Archive for the ‘History’ Category
Monday, January 3rd, 2011
By Christopher McCollum
Cuba Libre. Photo by Martin Belam.
We at Culture of Spirits brought in the New Year in a variety of different ways, with Micah up in a remote mountain village, and myself spending a quiet night alone, lost in thought and a bottle of rum. Despite my love of Champagne, my drink of choice was the Cuba Libre, which was actually quite appropriate, because I spent a bit of time earlier in the day playing the latest Call of Duty video game, which allowed me to take part in the Bay of Pigs invasion. I started my evening at around 8pm, and finished it at 5am, when sleep finally overtook me. There are many things to be reflective about for 2010, from the alcohol world to every other facet. My own personal reflections, without getting too personal, are usually worth jotting down, or at the very least remembering them, as they transpire throughout the year. Of course, some things are taken for granted when they happen, and their significance does not become evident until a later time. When that occurs, one can only hope that all the memories are correct, and haven’t gone fuzzy. From growing a new business, to camping under the stars, 2010 was full of adventures, people, places, and things. (more…)
Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
By Christopher McCollum
The bludgeoning She-Beast herself, Carrie A. Nation. Poster child of the Temperance Movement and Anti-Saloon League.
The biggest argument against public drinking is that it leads to mayhem, violence, and eventually death. It is upon this idea that almost every state in America has laws against open containers of alcohol in public. There are eight states that do not have open container laws, but within those states, there are only a few select communities that have not passed local ordinances that prohibit public drinking. The historic district of Savannah, Georgia is one of them, as well as Butte, Montana; the Las Vegas Strip; Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee; The Power and Light District in Kansas City, Missouri, and New Orleans.
In a sort of mind numbing paradox, there are several states (Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Connecticut, Delaware) that allow open containers of alcohol to be in a moving motor vehicle, but do not allow open containers in public. Furthering the incredulous nature of this paradox, Mississippi even allows drivers to drink while operating their vehicle, as long as they remain below the legal limit of .08 BAC. Despite allowing people to drink while driving, it is illegal to drink on a sidewalk in Mississippi, and despite allowing open containers of alcohol in a moving vehicle, the other states also prohibit it.
The laws don’t make much sense, but then again, they oftentimes don’t. Take these gems for example: Up until 2004, it was illegal in North Carolina to practice palmistry or fortune telling unless in a school or church; It is illegal in Virginia to engage in pre-marital sex, under a law titled “Fornication”; in Tennessee carrying skunks into the state is outlawed, and in New Jersey it is illegal to wear a bulletproof vest while committing murder.
Sunday, May 30th, 2010
The results are in from the 2010 “Beer City USA” poll with Asheville, North Carolina, emerging the victor in a close battle with Portland, Oregon, with whom they tied in last year’s voting. According to official results, Asheville won with 39.9 percent of votes; 34.1 percent were attributed to Portland.
The Asheville-based Citizen Times reported that the title is one celebrated by the area, whose beer community in Buncombe County consists of nine breweries. Only weeks away in June, the city will celebrate its first first “Beer City Festival” in downtown Asheville.
In total, close to 19,000 votes were cast. Among the US cities that also placed in the ranking were Denver, CO, and Milwaukee, WI. In 2009, Asheville also tied with Portland, leading some to consider this a “second victory” for the rustic Western NC city.
Sunday, March 7th, 2010
The city of Arab, Alabama, recently got an unexpected surprise: research by the city’s police chief, Mike Blackwood, found that alcohol related offenses have not risen since 2008, when the town decided to begin allowing sale of spirits. But that’s not all, according to a recent statement from Blackwood that appeared in the Cullman Times online. “We’ve seen about a 6 percent decrease in alcohol-related crimes,” he adds, and though he warns that it’s still fairly early in the game to draw conclusions, “so far the alcohol-related crime is down.”
Additionally, Blackwood says that statistics he collected from other towns in the region who decided to lift bans on the sale of alcohol reported similar drops in violent crime related to alcohol consumption. But perhaps the most interesting facet of Blackwood’s findings has to do with how the number of people drinking and driving through the area has dropped as well.
