Did you know that the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra has her own, private wine club and that it was used against her to bring down her empire? Are you curious about the first people to make beer? They were women called alewives, but the church didn’t like that. Did you know that the first bars were created for women?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Mallory O’Meara, the author of the just-published Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol.
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- How did Mallory’s thirst for knowledge take her from filmmaker to writer?
- What has been the best moment in Mallory’s wine career so far?
- What was it like writing about world history during lockdowns and the pandemic?
- Why were libraries so important in Mallory’s research for Girly Drinks?
- What can you expect from Girly Drinks?
- How did Mallory’s curiosity lead her to write Girly Drinks?
- Why did Mallory decide to put so much research into the writing of Girly Drinks?
- What is a micro-history?
- How does Girly Drinks take you on a journey from the beginning of civilization to the present day?
- What was Cleopatra’s connection to wine and what surprising role did it play in her downfall?
- How did the social stigma associated with women who drink begin?
- What important role did alewives play for a significant time in our history?
- What role did the nun Hildegard of Bingen early church play in the shifting attitudes toward women and alcohol?
- How did the nun Hildegard of Bingen revolutionize the beer industry?
- How did Catherine the Great harness the people’s love of vodka in her rise to Empress?
- Why were bars originally a marker of feminized drinking?
- What made Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe the most successful bootlegger during Prohibition?
- What was Ada Coleman’s impact on cocktails as the first female celebrity bartender?
- I was surprised to learn that the first known depiction of someone drinking was a woman, but not so surprised that men thought she was playing a horn from the wrong end.
- I love the story about Cleopatra’s drinking club with Mark Antony called the inimitable livers and her intoxication ring. I need to get one of those. It’s fascinating how the gendered perceptions of alcohol consumption was used against her to bring down her empire.
- It was also interesting to discover that women made most of the alcohol back in the day from beer to wine as it was considered a domestic art. Again, not surprised that the church cast alewives cauldrons and brooms as symbols for witches.
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Cleopatra loved wine. She had her own drinking club with Mark Antony called the Inimitable Livers. - Mallory O'Meara Click to tweet
When civilization first began, it was all women who controlled alcohol. It was women who did the brewing, women who did the winemaking, it really was thought of as a woman’s thing. - Mallory O'Meara Click to tweet
The early church was very intimidated by women having power in society. They started to turn those alewives, with their cauldrons and their brooms and their cats, into witches. - Mallory O'Meara Click to tweet
About Mallory O’Meara
Mallory is an award-winning and best-selling author and historian. She lives with her two cats in the mountains near Los Angeles, where she is at work on her next nonfiction book. Bourbon is her drink of choice.
Her first book, The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, is a Los Angeles Times bestseller. It won the 2019 SCIBA Award for Biography, the Rondo 2019 Book of the Year and was nominated for the Hugo and Locus awards.
Her second book, Girly Drinks: A Feminist History of Women and Alcohol, was just released.
Every week, Mallory hosts the literary podcast Reading Glasses alongside filmmaker and writer Brea Grant. The show is hosted by Maximum Fun and focuses on book culture and reader life.
- Connect with Mallory O’Meara
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- Mallory O’Meara’s Podcast | Reading Glasses
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- Mark Kurlansky’s Book | Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World
- Mark Kurlansky’s Book | Salt: A World History
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Mallory O’Meara 0:00
Cleopatra had her own drinking club with Mark Antony called the inimitable livers. She even wore a silver ring with Amethyst in it engraved with the ancient Egyptian word for intoxication. She wasn’t a drunk, but she loved to party, she loved wine. That’s how Rome helped take her down. During that time period in Rome, women were not allowed to drink a woman drinking wine was very illegal or a mark of a fallen woman of a disreputable woman. Drinking means that you have social power and that you can be uninhibited and that’s not what they wanted women to be. So seeing this foreign, powerful queen who loved wine, they were very intimidated by her and very afraid of her power, especially because she had so enamoured Mark Antony, they created this propaganda campaign. They were like, well, look how terrible she is, you know, she drinks think of all the other you know, moral failings that she must have and it helped bring her Empire down.
