When mixology meets medicine | MedPage today

In this video, Camper English discusses the medicinal cocktails and historical anecdotes from his new book, Doctors and Distillers: The Remarkable Medicinal History of Beer, Wine, Spirits, and Cocktails.

The following is a transcript of his comments:

This book traces the overlapping history of alcohol and medicine through different societies, as well as different technologies and medical knowledge throughout history.

We start with ancient Egypt and see how beer was used as menstruation for medicine, as well as for things like washing wounds, combined with spells and things much more like magic than we would use in medicine today.

Then we catch up with the Greeks and Romans who use wine-based medicines to infuse herbs, and follow too [ancient Greek physician] Galen’s theories about the four humors, using different wines prescribed for different excesses or lack of different humors.

Along the way, of course, we’ll take a good look at the gin and tonic, which takes us to the history of malaria, going from the dinosaurs to modern times, and how we find alcohol at every stage of understanding medicine. That’s where I had actually started researching the book, from just that one drink.

I went to look up an accurate creation date for the cocktail, the gin and tonic. I think most of us know that the tonic water contains quinine, which was used as a preventative against malaria. Quinine is extracted from cinchona bark, which was discovered in the 17th century among the indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia.

I thought I’d find a better first reference to the cocktail, the gin and tonic, by looking in medical books, because the history of medicine is so much better documented than the history of alcohol and cocktails, and who is the first of something . So I really got into the history of medicine at that point, and I kept coming across alcohol at every stage of medicine and medicinal understanding.

While I’d known many, kind of fun facts about the history of alcohol and drugs together, I thought what might be missing was a story that follows the two histories together, showing that they’re really, absolutely inseparable throughout history. Alcohol needs drugs to exist, and drugs need alcohol to work.

A drink that I thought was interesting — most of the time I went from alcohol and we built it up into a cocktail, but in a few cases the cocktails were made themselves as medicine; mixed drinks as medicine — and the surprising example is the old-fashioned, the original cocktail that was a separate drink from juleps and punches and stuff of that era.

What the old-fashioned addition to the ingredients of a cocktail is bitters, angostura bitters. We would recognize that today; they can be found in convenience stores and liquor stores and everywhere. They come from the kind of healing patent medicines. They were mostly stomach-soothing bitters, and they were often consumed in the morning for hangovers.

So the old-fashioned, which we might think of this evening drink with a big ice cube, was in fact [created] for ice cream. So it was served hot at breakfast to help with a hangover. I can’t think of anything less appealing than that size.

I think people originally associated alcohol with drugs because alcohol makes you feel better. When we think of the stereotypical one who goes to Cabo, [San Lucas, Mexico] and do a tequila shot and ‘Woo!’ its hindsight, you know, there’s a big impact. It’s a high-calorie food source, we might call it; it makes people feel better.

And so I think in the context of when special spirits were made, that was the conclusion everyone reached: ‘This is the best medicine! We did it, man, we made the greatest medicine of all time.’

And ever since then, alcohol has been immensely useful in medicine, which is something I hadn’t thought about before writing this book. Now we just think of it as a great antimicrobial agent and great for absorbing the active medicinal properties of plant compounds, and it is still used in herbal medicine today. It’s like, step one, get yourself some spirits. Step two, put something in it to extract those qualities.

I think the usefulness of alcohol is still important today, although I think attitudes towards alcohol and drugs have changed a lot. I grew up thinking: ‘Alcohol bad, medicine good.’ And it turns out that too much of both is definitely bad, and maybe a little alcohol isn’t so bad after all. We’re not saying you should start drinking to feel better or be healthy if you’re not already consuming it, but it seems that a little bit might not always be bad for you, and can make life a little more pleasant on the other hand. day to day, which appears to correspond to a longer life.

  • author['full_name']

    Emily Hutto is an Associate Video Producer & Editor for MedPage Today. She is based in Manhattan.

Leave a Comment