This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
(And see Alcohol).
A distinction should be made, for any medicinal purposes, between malt whisky and grain whisky. Most of what is usually supplied is probably a blend of the two. Good Whisky for helping the invalid should be that which has been made from malted barley; it should not be less than two years old, and bearing a flavour which is not disagreeable. By being kept in the wood it grows mellow, and the harsher the taste when young the more full-flavoured the whisky when mature. In the United States, whisky is now chiefly distilled from corn and rye. The spirit is almost colourless at first, but becomes darker by age, or more frequently from being kept in sherry casks. Grain whisky is made in England from a mixture of barley, rye, and maize, and is distilled by steam, so that much of the flavour is lost in the raw product. But grain whisky actually contains less fusel oil (a noxious property) than malt whisky. The legal limit of alcohol in this spirit is about forty-two per cent, which is the strength of ordinary whisky; so that a glass of whisky contains rather less than half a glass of absolute alcohol. Potheen is made, in contraband fashion, from molasses, being therefore more like nun than whisky.
The original name of whisky was Usquebaugh, the "water of life." Irish (pot-still) whisky differs from Scotch in being procured from a mixture of malted barley with other unmalted grain, and the malt is not dried over peat, so that the taste is not smoky. An old Scotch distiller of note used to say about his whisky, that the Highland water was so pure, and the herbage it came through so fragrant, that he could discern in the flavour of the spirit, Birch, Broom, and Wild Thyme. Whisky obtained from pure, malted, Scotch barley, and well matured, has fine flavours, and a mellow roundness which grain spirit altogether lacks. Whisky Smash is a beverage containing whisky, with mint bruised, or smashed in the liquor, and is usually made tart with the juice of oranges, lemons, or other subacid fruit. Cecilia (in Miss Burney's story) tells about a man who talked in such a whisky-frisky manner that nobody could understand him: "Why it's tantamount to not talking at all".
For confirmed sleeplessness, Mark Twain tried Alcohol, successfully for a time, but in doses which had to be constantly increased, until finally they failed, whilst making him worse in his general health. "I suffered much," he says, "from insomnia years ago; it does not trouble me now, though my work is still heavy, and becomes more exacting as the years steal on. I began the search for a cure by drinking a glass of beer before going to bed; this gave a little relief for a short time. Then I exchanged my beer for a small prescription of two ounces of whisky. This worked the desired cure. It proved the real remedy, so much so that I began to like my medicine. The two ounces of Scotch grew to five ounces, then the trouble began again. It was the old story of taking too much of a good thing. The five ounces sent me off all right, and brought about a kind of angelic sensation in my head, but in a couple of hours sleep would leave me, and the old trouble come back to stay all the rest of the night. I then sought another remedy, and found it.
Yes, sir, an infallible remedy! I got hold of it by accident.
It was a child's German grammar. I began to read it on lying down ; but I never got through a single page at a time. Sleep came along, and never gave the grammar a chance. Try it, and you will find it a dead, certain cure." Thomas de Quincey, the famous literateur, who wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater, (and who got to take nearly a large wineglassful of laudanum in all, as representing 320 grains of opium,) used at one time to " call every day for a glass of laudanum-negus, warm, and without sugar," just as another man might call ordinarily for a hot Scotch.
As to the old much-vexed question whether or not alcohol is a food, when taken in wine, malt liquor, or spirit, the most recent conclusion by unprejudiced authorities is that beyond certain narrow limits the poisonous action of such alcohol more than counter-balances its food value. Thus pronounces the Lancet in a current issue (October 22nd, 1904): " Alcohol has been proved to be a food in' the sense that when used in small quantities the energy given off during its oxidation may be employed for some of the body's needs ; but if at the same time it interferes with the healthy activities of that most important organ, the stomach, its food value will be overbalanced by its toxic effect. Similarly sea-water may be used in the boiler of a steam-engine, and the steam from its evaporation will transmit the energy of the fuel to the revolving wheels, but its corrosive action on the steel forbids its employment except in emergencies".
Certain non-alcoholic unfermented Nektar wines are now in the market, as made at Worms, on the Rhine. Their basic fruit juices are pasteurized, whilst no preservatives whatever are used in the manufacture. These wholesome wines contain from fifteen to twenty-five per cent of grape sugar, together with malic, tartaric, and racemic acids; also fixed salts of potash, soda, lime, magnesia, and iron. They help to obviate constipation of the bowels, being moreover antiseptic intestinally, also somewhat diuretic.
" Sound claret " (says the Lancet, October, 1904) " invariably contains the least proportion of acid of all wines. In health the individual would undoubtedly be better for drinking a pleasant light claret, rather than a glass of ardent spirit and water. Good sound claret need not contain more alcohol than does ale, or stout, while it is free from the extractive matters of the malt liquor." Nevertheless, after all said and done, English cider, the " Wine of the West Countree," is for ourselves the best and most wholesome vinous beverage, and withal of home production. So testifies the smock-frocked Devon labourer, weather-beaten, rosy, and wrinkled of face. "Ay, buoy, an when th' cider du be gude, 'tis th' best thing fur a man tu drink th't iver th' Almighty made! Aale du be gude; stout be summat none so ill; some folk du set gert store to furrin wines, and sich loike (though I niver taasted mun mysen), but gie oi gude cider, an' if mun don't loike mun, there be no countin some volks judgment".
In the days of our grandfathers a calmative drink was in vogue known as Julep (from an ancient Arabian word). This drink contained opium, with mucilage. The title is still retained by doctors for certain medicinal waters, but alcohol has been substituted for the opium therein. In Scotland, for a cold recently caught, a rob of black currant jelly is taken with whisky toddy, generally having the result of a cure straightway. The French make a similar cordial liqueur de cassis, from black currants, "qui est stomachique, et stimulante".