Natalie MacLean 1:00
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine, the love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations. Oh, that’s the blend here on the unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 158. Did you know that Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen had her own private wine club, and that it was used against her to bring down her empire? Are you curious about the first people ever to make beer? They were actually women called ale wives at the church didn’t much like that. And did you know that the first bars were actually created for women will hear those stories and more during our chat with Mallory O’Meara, author of The fascinating just published book, girly drinks, a world history of women and alcohol. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, I am so excited to let you know that I’ve had several offers to publish my new memoir, I have been bouncing along the ceiling most of this week. Now I know this very deeply personal story will find its way into the world. So I’m chatting with several editors at various publishers this week to talk about their editorial vision for the book. And then my agent and I will have to make a decision about which publisher to go with. Deep breath. Thank you for being with me along this journey. I’ll share more details with you when I have them. If you’re interested in getting a sneak peek at this book and becoming a beta reader, please email me at Natalie, at Natalie Maclean calm. I’d also love to hear from you if you’ve discovered a fabulous new wine we should know about a tip that would help us enjoy wine more. Or if you have a question for me. Send your tips, tips and questions to Natalie at Natalie Maclean comm. I’ll give you a shout out on the next episode, unless you prefer to remain anonymous. In the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation. A link to Mallory’s new book, her podcast and website. How you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find the live stream of the video version of this conversation on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie maclean.com forward slash 158. Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 4:02
Mallory O’Meara is the author of The just published girly drinks, world history of women and alcohol. Publishers Weekly describes it as a bracing refreshment from a master text to a mixologist. And it’s been noted as one of the week’s most anticipated books of this fall. She’s also the best selling author of the lady from the Black Lagoon, and she co hosts a wonderful literary podcast that I’ve been listening to called reading glasses in girly drinks. She questions when and why drinking and making drinks became a gendered act, and in doing so unveils the entire Untold History of female distillers drinkers, brewers winemakers who’ve all played a vital role in the creation and consumption of alcohol from the dawn of time through to today. And as I read the description of this book, I thought surely there must be some of my relatives in that book, as we have a long and storied history of alcohol but no matter we’re going to focus on her book, and she lives in the mountains near Los Angeles with her two cats. And she joins us right now. Hi, Mallory. Welcome.
Mallory O’Meara 5:04
Hi, Natalie, thank you so much for having me. Oh,
Natalie MacLean 5:06
delighted, delighted, fascinated, even when I just saw the subject line of your book, I thought, Wow, that sounds interesting. Lots of juicy stories. So before we dive into all of those, what was the exact moment when you realise you wanted to be a writer?
Mallory O’Meara 5:22
Well, I sort of fell into it. I was a filmmaker first. And my first book lady from the Black Lagoon is a biography of the woman who designed the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And I’ve been working in horror film for a long time, she was my hero. No one knew anything about her. And I so desperately wanted to know myself that I started working on this book to try to find out what happened to her what her story was. And I wrote this book, it ended up finding its place at Hanover Square press, my publisher, and I enjoyed the experience so much that I wanted to keep writing and I wanted to keep writing history, and I sort of fell into being a historian. And here I am now. Cool.
Natalie MacLean 5:57
Well summarise to take us to the best moment of your writing career. So far, what has been a highlight for you?
Mallory O’Meara 6:02
I think the best best moment was the morning lady from the Black Lagoon came out, I was listening to my favourite book podcast, which is all the books and my book was mentioned. And I burst into tears. It was just such a dream. For me. That was the moment where it really felt real because I had fallen into writing, I didn’t feel like a writer. You know, I didn’t go to school for writing and hearing my book talked about on this podcast that I love so much really just brought it all home, and made it feel real. And it still is a highlight to this day.
