When distilled spirits were discovered, about 2,500 years ago, people were pleased with their high alcohol content.
But the flavor was another matter.
“It started off very crude, with very unpalatable alcohol,” said James Carlin of Ipswich, author of the recently published “Cocktails: A Global History,” published by Reaktion Books.
Brandy, for example, “comes from the German word for ‘burnt wine.’”
Carlin, who works as a nutritionist, will discuss the history of man’s search for something tasty to mix with liquor at Ipswich Public Library on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
The prototype of all future cocktails was punch, Carlin said, which the British distilled from fermented coconut palm sugar in India.
They served it to sailors with slices of lemon and lime, which kept them from getting scurvy while also acting as the first garnish.
“It skipped over the pond to the U.S. colonies and became the favorite drink in all of Boston’s taverns in the last half of the 18th century,” Carlin said.
From the London gin craze, from 1700 to 1725, to today’s passion for cosmopolitans, Carlin treats every important phase in the history of mixed drinks.
“I set off to write ‘Cocktails’ with an ‘aha’ on every page, where someone will say, ‘I didn’t know that,’” Carlin said.
As a special treat for the Ipswich audience, Carlin will bring along the still his grandfather made during Prohibition, when he was working as a tool and die maker for Baldwin Locomotive in Philadelphia.
“It even has the coils,” he said.