More Bad Beer History

Yesterday this nonsense was posted on a beer-related Instgram account that nearly18,000 people follow: “The word ‘toast,’ meaning a wish of good health, started in ancient Rome, where a piece of toasted bread was dropped into wine.” What a load of tripe.

While there might be an etymological connection from the latin torrere, to parch, there is no clear connection between a Roman tradition of adding bread to wine and the word “toast” being used in the afore mentioned way.

Bread and wine were staple foods in the ancient world and as such, likely made for decent bed fellows. There is no fundamental objection to saying the two went together in some combination. However, Romans added a lot of things to their wine: water, honey, various herbs and spices. Bread was likely among that list of things, but if you do any amount of reading on the subject you’ll find numerous additives far more common than bread.

What little substantiation there is to be found on the matter indicates that the charcoal on toasted bread was a means of dulling off flavors in wine, like some kind of pre-modern Brita Filter, or that it was meant to cut wine’s acidity. Neither claim about bread’s ability to perform those tasks can be rejected out of hand, but the addition of water was a more likely way of cutting acidity, as was honey and herbs to cover off flavors. Moreover, any historical precedent given as evidence for this to be true cites customs from the 1700s rather than those from classical antiquity.

The word toast (both the food and the action) might well be derived from the original latin verb. But to indicate there is a straight line between that word, and a Roman tradition of adding bread to wine becoming a metonym for honoring someone or something before a drink is a gross oversimplification of things. Rarely is history so linear.

If that were the case, wedding speeches would all started something like this: “I’d like to propose a combination of water and honey and maybe a few herbs? Is that coriander or hyssop? I can’t tell. Anyway, I’ve known Jim for a long time now…”

Here’s to keeping bad history out of beer.

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