Natalie MacLean 6:31
I love that and not to be a downer or anything. But has there been a worst moment in your career?
Mallory O’Meara 6:37
Trying to write girly drinks during the pandemic, for sure. Writing a world history of a subject when you can’t travel or even go to the library is very tough. There were a few months last year, when I really thought that this book wouldn’t exist would have to wait until the pandemic was over. Luckily, the library’s open back up last summer, and I was able to get my research materials get the book back on track, I still couldn’t travel for the book. But thank goodness for libraries, they really pulled me out of a dark, dark place.
Natalie MacLean 7:03
Absolutely. And some people will say, Well, why can’t you just get all that information online? But why were libraries so fundamental to what you needed to do for your research? My favourite
Mallory O’Meara 7:12
answer to that question is actually from author Neil Gaiman that Google can give you a million answers, but librarians can give you the right one. There’s so much unsubstantiated information on the internet, you know, you can’t really trust Wikipedia. And especially since I’m writing a history of women, so a lot of the existing texts out there and opinions, ignore and erase all of those contributions. So I really needed to read a lot of women’s history along with cocktail history, wine history, beer history. So I needed I needed a librarians touch, I needed a little bit of help sifting through that information. And I couldn’t just find things just again, on Google or on blogs.
Natalie MacLean 7:49
Awesome. I love that answer. So you’ve already alluded to bits and pieces of what girly drinks is about. But how would you describe it kind of in a nutshell,
Mallory O’Meara 7:57
it’s a history of women serving, making and drinking alcohol from the beginning of time until now.
Natalie MacLean 8:02
Wow. And do you need to be a drinks expert to read it? No, I
Mallory O’Meara 8:06
specifically wrote the book to make sure that it was accessible to everybody. My editor is also a huge cocktail nerd. So there was a few times when I was writing the book where he said, Oh, you don’t need to explain that. And luckily, his editorial assistant, Grace Towery, she read it. And she’s not a huge cocktail expert. And there was many moments where she said, Yes, you do have to explain this. I don’t know what this word means. I don’t know what this is. So I was very, very grateful for her to give a pass to that book, and be able to give me a little bit of insight as someone who has never had any wine or has never had a good cocktail, and really make sure that I was writing the book for everyone.
Natalie MacLean 8:40
Excellent. So what triggered the idea for this book? I mean, that’s quite a leap from the lady of the Black Lagoon, to girly drinks. So what is the bridge there?
Mallory O’Meara 8:50
The bridge is my own curiosity. When I was working on lady from the Black Lagoon, I moved to Los Angeles and my best friend got me a cocktail kit as a housewarming gift for my new apartment with you know, bar spoon and shaker, the whole works. And anything that I get really into I want to read a history of so as soon as I got into making cocktails at home, I wanted to read the history of them. And I bought all these cocktail history books. And I was very baffled and frustrated to find out that there was no women’s history in any of those books. And I thought, this is a history of things that take place in kitchens. And in the home. There’s no possible way that there’s no women’s history here. And so I was complaining to said best friend about this problem. And she said, You’re right. There’s no book that exists like that. You’re going to have to write it yourself. So I did and after I finished it from the Black Lagoon, I had found out that the editor for that book was a huge cocktail fan. And I said I’d love to write a women’s history of drinking and alcohol. And he said let’s do it. And then girly drinks was born.
Natalie MacLean 9:44
Wow. Wow. So what kind of research went into this book? How long did it take? You had the challenge of at least at first libraries not being open. But what went into the making of this book.
