Drinking Dilemmas: Space, Culture and Identity

Conference at Cardiff Metropolitan University December 12th-13th 2013

‘Despite recent advances, academic studies of alcohol still frequently struggle to reconcile the individual, social and cultural pleasures and benefits of drinking and drunkeness with concerns for public order, health and well-being and social policy. Drinking practices are diverse and are spatially and culturally defined. What we drink, where we drink, who we drink with and, indeed, when we decide not to drink may all be informed by our identity as constituted through social class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, religion and (dis)ability.

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Government intervention on Spirits and Wine

Rob Geddes MW’s report on the drinks trade in China

Rob’s July 2013 report, there was an amazing similarity to my recent paper on gin vs punch and wine in the 18th century.

“The current boom in wine exports to China has many mysteries, including where the wines are sold and how much is actually sold versus gifted. … On a recent visit to a free trade zone run wine competition, I was apprised of the situation by a local who framed the growth in sales as an instrument of government policy. According to my source the Government has acted out of concerns over food security. Government policy is seeking to divert consumption of grain based spirits to imported wine, and then onto local wine.”

In England, 1690 ‘An Act for the Encouraging of the Distillation of Brandy and Spirits from Corn’ encouraged the distillation of home-grown grain spirits for the greater consumption of Corne and the advantage of Tillage in this Kingdome.’ was passed in order to encourage the increase in distillation from home grown grain and Caribbean rum, and less reliance on French Brandy. With the growing gin crisis in the early years of the 18th century, there was less enthusiasm for cheap spirits. Grain shortages by the middle of the century meant grain was necessary for food rather than spirits, and rum, from the British sugar colonies, became increasingly popular.

Under Control Conference

The opening lecture served to remind us all that whatever studies are made on drink and drugs, any eagerness to discover a means to counter addiction needs to be researched properly without being influenced by the promise of financial reward. Professor Scott Martin of Bowling Green State University talked about Columbia Universitys eagerness to back a new cigarette filter which promised to help reduce inhaling nicotine – but for which, in the end, there was no proof and the the whole venture back-fired.

Professor Scott Martin's opening lecture

Professor Scott Martin’s opening lecture

This was followed by the first fringe event – a talk and tasting by Sam Bompass of Bompass & Parr on Ether.


Sam Bompass

Sam Bompass

Ether in itself is not illegal, just restricted availability. Because it knocks you out, consumers would pass out before they took too much. Ether is combustible at 160C, and the only deaths have occurred if smoking after taking ether. Also known as ‘sweet vitriol’ because of a slightly sweet character. It was first used as an anaesthetic in 1846. It is a by-product of distillation, but need to drink very quickly because it is so volatile and the trick was to down really quickly followed by a glass of ‘heavy’ water. An association of ideas meant that the smell was too reminiscent of the dentist and hospitals.


The first drink was dropping ether onto the strawberry which absorbed the ether and then floating the strawberry in a glass of sparkling wine. In the first glass the ether was not too noticeable – but with time the ether in the strawberry became more pronounced. The flavour reminded me of Fisherman’s Friends. If sipped slowly the effect was slightly tongue numbing.


The second drink was a cocktail called ‘Evil Town’ made with 30ml brandy, 30ml maraschino, 5ml sugar syrup and ether and 5ml absinthe. Dark brown in colour, it had a strong aroma of bitter oranges and pine resin drowning any ether aromas. On the palate it was thick and sugary with notes of white chocolate, bitter orange and pine resin. Again the ether was not obvious.

Friday 21st June 2013

Chair: Dr Angela McShane

Amy Mittelman ‘Creating Bourbon: Distillers and the Federal Government’

Elizabeth Gabay: ‘How did Punch survive the Gin Acts of the 18th Century’

Keynote Address: Professor James Simpson, Carlos III University Madrid ‘Producer co-operatives, institutional change and politics in the wine industry 1880-1980’

Chair: Amy Mittelman

William J Rorabaugh, University of Washington: ‘High Times: Hippies and Marijuana in the San Francisco Bay Area 1960s-70s’

Claire Clark, Emory University: ‘The Return of Heroin: The Crisis of the 1960s and the Revolution in Drug Treatment’

Chair: Professor William Rorabaugh

Charlotte Jones, UCL: ‘The Temple of Temperance: The role of the Turkish bath as an antidote to drunkeness in Victorian Britain’

Henry Yeomans, University of Leeds: ‘Blurred Visions: Experts, evidence and the promotion of moderate drinking’

Angela McShane, Victoria and Albert Museum: ‘ The Goldilocks and the Three Bears routine: A material inquiry into drinking ‘too much’ and ‘just enough’ in Early Modern England.’

Alex Kreit

Alex Kreit

James Simpson

James Simpson

Alex Mold

Alex Mold

Off to the pub...

Off to the pub…


Alcohol Under Control 21-23 June 2013

Quite excited to have had my proposal accepted to speak at this academic conference. I submitted a proposal discussing the impact of the Gin Acts during the 1720s-1740s on the way punch was made and how, possibly as a result of the anti-alcohol lobby, punch became weaker.