Heritage Drinks of Myanmar’ coffee-table book captures the taste of traditional tipple

Heritage Drinks of Myanmar’ coffee-table book captures the taste of traditional tipple

Australian author and researcher Luke James Corbin has just released his first book, Heritage Drinks of Myanmar detailing fourteen traditional drinks still brewed and distilled in Myanmar.

The work covers drink preparation methods, ritual uses and the cultural importance of these beverages. Heritage drinks are vital components of village economies across Southeast Asia and are integral to people’s agricultural livelihoods.

Published in a bilingual English and Burmese languages edition, this premium coffee table book also features over 100 colour photographs.

The book was written by Luke James Corbin, the photographs were taken by Shwe Paw Mya Tin and the Burmese language translation was by Su Mon Thant, who also helped with research.

The earliest discovered proof of alcohol production continues to be pushed further back into the prehistoric past: at present, evidence suggests we were making beer and other drinks at least 11,700 years ago, at the same time as the agricultural revolution, when several societies worldwide simultaneously started intensively domesticating plants and animals. This revolution directly led to the foundation of cities, civilizations and the later technological revolutions that shaped our world today.

As global humankind developed into complex cultures and societies, alcohol’s role evolved as providing sustenance and pleasure, and delivering social functions. Drinks have long been and continue to be ubiquitous in human rituals.

Heritage Drinks of Myanmar demonstrates how the anthropological study of traditions and rituals surrounding alcohol helps better understand historical and ongoing cultural practices, human interactions and societal structures. Author, Luke James Corbin explains, “Alcohol is foundational to human civilization. Different drinking cultures have evolved over time the world over, and in 
Myanmar we see a snapshot  of the diversity of human expression found in drink, its importance to rural economies and social life, and how crafting, selling and sharing drinks produced from local and far-flung ingredients provides economic independence for women.”

Southeast Asia in particular has a unique and underexplored tapestry of traditional drinks, which are critical to the heritage of the region’s populations. The long-term regional trend of agrarian transformation and integration into global markets is changing the way people value, produce and consume these drinks. Southeast Asia deserves to be more widely known for its cultural heritage on the global stage, at a time when many markets in the world are looking towards Asia for leadership and inspiration.

Trasvin Jittidecharak, founder of Drinks of Myanmar’s publisher Silkworm Books, said: “Sharing and enjoying drinks together helps people live, work, and play alongside one another. Such recreation is proof of human society, if not civilization.”

Drinks manufacturer Pernod Ricard also gave Mr Corbin funding to help him write the book. Pernod Ricard Asia’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Sustainability ‘ Responsibility, Hermance De La Bastide said: “Heritage Drinks of Myanmar gives us a chance to reflect upon the place of alcohol in modern societies”

“As we explore how to tackle harmful consumption behaviors, there stands an opportunity to strengthen society’s knowledge of the role alcohol has played in a country’s history and heritage,” she added.

Luke James Corbin is an Australian writer, media producer and brewer who was based in Yangon, Myanmar from 2016—2020. He is editor of the Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship and founder and host of the Myanmar Musings podcast.

Heritage Drinks of Myanmar is his first book. Researcher and translator Su Mon Thant is a master’s degree graduate of Keele University, UK. Photographer Shwe Paw Mya Tin is a Yangon-based freelance photographer.

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