Fermented grain, fruit juice and honey have been used to make alcohol (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) for thousands of years.
Fermented beverages existed in early Egyptian civilisation, and there is evidence of an early alcoholic drink in China around 7000 B.C. In India, an alcoholic beverage called sura, distilled from rice, was in use between 3000 and 2000 B.C.
The Babylonians worshipped a wine goddess as early as 2700 B.C. In Greece, one of the first alcoholic beverages to gain popularity was mead, a fermented drink made from honey and water. Greek literature is full of warnings against excessive drinking.
Several Native American civilizations developed alcoholic beverages in pre-Columbian1 times. A variety of fermented beverages from the Andes region of South America were created from corn, grapes or apples, called “chicha.”
In the sixteenth century, alcohol (called “spirits”) was used largely for medicinal purposes. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the British parliament passed a law encouraging the use of grain for distilling spirits. Cheap spirits flooded the market and reached a peak in the mid-eighteenth century. In Britain, gin consumption reached 18 million gallons and alcoholism became widespread.
The nineteenth century brought a change in attitudes and the temperance movement began promoting the moderate use of alcohol—which ultimately became a push for total prohibition.
In 1920 the US passed a law prohibiting the manufacture, sale, import and export of intoxicating liquors. The illegal alcohol trade boomed and by 1933, the prohibition of alcohol was cancelled.
Today, an estimated 15 million Americans suffer from alcoholism and 40 percent of all car accident deaths in the US involve alcohol.