The History of Alcohol

By Brian Lemay 72 comments

Alcohol. We began drinking it long before we even knew
how to write. It’s one of the most universally available,
widely used — and commonly abused — chemical substances in human history. This is the 9,000 year history of alcohol. We’ve been using basic chemistry to make
the stuff for thousands of years, but our primate ancestors first enjoyed its benefits
millions of years ago. See, when fruit falls to the forest floor
and begins to decompose it produces a substance with a strong smell called ethanol, making
it easier for apes to find. Ethanol also helps apes with digestion and
allows them to fight off microbes that would otherwise make them sick. This process of apes seeking out rotting fruit
began to really ramp up 10 million years ago. That’s when a mutation of the ADH4 gene
in African apes allowed them to suddenly begin digesting ethanol 40 times faster than before. Ethanol is the least toxic type of alcohol
and the only one used in beverages. As a chemical substance, ethanol is incredibly
versatile. It has been recognized and mass-produced for
thousands of years as a detectable indicator of food spoilage, a life-saving disinfectant,
a beverage prized by the masses and perfected by connoisseurs. But it’s also powerfully addictive. It’s made by yeasts—microscopic, single
celled organisms. Yeasts consume sugar and convert it into ethanol
and carbon dioxide. This process is called fermentation. It’s unclear exactly when our species learned
to master this process, but we probably stumbled upon the feel good effects of fermentation
just like our ape ancestors—by accident. There is still a lot we don’t know about the
brain effects of alcohol and how exactly it does what it does–but we do know it influences
several major neurochemicals implicated in pleasure, motivation, inhibition and reward. The earliest traceable instance of deliberate
fermentation occurred 9,000 years ago when the Chinese were making a kind of wine from
rice, honey, and fruit. Scientists confirmed this by analysing ancient
chemical residues found at an archaeological site in Jiahu. Around this time corn was domesticated. The harvesting of grapes began 1,000 years
later. In 5,400 B.C. we see the first evidence of
wine production at Hajji Firuz in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Alcohol appears in Europe for the first time
in Scotland 6,500 years ago. Barley beer was first produced in Godin Tepe,
Iran, an ancient Sumerian fortress that would later become a major stop along the legendary
Silk Road trade route. While some fermentation ideas obviously spread
around, it seems like alcoholic beverages, just like the agriculture they were based
on, were invented independently many times throughout human history on every continent,
except Antarctica. And just about every plant containing some
starch or sugar has been fermented for our enjoyment including agave, apples, birch tree
sap, bananas, cocoa, cassavas, corn, cacti, berries, rice, potatoes, palms, pineapples,
pumpkins, and persimmons. In fact, the early benefits to fermentation
were primarily nutritional. In ancient societies beer was a dietary staple—like
an enriched liquid bread that provided calories and essential vitamins, while delivering hydration
in a more sterile way than water even could. The fact that it got you buzzed was just a
bonus. For decades, anthropologists have debated
whether the production of beer and other alcoholic drinks was actually the primary reason for
the Neolithic — or agricultural — revolution: the period in history when we transitioned
from being wandering nomads to living a fixed, agriculture-based lifestyle. It’s sort of a chicken vs the egg question,
which was most vital for the development of civilization: beer or bread? The best argument that beer was the prime
motivator may be the first large-scale brewing and winemaking operations that emerged in
Mesopotamia and Egypt 5,000 years ago. It’s no coincidence that the construction
of over 100 enormous pyramids — the greatest structures in ancient history — were built
right alongside the creation of the first large-scale production breweries. All that hard work — thousands of people
each burning thousands of calories a day — had only just become possible with the introduction
of the most efficient method for delivering nutrients to our bodies up to that point:
beer. Bee domestication also began in this region
at this time. And with honey, we could make mead. Then, around 4,000 years ago, the Greeks helped
spread viniculture throughout the Mediterranean. Across the ocean — in 1,500 B.C. — pottery
was being used to store fermenting cacao in Honduras. That’s another game changer about alcohol,
beverages containing it could be stored for long periods of time in simple wood or clay
containers without spoiling. That made them popular aboard medieval sailing
vessels, and were sometimes the only source of hydration for the crew, especially for
long trips. The first alcohol was distilled in the 12th
century in Salerno, Italy. They adopted the method after Middle Eastern
scientists had been using the process of warming and cooling liquids to separate their chemical
components for centuries after they had learned the technique from Greek alchemists who began
using it in the 1st century. The first written record of whiskey comes
from Ireland in 1405. In 1531 an English scientist named Christopher
Merret added sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation process, producing the
oldest recorded sparkling wine, or champagne. Rum was first distilled on Caribbean sugarcane
plantations in the 17th century by slaves who discovered that molasses could be fermented
into alcohol. Fast-forward to today and alcohol is everywhere. For at least 9,000 years, it’s been a vital
part of human society—and that’s not changing anytime soon. Throughout the world, the average person drinks
the equivalent of 7 litres of pure alcohol each year. That’s far less than what some of the heaviest
drinking societies in history put down, but it’s also true that the vast majority of
us no longer rely on beer instead of dirty water to hydrate. If you want to learn more about this incredibly
broad topic, a good place to start is the National Geographic article I based this video
on, linked below. Our recent exploration of how humans are causing
a sixth mass extinction started some interesting dialogue, with a lot of you thinking it was
like explaining the world to an alien who had just arrived on Earth. That’s sort of how we felt making it. Until next time, for TDC, I’m Bryce Plank. Thanks for watching.


