Alcohol Consumption in Mediaeval Middle East

Beware of the death by Champagne

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That is because a popping cork travels at 55mph and be careful next time you are opening a bottle of champagne unless you have a murder in mind.

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Wine in religious communities of the Middle East


Production and Consumption of wine has a long history in the Middle East and has been tolerated by various religious groups to varying degree.
The primary subject of this article is Alcohol in Islamic Middle East, since Islam forbids all intoxicants, but there is a long history of being liberal to alcohol in the Islamic world that encompassed almoast entire Arabian Peninsula, a part of the Levant and Anatolia, North Africa. But it should also be noted that early Islamic rule didn't interfere in religious freedom of other religions that co-existed Islam in the Middle East.

Wine was widely traded and used by the Jews, specifically in Egypt, and were prepared by Jews following proscribed practices, the Eastern Christian monasteries in that region produced and sold wines too, and wine was used for sacramental purposes by both Jews and Christians.

We have earlier written on the Magian Taverns of Persia, when the Umayyad Dynasty took control of Persia from the Sassanids, the Zoroastrians were allowed to produce and sell wine and open Taverns and the presence of Magian taverns appear in Persian poetry too.

In Islam, the Prophet himself prohibited intoxicants and hadith collected by al Bukhari records numerous alcoholic beverages in circulatioin during the early days of Islam which were what were referred to as the prohibited intoxicants by the Prophet.

As Islam kept conquering and increasing populations of non-Muslims were brought under Muslim rule, law had to be devised to regulate alcohol, and what is interesting is, the non-Muslim dhimmis ( non-Muslims living under Islamic protection ) were guided under pacts of trade with the Muslims under which they could produce and sell forbidden products like Wine, Pork and Carrion to others but were forbidden from selling them to Muslims.

To understand alcohol and it's presence in society, the best place to look at for is Egypt, and specifically, the city of Cairo.












Wall painting fragment from Fustat with man drinking wine. 10th-11th century. Fatimid period. Cairo. Islamic Arts Museum Mural fragment from Fustat with man drinking wine. 10th-11th century. Fatimid period. Cairo. Islamic Arts Museum




Islamic Cairo, the citadel of art and culture, and the city where wine flourished


In Islamic Cairo or medieval Cairo, although consumption of alcohol was prohibited as per Islamic Law, the consumption of alcoholic beverages were not universally prohibited or frowned upon.

In mediaeval Cairo, the attitude towards consumption of alcohol depended on the socio-economic background of the person or place in concern. It can be said that neither the local population nor the members of the foreign ruling elites, or the multinational soldiery garrisoned within the city area were avowed abstainers.

Generally the city population enjoyed wine and beer, these two basic alcoholic drinks were consumed in the Mediterranean-Near Eastern world since remote antiquity.

The choice of alcohol was largely depended on socio-economic status, for example grain beer was largely consumed by the average city folks, since the production was easier and cheaper. Whereas wine, an expensive drink due to its high demand on viticulture and complicated fermentation technique ,was affordable to the elite and was the preferred alcoholic beverage of the rich.






Cairo under the Mamluk sultans, the Koumiss and šašš


Among all the available beverages in Cairo, the most intriguing was Koumiss, although its popularity was limited to time and social space, and it is also the least documented of all. Koumiss is fermented mare's milk with 4 to 5 % of alcohol, it was introduced to Egyptians by Turkish Mamluks , and it has been mainly limited to their milieu.

It is said that Baybars( Al-Malik al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baibars al-Bunduqdari ) a Mamluk sultan died of Koumiss abuse. Sultan Barqūq, in whose time it is said that the one of the major characteristics of his Mamluk Burji dynasty of Egypt, was that the Sultan and the Emirs would gather twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, on the Hippodrome below the Citadel, in their best costume and drink koumiss together from china bowls. This customary ritual faded with the end of his sultanate.

