Alcohol has been a major part of many cultures for hundreds of thousands of years. Throughout history it has been a tool of celebration, religious services, trade, and socializing. It has also been a frustrating thing to manage across the continents, as it has also had many negative effects on people and society. The conversation on alcohol is constant, and so is its presence in our day-to-day lives.
In American culture, alcohol has been around since day one. When the first settlers came to Colonial America from England, their ships typically held more beer than water onboard, as wine and beer was safer to drink than water from the supplies in Europe. Alcohol was also an analgesic, and key to celebrating the good times in a very hard life. Soon, wine was produced in the New World using the fruits of the new land and the time-tested old world techniques, and distilleries popped up along the East Coast to meet the demands of a very thirsty America. Production of liquor increased in the 19th Century, which coincided with the abundance of corn crops across the country, allowing the cheap mass production of whiskey.
This mass consumption was not without opposition, however. Concern over the amount of alcohol use in America began shortly after the first colonists settled in the U.S., and fines were imposed for excessive and public drinking. Religious revivals coincided with an increase in alcohol production, and many Protestant groups called for an end to drinking alcohol for moral and health reasons. This all came to a head in 1920, with the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which focused on the end of alcohol production, transportation, and consumption, save for medicinal and religious uses. Grassroots movements across a divided nation eventually tipped the scales in favor of repealing the act, which was finalized in 1933 with the passing of the 21st Amendment.
Today, alcohol is still a hot-button topic in the United States, with the rate of DUI-related accidents and deaths throughout our country’s recent history, and the way that an extensive knowledge of wines, microbrews, and craft cocktails is now celebrated. It will always be a polarizing part of our history and culture, but knowledge (of our history, and of our own relationship with alcohol) is powerful in keeping a safe and fun environment available to all people, whether they choose to imbibe or not.