Mallory O’Meara 9:54
It took a few years. The thing with girly drinks is that I had to read all sorts of cocktail Wine, beer suck a partying feasting history, but at the same time read all sorts of women’s history because I wanted to put everything in context, I didn’t want to just regurgitate a bunch of cool cocktail facts, I wanted to figure out why drinks became gendered why women were being left out why women got into these industries in the first place. So I ended up reading somewhere between 507 100 books for the subject, cuz a lot of research, a lot of documentaries, interviews, books, articles, thesis, papers, all sorts of things, I really wanted to make sure that I was doing my best to look into every time period, every country, every type of alcohol, it’s not just beer and wine, or cocktails, it’s also sakeI. It’s also tequila. It’s also everything all over the world. So in order to be as comprehensive as possible, I really had to get out my highlighter and dig into hundreds and hundreds of books.
Natalie MacLean 10:54
Okay, how did you manage to get through five to 700 books in a couple of years? I mean, I can’t even do that in a decade. What do you what are you doing? Are you a speed reader?
Mallory O’Meara 11:04
Well, I do normally end up reading about 200 books a year on my own just for fun. I do a book podcast. And now I’m lucky enough to be a full time both podcaster and writer. So that was my job full time, eight to 12 hours a day, just reading, highlighting going through things. And there was some books that I didn’t have to read all of it, which was great. It was just, you know, certain passages or certain parts of it. But it’s yeah, this just became my job. Wow, wow. And how did you avoid going down the research rabbit hole, like getting lost forever? Because that sounds fascinating. How did you surface and actually write the book, deadlines are helpful, this book could have been 1000 pages long if I let it. But one knowing that I had to finish it at some point or not get paid was very helpful. But also I really kept the lens very tight, I kept a very tight focus on what women were doing, how women were involved all over the world. It sounds very broad, but it actually helped me keep a handle. And every time I went on a tangent or started to go down a rabbit hole, I would say how is this relevant to the book? How is this relevant to readers? Is this interesting? It’s sort of like telling a story at a party, you know, you want to make sure that you’re keeping your listeners hooked, and not going too far off the rails. And that really helped me a lot.
Natalie MacLean 12:15
Absolutely. And there’s so many good, juicy party to bits and stories in this book that we’re going to get to in a moment. But you talked about being very focused in this book. And I’ve heard you reference micro history, which I love the concept of that. So what is a micro history for those of us who don’t know? And then how would this book fit into that framework?
Mallory O’Meara 12:35
Well, the popular definition of a micro history is basically just any history book with a very intense focus on what subject there are sometimes also known as social histories or cultural histories. It could be a history of butter, a history of rain, a history of socks. So girly drinks fits into that because it’s a history of drinking, but from this very, very specific angle of women’s history.
Natalie MacLean 12:55
And you’ve said, you know, it put borders on it for you as a writer so that you didn’t get lost in the research. But I think you’ve also said it makes it more approachable for readers that there is this sort of framework, but it also reminds me I’ve read cod and salt, which are kind of micro histories. They’re so great. He’s the king of it, Mark Lou Barsky or I think I can’t remember what his last name is. But he really is the king of it. He’s
Mallory O’Meara 13:19
done some great ones he
Natalie MacLean 13:20
has. And I think also with these micro histories, that’s where you’re going to get all of these wonderful stories, because they’re so tightly defined. It reminds me of I don’t know, ever watch this probably before your time, but the television show cheers. That was Cliff clave. And he would always come up with these weird facts and stuff. But it was so entertaining. I loved it. You’d sit at the bar. Yeah. Anyway, how is this book organised? What’s the
Mallory O’Meara 13:43
structure? So the way we set it up is that it starts at the beginning of civilization. It goes all the way until now. And each chapter is its own time period at the beginning of the book there. It’s definitely bigger chunks of time. You know, we’re talking hundreds of years. By the end of the book, it’s in the decades, but each chapter has sort of its own historical main character, and it’s one woman who was either a brewer, a distiller, a drinker, a bartender, some involved in the alcohol, industry or culture in some way. And she sort of guides you through her time period and gives you a lens to look at what things were like during that time period for a woman who drank or made
Natalie MacLean 14:18
alcohol. I love that approach too, because it humanises it, it takes one specific to get to the universal, which is a brilliant concept. Tell us about the first actual depiction of someone drinking it was a woman and where was it? When was it
Mallory O’Meara 14:32
25,000 years ago, a cave in La Salle France, just a woman drinking out of a meat horn but because of centuries and decades and decades of academic and historical bias against women who don’t drink these male historians, scholars, archaeologists saw this woman drinking out of a meat horn and they thought Well, women don’t drink so she must just be trying to play a horn and playing it badly. So they instead of just thinking oh, okay, this woman’s drinking out of a horn. They let their bias get in the way. And so for a very long time, people didn’t realise that it was a depiction of somebody drinking. But now that we’ve got that out of the way and accepted it for what it is, we have the very first known depiction of someone drinking is a woman. Wow, you go girl, or whatever
Natalie MacLean 15:15
we’re supposed to say at this point. So let’s let’s move a bit through history now, because these are just such interesting and we’re just going to touch on them. But of course, you have to get the book to get the full juicy story. But what about Cleopatra and her drinking what was going on there?
