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Why so little hard liquor?


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20 replies to this topic

#1 PrinceHenryris

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 01:28 AM

It seems like the "adult beverage" of choice in Westeros is wine, with a smattering of ale. As I recall, the only hard liquor mentioned in the books is the Black Tar Rum from the Summer Islands.

I'd think that Robert and Thoros would have imported some of the hard stuff from the East, the North prime territory for both vodka and whiskey, and Dorne and the Arbor great at pumping out something like Grappa.

Why aren't there more potent beverages?

#2 Arthur Dayne's Honor

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 01:30 AM

Damn straight, I want some Northern Whiskey

#3 Black Mike Secret

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 01:33 AM

That's....a really good question.

You can make liquor out of a lot of things. You'd figure someone would figure it out. I mean, there isn't even any mention of it in the inns.

The Dothraki had a form of airag (fermented mares milk, often used by the Mongols)

North: Vodka
The Vale: Absinthe
Riverlands: Brandy
Westerlands: Blended whisky
Iron Islands: Scotch whisky
Stormlands: Bourbon whiskey
The Reach: Gin
Dorne: Tequila

Edited by Black Mike Secret, 01 August 2013 - 01:43 AM.


#4 thenedstark

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 01:55 AM

Maybe its because these liquors would be out of place in the world of the early middle ages (1000-12000 AD) around which the series is based? Wine seems to be the only 'eternal' beverage through classical and all of medieval times. The other liquors probably came into prominence in the high middle ages to renaissance time.

#5 Squire Dalbridge

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 02:29 AM

And they don't smoke, not tobacco, not anything. They are so extremely healthy and decent down there. �
I know tobacco was brought to Europe only after 1492, but still.
And I would have thought that at least in Essos they'd smoke some other stuff too. Daario?
But it seems they prefer to drink their intoxicants (Milk of the poppy, Shade of the Evening).

#6 PrinceHenryris

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 02:34 AM

And they don't smoke, not tobacco, not anything. They are so extremely healthy and decent down there. �
I know tobacco was brought to Europe only after 1492, but still.
And I would have thought that at least in Essos they'd smoke some other stuff too. Daario?
But it seems they prefer to drink their intoxicants (Milk of the poppy, Shade of the Evening).


I thought Gregor and Euron were the only Westeroosi who got into the more exotic stuff?

#7 qwawryn

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 03:10 AM

My theory:
It's probably because alcohol was not always drunk recreationally, and what you see in the books is not always characters trying to get drunk. Back in those days when you wanted to drink water and not die you had to either boil it or drink it with alcohol, which also kills microbes. Boiling is not always possible or convenient. So they drank much more of such beverages on every-day basis, but they were also weaker.

#8 valtolin

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 03:21 AM

Maybe its because these liquors would be out of place in the world of the early middle ages (1000-12000 AD) around which the series is based? Wine seems to be the only 'eternal' beverage through classical and all of medieval times. The other liquors probably came into prominence in the high middle ages to renaissance time.


That might be true for vodka, brandy or whisky, but there are proofs of grappa production in the NE of Italy since the VI century. Anyway, I agree on the fact that in the early middle ages distillation was neither codified nor widespread in Europe, so it makes sense to keep it out of the ASoIaF world.

#9 Tim Thomason

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 03:56 AM

And they don't smoke, not tobacco, not anything. They are so extremely healthy and decent down there. �
I know tobacco was brought to Europe only after 1492, but still.
And I would have thought that at least in Essos they'd smoke some other stuff too. Daario?
But it seems they prefer to drink their intoxicants (Milk of the poppy, Shade of the Evening).


They have sourleaf, which is like chewing tobacco (with an annoying side-effect). I gather smoking has not occurred to them. A quick search of "pipe" has turned up no non-music-related results in the five main books.

#10 Squire Dalbridge

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 04:03 AM

I forgot the sourleaf, good catch!

#11 danm_999

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 04:11 AM

There weren't very many distilled alcoholic beverages around in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Beer and wine were the standard.

#12 Ser No One

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 04:26 AM

I'm under the impression that their wine is much stronger than ours. I'll have to find the passages, but I remember several characters mentioning that the wine burned their throat, which would mean it's more of a liquor.

I figured they called wine any alcoholic beverage, whatever the degree of alcohol, except ales.

