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Welcome to Ep 207 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that goes behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare by interviewing the experts who know him best.
Cocktails were popular in Shakespeare's lifetime. Shakespeare’s plays mention several kinds of alcoholic drinks, some of which we still have today like wine, ale, and beer, but others are more firmly situated in the past, making them pretty obscure references outside of niche historical circles that enjoy recreating beverages from antiquity. For example, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry VI, and Twelfth Night give us mentions of cocktails like sack, posset, canary, and metheglin, all of which are alcoholic drinks but their substance may not be as recognizable today as it was for Shakespeare. What were these drinks made from, were they served at pubs or around the family diner table, and what did they look like?
Our guests this week, Jared and Anistatia Brown are experts in historical beverages and the owners at sipsmith.com where they research and write about the history of alcoholic drinks. Today, they are taking us back to the 16th century to investigate these obscure drinks and introduce us to the cocktails of Shakespeare's lifetime.
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Recipients of the 2021 Helen David Life Achievement Award from Tales of the Cocktail, industry legends Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown are multi-award winning drinks historians who have been writing about the drinks industry since 1995. Jared Brown, MA, co-founder and master distiller of Sipsmith Limited, has a few dozen books under his belt and a few hundred articles about drinks, spirits, and how to make them. After 35 years in the publishing industry, Anistatia Miller, MA, MSc (Ox), director of Mixellany Limited, is finishing her PhD in History on the economic and social history of early modern English brewing and teaches early modern European history at the University of Bristol.
This week, I'll be asking Jared and Anistatia Brown about:
- In Romeo and Juliet, the Nurse calls for aqua vitae. Jared, is aqua vitae a kind of whisky?
- In Merry Wives of Windsor, the Page says “Yet be cheerful, knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house” (V.5). Jared, what is a posset? Is that a pudding or a drink? Follow up here: What was posset made from and was it only eaten on special occasions?
- In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Biron mentions “Nay then, two treys, and if you grow so nice, Metheglin, wort, and malmsey: well, run dice!” Anastatia, what is Metheglin?
- …and more!
Books and Resources Jared and Anistatia Recommend you use to learn more:
Cassidy's Note: The first two books listed above (starting from top Left) contain information on historical cocktails and were recommended on the episode today by our guests. The rest of the books are written by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. I listed them here because they contain relevant and interesting information on cocktails throughout history. The Mixellany & Spirituous Journey will contain the most cocktail information about Shakespeare's time period, specifically, but the others were too delightful not to include here for your reference.
- Distillation of Aqua Vitae, 1512
- 17th century recipes for Posset
- 17th century woodcut of a man making metheglin
- 16th century letter asking for claret to be sent
- Explanation of the recipe from the 1600s that's the closest thing to gin Shakespeare would have had
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