Another Mamluk elite class alcoholic beverage was šašš , a fermented preparation of a flour based drink. As per famous Egyptian historian Muhammad ibn Iyas, this drink was more intoxicating than Koumiss.

In one of his writings he mentions an incident that proves that this indeed had a stronger effect than Koumiss . šašš is noted to have made its consumer “fall on the ground like a log” and lose consciousness, while the unconscious drinker's companions were completely drunk. - ref: Ibn Iyās, Badā'i‘, I/2, p. 201.

Historians suspect that the reason behind this flour based šašš to be so intoxicating was probably that it was mildly poisoned, otherwise such an effect wouldn't be possible. This poisoning may be done for a purpose or is due to the perishable nature of the drink.

Unlike Koumiss, there was no ritualistic process of consuming šašš in the Mamluk elite,as it was not that important from a ritualistic point of view. It was served as a customary drink in Circassian Mamluk parties.




bowls of shubat (left), beverage of fermented camel milk, and kumis (right), beverage made from fermented mare's milk











Mamluk BÅ«za and Yemeni Mizr


In the Circassian Mamluk * parties of the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, another drink was also served,  named būza, not much has been found about this drink, but it seemed to be a kind of a beer.

Apart from these elite alcoholic beverages which were not much documented, a better documented and widely used alcoholic beverage among common people was Mizr.

Mizr, the Egyptian beer is somewhat better documented in Egypt and its capital. However this beer was not an elite beverage, thus the evidence of its consumption is very scarce.

Mizr came to Egypt with Yemenite troops - who, following the 641 CE conquest of Egypt, settled in the newly founded town of Al Fustat, the first capital of Muslim Egypt.

Mizr is in all probability Yemen origin and there is reference of the Yemenis defending their Mizr in front of the Prophet, saying that Yemen is cold and gloomy and the people lived off of cultivation and if it was not for Mizr, the people would not have survived the labour and the weather.

 

* Circassian Mamluks: The Mamluk or Slave soldier system was common across the Muslim world and the Egyptian Mamluks were the most significant Mamluk clans of the Middle Ages and they rose from slave-soldier ranks to rule Egypt, Originally boys of Turkic origin were employed from the European steppes and later on Circassian, Armenian, Russian and Albanian boys were adopted too. The Turkish Ottomans continued the Mamluk tradition too, the Mamluks from Ottoman Turk spread eastward and controlled dynasties in as far off as India too. The healthiest boys were bought and taken to Turkey and trained to become soldiers, these special slaves, were the Mamluk, and had rights and freedom much superior to any other slave, and were allowed to amass wealth and become elite members of the Royal court.






Drunken or Sober and Pious, the story of the medieval Muslim world is inconclusive


Medieval Muslim population at large, the Cairo elites, the Caliphs and even Scholars, Judges and Soldiers, literally every one, were accustomed to alcohol and inebriation was neither a serious vice, nor was drinking a serious threat to society. Which means although poets have written about wine, the elite and the common both have been found to be attracted to alcohol, and records of an Islamic Scholar or a Judge being a drunkard has been found, that doesn't tell us that the entire society was addicted to alcohol.

If in Cairo society in one era, alcohol was the most preferred beverage, and one ruler or two had serious alcoholism, there were periods and rulers during which, piousness and abstinence can be noted. This is the general problem in trying to understand the Medieval Middle East and records and stories and poetries can portray a particular period or community, but a general conclusion can't be approached from the available material.