Mallory O’Meara 15:29
She’s the first woman in the book, she guides you through ancient times. And Cleopatra loved wine. She had her own drinking club with Mark Antony called the inimitable livers, a word I always have a hard time saying, she even wore a silver ring with Amethyst in it engraved with the ancient Egyptian word for intoxication. She wasn’t a drunk, but she loved to party, she loved wine. And because of that, that’s how Rome helped take her down. Because during that time period, in Rome, women were not allowed to drink a woman drinking wine was sort of like either, depending on where you were, in what time period in Rome, either very illegal, or a mark of a fallen woman of a disreputable woman, you know, because drinking means that you have social power, and that you can be uninhibited. And that’s not what they wanted women to be. So seeing this sort of foreign, powerful Queen, who loved wine, they were very intimidated by her and very afraid of her and afraid of her power, especially because she had so enamoured Mark Antony, that they created this propaganda campaign, they were like, well, look how terrible she is, you know, she drinks think of all the other, you know, moral failings that she must have. And it really was the basis for this propaganda campaign that helped bring her Empire down.
Natalie MacLean 16:40
Wow, she sounds like my kind of woman though when it comes to wine. So
Mallory O’Meara 16:45
she loved to sweet wine. If you were trying to drink a wine that Cleopatra would love, you would definitely go for like a Moscato or something. Okay, I can
Natalie MacLean 16:52
work with that. But you’re right, that what you’ve just pointed out in a very specific instance, as sort of rippled through history that women who drink or like their alcohol are considered ruinous or not taking care of the children or losing your inhibitions makes you sexually promiscuous. What is that? Is that just simply embedded misogyny from all time? Or is there anything else to that?
Mallory O’Meara 17:18
So the funny thing is that when civilization first began, it was all women who controlled alcohol, it was women who did the brewing women who did the winemaking, it really was thought of as women’s thing, it was women’s purview in society to drink to make the beer to hand it out to be in control of it, just as they would cook. Like, and yes, it was a domestic thing, right? It just made sense for everybody. But when the code of Hammurabi, which here in the West, we are taught in schools, established civilization, and is this foundational thing in the world, is the same time is established the sort of iPhone or an AI code of justice, it also established that women are not people their property, the property of a father that gets transferred to a husband, because alcohol makes people act like people and not property, they didn’t want women to drink, and codified in this text was the idea that if a woman drank, she had a bad reputation, even priestesses if they were found drinking, they could be put to death, because it was in this code of Hammurabi. And that’s where it all spring.
Natalie MacLean 18:18
What is that code of Hammurabi? who issued it? What country and what year was that approximately?