phantom page

Mar 3, 2017, 11:56 pm Reply

lsd,mdma,cannabis,ketamine,magic mushrooms ARE LESS DANGEROUS THAN ALCOHOL


Mar 3, 2017, 12:06 am Reply


Spicy Carlos

Mar 3, 2017, 12:08 am Reply

I love Shrek.

Kompat Ekkawinsakul

Mar 3, 2017, 12:13 am Reply

Great Video. Keep it up!


Mar 3, 2017, 12:15 am Reply

Really interesting video. Just shows how ridiculous these religious nut-jobs are, especially islamists.
Banning ethanol is fighting off nature. Us primates have such a strong connection to this substance, and it goes way back Hom Sapiens.

Alex Yukon

Mar 3, 2017, 12:21 am Reply

Surprised my comment made your vid! Thank you and keep up the good work with your awesome videos!

Superpower Dragon

Mar 3, 2017, 12:37 am Reply

this kind of video is what makes you great. I am glad i subscribed.

Greg Hartwick

Mar 3, 2017, 12:39 am Reply

Alcoholic drinks do not hydrate – they dehydrate. Ethanol is diuretic, thus causing an increase of urine output, thus causing a net loss of water. Remember the old line said on exiting the bathroom "You can't buy beer, you can only rent it" 🙂


Mar 3, 2017, 12:40 am Reply

it makes sense


Mar 3, 2017, 1:53 am Reply

Iran?! Wow who would've known… lol

Emil Aaltonen

Mar 3, 2017, 1:58 am Reply

interesting how drinks from history show us so much about the past.

David Harrison

Mar 3, 2017, 2:01 am Reply

So we have to thank Muslim alchemists for distilled liquor

Anmol S

Mar 3, 2017, 3:32 am Reply

Source of hydration? Doesn't alcohol cause dehydration?


Mar 3, 2017, 4:23 am Reply

can you explain why American beer taste like piss beer.
And P.S I am American


Mar 3, 2017, 4:50 am Reply

Basically a drug


Mar 3, 2017, 5:01 am Reply

It's inaccurate for you to use a CRISPR animation at 0:45 to describe the ADH4 mutation. It was most definately not CRISPR that made that mutation in our ancestors.

Riley Freeman

Mar 3, 2017, 5:46 am Reply

Plz do a video on the history of meth.

Drew Ciccotelli

Mar 3, 2017, 6:08 am Reply

I drank some beer earlier.

vida rahā

Mar 3, 2017, 6:18 am Reply

thank you for your fantastic videos:)

Psoriasis Channel

Mar 3, 2017, 9:08 am Reply

Whoever invented wine I thank them.


