Drinks With Characters

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Juliette Wade, author extraordinaire and host of the fabulous Google Hangout group Dive into Worldbuilding. It's a fantastic series and she's just started a Patreon to support the effort.


So when Megan invited me to post to her blog series on Drinks with Characters, I took a look at a few of the suggested drinks, and mostly didn't want to try them! But I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to talk about how drinks can help your worldbuilding. In fact, if you've been following Drinks with Characters, that's what you've been getting: one little peek at a time into "what do people drink in this world"? Today I'm going to look at another question. "How do we define 'drinks' in a world, and how do they help define the characters in that world?"

Let's start with water. Unless you're working with a science fictional world with alternate chemistry, this will be the basis for most things being liquid-that-you-put-in-your-body because it's necessary for life. In our world, people worked very hard to create water purification systems and plumbing systems to deliver fresh water to the places where we'd find it most convenient. However, the drinking of tap water gets entangled in value judgments about wealth and poverty. Sometimes people refuse to drink plain water because they are so accustomed to juice, milk, or other flavored drinks. They may also refuse to drink tap water because they associate it with being poor. As a result, the drink companies take advantage of this bias to sell them bottled water, along with an entire narrative about why it would be better to pay money the bottling and the bottle itself. We've also seen the extent of water contamination in places like Flint, Michigan, where the only thing residents can afford is contaminated, and poisoning their children. Poisoned water or environmental racism can be explored in fiction just as well as any of these other value judgments. I think the most classic example of a different value placed on water in SFF comes from Frank Herbert's Dune. On the planet Arrakis, because water is incredibly scarce, people are used to drinking water recycled from their own body excretions, and water is a form of currency. The oppressors on the planet waste water as a show of their overwhelming power.

When you look at drinks other than water - yes, I'm getting to alcohol - you find that those drinks will reflect the world, because at their root lie questions of climate and the availability of grain for beer, fruit for wine, potatoes for vodka, etc. Some cultures avoid alcohol, of course, and some avoid caffeine, too. What will you do in the culture you're creating?

One way to approach creating drinks in an alternate world is to think of drinks as occupying the same slots that drinks occupy in our own culture: e.g. one slot for water, one for juice, one for milk, one for coffee, one for beer, one for wine, one for whiskey. Of course, you don't have to substitute into every slot. Anne McCaffrey's Pern books used wine without any alteration, but replaced coffee with a drink called klah.

Another way to approach drinks in worldbuilding is to look at the social groups you're defining in your world, and consider how drinks might fit into the drinking habits of those people. Perhaps there is a form of moonshine that is the only thing affordable by poor people at the end of a hard day. It may have chemical similarities to another strong drink that is favored by rich people, but they would probably not have the same name. Is there a before dinner drink that contrasts with an after dinner drink? Is there a "dress up, dress down" drink that keeps its name but differs in flavor depending on who produces it and how it's priced? And don't forget to think about drink-related language, such as what people say when they drink a toast (and why).
Drinks might seem like a side note in the context of a large story, but in worldbuilding, tiny details can make a critical difference, helping to create a sense of difference, and helping readers to believe in the seamlessness of the world you've created.

Cheers, and happy worldbuilding!


Juliette Wade hosts the Dive into Worldbuilding show on Google Hangouts, where she uses her academic expertise in anthropology and linguistics to take discussions of worldbuilding topics beyond the expected. Her short fiction explores language and culture issues across the genres of fantasy and science fiction. She has appeared in Clarkesworld, Fantasy&Science Fiction, and Analog magazines.

If you're a fan of worldbuilding and want to take your skills further, you can also become a part of the Dive into Worldbuilding workshop. Join Juliette's Patreon and get brainstorming prompts, research links, exclusive peeks into research topics, or even get Juliette to help you with your work directly. https://www.patreon.com/JulietteWade

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Today I have the pleasure of hosting the fabulously geeky Micah Joel! He's here to tell us about his experiments with Sumerian beer.


micah-joel-broken-tabletYou know what’s good? Beer. Mmmmm, beer.

I grew up in the midwest, where they proudly served “both kinds” of beer, so I always assumed beer was this terrible fizzy yellow stuff that tasted like watery floor cleaner. I have since learned the error of my ways.

Maybe that’s part of the appeal of the Sumerians to me. There’s a raging debate whether they developed agriculture to support their beer, or beer to support their agriculture. But either way, it definitely wasn’t yellow, nor terribly fizzy.

