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Who Invented Alcohol? A Brief History (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on July 18, 2022 by Lydia Martin

It’s said that alcohol has been around for thousands of years and possibly even predates humanity. But who invented alcohol?

Today, we’ll dive deep into the origins of one of the world’s most popular drinks. 

The Invention of Alcohol 

The Invention of Alcohol 

Scholars have discovered that early man has been making alcoholic drinks from fermented grain, fruit juice, and honey for thousands of years. 

While the first origins of alcohol remain in conjecture, researchers have discovered that the earliest record of our ancestors producing this drink was dated 7000 to 6600 BCE, in Jiahu, Northern China.

The earliest alcohol was a mixed fermented drink made from rice, honey, hawthorn fruit, and/or grape. 

Who Invented It? 

The truth is, no one knows exactly when alcohol first came about or who were the first creatures to get drunk.

It is even said that alcohol predates humanity because its fermentation is a natural process.

Ancient primates, birds, and insects got “drunk” accidentally by partaking in overripe berries and fruit. 

How Long Has Alcohol Been Around? 

How Long Has Alcohol Been Around? 

The earliest record of our ancestors brewing alcohol was around 7000 to 6600 BCE, when pottery jars with residues of fermented honey, rice, and fruit were discovered in Jiahu, Northern China.

This was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, called Fermented Beverages of Pre-and Proto-historic China. [1

This predates the earliest production of barley and grape wines in the Middle East, which came about 500 years later. Here are five interesting facts about alcohol

A Brief History 

A Brief History 

Greeks

Wine is almost synonymous whenever people talk about Ancient Greece. Our ancestors used the fermented drink as an offering to the gods and even as a form of currency. Wine was so deeply embedded in their culture that they even had their own god for it: Dionysus. 

Winemakers and vineyards were around as early as 2000 B.C. in Greece — one of the earliest centers of wine production. Wines were drunk for pleasure during a symposium, a gathering for elite men to share conversation, tell stories and jokes, and join in lively debates — highlighting the early relationship between alcohol and celebrations. 

Egyptians

Egyptians

Beer was all the rage in Ancient Egypt; it, along with bread, was a staple in their daily diet. Some financial accounts even report that the Giza pyramid builders were paid with 1⅓ gallons of beer as part of their labor compensation. Beer was also served in festivals such as the Tekh Festival (Festival of Drunkenness). 

The world’s oldest brewery was found in the ruins of the ancient city of Hierakonpolis and could produce 300 gallons of beer per day. Ancient Egyptian beers are made with barley, wheat, and yeasty dough. [2

It is said that the Ancient Egyptians made 17 different types of beer and at least 24 varieties of wine. 

Chinese

As mentioned earlier, the Chinese were the first with records of producing alcohol and distilling spirits with yeast-fermented bases. However, they abandoned grape wine and beer and opted for the local huangjiu (yellow wine) or rice wine, which they heated and consumed as traditional Chinese medicine. An old Chinese proverb even claims that “alcohol is the best of all medicines.” 

The Ancient Chinese considered alcohol as spiritual food. They drank it during important occasions: when holding a memorial ceremony, offering sacrifices to their ancestors or gods, before going into battle, before taking an oath of allegiance, or before official executions. 

Romans

Romans

Like the Greeks, the Romans held wine in high regard and even had their god for it: Bacchus. The Greek poet Euripides wrote a play about him in which he got so drunk that he murdered someone. 

The Senate stopped all Bacchic rites in 186 BCE, believing that it threatened the safety of the public, and the Empire placed restrictions on grapevine growth and production. Can you guess what happened next? That’s right, the demand for the alcoholic drink grew even more.  

Eventually, the Romans’ perspective on the drink changed, and they started standardizing alcohol production. Wine became a standard drink for the nation — slaves, peasants, women, and aristocrats had access it. Writers condemned drinking water and praised wine, and eventually penned their own version of Bacchus: a mythical and competent creature. 

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Sumerians

Sumerians were the earliest known civilization in Mesopotamia. Instead of wine, this nation loved beer — they loved beer so much that they had over 20 different recipes for it, as shown on ancient clay tablets. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the nation’s oldest notable literature, an underdeveloped man only becomes cultured after drinking seven cups of beer. 

Ancient Sumerian texts suggest that the nation regarded alcohol with much respect — they had rules and regulations for its consumption and used it in sacrificial and religious settings as an offering to the gods. 

FAQs 

Who invented whiskey?

It’s unclear as to who actually invented whiskey — whether it’s the Irish or Scots. Some stories claim that Irish monks learned the art of distilling around 600 AD from Arabia, brought it home, and even taught it to their neighboring country, Scotland. On the other hand, a man named Friar John Cor’s tax records showed that he had been purchasing Scotch whisky as early as the 1400s, and it does seem like production of the spirit had already been well-established. 

Who invented vodka?

The history of vodka is unclear — the Russians and Polish claim they had dibs. Regardless of which country created it first, the Russians had been distilling vodka as early as the 14th century.

This alcoholic spirit was initially made from potatoes, but they quickly learned that grains grew better on the frozen ground than spuds and were much cheaper. 

Who invented rum?

Rum originated in the West Indies, with 1650 showing the first records of the alcoholic spirit. The drink was first called “rumbullion,” which meant a great tumult, which was eventually shortened to rum. The first rums were distilled from molasses. 

Who invented beer?

The earliest records of beer production date back to 4000 BCE, from Mesopotamia. A stone tablet shows the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing beer production from barley via bread. But do Americans drink more beer or wine?

Who invented wine?

The first records of ancient wine production come from Georgia during the 6000 BCE. However, there is strong evidence to say that wine itself predates written records and that our primitive ancestors had unknowingly fermented wine when they collected sugary berries and left them to ripen for a few days. 

Who invented gin?

The origin of gin is attributed to Franciscus Sylvius, a 17th-century professor of medicine at the University of Leiden in Holland. He was the first to distill juniper berries with other spirits not as an alcoholic drink but as an inexpensive diuretic, much like the juniper berry oil. 

Who invented tequila?

When early Spanish explorer-soldiers (conquistadors) ran out of their brandy, they began distilling agave, which was plentiful in the area. Tequila was first produced in the 16th century near Tequila, Mexico. By the 1600s, Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle, or the Father of Tequila, began mass-producing the distilled spirit for sale. 

Conclusion 

So, who invented alcohol? Nobody really knows, just that it has been around for thousands of years and possibly even predates humanity. 

The thing is, alcohol production is a natural process — you can leave a bowl of grapes on the counter for a week and discover that you’ve created low ABV wine by the time they’re overripe. Researchers have reason to assume that our ancestors may have accidentally created alcohol but didn’t know it at the time.

The ancient Chinese, Romans, and Egyptians all contribute to the rich history of alcohol, with the drink deeply embedded in gatherings, medicinal use, and spiritual activities. Today, a celebration of some sort won’t be complete without the presence of alcoholic drinks. 

References: 

  1. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.0407921102
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-52877-0

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