting simply by itself. But there were a number of details that stood out to me, and honestly surprised me, as I learned about this particular beverage.

One rather minor detail that the episode quickly passed over was that chicha brewers place flowers outside of their chicherias to notify the public that a fresh batch was in the works. After a couple days, when the flowers began to wilt, customers would know that the chicha was ready for drinking. What is absolutely fascinating about this detail is that medieval brewsters in England notified their customers that a fresh batch of ale was brewing by hanging their brewing brooms (which they used to stir the batch of ale or beer) outside of their house to dry. (Scholars cite these brooms as the precursors to pub signs.)

A brewster and her broom, circa 14th c.

What can we take from this somewhat odd parallel between cultures? Perhaps it is a mere coincidence that female brewers living on opposite sides of the Atlantic, who had no knowledge of the other's culture, or that the other even existed (during the fourteenth century, anyway), engaged in a strikingly similar practice when brewing their respective beverages. There is likely little to take away from this beyond the fact that it is purely interesting, but it remains a point of fascination to me.

In the end, however, it is important to recognize the long history that existed between women and beer. While men may currently make up the bulk of the customer base for modern beer companies, the fact that women both make and drink beer should not come as such a surprise. In fact, one could argue that beer is more of a woman's drink than one for men. Either way, the emerging trend in beer drinking demographics certainly seems to suggest that women are returning to their alcoholic "roots" as they enjoy the complex and delightful flavors of a well-brewed beer.

* The difference noted here between ale and beer derives from the historical distinction between un-hopped ale and hopped beer. This distinction was very important during the time that hopped beer first arrived in England - many English drinkers did not care for the flavor of hopped beer and upheld the superior qualities of the more traditional un-hopped ale. Over time, the English learned to enjoy hopped beer, and by the eighteenth century, this distinction became less of a necessity. Today, all beers, including ales, are brewed with hops.
^ 'Brewsters' is the feminized form of the word 'brewer' (which is gender neutral). As pointed out by Bennett, it is the only gender-specific word that applies to a person who brews beer.

Further reading:

- Judith M. Bennett, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters: Women's Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1996).
- Sarah Hand Meacham, Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009).
- For more on Dogfish Head's adventure in chica brewing, see: Chew It Up, Spit It Out, Then Brew. Cheers!
- For more information on modern brewsters and female beer drinkers, see: Women, Craft Beer and Centerfolds

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Women and the Binge of Britain

As mentioned the previous post, I spent the past few weeks in London engaging in archival research for my dissertation. I managed to gather a lot of material that looks very promising, but I am now back home and beginning the lengthy process of reading through these sources.

How historians have fun.
While overseas, however, I seemed to encounter my topic on a regular basis outside of the archives. Alcohol - in particular, binge drinking - is a on-going issue in England, and I managed to catch several news stories and a handful of documentaries about binge drinking throughout my stay. As many of the programs acknowledged, this is not a new problem. Studies on binge drinking in Britain have appeared regularly over the past decade, and Tony Blair referred to binge drinking as the "new British disease" in 2004. A study from in 2009 estimated that binge drinking costs the UK economy as much as £20 billion every year, due to working days (~17 million) lost to hangovers and drink-related illnesses, in addition to medical expenses.

And yet, this is a problem that long precedes the last decade. The eighteenth-century "Gin Craze" may well mark the starting point of the binge drinking phenomenon in Great Britain. Although concerns over drunkenness consistently appeared prior to this particular episode, such concerns are not unique to Britain, or to any specific society. The "Gin Craze" did spark a kind of panic, though, one that helped pave the way for the nineteenth-century British temperance movement.

But the existence of an earlier moment of alcoholic 'craze' isn't the only point of connection to modern concerns over drinking. One aspect stood out to me as I watched the news stories or the documentaries over this certain issue, and that was the constant prominence of drunk women. While both men and women appeared in these programs, usually falling on the street, yelling obscenities, or getting into some kind of fight, women in particular seemed to appear much more than men. A simple image search on Google demonstrates this as well:

Search terms: 'binge drinking Britain'
Women - drunk women, at that - seem to capture this particular crisis. In those pictures, we see a few charts, three pictures of drunk men (one engaging in a little cross-dressing), one nondescript picture of a person drinking, but the rest are all of women. A quick scroll down the page reveal more and more drunk women, the apparent symbol of Britain's binge.

But is this new?

William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1751.
Not at all.

Hogarth's iconic image of the "Gin Craze" reveals the mayhem created by the eighteenth-century British binge, or at least the artist's perception of it. Many have written about this image, and its companion piece, Beer Street:

William Hogarth, Beer Street, 1751.
Hogarth intended to emphasize the destruction caused by the liquor gin, while upholding the wholesome qualities of beer. There are many levels of analysis that one can pull out of these images, but for this particular discussion, I would like to focus on the presentation of women. In Beer Street, there are two women featured upfront, and both are accompanied by men, each with an arm around the woman's shoulder. One woman appears to have a bemused, near smile on her face, while the other is clearly in the midst of her work - balancing a basket of fish on her head, holding a parchment detailing news about a fishery in one hand, and a mug of beer in the other. These women appear to be well-behaved and fulfilling their expected duties - all under the close supervision of men.

