Ol' ...hiccup, Blue Eyes
By R. D. Flavin


My 'patriotic' eyes (red, white, and blue).

     It seems 'racial-profiling' has achieved passé status, as the 'new' quasi-scientific bigotry would have some folks believe those with blue eyes are more prone to be alcoholics than others (Sulovari et al. 2015). Ol' ...hiccup, Blue Eyes (that is, Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra, might have taken offense at such a suggestion, or perhaps simply have said “Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy”). IMO, what's needed is a better understanding of both eye-color and if alcoholism may be established as existing as a genetic propensity (Nurnberger & Bierut 2007) or as a behavioral condition regardless of environmental or inherited factors (Rose 1998). Yeah, this is going to get complicated...

     It's partially true such Northern Europeans as the Russians, Poles, Germans, Brits, and Irish have a well deserved reputation when it comes to their prodigious consumption of alcoholic beverages. This does and should NOT imply the rest of the planet are so-called “teetotalers” or don't have a drinking problem (spillage, not enough cash, etc.), but rather Northern Europeans seem to honestly answer questionnaires more than others. Well, at least when it comes to booze.

     Now, as far as blue eyes are concerned, it's my understanding such are not uncommon in Eastern and Southern Europe, Ukrainian and Ashkenazi Israeli Jews, as well as parts of Western Asia. Blue eyes are NOT just an Irish (or Scottish) trait. Okay, there's also Siamese cats, but let's not climb into that litter-box.

Ancient History:

Cretan smoking vase ca. 1450-1100 BCE, Chinese characters for or cannabis, and 1st to 3rd centuries Kushan stamp-seals identifying distilled beverages from Pakistan/India.

     As techno-animals, we take our cue and certain behavioral tendencies from 'lesser' animals, especially when it comes to ...getting drunk. [For an insightful quick overview, see The Smithsonian Magazine's online article, “The Alcoholics of the Animal World” at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-alcoholics-of-the-animal-world-81007700/?no-ist.] Over the years, there have been many videos of animals getting wasted on fermented fruit, though the Rhesus macaque monkey has been known to blow a .08 (illegal to drive in most states), and ...they don't have blue eyes. However, here we're mentioning naturally fermented fruit and its consumption. Now, fermentation on purpose is a whole different level of commitment.

     While the fermenting of grapes and other fruits occurred globally at remarkably early dates (as early as 6000 BCE in the Old World and 2000 BCE in the New), the invention or 'brewing' of beer (or related intoxicant, r.e., the chicha of Peru), while still 'open' to debate, likely began with a soaking technology as used to make legumes soft and edible, and then later applied to the grains of wild grasses. At some point (10,000 BCE?), a brave person encountered a bowl of soaking grain or porridge which had been subjected to an airborn natural yeast and drank the bubbling concoction. And, ...we had beer. The ancient Egyptians had elaborate straws for it, the Babylonian “Code of Hammurabi” contained many laws concerning beer (its purity, price, where and when it could sold, etc.), the “strong drink” of Hebrew scripture was likely beer and as 'beer' was commonplace in the Eastern Mediterranean, it may be assumed the historical Jesus had a mug or three during his lifetime. Though relatively simple to 'brew', some cultures were better at producing beer than others.

     With much still to be learned about the beginnings of wine and beer, the distillation process which enables the production of ethanol, that is to say, ethyl alcohol or the “hard-stuff,” is a field of investigation hotly debated and rife with speculation (Levey 1955). We have some evidence of distillation as early as the middle of the fourth century BCE in Tepe Grawa, but it's with the extant Akkadian diqaru or “distillery” ca. 1200 BCE (see: Fig 3, between pp. 32-33 in Levey 1960a, Levey 1960b) some semblance of 'proof' emerges.

Early “double-rimmed” Akkadian distillation device ca. 1200 BCE.

     It's commonly accepted the ancients manufactured their perfumes and ointment-like unguents or 'solid perfumes' by pressing oils, usually olive, with various flowers, spices, fruits, and other plants or plant derivatives. It's believed the ancient Greeks knew how to distill, but found it too troublesome and continued with the 'pressing' method. A 2nd century CE commentator on Aristotle (specifically, Meteorologica), Alexander of Aphrodisias, is thought to have 'distilled' water (Taylor 1945, p. 186), and from his writings, knowledge of the distillation process passed into the Islamic world. There have been many claims of ancient distillation from various parts of the world (China with rice, Egypt with Seth-knows-what, etc.), and even in the pre-Columbian 'New World' (Zizumbo-Villarreal 2009), though the evidence from the Early Classical Period of the Kushan Empire with its stamp-seals signifying vessels which contained distilled 'spirits' from ca. 1st - 3rd centuries CE is as impressive as it is mysterious (see above), that is, was such a technology derived from contact with Alexandrian Greeks, Romans, or later Greco-Romans (Allchin 1979; Fig. 4, p. 59). What may be ascertained with a degree of certainty, however, is the 'alembic' distillation of alcohol by Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ al-Kindī and his experiments with perfumes (passim Levey 1956) and Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī with an interest in alchemy. Sometime after the 12th century CE, the technology of alcohol distillation passed from Islam into Europe, was at first only used by Christian monks and the making of brandy, but after 1500 and the publishing of Liber de arte destillandi or “The Book of the Art of Distillation” the German alchemist Hieronymus Braunschweig; Strassburg: Johann (Reinhard) Grüninger, the first book solely dedicated to the subject of distillation, followed in 1512 by a much expanded version. And, as it goes, the booze was out of the bag and every capable country began to produce its own unique “water of life” afterward.

