Today's alcoholic beverages range from canned Strawberritas to expertly crafted cocktails, but modern bartenders aren't the first people to invent adults-only drinks. In fact, there are plenty of types of weird ancient liquors that have survived in the historical and archaeological records. These ancient alcohols don't always sound appetizing, but they're definitely fascinating.
Beer is one of the oldest beverages still being enjoyed today. The Egyptians were big home-brewers, though their drinks were soupier than most modern imbibers would prefer. The ancient drinks of the Greeks include kykeon, a mysterious barley-cheese beverage. But drinking in the ancient world often involved psychedelics as well. That shouldn't be surprising; after all, liquor in the ancient world was often used in religious rituals.
Unusual wines, agave extracts, and hearty ales have been enjoyed for centuries. Consider the history contained in that bottle of beer the next time you crack one open.
Kykeon was a psychedelic drink hailing from ancient Greece. What exactly went into it is a mystery, but it appears to have contained an unusual mix of barley, cheese, and wine.
Throughout ancient texts, "kykeon" might have been a generic word used to describe a potion with magical effects, but it was also often associated with "mysteries," or covert rites for a particular god. The most famous "mysteries" were the secret rites of the goddess Demeter at Eleusis, where participants downed an unknown hallucinogenic beverage to see visions. Scholars now think it might have been kykeon containing moldy grain, which was specially treated to yield psychedelic effects.
Posca is perhaps the most unusual of ancient Roman drinks. It was just watered-down sour wine or vinegar (created from wine that had gone bad). A beverage for common people and soldiers, this thirst-quencher might not have been the tastiest, but some added herbs to try and improve its flavor. Interestingly, some high-ranking military men chose to drink posca to gain credibility with the average soldier.
Shedeh is a mysterious ancient Egyptian drink whose contents scholars still debate. Was it wine, made from pomegranates or grapes, or perhaps blended from both? The term "shedeh" has no translation in modern English, and the only Egyptian text that chronicled how it was made said it was filtered and heated - but the papyrus it was found on was incomplete. Whatever it was, shedeh was apparently a beverage fit for the pharaohs: King Tutankhamun's tomb contained an amphora of the liquor.
Pulque is arguably the most storied alcoholic drink in Mexico's history, serving as an ancestor of mescal and tequila. It's made by fermenting, not distilling, the sap of the maguey plant (AKA agave). It contains a lot of probiotics, and has served many purposes over the years.
In mythology, the milky white beverage was said to have been invented in a lost divine paradise, although humans probably first started drinking it about 4000 years ago. The Aztecs also used it as a religious stimulant.