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A History of Hooch


How Champagne Got Its Fizz On
The past lives of some celebrated beverages, as distilled from Drink.

Hops + Ale = “Noxious Foreign Concoction”

Although beer had been around since ancient Egypt, ale-crazy Elizabethans first dismissed the beverage (essentially just ale infused with hops) as a newfangled drink for foreigners that “doth make a man fat.” Shakespeare’s heroes drink ale; his villains drink beer.

Madame Geneva: Strip-Me-Naked!

Gin may have been perfected in seventeenth-century Holland, but it exploded in 1720s London, where a superabundance of cheap home-brewed varieties led to 25 years of addiction (the average city resident drank a pint a week), crime, and mob killings that some feared would end only in apocalypse.

Sacrebleu! Les Bulles!

Real French Champagne was sweet but still. When the English imported it to their warm cellars in the 1660s, it went through a second fermentation and turned bubbly—sacrilege to the French, but soon de rigueur overseas.

The Green Fairy

Wormwood was thought to heal illnesses and help witches fly; in 1792 it was harnessed to make a potent green liquor that became a controversial nineteenth-century craze in Paris. Rimbaud, a devotee, liked to put sulfuric acid in other people’s beer.

Sticky solution

Popularized in twenties American speakeasies, where the juices, bitters, and sugar covered up bad-quality Prohibition-era alcohol, the cocktail quickly became a dinner-party staple. H. L. Mencken called the dry martini “the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.”

Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol
By Iain Gately. Gotham Books. $30.


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