Sumerian Beer Experiment #2

Beer and bread are closely linked. A twice-baked bread called bappir is a key ingredient in this brew. Take a bunch of barley flour, add in some water and date paste. If you have any edible seeds, go ahead and toss them in. Spices? Go for it. Mix into a thick dough, and bake. Flip ‘em over and bake again. Now you’ve got bappir.

Special note: to be really authentic, be sure to include plenty of barley husks in the mix, and various bits of grit and pebbles that broke away while hand-milling the flour. Really adds to the crunch.

I hypothesize that brewers might have used heated stones to warm up the mash (that is to say, the not-yet-beer) formed by mashing up the bappir with fresh water from the canal.

Leave this rich wort exposed to air and I guarantee something will take root in it. Thanks to Louis Pasteur we now know about yeasts and other microorganisms. Some make better beers than others. But you can be sure that the best brewers had a “magic” stirring paddle that carried along the best strains that only they could impart.

Best drunk through a tall straw to filter out the majority of the gunk and floaters. But hey! It’s still beer. A deserved award for inventing cities, agriculture, and metalworking.

So Sumerian brewing actually provides a significant plot point for the modern-day character stuck in bronze age Sumer in my novel Broken Tablet which is available on Amazon here -> https://www.amazon.com/Broken-Tablet-Bronze-Travel-Revolution-ebook/dp/B01G4YM4RW

You can also join my reading list at http://micahjoel.info/geeks/ for news and updates, and a free story from the Broken Tablet universe featuring, you guessed it, a detailed look into the Sumerian brewing process, plus a gender role reversal for good measure.

Bottoms up!


Micah Joel's books combine geeky characters with cutting-edge technology, whether modern or ancient. Micah works as a professional geek in Silicon Valley. If you use the internet, chances are you've run some of his code.

Today I'm hosting the wonderful Josh Vogt, author of The Cleaners, Enter the Janitor, and all around awesome person. I do not, however, suggest trying any of this drinks. Well, maybe the water's safe. Maybe.


Fantastic to join you on ye ol’ blog of drink-swappage. Let me jump in with a quick drink recipe beloved by one of the main characters from Enter the Janitor, the first in my urban fantasy series, The Cleaners. Danielle Hashelheim (aka Dani) has a particular cocktail she loves to swig on a regular basis these days.

The recipe:

  • 1 – 6 oz. bottle hand sanitizer
  • Personal note from Dani: “No, really. It’s quite refreshing. Just don’t sneeze while gargling.”
  •  Note from me: “Never try this at home, kids.”

I suppose she deserves an explanation. See, Dani’s a germophobe. She’s had issues with dirt and germs and all things icky ever since she can remember, and has developed numerous coping mechanisms to keep the filthy world at bay. She’s always carried bottles of hand sanitizer to combat immediate exposure, though really bad situations require a several-hour-long decontamination process.

She didn’t used to actually drink the stuff, knowing how harmful it could be. But ever since she joined the Cleaners—a supernatural sanitation company—she’s received a few nice employee perks including magical protection against the harmful properties of cleaning chemicals and supplies.

Bonus drinks round!

Janitor Ben: The cheapest beer on tap. Dani’s janitorial mentor doesn’t care about the quality. He just wants something to relax with after a long day scrubbing toilets and turning muck monsters into inanimate piles of goop.

Carl: Water. Ben’s partner is a water elemental, after all. While cooped up in a spray bottle much of the time, he always enjoys a dip in the nearest puddle.

Sydney: “Life is meaningless. Drinks are meaningless.”

Okay then. We’ll stop there.

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Enter the Janitor: A janitor working for a supernatural sanitation company must track down a fledgling demigod before it’s corrupted or destroyed, all while training a rebellious new employee whose fluctuating power could trash an entire city.

The Maids of Wrath (2016): When a couple maids wielding feather dusters fly into bloodthirsty rages, it’s up to the Cleaners to uncover the Corruption within their own ranks, or risk getting their whole company flushed down the drain.


Josh-8194-2 - smallerWriter. Freelancer. Unashamed geek. Josh splits his time between dreaming up new worlds and forms of magic and providing marketing/sales copy for clients. It's sometimes difficult to know which requires more imagination.

www.jrvogt.com