in colonial america, alcohol was vital to the myriad social and cultural expectations which colonists had brought with them from England and the Western world. It was universally honored as a medicine for almost every physiological malfunction, whether temporary or permanent, real or imagined. But even more, it was aqua vitae, the water of life, and "the good creature of God"—in St. Paul's and then Increase Mather's cheerful phrases—a mystical integration of blessing and necessity. And so it had been for as long as men had recorded their fears or their satisfactions. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish," reads the Book of Proverbs, "and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more."
The "wine" which could so soothe the heavy heart was most likely the "mingled" wine (probably one part wine to two of water) of Proverbs. The "strong drink" for those in extraordinary distress was probably the unmingled or undiluted wine of Biblical times, not the "ardent spirits" of the later Christian era. The Indo-European equivalent of this Proverbial wine was, with similar probability, mead or fermented honey, for etymologists can trace the Middle English mede all the way back to the Sanskrit madhu. Besides the honey, Europeans had since Neolithic times been using grain, which they probably learned to ferment as soon as they learned to eat it. The art and craft of brewing in England was certainly as old as any identifiable Anglo-Saxon culture.