Although there are various different kinds of alcohol, it is only ethyl alcohol that is involved with drinks that can be taken with safety for the drinker. It is not known which was the first alcoholic drink to be evolved – wine, mead or beer – but such records as exist from 10,000 years ago in Sumeria and ancient Egypt include references to fermented liquids. There is some alcohol – 0.003% approximately – in the bloodstream of even a lifelong and complete ‘teetotaller’, and there was even a very little alcohol in a drink as apparently non-alcoholic’ as stone ginger beer. But, for the person who drinks for civilised enjoyment, the alcohol in a drink serves two purposes: it has an effect on the drinker, providing a Miff and acting as a food, and it keeps the drink itself free from infection and in good condition.
Alcohol, in one form or another, is the second oldest disinfectant in the world (the oldest is the urine of a healthy, clean-living human), and its addition to water, when the supply of this might be questionable, was sound sense, as was its use in cleaning wounds, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is why spirit is used so much in medicine today. This is why those who use each other’s glasses at tastings (provided, of course, that they do not suffer from any sort of nose or mouth infection) do so without hesitation – fermented liquor usually kills off potentially harmful bacteria which flourish in drinks such as milk, for example. Alcohol can be used to assist the treatment of many physical conditions, although of course it can be abused as well as used. A doctor has said: ‘Alcohol is not the direct cause of any known disease and there is none that it will cure.’ Its presence in whatever liquid is in the glass of the drinker should be something that never obtrudes in what should be an enjoyable and civilised exercise – drinking.