“Most traditional forms of alcohol are made for immediate consumption”

Most traditional forms of alcohol are made for immediate consumption: They will spoil within a few days of fermentation. This is true for most forms of grain beer before the addition of hops as a preservative (a European invention of the ninth century) and for most other fruit-, sap-, or starch-based alcohols before the invention of distillation (Bruman 2000, Huetz de Lemps 2001, Jennings et al. 2005). The major ancient exception is wine, which could be preserved in amphorae for years. Modern exceptions include distilled spirits and hopped beers. Consequently, most traditional indigenous forms of alcohol could not be traded over great distances or stockpiled: Production and consumption were usually spatially and temporally proximate. These drinks necessitated control of a large labor force for hosting a significant consumption event, and they were of limited value as trade goods. Moreover, these drinks were usually made from products that were a common part of the household agrarian base, and production was often a domestic activity. Wine (as with distilled liquor), on the other hand, could be accumulated for years and traded over vast distances. It had a stronger potential to become a circulating commodity—that is, a good produced for exchange rather than immediate consumption in a social event (see Dietler 1990). The brief window of consumption for most traditional alcoholic beverages is one reason that ancient breweries have been relatively rare archaeological finds, and those that have been identified, for example, in Egypt and South America (Geller 1993, Moore 1989), are facilities for state-sponsored feasting at an adjacent location rather than for trade. Wineries, on the other hand, as specialized commodity-production facilities separated from consumption sites, have been far more commonly detected (Amouretti & Brun 1993, Brun 2003, Rice 1996). As Willis (2002, p. 237) further observed in regard to distilled alcohol, “when compared with informal-sector ferments, spirits have encouraged more complex economic linkages and a tendency to more overtly commercialized labor relations within production.”

Michael Dietler, “Alcohol: Anthropological/Archaeological Perspectives”, Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 35 (2006), 238.