Meditation on intoxication

Excerpt from The Physiology of Taste, by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Excerpted from Drinks: A User’s Guide by Adam McDowell. Copyright © 2016 Adam McDowell. Published by TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Exploring once again the pages of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s 19th-century treatise on taste, we discovered this thirst-inducing section on our favourite beverages.

Strong Drinks

There is one thing very worthy of attention; the instinct which leads us to look for intoxicating drinks.

Wine, the most pleasant of all drinks, whether due to Noah who planted the vine, or to Bacchus who expressed the juice of the grape, dates back to the infancy of the world. Beer, which is attributed to Osiris, dates to an age far beyond history.

All men, even those we call savages, have been so tormented by the passion for strong drinks, that limited as their capacities were, they were yet able to manufacture them.

They made the milk of their domestic animals sour: they extracted the juice of many animals and many fruits in which they suspected the idea of fermentation to exist. Wherever men are found, strong liquors are met with, and are used in festivities, sacrifices, marriages, funeral rites, and on all solemn occasions.

For many centuries wine was drank and sung before any persons had an idea that it was possible to extract the spirituous portion, which is the essence of its power. The Arabs, however, taught us the art of distillation, invented by them to extract the perfume of flowers, and especially of the rose, so celebrated in their poems. Then persons began to fancy that in wine a source of excitement might be found to give taste a peculiar exaltation. By gradual experiments alcohol, spirits of wine, and brandy were discovered.

Alcohol is the monarch of liquids, and takes possession of the extreme tastes of the palate. Its various preparations offer us countless new flavors, and to certain medicinal remedies, it gives an energy they could not well do without.