Mallory O’Meara 18:23
So it was all in ancient Babylon. It was this Babylonian king named Hammurabi. And he really wanted to unite this kingdom and sort of get everybody under this one code of law. And that’s why were taught, you know, it’s this foundational thing. It really started this sort of all encompassing legal code. But it was not so great for, for women, and it really changed everything. It was just sort of where all the trouble began. You will say
Natalie MacLean 18:50
yes, yeah, absolutely. Because prior to that, I think that you mentioned in your book, women were also Brewmasters, or as they were called alles wives. So who were these women and what happened to
Mallory O’Meara 19:02
them? A lot of them were priestesses there was a goddess named and Cassie, and she was the goddess of brewing and a fear. And these priestesses would make because today we think of it as a luxury, you know, drinking wine and drinking beer. It’s like a fun thing. But back then, and up until very recently, in history, beer and wine were a dietary staple. It’s how you got extra calories, especially beer. So it was this sort of sacred activity is making this beer and making it for religious rituals and making it for the populace at large. And these women would brew this beer, they would sing their hymn to Ninkasi that were also just recipes for beer. It was a really, really cool special thing. But pre Hammurabi code, society was a lot more equal in terms of gender.
Natalie MacLean 19:47
Right, and the sales wives they had the bubbling cauldrons and what we now associate with witches like their brooms, the domestic tools of either making beer or cooking, and these became stereotypes for witch’s.
Mallory O’Meara 20:01
Yes. Later on in the mediaeval times, as soon as Rome fell, women got control over the brewing industry again, because as you just said it was a domestic product. It was something that women could do while watching their children while tending to the home while making dinner. They didn’t require any sort of specialised tools, just the things that they were there in their kitchen. It didn’t require any apprenticeship. It was again, a very domestic women’s thing. But as society started to change, and especially the early church was very intimidated by women having power in society, they started to turn those al wives with their Cauldrons of their brooms and their cats into witches. Hmm. Wow,
Natalie MacLean 20:41
that is fascinating. You just mentioned the church. Tell us about Hildegard von Bingham, if I’m pronouncing that correctly in her association with beer.
Mallory O’Meara 20:48
Yes, she’s now been sainted centuries and centuries after her death. But she was a nun that lived in the very early Middle Ages. She was born in 1098. And she got what we today call migraines. But back then, she thought they were visions from God. And because of that the church gave her sort of special dispensation to have her own Nunnery to be in control to be able to speak in public, which was really unheard of at the time for women. And one of the cool things that she did, she wrote all these books on natural history and medicine. And she loved beer. Nuns did a lot of brewing and winemaking back then. And something that she loved to put in her beer was hops. She was one of the very first sort of scientific writers to recognise that hops have sort of a calming effect. But the more importantly to the beer industry, hops, they have antibacterial effect, they give beer more flavour, which back then they really needed, they give beer more of a foamy head, which gives it better scent, which gives it again, better flavour. But because it had an antibacterial effect, all of a sudden beer that normally would spoil within a few days, wouldn’t spoil for weeks and could be exported, it could be travelled, and her writings on hops, were really the first one that helped popularise the use of it. And because of that antibacterial effect, it completely changed the beer industry. And soon, everybody wanted to put hops in their beer. Wow,
Natalie MacLean 22:08
I love it. I love it. Oh, my goodness, I know, I’m imagining my own dinner party, and Hilda’s there and another one I’d invite is Catherine the Great. So what did she do in relation to Russian vodka.
Mallory O’Meara 22:20
So she really was one of the first people to politically use alcohol, which was so cool. She was this very powerful Empress of Russia, really, of her own doing. She was a German princess that married in with Peter, who was not a great guy, very, very strange guy. She by her own hands sort of toppled him off the throne. And she recognised how important vodka was, this was during a time period when distilled alcohol was very new, it was like this new sensation in the alcohol world. And vodka became all the rage in Russia, you know, it was very easy and cheap to make kept you warm. And those cold Russian winters, everybody wanted it. So she recognised it as this important sort of very specifically Russian product. I mean, one of the ways that she convinced soldiers to help overthrow her husband was she promised them a bunch of vodka when they were done, and they were immediately loyal to her, she changed the vodka laws to make them more accessible to the populace at large. She really kind of harnessed the power of the people’s love of vodka for her own game.