In Gin Lane, the fears of the degradation of society appear in full display, and centrally placed among the chaos is an intoxicated woman who is so far removed from her senses that she does not even notice the baby falling from her arms. Many horrific details appear throughout this piece - the skeletal man, starving to death but still holding on to an empty glass; the woman, located just above that particular man, who appears to be giving gin to a baby; and, in the background, a body being lowered into a casket without any apparent ceremony. And yet, out of all of these images, the most noticeable figure, the one that immediately pulls in the observer's eye, is of the woman dropping her baby.

This image displays many of the social concerns conjured by the presence of drunk women. Women were often prohibited from patronizing public drinking houses, and when they did drink, they customarily imbibed small beer (beer or ale with lowered alcoholic content - a drink also served to children). For a woman to be obviously drunk was not only a violation of social norms, but it sparked fears concerning the future of the British nation. For, if a nation is full of intoxicated, neglectful mothers, how can that nation prosper? Such arguments resulted from the "Gin Craze." While those same arguments are not as prevalent during the present debates over binge drinking in Britain, the prominent placement of images that feature drunk, young women seem to indicate a continuation of that  fear, centuries after the publication of Hogarth's haunting, but enduring, imagery.

"She sunk into a Taste for the lowest English Spirits she could procure... But the Subject is too tender, as I have hinted, to dwell upon; and I will therefore quit it; and, oh! that there had been no Occasion to say so much upon it, to this more delicate Part of our Species." 
- Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, 1736

Further reading:
James Nicholls, "Drink: The British Disease?" In Last Orders: A Social History of Drinking (HistoryToday: 2012).
Jessica Warner, Craze: Gin and Debauchery in the Age of Reason (Random House: 2003).

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Introduction

As a doctoral student embarking on the adventure known as the dissertation, I find myself standing on a figurative edge - at that point when I either find myself in the midst of exhilarating discovery or falling face first into a disorganized mess. I will admit, I underestimated the weight of such a project, but my optimism remains high that this dissertation will have an end point, even if it is currently out of sight.

Hence, this blog: Clio's Intemperance. Named for the muse of history, the muse of my discipline.

The Muse Clio by Pierre Mignard (1689), Wikimedia Commons
But why the intemperance? What kind of trouble has Clio been up to?

Clio's Intemperance references the historical timelessness that is alcoholic imbibing. Long before written languages came into existence, people have been mashing, brewing, and fermenting all sorts of things. Grain, grapes, figs, maize - just about anything that contains the necessary sugars and starches (with the addition of yeast) needed for fermentation. From pre-history to this present moment, alcohol has been an integral part of human existence - but that co-existence has also resulted in an uneasy and strained relationship throughout the centuries.

For the most part, people and societies have looked down upon the ill-favored state of drunkenness - and yet, the rise of the temperance movement did not appear until the nineteenth century. Why, after so many centuries of regular consumption did certain human societies declare alcohol to be an unnecessary evil? That is the subject of my dissertation...

A Midnight Modern Conversation, William Hogarth (1765), Wikimedia Commons
In the mid-seventeenth century, drinking took a wild turn, largely due to the mass production of spirituous liquors. Almost simultaneously, rum distilling became big business in Caribbean sugar plantations, while the production of gin rapidly grew in England. Of course, brandy was a popular beverage in places like France, and the Irish and Scots were long-time producers of whisk(e)y*, but the overall scale of production for liquors like rum and gin was unprecedented. Suddenly, drunkenness was no longer an occasional annoyance, but it instead developed into a social menace - a true problem requiring constant legal attention.

This is a simplified overview of the events that occurred in the time period I focus on in my dissertation (roughly the 17-18th centuries), but I felt it was necessary to investigate the pre-history of the temperance movement. I also intend to frame alcohol consumption as a foodway. Today, we often forget that alcohol was an important source of calories and nutrition for laborers who could not rely upon access to safe drinking water. In many ways, the temperance movement and Prohibition continue to alter present-day perceptions of alcohol.

As mentioned, I am only at the beginning of this project - I leave for my first trip to the archives tomorrow. It is my hope this blog will serve as a productive sounding board for ideas, understanding sources, and possibly even some discussion.

I welcome you all to provide your thoughts, questions, or contrary arguments as this blog progresses - and I certainly thank you all for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts and inquires.


*Irish and Scotch whisk(e)y feature two different spellings. The Irish, like Americans, include an 'e' in the spelling of 'whiskey' - the Scottish, like Canadians, do not ('whisky').