Friday, February 26th, 2010
By Christopher McCollum
It is apparently old news that the United States government poisoned alcohol during prohibition in a bid to stop drinking altogether, but I had not heard of it until reading an article on Slate a couple days ago.
During the 1920′s, at the height of prohibition and the underground world of Speakeasies, some 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were being stolen each year and re-distilled back into drinkable alcohol. The government had a problem with this, and president Coolidge’s administration decided that drastic measures must be taken to preserve the sanctity of American life. Obviously, the logical decision was to poison industrial alcohol, so that whenever anyone imbibed in it, they would get incredibly sick and possibly die. Some 10,000 people died from these efforts, and possibly many more. Newspapers in Chicago decried the act, calling it barbarous, while the Omaha Bee in Nebraska defended it.
Despite critics vehemently arguing against this tactic, from politicians to medical experts, the government persisted in tainting alcohol supplies until the end of prohibition. Socially speaking, it seemed that the upper class imbibers were not being affected nearly as much by the poison–which included kerosene, gasoline, camphor, formaldehyde, methyl alcohol, carbolic acid and who knows how many others–because they could afford more expensive, smuggled liquor. The primary victim of this insane plot were the poor and lower middle class who were the famous consumers of bathtub gin.
New York City medical examiners knew something was wrong during the Christmas season of 1926, when some 60 violently ill people were admitted to hospitals, of which 23 died. The explanation was chalked up not to alcohol poisoning as they were very accustomed to seeing, but to just plain poisoning. The source was a mystery until word began getting out that it was actually a government mandated operation to solve the drinking problem; During the years of prohibition it is estimated that alcoholism rose by 300%.
The obvious moral question (with an obvious answer, I feel), focuses around the government’s knowledge that this drinking was going on: Knowing that people are using industrial alcohol to consume, is it okay to poison that supply and essentially engage in mass murder in order to stop it?
While it may have been illegal to produce and transport alcohol, it was not illegal to consume it, as many people erroneously believe. Even if it was illegal to consume, does that justify a death sentence?
This was an egregious violation of civil rights and human rights, and I can only hope that sentiments such as these have ceased to exist in this advanced society that we live in.
Here’s hoping, and my drink tonight will be in honor of those victims of an unwarranted, deadly prohibition crackdown.
Sunday, January 24th, 2010
By Christopher McCollum
The L.A. Times reports on alcohol crackdowns in Baghdad.
With Saddam Hussein removed as the Dictator in charge of Iraq, hope was sprung for millions of people to enjoy freedoms that were unimaginable up to that point. People cheered, and savvy businessmen opened clubs and bars all around the downtown district of Baghdad. Alcohol flowed freely, and the people of Iraq had a real taste of the west. Unfortunately, militia activity began rising and pushing against alcohol, and many places stopped carrying it for fear of invoking the wrath of the Islamic extremists. Still, many brave business owners continued with the practice of selling alcoholic beverages to their patrons, and they seemed to endure through the hardships of insurgent violence, but even having succeeded in that environment, they are finding an even tougher challenge ahead.
Sunday, December 20th, 2009
By Christopher McCollum
“Drunk for a penny,
Dead drunk for two pence,
Clean straw for nothing,”
-Gin Lane, circa 1751
The above quote is attributed to a bar in London during the Gin Madness craze of the 18th century, that took the city by storm to such a degree that the spirit had prohibitive acts passed against it, making it more expensive and difficult to produce.
Today, a report came out in the UK’s Times Online about the falling price of alcohol, and how beer is now cheaper than bottled water, by about 30 pence ($0.48 USD) per liter. The falling prices have resulted in British alcohol awareness groups to decry this marketing tactic, saying that it will cause more alcohol-related deaths due to binge drinking. Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England and Wales, earlier this year called for minimum pricing on alcohol, at £6 per six-pack, which would be about $9.75 USD. Donaldson claimed that raising the price by this degree would result in 3,000 fewer alcohol related deaths per year, and 100,000 fewer hospital visits. Gordon Brown and the alcohol industry rejected this price-hike, but knowing England’s past responses to perceived social dangers, I think it’s doubtful that we’ve seen the last of Sir Liam and his ilk.
