The Dominance of Spirits and Beers in Hot Regions
Despite studies, the origins of alcoholic beverage production are a mystery. When exposed to warm air, fermentation develops in any mashed sugar-containing item, such as grapes, cooked cereals, berries, or honey. The sugar converts to alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) by yeast in the air. However, regional climates affect the fermentation process. Because winemaking requires a climate that isn’t too hot or cold, spirits and beers dominate in hot regions.
The History of Alcoholic Beverages
One theory states that some pre-agricultural tribes discovered alcohol by accident. They must have loved the effects because they went on to recreate their accident to produce more alcoholic beverages. Over many centuries, they progressed from harvesting wild-growing raw materials to vine and other crop cultivation.
Some preliterate civilizations needed help figuring out how to turn fruits into alcohol. Instead, they transformed starch into fermentable sugar by chewing it. Chewing the starch allowed enzymes in the saliva to break down the starch and turn it into sugar which would ferment.
Alcohol is the oldest and one of the most used drugs in the world. Hundreds of preliterate societies kept records of the production of wines and beers. Their reports showed numerous restrictions regarding the manufacturing and consumption of alcohol, which demonstrate their significance.
These beverages were common in social activities, such as births, initiations, weddings, feasts, crownings, worship, hospitality, war, peacemaking, and funerals. Moreover, they became essential in special personal and social ceremonies, especially rites of passage. Today, people consume alcohol for different reasons, with recreational drinking at the top of the list.
Alcohol and Climate
The purpose of alcohol consumption is clear. However, the reason different types of alcohol are more popular in certain regions remains an open discussion.
Over the years, historians have tried to understand the consumption patterns of alcohol, especially wine, spirits, and beer. People in different parts of the world have different consumption patterns influenced by individual, nutritional, environmental, economic, and cultural factors.
For instance, the climate has significantly impacted the type of alcoholic beverages consumed. The production process and the effects of climate conditions determine the impact. Although there is a distinction between wine, beer, liquor, and other beverages, they share one characteristic: they are yeast fermentation products, mostly Saccharomyces.
Fermentation Process of Spirits and Beers
The fermentation process in alcohol does not require oxygen. Alcohol and carbon dioxide from the process are waste products. When the yeast grows and metabolizes in the sugar solution, the accumulation of alcohol becomes poisonous when it reaches a concentration of 14 to 18%, destroying the yeast cells.
This is why the alcohol content of wine and beer can go up to 18%. There are very strict regulations that monitor this. You must distill the fermented products to make liquor with increasing alcohol concentrations.
Did you know? Beer and wine make people drunk at lower concentrations compared to liquor.
Why is there a Dominance of Spirits and Beers in Hot Regions?
Exposure to high temperatures can affect all three types of alcoholic beverages at varying rates. For instance, given that wine and beer attain their tastes at a lower concentration, the rise in temperature increases that concentration. On the other hand, even though the temperature still affects the concentration of liquors, the effect on taste and quality is less. Hence, there is a dominance of spirits and beers in hot regions. In the case of wine, it is likely to go bad in hot temperatures.
Consequently, liquor is more popular in hot regions because it is less affected by high temperatures.
Preservation is a key reason why wines are less popular than spirits and beer in hot regions. While hot temperatures influence beer and spirits almost equally in terms of change in concentration, the heat affects wines also. Wine needs to oxidize when it is aged and must be allowed to breathe before drinking.
Too much oxidation occurs when the wine is exposed to hot temperatures, and oxygen is present. This changes the flavor, making it taste off or flat.
Wine in Hot Climates
Hot climates make it challenging for wineries to preserve and age bottles of wine for longer periods. Consequently, most wine varieties sold in hot regions—such as Africa and the Caribbean—are not that old. Wine becomes less popular when people do not have access to quality wine, as is found in colder regions. This could be a major reason why wine is less popular in hot countries compared to cold ones.
Wine is also less prevalent in hot regions because of the availability of raw materials. Grapevines produce wine, while barley malt, rice, maize, or fruits produce beer and spirits. These plants cultivate under diverse climates.
