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Empire of Booze

Henry Jeffreys

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Cider is the original fizz. The tech that creates sparkling champagne came from the cider industry. In particular, it requires very strong glass, bc pressure in bottle is same as in a car tyre.

The man who created this new glass was Sir Kenelm Digby, in C17. (He was one of foundation members of Royal Society of London in 1600.) Only his bottles were strongenoug to take the pressure produced during bottle fermentation.

Sir Kenelm worked out that the higher the temperature of the furnace, the stronger the glass, and that the way to achieve this was by using tunnels to draw more air into the fire.

Advertising legend that it was Dom Perignon, a blind Dominican friar, who created sparkling wine. Not true; in fact he worked very hard to keep the bubbles out of the wine.

The Champagne region is about as far north as grapes can ripen properly. But at harvest time in Octoberit would often be so cold that fermentation would stop before using up all the live yeast and unfermented sugar. The next year, when the weather warmed up, the wine would go through secondary fermentation, producing carbon dioxide.

During C17, French wine either heavily taxed or banned altogether. That created a market for cider, which was classed as farm produce and so didn't have any tax at all. Not the cheap drink we have today. A lot more labour intensive then. Apples were left to dehydrate to concentrate the sugars. Put into a huge press which took half a ton of fruit at a time.

The first pressings made a 11% alcohol drink which sold for a similar price to the best French or Spanish wines. A cheaper drink, called Ciderkin, was made from fermented apples that had already been pressed mixed with water. Most modern ciders are closer to Ciderkin.

Brewers soon found that adding a walnut of sugar to their cider to fuel secondary fermentation and produce bubbles.

Christopher Merret credited as man who applied these techniques to wine rather than cider, although probably the first to write about it, rather than actually use them.

Most modern 'cider' is nothing like traditional. Today most are cider-style made from conc apples flavoring and water, and not from whole apples.

John Mytton drank 4 or 5 bottles of port a day. Went to Cambridge University with 2000 bottles of port. He left without any port or a degree.

Rum made from waste product (molasses) from sugar cane. Water is added to make yeasts in syrup ferment. At this stage it has an unpleasant taste and is a powerful laxative. Then it is distilled twice, just like Scotch whisky. First distillation makes a weak 20% spirit called low wine. The second distillation produces the rum, at about 70% proof. Itthen gets agedin old boubon barrels, the heat ofthe tropics aging it very quickly.

Originally RN drank beer and wine (which spoiled quickly), then brandy. Switched to more patriotic rum (brandy came from France). To measure alcoholic strength, a test mug mixed with gunpowder. If it didn't ignite, it meant it was less than 57% alcohol. If it just lit, it was deemed to be 100 percent proof.

India Pale Ale originally brewed by a small London brewer chosen bc close to the East India Co docks. The beer shipped to India was a strong October brew designed to mature in casks for a year or two. But turned out that six months at sea was equivalent to years in a British cellar.

The other part of the IPA equation was cost. East India Co employees were paid a pittance, but were allowed space on ships to sell own account (and this allowed some to become very rich). The ships came back from East laden with cotton and spices, but British didn't have much that Indians wanted, so the outward voyage was usually empty, so freight was cheap. The brewery gave East India men 18 months credit, so it was easy money.

Beer was originally all dark, porter style. In the malting process, barley is soaked in water, allowed to partially germinate, then heated in order to dry out. This converts starch to sugar, enabling production of alcohol. Beers were dark bc drying heat could not be finely controlled, so you got a highly roasted, brown malt.

Pale ales made possible by coke. Coke has fewer impurities, burns much cleaner than coal, and the temperature can be controlled precisely. The malt can be lightly roasted.

But most people, even in India, drank porter (half the price of IPAs) - a strong dark ale, heavily hopped, and around 7% alcohol. But it has to be produced on a large scale, so advent of railways made it possible to distribute nationally, and large brewers began to dominate the pub trade.

1688 William of Orange given the British throne. At the time he was at war with France, and needed taxes to pay for it. His parliamentary supporters were mainly landowners, who, tahnks to a succession of big harvests, had a glut of corn. A profitable way to use this was to distill into spirits. So the king lowered the duty on gin, but raised it on beer and spirits like brandy, and on wine. Net effect was a tsunami of cheap gin in London in early 1700's. First time in history that gin cheaper than beer.

Until mid-C19 sparkling champagne very unpredictable. Only fermented once, and might end up with a few big bubbles, no bubbles, or just a slimy mess. Up to 40% of bottles exploded. Cellarmen wore iron masks and were paid danger money.

Louis Pasteur's work on yeasts meant fermentation understood. Sugar beet had been planted throughout France since the blockades of the Napoleonic War, so cheap sugar now available, and could be added to wine to fuel asecond fermentation.

Final step invented by the widow Madame Clicquot, who figured out thatyou could get rid of the left-over yeast by storing the bottles at 45 degree angle pointing down. When cork pulled the spent yeast would be ejected by the pressure of the wine. The bottle would then be quickly topped up with sweet wine and brandy and recorked. Now a clear sparkling wine could be consistently made.

Whereas at start of C19 connoisseurs chose wine based on chateaux producers, by end C19, champagne was marketed and branded by the merchants - the German firms of Bollinger, Heidseck, Deutz, Mumm, Taittinger and Krug were all started by German clerks emplyed by French chateaux because they were multi-lingual.

George Orwell (in Such, Such were the Joys) describes the "curious cult of Scotland" - an 'edited' Scotland made up of "burns, braes, kilts, claymores and bagpipes, all somehow mixed up with the invigorating effects of porrige, protestism and a cold climate."

1911 London office of Dewar's Whisky had enormous neon sign of a Highlander in a kilt raising a glass of Dewar's White Label. When he drank his beard and kilt swayed.

French writer Jules Guyot argued that the best way to lift peasantry out of penury was not through subsistence crops such as wheat or animals, but through cash crops, specifically grapes. Plant vines, then make money to buy staples.

Melbourne boom with gold rushes C19. Hans Irvine Great Western vinyard employed former gold miners to dig long caves so that he would have a cool place to mature his sparkling wine. The phylloxera plague that destroyed Euro vines was a bonus for Oz wine makers, who hired ruined grape growers to come to Australia for a new start.

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