Drinks can be a tool to understanding history. Almost all cultures in man's recorded history used beer, wine or spirits as a part of religious or cultural ceremonies. Alcohol was also a part of the economic and social fabric for most communities.
A good example of this is an exhibit that opens on June 11 at the New York State Museum in Albany. Beneath the City: An Archaeological Perspective of Albany traces the development of one of North America's oldest cities. Among the featured elements of the exhibit: an 18th Century rum distillery that was discovered by workers in 2001 when they were building a parking garage.
The Dutch established Fort Orange in 1624. The English renamed the outpost Albany when they took control in 1664. The two seven-foot diameter fermentation vats that are part of the exhibit come from the era of British rule. A distillery was built in 1758-59 near the Hudson River and just outside the city limits so the operators to skirt laws that restricted the sale of alcoholic beverages to soldiers inside the city. It was a thriving business for its time and had an economic impact on Albany.