Mar 3, 2017, 9:39 am Reply

next video gdp future 2050 please. . .

Kevin Jacquet

Mar 3, 2017, 1:16 pm Reply

1:30 – 1:32 Isn't it funny how majority of the time, the things we discover are always by accident?. It's just so interesting and crazy at times, to think that we "stumbled" across it by mere chance. . . . It even makes you think and wonder, exactly what have we not, by chance, accidentally stumbled across?


Mar 3, 2017, 2:40 pm Reply

ethanol is great for beer, NOT FUEL! (just a note)

Lᴏᴋɪ Oʀᴍꜱᴛᴜɴɢᴀ

Mar 3, 2017, 3:05 pm Reply

I start every mornin' with a nice cuppa beer

Mr. Beat

Mar 3, 2017, 4:30 pm Reply

Fantastic job! I have a similar video about the history of marijuana.

Johnny Lawrence

Mar 3, 2017, 10:45 am Reply

If you aren't overeating and getting blackout drunk every single day of the week, then you aren't living your life and I feel sorry for you!!


Mar 3, 2017, 10:07 pm Reply

Do one on weed.

Landon Thomas

Mar 3, 2017, 7:09 am Reply

water is the best way to hydrate. Not beer, wine, or vodka. Campaign is an exception.


Mar 3, 2017, 1:26 pm Reply

Yeast digest sugar and urinates ethanol; belches co2. Yeast will eventually drown in its own urine at a ethanol concentration of 22%

Kevin Wu

Mar 3, 2017, 4:52 pm Reply

Vodka vodka vodka vodka vodka vodka!!!

Kevin Mboeik

Mar 3, 2017, 12:37 am Reply

Alcohol – The Propagator of Human Civilization

Abdi Mustafa

Apr 4, 2017, 9:36 pm Reply

the Muslim world do not drink 😀 nice, look at the map. 5:39

silent voice in the dark

Apr 4, 2017, 12:35 am Reply

Why did you leave out ancient India completely not even a word? 3000 BC ancient booze called sura was produced for recreational consumption and medicine. Seems like a pretty important part of the 9000 year history. Hemp was also fermented in ancient India. I did my undergrad in anthropology

TheMan WithThePlan

Apr 4, 2017, 7:51 pm Reply

your video's are so loud.

Royer Allen

May 5, 2017, 7:38 pm Reply

Gracias por la información.

MAGA 817

Jun 6, 2017, 3:09 pm Reply

9000 years of drunkards. Only fools will willingly put a destructive addiction on their lives.

Broken homes, abused families,
death on the roads, raped teens and homeless people …the list goes on.

No drunkard will enter the Kingdom of God!
Repent and turn from your sin.

Hóa song ngữ

Jun 6, 2017, 5:34 am Reply

Can anyone send to me a tapescript

Madina Islomova

Aug 8, 2017, 1:53 am Reply

I was thinking is russia who invited beer

Sako Sako

Aug 8, 2017, 11:13 pm Reply

The oldest-known winery was discovered in the "Areni-1" cave in Vayots Dzor, Armenia. Dated to c. 4100 BC, the site contained a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, and cups. Archaeologists also found V. vinifera seeds and vines.

Source : Wikipedia


Jan 1, 2018, 3:43 pm Reply

How to manage slaves building the Pyramids? Happy Hour with Beer!

Treasure Trails

Feb 2, 2018, 1:26 am Reply

I love to drink

Johnny Casteel

Mar 3, 2018, 11:17 pm Reply

When a scientist says "…we probably…" then he's probably does not have anything.

Rahul The Don

May 5, 2018, 5:37 am Reply

this world is very unique

Dwi Brahmantara

Jun 6, 2018, 8:43 pm Reply

They drank beer in ancient egypt? The worst thing i could imagine is having a warm beer in the middle of daylight..

