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I never entertained the notion that beer may have been a factor in my birth because my parents aren’t the partying type. I realize how that sounds (like I’m stuck between being an accident or having dull parents) but now I wonder: was beer and therefore formation of society an instrumental part of my birth? Probably, but then again maybe I owe my existence not just to beer but to several drinks like tea, coffee, rum, coke and wine. However, despite evidence that my life may be a byproduct of these drinks, my mother does not allow me to drink coffee and my government restricts me from purchasing (and publicly possessing in the state of New York) half of the drinks discussed in The History of the World in Six Glasses. Even with this ban however, I’m familiar with these drinks because they’re widely traded, though not because of their historical importance. Granted, these drinks were valued because of their uses, but in the end it’s the innovations in economics that these drinks helped create that are their legacy.

Barring people who have had too much to drink, people don’t usually claim, “drinks have [shaped] human history,” unless they have good reason to do so. With imagination, beer could be considered quite influential, on par with special interest groups in Washington. For example, what if our early ancestors only strayed from their already established water sources because their judgement became cloudy after downing a beer at the neighborhood pub? I mean, I guess a more likely explanation would be that more territory could be explored if water could be purified but it would be nice to believe humans were only able to advance after the invention of drinking games. As beer allowed for discovery of bountiful lands, humans shifted from hunter-gatherers to farmers who eventually cultivated the grains that had been made into beer, which allowed for steadier calories throughout the year and more leisure time. So besides being the original explorer’s drink, beer also helped advance trade. With more time to create tools, form ideas and fashion goods, trade would have logically increased as grouped exchanged different commodities. Additional contributions to society by beer are: 1) society, because beer united people within villages and eventually cities 2) religion, with the formation of temples from cereal storage centers or 3) currency in the form of sila or liters of beer. Yes, imagine coming home on Friday-payday and having to drink your paycheck, without even the satisfaction of getting to hang out with buddies by the sports bar.

Without beer, civilization’s cradle would have shifted from Mesopotamian plains to wine producing mountains. The change from flat land to mountainous terrain would have meant a change in the way early society worked because mountains don’t encourage travel, which would have left society to develop slower and forced it to devise original ideas instead of simply adapting foreign ones. Mountains would have make trade more difficult as they lack natural trading routes (rivers) and natural resources. Mountains are also not suitable for growing crops, meaning humans would have had less children even as infant mortality rose.

Tea is truly a merchant’s good. Easy to transport large distances and not as unwieldy as alcohol, tea was already being considered to be a necessity by poverty-stricken masses in England by the mid-eighteenth century. Yet, tea was still being heavily imported from China until the start of the twentieth century, at which tea production in India became tenfold greater than in China. This start of tea production in India is a story by itself, what had started as a plan to capitalize on India’s cheap labor and land would eventually lead to instability and rebellion in China –– an era that would later be characterized by Nationalist and Communist struggles. Though tea is associated with China, it’s largest impact was on England. In industrial towns such as London, tea’s natural antioxidants, in conjunction with the need to boil water, provided a highly efficient way to fight illnesses the workers would have encountered. Thus tea, along with being a key good in Asian-European markets, can be credited with the formation of modern factories and even today’s global economy.

Before tea was a sensational hit, coffee was being heralded by Muslims and Europeans alike. You see, coffee is good. Everyone from my peers to my parents says so. I mean, they’re sort of chemically compelled to say so, but still, it’s a sweet notion –– a drink that unifies the world from construction worker to academic. Robbing Europeans of an excuse to drink before noon, coffee was the alternative to wine during breakfast. However, coffee’s greatest contribution to the world is not it’s pick–me–up powers but its home –– the coffeehouse. Though these coffee shops have modernized and globalized, they remain a place for interaction and a powerful vehicle for getting news out, though today’s news tends to be when the newest band is playing instead of when high tide is scheduled for. Experiments in catering to the public have made contributions to today’s society –– PO boxes, business news networks and insurance firms were all born out of a coffeehouse. The pillars of modern finance were dreamed up (and wrote about by the Father of Economics Adam Smith) in a coffeehouse –– a place not used to serve coffee but to foster the human mind.

From a slave-trader’s point of view, slavery is simply intelligent utilization. Unlimited, practically free use for the rest of the product’s lifespan –– just pay the shipping and handling. Thus the earliest link between spirits and oppression is the dashee –– part of the standard international shipping and handling fees charged by African warlords for providing the massive labor force required for sugar production in the New World. In turn the profits from rum reaped more slaves, eventually funding increased exploration of the New World as well as increased production of rum –– a brilliant system for the alcohol barons and a devastating practice for slaves. Later, after the Revolutionary War, whisky would become the great American drink, as rum was only profitably made where molasses could be shipped –– coast cities. Grains that had failed in the harsh climate of New England were now easily grown inland. In fact, it was this ease and excess of production that prompted a tax on whisky, a rebellion in response to it and a show of federal strength –– the basis for later Federalism.

Coke’s popularity comes from its image of American and global at once –– fitting for a company that grew on the tailcoats of American militarism. However, disbarring America, Coca-Cola Co. owes its success to alcohol. Stockholders might complain occasionally if beer products cut into their profits, but overall, it’s better to have some competition rather than no consumer base at all. Coke wouldn’t exist without the civilizing effects of beer –– you need people in order to generate profit and you need cities to get people. Without spirits, Coke would neither have a business model to base their’s on nor an actual country to be founded on. Looking back at its foundations, Coke clearly has not made society advance in the same multitudes of beer, tea, coffee and spirits. Coke’s only importance, save for keeping doctors, dentists and the Coke workforce employed, is its value as an international trade product — in effect a way to transport wealth similar to early use of alcohol as currency.

Besides price point and alcohol content, wine is just like Coke –– addictive, not so easy on the gut and widely drank. Interestingly, among the list of drinks, grape wine is scarce. Wine is different from tea, coffee and spirits because it retains its early status as ultra-rare. It retains this legacy because the difficulty of production and distribution is still enormous, despite commercialization. For instance, focus on production for a moment: grapes don’t grow easily and they require special lots of land with the right conditions. Therefore, wine production creates a new demand that isn’t common to any of the other drinks: the perfect plot of land. Coke doesn’t require acres of fertile land, sugar fields aren’t known to be highly distinguishable and everyday beer-drinkers don’t usually ask about vintage or birthplace. Wine connoisseurs demand the best, meaning the best land to grow grapes is also the best land to hold or occupy, as Italian winemakers and Assyrians figured out a while ago. Of course, once the perfect grapes are grown and I don’t know, magically turned into wine, distribution becomes the problem. First, wine


The following comments are for "On Drinks: A Mostly Unbiased Essay"
by MarkKarma

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