Natalie MacLean 23:23
Oh, I love that. I’m watching the great on Amazon Prime. And I’m sure it’s totally well fictionalised and frivolous. But anyway, I’m going to keep that in mind as I watch the second season, see if there’s any vodka mentions in the air. But anyway, there you go. How would the gin shops of London, what’s their role? Yes. So
Mallory O’Meara 23:43
again, this was during a time period in the late 1500s, early 1600s, when distilled alcohol was a brand new, exciting thing. And gin came over to England, from the Dutch. And all of a sudden, that was just all the rage. Imagine only drinking pints of beer or ale your whole life and then someone gives you a pint of gin. It was just very, very different. It was like London suddenly became like a bunch of college kids. But the cool thing about gin was that because it was so new, it was not imbued with all the masculine tradition, that at that point, beer and taverns were it was a new thing. It was a modern drink. And this was a time period when in the first time in history, all sorts of single non mother women were going to London to try to find jobs. It was the very first time there were a bunch of unmarried women in a city sort of, you know, looking for things to do. So one thing that these women like to do after or before work sometimes when they went to the factory was go to the gin shop. So a lot of these gin shops were also run by women. Because again, you know, during that time period, taverns were completely taken over by men. But gin was a new thing for women so women could kind of get in on the ground floor. And these gin shops started just sort of tailoring themselves to these female customers. You know, they didn’t have as many tables around because they knew these factories. Women didn’t have the time to sit. So they created what we now know as a bar. It was a long piece of wood, a long bar that women could walk up to housewives, or mothers or women going to the factory, walk up, get a little DRAM of gin and then be on their way. And a bar was a sort of a signifier of a feminine establishment. And that’s why it’s so funny today that you know, now you know, going into the bar seems like such a masculine thing, but when they first started, it really was a marker of feminised drinking. Wow. I love it and gin become known as later Mother’s Ruin. Yes, yes. That was the dark side of Jen. That was what was known as the gin craze in London. There were some decades where, again, people just really, especially back then they didn’t have the scientific and medical knowledge. So people were dying from alcohol poisoning, but they didn’t connect the two. Because they just sort of thought, Oh, well, they’re both alcohol, a pint of ale, a pint of gin. What’s the difference? We’ve now today? No, there is quite a huge difference. But because gin shops were so much more friendly to women. And during that time period, women drinking was still sort of quite scandalous. So just seeing any sort of women drinking stood out so much more. So gin got a feminine identity. It was known as Mother gin, Mother Geneva Mother’s Ruin, it really sort of took on this notoriously feminine identity.
Natalie MacLean 26:18
And does it still have it? Like is a gin and tonic considered like a stereotypical women’s drink? If she’s going to have something in the spirits? Well,
Mallory O’Meara 26:26
I would say that Jen has finally moved on to be more of a unisex thing. Take it a long time to get there. But at least for me, personally, anecdotally, I think that Jen is taking on more of a neutral identity gender wise.
Natalie MacLean 26:39
Okay, and how about Gertrude? Cleo? lisco? Yes. Oh, I
Mallory O’Meara 26:44
love Cleo, so much as her name was Gertrude. But funnily enough, people thought that she looked like Cleopatra. So there’s a lot of Cleopatra’s in this book for some weird reason that I can’t understand. But she worked during Prohibition, she was the most successful bootlegger during that time period. If you ever heard the phrase, the real McCoy, it came from a bootlegger named Bill McCoy. And the reason he got that phrase came from his reputation of you knew that when you bought some bootleg alcohol from Bill, you weren’t going to get something that was made in a tub or a bucket. You were going to get real whiskey, real scotch. And the reason he had that real whiskey and real Scotch was because of Cleo. She was an American woman, but she worked out of the Bahamas, bootlegging, various scotches and bourbons and rise and all kinds of whiskey up into America from London and from other places that were under prohibition. She would have been a multimillionaire today if somehow prohibition happened today. She carried a pistol and I was speeding across the ocean to Florida from the Bahamas, in a boat with Bill and she carried a pistol and she was a pistol. I love it. I love it sounds like Amelia Earhart or somebody like, yeah, Annie, get your gun and go over the water.