Angelus Mortem

Jul 7, 2018, 4:02 pm Reply

I bet it was rather a kvass type of a drink rather than an alcoholic beverage

First Last

Jul 7, 2018, 4:45 am Reply

5:47 These days everybody just drinks dirty water

Kathleen Sisco

Jul 7, 2018, 5:35 pm Reply

According to the most recent research beer was brewed 14,400 years ago, and not by apes. Someone introduced fermentation, and the rest is history. Is it possible that a cosmic cataclysm damaged the Earth flora and fauna and polluted the oceans with hydrogen sulfide so that man was nearly erased? If not for sheltered valleys and high caves, we would have been. But then the question is where is the protein. Cannibalism is now suspected if not confirmed. Perhaps a group more protected managed to grow grain and spread this information as a way to protect human society but also themselves from cannibalism. Beer would have been the best inducement to the labor of agriculture. A permanent spring and cooperative weather would also have been required so human civilization restarted in select areas of Iran and Lebanon like Jericho.
The story of agriculture is exactly that; a story due to be replaced by the facts.


Jul 7, 2018, 11:29 pm Reply

It's not exactly true that ethanol is the only alcohol "used in" beverages. First, that makes it sound like an additive, rather than an inherent part of making the drink. Second, fermentation also results in the production of a small amount of methanol. You get a bit of it when you drink wine — not enough to be harmful, just perhaps enough to give you a headache.

With distilled beverages it's a different matter. It's very important that the "heads" of the distillate be discarded, since this will be primarily methanol and if left in the final product will be concentrated enough to be harmful.


Jul 7, 2018, 6:19 pm Reply

i drink beer everyday….to honor my ancestors of course

Rick James

Aug 8, 2018, 6:46 pm Reply

Im drinking beer right now

Jeronimo Vasquez

Sep 9, 2018, 10:09 pm Reply

So many stupid moralist in the comment sections ??I'll have a cheer to that ?

Carlos Ortiz

Sep 9, 2018, 6:17 pm Reply

Very informative, thank you.

Coubs Agency

Nov 11, 2018, 6:39 pm Reply

well as i know first oldest wine was 8000 years ago.. In georgia…

hazel steward

Dec 12, 2018, 7:32 pm Reply

How do I license this doc for my new multiplatform network please?

Zero One

Jan 1, 2019, 2:48 pm Reply

Ape ancestors lol yea right… GOD✊?

Danilo Boskovic

Jan 1, 2019, 9:11 pm Reply

Some statements made here stink of blog soruces.

Asim Malik

Feb 2, 2019, 1:00 am Reply


Ali Razi

Feb 2, 2019, 5:00 pm Reply

Iranians made alcoholic beverages discovered alcohol ,perfected their bevrages, and banned it -_-

Without name بدون اسم

Feb 2, 2019, 11:44 pm Reply

Its arabic name

Jacob Metcalf

Mar 3, 2019, 7:38 pm Reply

hey ian

Ian Wallace

Mar 3, 2019, 7:39 pm Reply

hi jacob]

Dr. Frasier Crane

Mar 3, 2019, 8:39 am Reply

Who’s drunk watching this?


Mar 3, 2019, 2:57 am Reply

i thought beer dehydrates you?

jhjhk jkjhkjhjkh

Apr 4, 2019, 8:31 pm Reply

beer is hydrating if you are dehydrated enough

Happy Face

Jun 6, 2019, 4:56 am Reply



Jun 6, 2019, 4:48 pm Reply

Mead, you say?
Aproves in scandinavian

Leo DeLaCruz

Jun 6, 2019, 12:54 am Reply

Can you make this video in Spanish?


Jun 6, 2019, 7:38 am Reply

Seven litres per year….tel me about a slow week ???


Jul 7, 2019, 12:54 am Reply

We all been alcoholics for our entire dna existence


Jul 7, 2019, 2:34 pm Reply

who ever discovered alcohol should go to hell.

Too Icee

Oct 10, 2019, 7:43 am Reply

Watching this as I’m drinking a modelo

Joshua Daniel Flores

Oct 10, 2019, 2:51 pm Reply

"Alcohol appeared in Europe for the first time in Scotland."
Of course.

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