The Ritual of Drink


There’s form and there’s function. Then there’s form fitting function and functional forms. So it follows, there’s ritual and there’s drinking. Then there’s ritualistic drinking and drinking rituals.

Long before there was written literature or codified rites of passage, there were oral histories told around the campfire, drinks made for saints’ days and the search for the Holy Grail. Forever, woman has been in search of the “water of life,” the fountain of youth, the magical healing waters, the panacea to what ails her and the potion for a bigger,
better life. From witch’s brew (which was actually beer – the first known fermented beverage – made by Egyptian women) and the mixing of love potions to the sacrament of Communion, drink has been our nourishment, our medicine, our celebration, our social passport, our group solidarity and sometimes our transformation.

The concept of eau de vie, French for, “water of life,” illustrates this perfectly. It comes from the Latin aqua vitae, originally meaning “spirit of wine” and eventually “water of life.” This was originally a term used to describe all distilled alcohol, not only what we now think of as eau de vie: distilled fruits.

It can be translated across cultures, and understood as the foundation for each culture’s specific drink of note. A localized use of the term “water of life” can be understood as whisky (from Gaelic uisge-beatha) in Scotland; whiskey (from Irish uisce beatha) in Ireland; and aquavit in Scandinavia. This is also the origin of vodka (from the Polish wodka, a diminutive meaning “little water”). And there is more than water to this water of life, thank God and the goddesses.

What is the significance of so many cultures viewing the fermented and distilled drink as an equivalent of the water of life? What little secret does it reveal about the sacred place of the drink in culture? And what is drinking’s role in rites, feasting and celebration, as a social lubricant, in ceremony and in courting?

Drink is an indispensable part of life. In fact, to some it represents a way of life. Families, villages, teams and tribes have been celebrating with drink for millennia. Brewing intoxicants has been an art as long as there has been something to celebrate, something to share, something to mark, something to craft. And as soon as we developed domesticated agriculture, we were off to the races.

This tradition started with celebrating and marking harvests and rites of spring. When a certain fruit comes in to season, we ferment or distill it in order to preserve it and celebrate its coming. Then we throw a feast, a festival, a sanctioned party at which to sip from the proverbial cup. If it grows, we will find a way to turn it into a spirited libation. After all, when it comes to the water of life, we can never seem to quench our thirst.

In the cup, we find transformation of one thing into another. Grains, fruits and botanicals become ciders, wines and spirits.

Drinks transform in to skeleton keys, unlocking social prohibitions, spiritual secrets or a lover’s heart. It’s the metaphor of water into wine and wine in to sacred ceremony. Drinking rituals mark our great moments. Drinking as ritual is the cairn on our lives’ trails: first dates, unions, births, deaths, break-ups, promotions, the winning run. In the ritual of drinking, we do more than just toss one back, even if we pound one. The simple act of drinking provides us a chance to mark transformation.

A friend who has been traveling recounts a story. She remembers many times around a table with friends, or dueling drinks to win a bet, or the special can or bottle sent from someone around the bend. We all know why we won’t attempt karaoke without a few beers. Whether it’s the curtain that drops on our inhibitions or the toast that sends your best friend down the aisle, the ritual of drink is our spirited quest to slake an unquenchable thirst for life and its transforming moments, or moments we find need some transforming. If the form in which we find our drink is the cup, we know the functions. And as long as there’s water and life, there will be the water of life. Cheers, Chin Chin, Kanpai, drink up. To long, uninhibited life – and a long pour!


Making Your Own Drinking Rituals:

1. Concoct your girl a love potion: Infuse her favorite fruits or herbs in vodka, bottle it and bring it over for a special occasion or any reason at all.

2. Take the team out for karaoke after beers or sake and experience in your friends and coworkers renditions of Frank Sinatra and Billy Idol you never dreamed of.

3. Initiate a supper club built around a theme. Try Belgian brews with a coursed dinner, or anything other than chardonnay with seafood and shellfish. Try French rosés with antipasti all summer long for game nights, indoors or out.

4. Ritualize your favorite tea or coffee in to your sacred time, making a point of the process. Spike it if you like, but make the steps count.

5. Experiment with molecular mixology (see the G Style Imbibe column for ideas) and throw a fabulous cocktail party. Try the pearls/caviar and invent a new flavor.

6. Take a trip to the homebrew store and make a batch of brew for the next big event in your life.