The Culture of Cocktails
Our lives are made up of rituals and ceremonies. They may become so everyday that they no longer feel special, but that doesn’t make them any less of a ritual.
For example, many of us partake in the ritual of a morning cup of coffee. Everyone has their own way of doing it–maybe it is extra cream and sugar, or maybe it is prepared black on a wood stove and sipped while watching the sun rise. These rituals are a pause in the day, a moment in time where we are simply putting ingredients together and creating a beverage and an experience.
Many cultures also count having an alcoholic drink in the same esteem. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, many cultures hold these spirits sacred and use them as tools for specific ceremonies. Alcohol has long been a part of moving and changing cultures. Looking at these cultural experiences, may remind us how to honor our ancestors or perhaps just pause and enjoy a moment in time.
The Italian Aperitivo
In our busy lives, the old cliche “stop and smell the roses” often gets brushed under the rug. We forget to pause. We can look to the Italians for a lesson on the art of the pause. The aperitivo is a drink, yet at the same time it is a moment, a spell of time before you sit down to enjoy a meal. Whether you consume an Aperol Spritz or maybe a Negroni, as long as it’s both dry and bitter, this aperitivo helps you pause and stimulate your appetite for the upcoming meal. It’s counterpart is the after-dinner drink, a digestivo. Having a special ritual to precede and proceed a meal is a pause, a moment in time to be appreciative, as well as to spend time with loved ones.
Haro Wine Battle in Northern Spain
The Haro Wine Battle takes place in northern Spain in the town of Haro, famous for its rioja wine. Every June 29th, also known as the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the people of Haro prepare to honor their heritage and their wine in an exciting celebration. Traditionally, the entire town parties in the streets the night before, then attends mass in the morning. After mass, their trek up the mountains begins, decked out in traditional white clothes with a red scarf and carrying jugs and other vessels full of their rioja wine. Then the battle commences, and everyone gets soaked! In wine! White clothes + red wine. You get the picture.
The Bacchanalia in Ancient Rome was another celebration that revolved around imbibing. Around 200 BC, the Bacchanalia was the festival for the Roman god Bacchus, also known as the god of wine, fertility and revelry. During this festival, wine was free flowing and men and women could both share ideas without judgement. Later accounts tell of a darker, more cult-like side of Bacchanalia, where the festival was held for a very secretive group. Roman leaders even tried to end the celebration, claiming it was a festival of sex, murder and violent rituals. However, many claim the true reasons they wanted to end the festival was because of the new political views that were emerging at these parties.
In ancient Egypt, people found many uses for wine and beer both practical and ceremonial. Practically speaking, beer was often safer to drink than water. However, alcohol was often an acceptable spiritual offering to their gods. Vessels that once contained red wines and white wines were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun and grapes were thought to symbolize resurrection. Similarly, in ancient Greece, wines and spirits were used as currency, a symbol of status, and also as offerings to their deities.
Irish Puck Fair
The Irish are also famously associated with drinking and revelry. Puck Fair is Ireland’s oldest street fair. Taking place over the course of three days, the whole community gets together to party and celebrate King Puck, a goat that is meticulously chosen as the king of the festival!
Besides Ireland's fairs and holidays, the Irish pub culture is very important and a central part of Irish culture. Pubs abound in Ireland and it is a common ritual to join in some revelry at the local pub to end your day or week. For a long time, drinking at home was not nearly as commonplace as drinking in a pub.
For frosty, winter evenings, we can look to the German tradition of gluhwein. Gluhwein is a heavily spiced mulled wine that is traditionally heated with hot irons. Hence, the rough translation of gluhwein is “glow wine” referencing the glow of the heated irons. The oldest reference to this cozy beverage is from 1420. So needless to say, it’s a tradition that has been around for quite a while.
Native American Spirits
Contrary to the popular belief that alcohol was brought to the United States by Europeans, there are many records of Native Americans having their own alcoholic beverages. The Tohono O’odham tribe of southern Arizona, also known as “The Desert People'' have a sacred ritual for bringing rain to their dry desert environment. They created their own ceremonial beverage out of the saguaro cactus, known as tiswin. This was consumed during their rain ceremony Nawai’t. In this ceremony the goal is to get very intoxicated, similar to how plants drink up a lot of rain. This ceremony is still performed to this day.
In the US, we have several modern alcohol-centered rituals worth mentioning. In the last ten years, the ritual of eating brunch has really taken off. Especially in the age of Instagram, good brunch spots have developed an almost cult-like following. The same can be said for brunch’s secret weapon: the Mimosa. Champagne with a teeny splash of orange juice is the signature drink of the Sunday morning after a rough night of partying. And how could we not mention our beloved “Happy Hour”, usually at an odd time between 4-6pm where everything is cheaper, especially the alcohol. It’s time to take a break from the work week, and savor our drinks and cherish our friends.
All over the globe, different cultures have different rituals and ceremonies centered around drinking. While we have barely scratched the surface, I hope we inspired you to research some new practices and customs. And remember to enjoy these ceremonies, when you are toasting the bride and groom at a wedding, or simply celebrating a three dollar beer at happy hour. There are oh so many little things that happen daily that are worthy of celebrating. Even if it is simply that the sunset is the most beautiful it has ever been and you must cherish it! Remember that every day is sacred and pour one out for us! Cheers friends!