I'm partial to a drop of Veuve Clicquot on the right occasions, and I also happen to enjoy a decent beer
on the right occasion, in the right company, or as a way to end a day, with dinner almost anytime. Substitute wine, scotch, or a number of other tipples ad libitum.This evening, because tonight it was either a question of ploughing mindlessly through news stories or worrying about the repairs to my car, which has chosen this delightful weather as the ideal time in which to undergo a collection of major malfunctions, I elected instead to make a cup of tea of and have a look around the web. Blogging gold! Some related stories which I had somehow managed to miss in the past few weeks and months caught my eye, and off I went.
First, the BBC's reporting of this story Shipwreck's 'oldest beer' to by analysed, brewed again leapt out at me. I must confess that the notion of encountering a late 18th century ale set my imagination running. This could conceivably have been a French ale - perhaps even made before the head-chopping began in 1789. Would this be the sort of beverage that Voltaire might have imbibed, or perhaps Diderot (almost certainly Diderot, from what I recall of his work)? Could Marat have nipped down the pub for a quick pint of this brew before going to his ill-fated bath? Scholars of 18th century French literature and history, have at me for not doing any better research than whimsical imaginings, by all means.
It almost seems like stunt casting, in a way, trying to resurrect lost and forgotten food and drink. On the other hand, I must confess myself curious, to say the least. I appreciate, but don't know a great deal about, what are generally considered "good" ales, whiskeys, and wines. Is there a difference between a six dollar bottle of plonk and a sixty dollar one? That depends on the reason that you're drinking it, presumably, but if you're interested in the complexity and nuance of taste, the answer is almost certainly a resounding "yes!"
There's been a lot of interest in "spirit archaeology", if that's not too peculiar a term, in recent years. Announcements and citations are plentiful; for example, a plan to attempt to analyse and learn from the Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey carried to Antarctica by British explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1907, with the eventual view to understanding the state of distilling in the late 19th century, and recreating the drink for public consumption (I'd buy a bottle, in a heartbeat). The same shipwreck which produced the vintage 1800 ale mentioned above also produced a number of bottles of champagne, and the world's oldest surviving ones at that, including what were thought to be some very early (and pre-Revolution) examples of Veuve Clicquot. Further, discoveries made both in China and Egypt have further expanded our understanding of the different kinds of alcohol which humans have enjoyed. Hell, we've even discovered one of the oldest known wineries, a six thousand year-old setup found in Armenia. Making and consuming alcohol has been a part of human culture ever since the first time that some early human got tipsy from some fermented fruit.
My long ago co-worker and occasional drinking companion Matthew Rowley of Rowley's Whiskey Forge is a dedicated distiller, cookery writer, and generally entertaining and knowledgeable egg, so I tweeted him to ask his thoughts on this topic, but, like mine, they mainly centred on how nice it would be to get hold of a bottle of the widow's work. A fair cop. Regardless, if you're interested in the art and science of food, you should read Mr Rowley's blog, or even buy his book, Moonshine!. I'm going to pick up a copy myself, just as soon as I save enough of my pocket money that I don't already have allocated to booze and viands of various descriptions. In the meantime, raise a glass to the history and science of alcohol, that most delightful of accidents of nature.