Cheers! The History Of The Toast

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of raising glasses, making a speech, and clinking them together as a gesture of honor, congratulations, and well wishes at celebrations began?

Toasting has been a part of our culture since pre-history, and is a tradition we continue as we celebrate life, love, friendship, mourning, or just a darn good glass of wine.

Ancient Greeks would honor the gods with an offering of fermented beverages, the host would take the first sip of wine to assure guests the wine was not poisoned, hence the phrase “drinking to one’s health.” Many argue that the modern act of toasting came from the 16th Century when men lived in a constant state of fear that they were going to be poisoned. And for good reason; poisoning had become a fashionable way of dealing with one’s enemies, competitors and debtors, as it was difficult to prove the guilty party and, comparatively, fast, clean and simple. Anne Boleyn poisoner To put guests at ease, it became commonplace for a host to pour the wine from a common pitcher to be shared, taking the first sip himself. This fear of poisoning also explains the act of “cheers” – the theory being that by clinking glasses together, some of the wine from one glass would splash into the glass of the other and vice versa.

But…Why Toast?

While the origins of the ritual make sense, it’s harder to guess why we call the act of raising glasses in honor a “toast.” You might be surprised to learn that the act of a toast is named for…the charred bread.

Before the process of storing, fermenting and crafting wine was perfected, the quality of wine was nowhere near the wine we drink today. Rather than discarding wine that was sour or spoiled, historically people would add bits of charred, spiced toast to mask the flavor.

Why in the world would they do this?

  • Filtration: The bread would help to soak up the bitter sediment and dregs residing at the bottom of the glass.
  • Chemical reaction: Charred bread would help make the wine less acidic, working similarly to how activated carbon works in water filters today.
  • Flavoring: Adding spices helped mask bad tastes and was a popular method for centuries. Modern Wassail recipes (as in the Christmas carol, “Here We Come A Wassailing”) use many of the same spices brewed in warmed wine and is still commonly served during the holiday season, though most choose to leave out the burnt stale bread pieces.

Eventually, by sometime in the 1700’s, the phrase raising a “toast” referred to raising a glass filled with wine…and charred, spiced toasty bread.

The Art of the Toast

While we don’t recommend serving crusty charred bread in your wine at your next gathering, we certainly laud a well-delivered toast. It’s a time-honored way to encourage camaraderie, express gratitude, and generate a beautiful memory.  There are numerous books and articles with tips and tricks on how to improve your public speaking skills, but when it comes to the humble toast, there are a few simple rules to follow to deliver the perfect toast, regardless of the size of the gathering.

  1. Make the Moment: Typically, at the end of a meal or just prior to a transition during a party is the best time to give your toast, but any time when there is a tangible lull in the events can be the right moment.
  1. Seize Attention: The easiest way to draw attention to yourself in order to deliver a toast is to stand above the rest of the gathering. If you’re at a meal, standing up may suffice. In a room full of people, finding a stage, the spotlight, or even standing on a chair may be necessary. Clinking silverware on a glass is the universal sound for, “pay attention, a toast is coming!” Wait for all eyes to be on you and for quiet before you begin. This can be the most difficult part, as nerves may cause you to rush forward, but it’s an injustice to your guests and your speech.
  2. Stay on Message: Use as many words as you need, but no more than are necessary. It’s not a requirement to be funny or draw tears with your toast, but it is absolutely imperative that you are genuine. Unless you are giving a spur of the moment toast or are extremely talented at thinking on your feet, always write down your toast ahead of time and rehearse it both to yourself and in front of someone who you trust will give you constructive feedback.
  3. End it. It can be hard to decide how to end a toast Here are a few favorite classics:

“May our house always be too small to hold all of our friends.”

“He who clinks his cup with mine, adds a glory to the wine!”

“Here’s to mine and here’s to thine! Now’s the time to clink it. Here’s a bottle of fine old wine, and we’re all here to drink it.”

“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rains fall soft upon your fields.”

Need a Fantastic Bottle of Wine to Share? Raise a Toast with Handcrafted Local Wine!

Of course, speaking eloquently and raising a glass is meaningless without a quality wine! At Land O Lakes Winery  we offer an assortment of premium wines to help you celebrate any occasion.