Grapevines grow best in climates that are not too hot, too arid, or too reminiscent of the arctic tundra. They do well in climates found at 30 degrees-50 degrees latitude, both south and north. That is regions that are away from the tropics. On the other hand, maize and other grains produce beer and liquor. They grow in rainy tropical regions. Hence, the scarcity of grapevines in hot tropical countries like the Caribbean and Africa makes the commodity less popular. People find it profitable to produce alcoholic beverages with readily available materials.
The dominance of Spirits and Beer in Hot Regions
Beer was traditionally more popular than wine in northern parts of England due to the cold winter weather. The earliest beer brewing account in England dates back to 1412, produced from imported hops made by a German alewife in Colchester.
Humulus lupulus was planted for the first time in 1520 in Kent, England. This began the first hop cultivation. It also marked the introduction of a beverage that would gain more popularity in the northern regions. As a result, many producers concentrated on beer making due to the extremely cold conditions in Northern Europe. These conditions were not favorable for vine cultivation, thus discouraging wine production and consumption.
In Northern England and parts of Germany, beer remained more popular than wine, especially in the pre-modern period. There were fewer wineries in cold regions, and given that transportation was a challenge, people would prefer alternative beverages to wine. From this, we can conclude that extreme temperatures (cold and hot) do not favor wine production. This explains why France and Italy have been Europe’s most significant wine producers for centuries.
In Northern England, especially Ireland and Scotland, whiskey has always been an alternative to wine. The origins of whiskey in this region have long been a source of contention. Do some believe whiskey is Celtic in origin but were the Scots or the Irish to blame? When you speak to an Irish person, they will tell you extensive stories about Irish Christian monks who traveled far and wide around 500-600 AD, picking up the distillation trade from Arabia.
When they returned to Ireland, they perfected the distilling of grain and water. The Irish did not need hard liquor to shield them from the severe Atlantic gales. Nevertheless, the Scots say there is written proof that whiskey was distilled in 1494. Whether whiskey originated from Ireland or Scotland, the fact remains that the beverage has remained a crucial part of their traditions for centuries.
Also read The Wine Profile Series: Pinot Noir.
Whiskey is a better option than wine because the grains are readily available in the region. Additionally, freezing temperatures support the production process. Whiskey and other spirits are popular because you can produce them in extremely hot or frigid temperatures.
Lifestyle and Culture
Two other factors: lifestyle, and culture, determine the kind of alcoholic beverages consumed in regions with high temperatures. Wine consumption is associated with a classy lifestyle, mainly adopted by western society. In most cases, sophistication is linked to wine drinking, starting with dress code, language, and even social groups.
Several factors determine why wine is unpopular in hot regions. First, temperature affects wine production, reducing quality in hot climates. To cultivate grapevines successfully, the temperature must be moderate. In tropical climates, grapevines do not thrive.
In addition, wine tends to change and go bad quickly in hot climates, which is another reason wine is unpopular in hot regions. Therefore, people prefer spirits and beers in extreme temperatures as they are easy to produce under diverse conditions.
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On this Day
June 1, 1494 — On this day, the Exchequer Rolls of James IV of Scotland recorded the grant of malt to a monk for making “aqua vitae,” in what is thought to be the first recorded reference of whiskey—or at least distilling—in Scottish history.
1412 — The earliest record of brewing beer in England was produced from imported hops made by a German alewife in Colchester.
1520 — The cultivation of hops in England started in Kent when someone planted Humulus lupulus for the first time. This marked the introduction of a beverage that would gain more popularity than wine in the northern parts of Europe.
Want to read more? Try these books!
 Keller, Mark and George Vaillant, Alcohol and society History of the use of alcohol In early societies (Britannica 2022) https://www.britannica.com/topic/alcohol-consumption/Alcohol-and-society
 Botany.hawaii.edu. n.d, “Role of Yeast in Production of Alcoholic Beverages,” http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/wong/BOT135/Lect14.htm
 Gade, Adinath Dnyandeo, WINE INDUSTRY IN INDIA A REGIONAL SURVEY (Ashok Yakkaldevi, 2022).
 Irish Whiskey Museum, IT’S TRUE, WHISKEY ORIGINATED IN IRELAND, 2019, https://www.irishwhiskeymuseum.ie/news/its-true-whiskey-originated-in-ireland/