Saturday, December 19th, 2009
By Christopher McCollum
Two evenings ago, Micah Hanks and myself were spending the evening interviewing brewers, and tasting beer. The following morning, there were 6 inches of snow on the ground. While we had seen the forecast that called for several inches of snow, we figured that, like usual with mountain weather reports, it was grossly over-exaggerated. Little did we know, we would receive what would become known within hours as the worst winter storm of the decade in this part of the country, and we would receive some 11 to 17 inches of snow in Asheville, within a 20 hour period.
As the afternoon went by at my house, one tree came crashing down in the backyard, missing the house by no more than 4 or 5 feet.
This led to a frantic next couple hours, with my roommate and I doing our best to knock snow off the lower branches of trees, trying to keep them from snapping and causing potential damage to the house. These frantic efforts relieved the stress on the trees and they rose back up to the sky, with hundreds of pounds of snow dropping to the ground, down our sleeves, and down the open collars of our coats. But fortunately, our power stayed on, even though thousands around the city were already flickering out.
We stayed inside, ate ham sandwiches and drank some beer, until 11:15pm. Right after the basketball game we were watching ended, the power finally flickered once and died, for the rest of the night. After gathering all the flashlights together, lighting some well placed candles, and watching the eerie scene out the window, of a bright snowscape that breathed beauty.
At around midnight, we finally decided that since we weren’t going to be going to sleep that early, we might as well make some cocktails. So we did it in the style of Culture of Spirits, with cutting boards, oranges, limes, lemons, tequila, bourbon, and vodka.
Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
By Micah Hanks
“I personally think they must have been left there by mistake, because it’s hard to believe two crates would have been left under the hut without drinking them,” remarks Al Fastier. Program Manager of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, Fastier oversees the organization, which is responsible for the care of the expedition bases associated with the first explorers of the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Among these explorers–and perhaps most famous among his peers–was Sir Ernest Shackleton. Now, ninety years after one of the huts occupied by Shackleton was abandoned, a long forgotten gift he left behind is being unearthed: two crates of a now-extinct blend of McKinlay scotch whisky.
Three wooden huts still stand along the desolate and rocky terrain of Cape Evans on the west side of Ross Island, forming the north side of the entrance to Erebus Bay. It was here that Shackleton and his men would warm themselves by fires fed with blubber of seals they killed, and many of their belongings, tools, and even boxes of their food remain on the walls as they had been when they left. Outside Shackleton’s hut lay a dog’s remains, left where it had been shot as the men evacuated the area with haste in 1917.
Saturday, October 10th, 2009
At recent cocktail get-together, my friend Chris Hayes and I were discussing a favorite subject of ours: how not to make an Old Fashioned. Chris (who surprised me a while back with his knowledge of the proper way to make this beverage) admitted that he once visited a chain restaurant in the area that served him bourbon and muddled orange juice over ice, topped off with tonic water in a draft glass. Sounds like I’d give that drink a different name altogether: “The Bourbon Hiding Behind Too Much Citrus Disappointment.”
The Old Fashioned is by no means the only drink that can be easily fumbled by improper proportions of spirits used, or more importantly, the over-use of any secondary mixing agents. The Martini, with too-much Vermouth, might become a winey “Martouth.” Similarly, a Jack Rose with too much lemon might wilt Jack’s rose altogether and create a “Sour Jack.” Indeed, these fine little things are among the most important aspects of properly mixing cocktails.
Hence, the prolific “Beachbum Berry,” a mixologist who specializes in tropical drinks (or even just straight, good rum if he’s feeling too lazy to have to shake up one of his famous classics) was kind enough to bestow upon bum-kind his own very special “Hundred Dollar Mai Tai” Recipe.