4 Gross Historical Drinks That Show How Good Modern Drinkers Have It
Nowadays, even the humblest watering holes are going to have a wealth of beverages available for those looking to tip back a glass of their preferred shape and size. Whether you’re a fan of pissing off bartenders with overly complicated cocktails or a steady stream of cheap Miller High Life, the possibilities are as endless as a stream of unanswered 3 a.m. texts. Bar shelves are stocked with drinks of every kind and from every location, allowing you to, quite literally, pick your poison.
Of course, as with many things in the modern world, we’re spoiled by variety. Crank a time machine back a couple of centuries and the bottle count behind the barkeep dwindles dramatically. It also becomes a whole lot less refined. Back in the day, the best kind of drink was basically whichever one wouldn’t give you dysentery and knock you off like the youngest son on a Macintosh copy of Oregon Trail. This made for some creative solutions where flavor and origin weren’t always top of mind.
Here are four ancient drinks that show how good modern drinkers have it.
If you were part of the Mongol army and were seeking a pick-me-up after a long day of pillaging, the drink of choice would have been airag, now known by its Turkish name, kumis, which, given its appearance, doesn’t seem like much of an improvement. Now, for such a nomadic people, it wasn’t as if they were able to tote wheat fields or barrels of grapes along, so they had to make do with what they had. And what they had, in great numbers, were horses. Horses that could, to their delight and our disgust, be milked. Now I realize the idea of “milking a horse” sounds like it’s cropped out of a mean farm prank that results in a happy horse and a confused stableboy, but mares do produce milk. The Mongols would collect and ferment this milk.
The fermentation wasn’t purely for producing alcohol content, but because straight mare’s milk is apparently nature’s Ex-Lax, and fermenting it kept a little bit more of your insides, well, inside. Making the horse milk a little boozy was just a happy side effect, and the concoction wasn’t only tolerated, but celebrated as one of the sources of the Mongols’ strength. It’s still available some places today, but is described as tasting like “Champagne mixed with sour cream.”
I’ll stick to drinks that don’t sound like a cocktail from a home-school graduation ceremony.
Kykeon, a drink that pops up throughout Greek mythology and history, did indeed have the rep of fucking you up, but not by benefit of its ABV. It was instead supposed to have hallucinogenic properties. Specifically, it was used in the Rites of Demeter to “experience the mystery of death and rebirth,” something that can be replicated today by drinking Fireball Whiskey after the age of 30. It had enough magic cred to be used by Circe as a potion, so you’d think it’d have the power to take the edge off a long day of Greeking it up.
So why aren’t pothead college kids trying to brew up bottles of Kykeon in an attempt to poke at the veils between worlds, like they might with mushroom tea or ayahuasca? Well, the O.G. recipe isn’t exactly mega appealing, being made from water (okay), barley (sure), herbs (fair enough) and ground goat cheese (hmm). Even with a deep desire for ego death, the prospect of a hallucinogenic Cement Mixer is hard to swallow (literally).
Posca was the fuel of choice for the Roman troops — at least, the ones poor enough that they couldn’t afford to drink anything better. The sales pitch was that it was great for revitalizing tired troops and fighting infection, which is what you might have to tell someone to get this shit down their gullet. Posca was made from red wine vinegar, water, herbs, spices and honey. Any health nuts who’ve made apple cider vinegar part of their diet can attest that it’s not exactly a pleasant sip.
Imagine any time you’ve accidentally had a sip of a skunked beer or corked wine, and then imagine that being your main drink for entire military campaigns. Even at the time, richer people who didn’t need to drink posca thought it was disgusting, though some politicians and military officers would drink it as a PR move to connect with the common troops, like Joe Biden taking two sips of Bud Light at some steelworking town’s campaign stop. We even have a review of posca from somebody not usually known for persnickety tastes: Jesus Christ. He was fed posca once in the Bible by a Roman soldier, and refused any more after the first taste.
Three Penis Wine
Let me disappoint you immediately by clarifying that this is not a euphemism. This is, fairly straightforwardly, wine infused with the tangy taste and power of three different animal penises. It’s been around for ages as a tonic to enhance the power of the drinker’s penis via the three bottled ones, like some sort of strange phallic Captain Planet power combination. Which isn’t to say you can’t still buy it in select locations today. It even made an appearance in the sitcom The League, along with some poorly aged gong sound effects.
Not to fact-check a sitcom’s fake infomercial, but their precise penis combo is a little off, as true three penis wine contains seal, deer and dog penises. Like Everclear or Hennessy, drinking more than a small amount is only done at your own risk, as it’s not meant to be imbibed in bulk for health reasons that I assume are “maintaining an unexploded penis.”
Still, if you’re looking to spice up date night, I’d recommend the old classic — oysters and half an illegal Viagra out of your pocket in the bathroom.