Reference: https://depot.ceon.pl/bitstream/handle/123456789/1592/Lewicka_Paulina_B_Studia_Arabistyczne_i_Islamistyczne_12_2004.pdf








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  • Any Glass

    When there is no specific glass suggested for a cocktail, it's up to you to chose a glass.
    Either you just go ahead and serve using any glass available to you following these simple rules
    A. Go for Tall or Collins Glasses, Highball Glasses or even Hurricane Glasses for cocktails with loads of non-alcoholic mixes, and those that require crushed or cubed ices,
    B. But if your cocktail is aromatic and liqueur based, and has a complex character that must reach the nose use a wide mouthed Cocktail Glass.
    C. Red Wine Glasses for cocktails that have a Red Wine as the base spirit. Red Wine Glasses have a wider mouth and a long stem, so that the wine can be swirled an aerated to release the aroma while the long stem keeps the fingers away and avoid quick warming of the wine.
    D. White Wine Glasses for cocktails with a White Wine base, since White Wines must not be aerated as much as a Red Wines, since they oxidise fast when in contact with air, White Wine glassware, in contrast to the wide mouthed bowl of a Red Wine Glassware, is narrow with a narrow mouth. A White Wine has much lighter and delicate notes and the narrow mouth and less surface area in contact with air helps retain the aroma.
    E. If your cocktail is based on a Sparkling Wine like Champagne then a Flute Glass is more suitable since a Sparkling Wine is a White Wine with a secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles, and the narrow mouth flute prevents the bubbles from escaping.
    F. If it's winter and you are in the mood for some hot cocktails like the Irish Coffee or Hot Toddy, go for the Irish Coffee Glass, it has a heat resistant glass and a handle.
    G. Martini Glasses for Martinis or "Tinis" in general, but since these glasses have fallen off of favour these days, a Cocktail Glass will be good too.
    H. IF you are serving Margaritas, don't look for Margarita Glass if you don't have one at home, Double Old Fashioned Glass or other glasses are more common these days, for serving Margaritas.
    I. If you are the adventurous one, and are serving shots or shooters, of course the Shot Glass is your choice of glass,
    J. Finally, if you are going all out and serving depth charges and car bomb shots, all you need is a Double Old Fashioned Glass or a Beer Mug for the beer and a shot glass to drop the bomb in.

  • Simple Guide to Cocktail Glassware

    When there is no specific glass suggested for a cocktail, it's up to you to chose a glass.
    Either you just go ahead and serve using any glass available to you following these simple rules
    A. Go for Tall or Collins Glasses, Highball Glasses or even Hurricane Glasses for cocktails with loads of non-alcoholic mixes, and those that require crushed or cubed ices,
    B. But if your cocktail is aromatic and liqueur based, and has a complex character that must reach the nose use a wide mouthed Cocktail Glass.
    C. Red Wine Glasses for cocktails that have a Red Wine as the base spirit. Red Wine Glasses have a wider mouth and a long stem, so that the wine can be swirled an aerated to release the aroma while the long stem keeps the fingers away and avoid quick warming of the wine.
    D. White Wine Glasses for cocktails with a White Wine base, since White Wines must not be aerated as much as a Red Wines, since they oxidise fast when in contact with air, White Wine glassware, in contrast to the wide mouthed bowl of a Red Wine Glassware, is narrow with a narrow mouth. A White Wine has much lighter and delicate notes and the narrow mouth and less surface area in contact with air helps retain the aroma.
    E. If your cocktail is based on a Sparkling Wine like Champagne then a Flute Glass is more suitable since a Sparkling Wine is a White Wine with a secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles, and the narrow mouth flute prevents the bubbles from escaping.
    F. If it's winter and you are in the mood for some hot cocktails like the Irish Coffee or Hot Toddy, go for the Irish Coffee Glass, it has a heat resistant glass and a handle.
    G. Martini Glasses for Martinis or "Tinis" in general, but since these glasses have fallen off of favour these days, a Cocktail Glass will be good too.
    H. IF you are serving Margaritas, don't look for Margarita Glass if you don't have one at home, Double Old Fashioned Glass or other glasses are more common these days, for serving Margaritas.
    I. If you are the adventurous one, and are serving shots or shooters, of course the Shot Glass is your choice of glass,
    J. Finally, if you are going all out and serving depth charges and car bomb shots, all you need is a Double Old Fashioned Glass or a Beer Mug for the beer and a shot glass to drop the bomb in.

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