Personal History:

Frank “Ol' Blue Eyes” Sinatra and Bobby Darin.

     And, now from wicked way left field, I'd like to relate a curious mystery from my childhood involving Ol' Blue Eyes, that is, Frank Sinatra. While my father had no problem with my mother appreciating Sinatra, collecting his records, whistling along to his tunes, for some ...reason, he didn't like her listening to Bobby Darin. Yeah, the guy who married Sandra Dee and sang “Mack the Knife” and “Somewhere Beyond the Sea.” I'm talking REALLY didn't like her listening to Bobby Darin. On at least two occasions my dad busted up her vinyl singles and trashed them, though my mom didn't seem to have any difficulty replacing them, and it became “our” secret and she'd listen to Darin when my dad wasn't around. Something was happening there, I'll probably never know what, but apparently my dad thought Ol' Blue Eyes was 'in' and Bobby Darin was 'out'.

Back to the Blue (and out of the black...):

Let's begin by rounding percentages of worldwide eye-color:
Brown  55%
Black   0%
Blue     8%
Green  2%
Gray    0%
Amber 5%
Hazel   5-8%
and the rest wear sun-glasses and we don't know their eye-color...

Table 1. (Duffy et al. 2007, p. 242); admitting “Subjects were overwhelmingly (>95%) of northern European origin (mainly Anglo-Celtic).”

     My, my, it would seem some have it in for blue-eyed Americans of Anglo-Celtic stock... And, of course, I categorically reject such on the grounds of both the uncertainty over the significance of eye-color to any given population and also the linking to alcoholism which more and more is regarded as behavioral rather than genetic. That most babies are born with 'blue' eyes (rather, the lack of melanin), and their eyes change color during their first year due to the melanocytes in the iris of the human eye, is ...just one of those things which nature tosses at us. Perhaps some day a better understanding of the why we possess various skin, hair, and eye shades will be advanced and accepted, and I look forward to it. Until then, profiling European-Americans in the United States of America as likely being an alcoholic is unscientific and wrong. Granted, not as bad as being a young African-American stopped by the police...  Kind of makes me wish Ol' Blue Eyes was still around to say: “Basically, I'm for anything that gets you through the night - be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels.”


Allchin, F. R. 1979. “India: The Ancient Home of Distillation?” Man. 14, 1: 55-63.

Duffy et al. 2007. “A Three-Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism Halotype in Intron 1 of OCA2 Expalins Most Human Eye-Color Variation.” By David L. Duffy, Grant W. Montgomery, Wei Chen, Zhen Zhen Zhao, Lien Le, Michael R. James, Nicholas K. Hayward, Nicholas G. Martin, and Richard A. Sturm. The American Journal of Human Genetics. 80, 2: 241-252.

Levey, Martin. 1955. "Evidences of ancient distillation, sublimation and extraction in Mesopotamia." Centaurus.  4, 1: 23-33.

Levey, Martin. 1956. “Babylonian Chemistry: A Study of Arabic and Second Millenium B.C. Perfumery.” Osiris. 12: 376-389.

Levey, Martin. 1960a. “Early Muslim Chemistry: Its Debt to Ancient Babylonia.” Chymia. 6: 20-26.

Levey, Martin. 1960b. “The Earliest Stages in the Evolution of the Still.” Isis. 51, 1: 31-34.

Nurnberger, Jr., John I. and Laura Jean Bierut. 2007. "Seeking the Connections: Alcoholism and our Genes." Scientific American. 296, 4: 46-53.

Rose, Richard J. 1998. “A Developmental Behavior-Genetic Perspective on Alcoholism Risk.” Alcohol Research: Current Reviews (Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). 22, 2: 131-143

Sulovari et al. 2015. “Eye color: A potential indicator of alcohol dependence risk in European Americans.” By Arvis Sulovari, Henry R. Kranzler, Lindsay A. Farrer, Joel Gerlernter, and Dawei Li. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics. 168, 5: 347-353. Published online 4-29-2015; DOI: 10.1002/ajmg.b.32316.

Taylor, F. Sherwood . 1945. "The Evolution of the Still." Annals of Science. 5, 3: 185-202. doi:10.1080/00033794500201451.

Zizumbo-Villarreal et al. 2009. “Distillation in Western Mesoamerica before European Contact.” By Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal, Fernando González-Zozaya, Angeles Olay-Barrientos, Laura Almendros-López, Patricia Flores-Pérez and Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín. Economic Botany. 63, 4: 413-426.

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