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Scotch, Santa, and Barber Surgeons

At my house, Santa Claus didn't drink milk. Every year as a child, I'd leave a plate of cookies, a glass of scotch, and a carrot (for Rudolph). Every Christmas morning, there'd be a plate of crumbs, a missing carrot, and an empty glass. It didn't occur to me until later that if every child was doing that, then Santa must be driving his sleigh extremely drunk. Later even than that, I realized my grandfather was the one drinking the scotch. I was curious, therefore, when I discovered that both my inebriated version of Santa and my grandfather were choosing a liquor with a medical history. The word whiskey comes from the ancient Celtic word uisge beatha, which means water of life, and whiskey was actually known as aqua vitae during the Middle Ages. The first license for the production and sale of Scotch whiskey was granted to the Guild of Surgeon Barbers in Edinburgh by Royal charter of James IV in 1505. It was an exclusive monopoly, and they were the only organization that could produce and sell Scotch whiskey. Why the barber surgeons? At that time, a surgeon’s responsibilities were primarily limited to bleeding, amputations, and the drainage of pus - sounds pleasant, huh? Anesthetics like lidocaine, chloroform, and ether weren't available for another 350 some years, so whiskey was often used to dull the pain when performing an operation. For Santa, I imagine it would dull the pain of flying around in the snow all night. As for my grandfather . . . he simply made the most of his role. Ironically, he was a barber, but I assure you that no one in my family ever had a limb amputated on Christmas.