Natalie MacLean 27:56
So then we move to ADA Coleman, what impact did she have on cocktails?
Mallory O’Meara 28:02
So Ada Coleman was what we would now call really the first female celebrity bartender. She worked in the early years of the 1900s. And she was the first and up until about two months ago, I think only ever female head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. And the reason why it was called the American Bar is because cocktails themselves are really the first sort of American art form that got the attention of the world. cocktails were a very American thing. That was the first sort of cultural product where everyone was like, oh, I want that I want that new American drink. So they call the bar the American Bar so that people in London would know, oh, they must be serving those cool new American drinks. So Ada was the head bartender there. She was extremely talented, but she was also very charming, very charismatic. And she really became one of the first bartenders, definitely the first female bartender that people went to the bar for celebrities, royalty, people wanted to go to the American Bar and see what Ada was making talk to ADA hang out with ADA. She created many cocktails, but the one that she’s most well known for is the hanky panky who she created this cocktail for actor and comedian Charles Hawtrey, because he came in one day, he loved a strong drank, he came in after work, and he said, Ada, can you mix me up something with a bit of bite to it, and she created a stirred cocktail with gin and vermouth and fernet, which, if you’ve ever had fernet, you know, describing it as having a bit of bite to it as a kind way of describing it as a very strong, very bitter liquor. And he drank it and said, Wow, that’s the real Hanky Panky, which in London at the time was shorthand for not what we think of Hanky Panky. But sort of like witchcraft. Like he was like, wow, that’s magic. That’s really that’s witchcraft. And he loved it. It became a menu staple at the Savoy, and it was all Ava’s creation.
Natalie MacLean 29:54
I love that. I love it.
Natalie MacLean 30:01
Well there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Mallory. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I was surprised to learn that the first known depiction of someone drinking was a woman, but not so surprised that men thought she was playing a horn from the wrong end, too. I love the story about Cleopatra’s drinking club with Mark Antony called the inimitable livers and her intoxication ring. I need to get one of those. It’s fascinating how the gendered perceptions of alcohol were used against her to bring down her empire. And three, it was also interesting to discover that women made most of the alcohol back in the day whether it was beer, spirits or wine, and it was considered a domestic art. Again, not surprised that the church cast ale wives cauldrons and their brooms is symbols for witches. In the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, links to Mallory’s new book, or podcast and our website. How you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find the live stream of the video version of this conversation on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube every Wednesday at 7pm That’s all in the shownotes at Natalie maclean.com forward slash 158. Email me if you have a tip or sip a question or if you’d like to be a beta reader of my new book at Natalie at Natalie Maclean comm you won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Mallory. In the meantime, if you missed Episode 14, go back and take a listen. I chat about how men and women approach wine differently. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite. Women buy wine to please guests, men by to impress them. Women are more about sharing wine. Men are more into cellaring otherwise known as hoarding. Women tend to ask for recommendations and guidance, more so than men who tend to act as though they already know about wine. When we’re last on vacation, who’s going to ask for driving directions. According to a British study, 22% of men embellish their expertise on wine to impress others. As Hugh Johnson, editor of the wine Atlas, and several other reference books observed, quote, wine is like sex in that few men will admit not knowing all about it and quote, so Are men from Bordeaux and women from Burgundy. Maybe
Natalie MacLean 32:35
if you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wines, drinks and stories we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a wine or a bourbon as well reading Mel reasonable
Natalie MacLean 33:03
you don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Natalie Maclean comm forward slash subscribe, maybe here next week. Cheers