Many other people looked upon the scotch pods and saw nothing but pure, open-container-law-circumventing brilliance. The capsules seemed perfect for sneaking booze into nearly anywhere. When asked whether the pods were intended to be a futuristic evolution of the flask, a representative for The Glenlivet seemed vaguely horrified and assured me that the capsules were intended to be consumed by adults as a novelty during the week’s cocktail convention. They’re “almost like a cocktail version of El Bulli’s spherical olive,” she said via email, apparently distressed that the internet had taken up a litany of less luxurious comparisons.
Still, The Glenlivet can’t really blame anyone for jumping to conclusions about the capsules’ best use. In America especially, Byzantine liquor laws have inspired do-it-yourself ingenuity from drinkers for a century. A seaweed pod would hardly be the weirdest method devised to imbibe discreetly.
The idea of translucent mini pouches swollen with alcohol sent me straight back to my freshman year at the University of Georgia, where I would pour Jim Beam into sandwich baggies with the other girls on my dorm hall. We’d duct-tape the bags to our thighs or nestle them in our bras, don our red-and-black sundresses, then head out to the weekend’s football game. At the time, league regulations prevented the sale of alcohol. We were 18 and broke, so we wouldn’t have been buying anyway.
William Rorabaugh, an alcohol historian and a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, told me that while my thigh-taping method of bourbon smuggling was new to him, the use of things like boot flasks date back at least to soldiers in the American Revolution. “For most of American history, alcohol was totally unregulated, so the obstacle to carrying it around from place to place was whether you had the money for a container,” he says. “You can find photographs of 8-year-old kids carrying growlers to saloons to bring beer home, and of course they’d sip some along the way.”
“We were an incredibly drunken culture,” Susan Cheever, the author of Drinking in America: Our Secret History, says of America’s early years. She cites the 1830s as the zenith of American drinking. This early history of drunkenness is often sanitized, she argues: Children aren’t taught the version of Paul Revere’s midnight ride that includes how drunk the militia was when the British eventually arrived, or that the pilgrims were sailing for Virginia but stopped at Plymouth, Massachusetts, because they were running out of beer. Nevertheless, heavy drinking was part of everyday life, and plenty of it was done publicly. “Farmers kept a bottle, and at the end of every row they had a drink,” Cheever says.
Industrialization helped pump the brakes on day drinking for some workers as more Americans took indoor jobs with standardized schedules in the 1800s. “[Farming] was incredibly hard, but if you fell down, it wasn’t a big deal,” Cheever says. “In a factory, if you fall into a piece of machinery, that’s not so forgiving.” During that time, people who hid liquor on their person mostly did so for practical reasons. “You didn’t want to carry a bottle that’s too visible because it made you a target for theft,” Rorabaugh explains. “So the idea of a hip flask or a flask that goes in the boot or is strapped around the thigh—those were pretty common.” In the 1800s, it wasn’t considered polite for women to drink, so they would often sneak their own liquor by filling up old perfume bottles.