#13 King Tam Stark

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 04:51 AM

Maybe its because these liquors would be out of place in the world of the early middle ages (1000-12000 AD) around which the series is based? Wine seems to be the only 'eternal' beverage through classical and all of medieval times. The other liquors probably came into prominence in the high middle ages to renaissance time.

its debatable when vodka and whisky came to prominence due to very little source material being available, its debated vodka has been in production from around the 8th or 9th century but was a lot weaker, quite different in taste and colour and used mostly for medicinal purposes while whisky may have been around since the 5th century with 1494 the first documented mention of it and similarly to vodka would have been mostly for medicinal purposes or aqua vitae (to numb the mind of soldiers going in to battle) and both translated in there respective tongues to 'water' or 'water of life', a lot of people say that's why the scots managed to defeat the English despite being far smaller in numbers and under exceptional circumstances, I see no reason why both couldn't have been found in westeros but its an extremely small detail and as ser no one says the alchoholic beverages of there day would be quite similar to each other and not as different as they are today

#14 King Tam Stark

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 04:55 AM

I forgot the sourleaf, good catch!

cider is also mentioned alot

#15 Lord Reaver

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 05:16 AM

its debatable when vodka and whisky came to prominence due to very little source material being available, its debated vodka has been in production from around the 8th or 9th century but was a lot weaker, quite different in taste and colour and used mostly for medicinal purposes


I'm assuming this eludes to the freeze-distillation process, no ? If that is the case, then yes, this is very very different from modern distilled hard liquor. Almost so different as to not bother mentioning it. It's generally weaker, and much, much nastier. Trust me.

while whisky may have been around since the 5th century with 1494 the first documented mention of it and similarly to vodka would have been mostly for medicinal purposes or aqua vitae (to numb the mind of soldiers going in to battle) and both translated in there respective tongues to 'water' or 'water of life', a lot of people say that's why the scots managed to defeat the English despite being far smaller in numbers and under exceptional circumstances, I see no reason why both couldn't have been found in westeros but its an extremely small detail and as ser no one says the alchoholic beverages of there day would be quite similar to each other and not as different as they are today


Yes, 15th century is about when we have documented evidence of distilled beverages. Some earlier claims are held by several areas, such as the german 'burned water', but we don't really have an idea what it was, probably no stronger than about 40% aka 80 proof, if that. Could even just be what's described in the books as 'strongwine'.

Distillation as a concept was known for a very long time before we ever tried applying it to making liquor (greeks knew of it around the first century AD, I think). It remained a 'secret' within the field of alchemy (later chemistry) and like you said was mainly used for 'medicinal' purposes. So, it remains to see if even the Maesters have such knowledge. As we haven't (to my knowledge) seen a Maester's laboratory, complete with retorts and such, we don't rightly know if they've discovered it, though it seems likely they would. As such, it then remains a question whether they would share this, which does not seem likely. Those Maesters do seem to hoard their knowledge rather than spread it.

All in all, not very surprising the art of distillation hasn't gotten to the point of making hard liquor in Westeros.

Edited by Lord Reaver, 01 August 2013 - 05:17 AM.


#16 Victarion Chainbreaker

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 05:29 AM

During the middle ages natural fermentation was pretty much the only way to do it, distillation wasn't widespread until after the Black Plague. I imagine the strongwine in the books was made through ice distillation, a much easier method than normal distillation: water freezes at a higher temperature than alcohol, so just freeze the regular wine, take out the chunks of ice (water) that form, and voila, a more concentrated drink. If such is the case, then strongwine would be a Northern specialty, for where else could you get summertime snows?

#17 Rhaegar Estellion

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 05:31 AM

And do not forget the mead. Admittedly it's not that hard a liquor, but it still wasn't mentioned before. And we know that they have mead (at least in the North). People often talk about "sharing their meat and mead" and Tormund styles himself "Mead-King of Ruddy Hall".

#18 Lord Reaver

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 09:44 AM

Mead has about the same alcohol content as wine. Not surprisingly, since to get anything more you'll have to deal with the fact that the yeast producing alcohol dies at a maximum alcohol content of about 20% (there are many varieties, some die at much lower concentrations). So mead is in the range of 10-20%, much like wine.

The 'rum' mentioned in ASOIAF might also be in this same range, since this was what sugarcane-based fermented product was known as even before they started distilling it afterwards to get the higher alcohol content stuff we today recognize as rum.

#19 Ittiz

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 09:52 AM

Distillation of alcohol is a tricky thing. It's only been around for 800 years or so. Around the same amount of time gunpowder and cannons have been around (excluding china). I don't see people with guns in the books so I wouldn't expect to see too much distilled liquor unless it was created using some magic.

#20 Minstral

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Posted 01 August 2013 - 10:12 AM

Even if we were to have a mention of these type of liquors, it does not seem likely that we would see a lot of them in the books. Considering how many of the characters are noble born the drinks that they would keep too are the wines they are fond of, or the common beers and ale of Westeros when they lacked the wine.