Trascendental Gastronomy
Meditation IX.
On Drinks. *

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Commented by Magnus Lindkvist 

What are drinks

[* This chapter is purely philosophical: a description of different kinds of wine does not enter into the plan I have marked out for myself. If it was, I would never have finished my book.]

By drinks we mean all liquids which mingle with food.
Water seems to be the natural drink. Wherever there is animal life it is found, and replaces milk. For adults it is as necessary as air. WATER. Water is the only fluid which really appeases thirst, and for that reason only a small quantity of it can be drank. The majority of other fluids that man drinks are only palliatives, and had he drank nothing else he never would have said that he drank without being thirsty.

Quick effect of drinks

Drinks are absorbed by the animal economy with the most extreme facility. Their effect is prompt and the relief they furnish is almost instantaneous. Give the most hungry man you can meet with the richest possible food, he will eat with difficulty. Give him a glass of wine or of brandy, and at once he will find himself better.

A case of the beneficial effects of alcohol

I can establish this theory by a very remarkable circumstance I received from my nephew, Colonel Guigard, a man not disposed to tell long stories. All may rely upon the accuracy of what he has said.
He was at the head of a detachment returning from the siege of Jaffa, and was but a few hundred paces from the place where he expected to find water, and where he met many of the advanced guard already dead with heat.
Among the victims of this burning climate was a carabinier who was known to many persons of the detachment.
Many of his comrades who approached him for the last time, either to inherit what he had left, or to bid him adieu, were amazed to find his limbs flexible and something flexible around his heart.
“Give him a drop of sacre chien” said the lustig of the troupe. “If he is not too far gone into the other world, he will come back to taste it.”
At the reception of the first spoonful of spirits he opened his eyes: they then rubbed his temples and gave him a drop or two. After about an hour he was able to sit up in the saddle.
He was taken to a fountain, nursed during the night, and carefully attended to. On the next day he reached Cairo.

Strong Drinks.

There is one thing very worthy of attention; the instinct which leads us to look for intoxicating drinks.
Wine, the most pleasant of all drinks, whether due to Noah who planted the vine, or to Bacchus who expressed the juice of the grape, dates back to the infancy of the world. Beer, which is attributed to Osiris, dates to an age far beyond history.
All men, even those we call savages, have been so tormented by the passion for strong drinks, that limited as their capacities were, they were yet able to manufacture them.
They made the milk of their domestic animals sour: they extracted the juice of many animals and many fruits in which they suspected the idea of fermentation to exist. Wherever men are found, strong liquors are met with, and are used in festivities, sacrifices, marriages, funeral rites, and on all solemn occasions.

The Art of Distillation

For many centuries wine was drank and sung before any persons had an idea that it was possible to extract the spirituous portion, which is the essence of its power. The Arabs, however, taught us the art of distillation, invented by them to extract the perfume of flowers, and especially of the rose, so celebrated in their poems. Then persons began to fancy that in wine a source of excitement might be found to give taste a peculiar exaltation. By gradual experiments alcohol, spirits of wine, and brandy were discovered.
Alcohol is the monarch of liquids, and takes possession of the extreme tastes of the palate. Its various preparations offer us countless new flavors, and to certain medicinal remedies, it gives an energy they could not well do without. It has even become a formidable weapon: the natives of the new world having been more utterly destroyed by brandy than by gunpowder.

A Human Passion

The method by which alcohol was discovered, has led to yet more important results, as it consisted in the separation and exhibition of the constituent parts of a body, it became a guide to those engaged in analogous pursuits, and made us acquainted with new substances, such as quinine, morphine, strychnine and other similar ones.
Be this as it may, the thirst for a liquid which nature has shrouded in veils, the extraordinary appetite acting on all races of men, under all climates and temperatures, is well calculated to attract the attention of the observer.
I have often been inclined to place the passion for spirituous liquors, utterly unknown to animals, side by side with anxiety for the future, equally strange to them, and to look on the one and the other as distinctive attributes of the last sublunary revolution.


Magnus' Comment

Brillat-Savarin has been one of the major influences for my relation with gastronomy or, if you want, the pleasures of the table and beyond… Allow me the pun: He was crucial for my making sense of my senses.

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