A History of the World in 6 Glasses Chapters 5-6 Summary & Analysis

Tom Standage

A History Of The World In 6 Glasses

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A History of the World in 6 Glasses Chapters 5-6 Summary & Analysis

Section 3: Spirits in the Colonial Period

Chapter 5 Summary

In Chapter 5, titled “High Spirits, High Seas,” Standage discusses the Golden Age of the Arab world, during which the process of distillation was perfected and applied to wine. While evidence for distillation can be dated back as far as the fourth century BCE, its use had previously been limited to the production of perfumes. The process, which involved “vaporizing and then re-condensing a liquid in order to separate and purify its constituent parts” (94), made wine much stronger and allowed for the development of spirits, or hard liquor. The emergence of these drinks coincided with a period of European exploration and imperialism. Their compact nature made them ideal for transporting by ship on long voyages, they were used as a form of currency and their popularity meant that taxing spirits became a significant source of income for many countries.

Initially, distilled wine was considered a medicine, not a drink, and became known as aqua vitae, or the water of life, as it was thought to extend a person’s life. During the fifteenth century, however, aqua vitae became a recreational drink. Knowledge of how to distill spirits spread widely and quickly after the invention of the printing press in Europe in the 1430s. These new drinks proved especially popular in northern Europe, where wine was difficult to obtain and expensive. Beer, rather than wine, was distilled in these areas and the “Gaelic for aqua vitae, uisge beatha, is the origin of the modern word whiskey” (100).

At this time, the European powers, particularly Portugal, were trying to discover another route to the East Indies so that they could avoid the Arab monopoly on the spice trade. “Ironically, their eventual success was due in part to the use of technology provided by the Arabs” (102). Islands such as Madeira and the Azores, colonized during their maritime explorations, proved ideal for growing sugarcane, another Arab introduction to Europe. However, growing sugarcane required huge amounts of manpower and so the Europeans turned to slavery. Initially, the Portuguese kidnapped black slaves from the West Coast of Africa,…

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