Welcome to Awakenings

Life IS history in the making. Every word we say, everything we do becomes history the moment it is said or done. Life void of memories leaves nothing but emptiness. For those who might consider history boring, think again: It is who we are, what we do and why we are here. We are certainly individuals in our thoughts and deeds but we all germinated from seeds planted long, long ago.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Little Ice Age: Wine-making, Beer & Stradivarius

Wine press from 16th Century
While a potpourri of information exists concerning the "Little Ice Age," interestingly enough are the effects this age had on wine-making, beer and the master violin, the Stradivarius. Out of this period of gloom and doom extending from the early 14th to the middle of the 19th centuries (approx. 1350 - 1850) came incredible benefits. Amid bone-chilling cold followed by few temperate years where the death rate was dramatic and astronomical due to starvation and disease emanated BEER

Wine Grapes

Before the Little Ice Age (LIA), Europe thrived on its wine-making. Vineyards were plush and grapes were plentiful. For the most part, the beverage of choice was wine, even over water. Wine was the nectar of the Gods! Not because of its effects but if you drank plain water, you got sick!  Little was known about the micro-organisms living in the rivers, lakes and streams. It was not even common knowledge that the fermentation process in making wine killed most of the germs in the water. What was known was very simple, "water bad, spirits good."

BUT, how did the Little Ice Age impact America into becoming primarily a beer drinking nation?

Visit The Word of the Day - Beer
As with any age, records were kept for the most important crops, grapes for wine-making being no exception. Vineyards were all over Europe, everywhere, everyone grew grapes and made wine. Men, women and even the children drank wine. Life was good! Then, enters this abrupt climate change - The Little Ice Age with its ravaging effects on the countryside inducing mortal death and famine.

The vineyards in Northern Europe die greatly impacting wine production. As a result of devastation being brought about in the northern hemisphere, grains were substituted to brew beer and distill hard alcohol. Grains were plentiful, survivors of bitter cold and would not wither on the vine. Yep, here comes the ingenuity of our ancestors: almost anything could be fermented.

The fermentation process led to the brewing of beer and the birth of exceptional Scotch whiskey. After all, something had to be done with all those empty wine barrels.[Surely within the experimental process were many failures, as well as successes. Wonder what resulted from the fermentation of acorns and chestnuts? Apparently nothing very palatable for quality was dependent entirely on taste.]

With the large immigration of Europeans to America in the 17th and 18th centuries came their beer drinking culture, as well as beer and alcohol making techniques. During this American culture forming period on the new continent most of the immigrants were from Northern Europe. A relative few came from the wine drinking Mediterranean Basin. Thus, beer and whiskey ruled and reigned!

Whisperings from the past. . .

Although not a few of the Founding Fathers (possibly even the Founding Mothers) enjoyed drinking imported wine, Thomas Jefferson brewed beer at Monticello and George Washington was the largest distiller of rye whiskey in the Colonies!
 Indeed more beer than water
Quenched the harshest of thirsts
With whiskey not far behind
Unbeknownst which came first
©2012 Awakenings
Sharla Lee Shults
Now, what about the Stradivarius? What possible connection could this master violin have with the Little Ice Age?

The Stradivarius violin is renown for its superb sound quality, pitch and tone exceptionale! But what could have possibly come out of the Little Ice Age as a contributing factor for this instrument to surpass any other during its day or ever since? The quality of sound provided via a Stradivarius has for the most part defied attempts to explain or equal it.
Grounded in folklore are many competing theories, even some questioning whether these instruments do indeed sound superior. Is it merely a preference of talented artists? Does this manner of preference allow artists to express themselves best? Are such instruments so well made they are easier to play? Does the quality stem from no more than the legendary skill of their crafters? OR Is it possible a dramatic European cold spell may have enhanced the quality of wood from which the instruments were crafted?
A sharp dip in temperatures between 1645 and 1715 coincided with a reduction in sunspots and the sun's overall activity known as the Maunder Minimum. Researchers say those factors may have slowed tree growth, thereby creating the ideal building material for violins later manufactured.
So, is it possible events of the Little Ice Age may have enhanced the quality of wood from which the Stradivarius instruments were crafted? The answer: yes, it is possible!

The quality, the tones
Reveal a sunset's rest
Rapture within its glow
Melody at its best

©2012 Sharla Lee Shults