This section is from the book "Alcohol, Its Production, Properties, Chemistry, And Industrial Applications", by Charles Simmonds. Also available from Amazon: Alcohol: Its Production, Properties, Chemistry, And Industrial Applications.
Zeit, 1912, 36, 655.
3 Chron. of Pharmacy, 1, 329.
Whatever may be the facts as to the earliest mention of distilled alcohol, one thing is clear. The recognition of alcohol as a constituent of all fermented, beverages such as wine, beer, and mead depended on the possibility of separating it, and followed upon the improvements in distillation effected by the Alexandrians. As already indicated, the use of dehydrating agents in obtaining stronger spirit from weaker has long been practised; the method was known to Raymond Lully and to Basil Valentine, who both describe the employment of calcined tartar (potassium carbonate) for the purpose. It is interesting to note, in view of the importance of alcohol in medicine, that Lully terms it consolatio ultima corporis humani. Other names which the substance has received at one time or another are aqua ardens, aqua vitŠ, aqua vitis, spiritus vivus, and mercurius vegetabilis. Lully, indeed, waxes quaintly enthusiastic about his teacher Arnold's aqua vitce: it is "of marveylous use and commoditie a little before the joyning of battle to styre and encourage the soldiers' minds." " The taste of it exceedeth all other tastes, and the smell all other smells," he says. Against this, by way of contrast, we may put Shakespeare's lines: ' 0 thou invisible spirit of wine, if thou hast no name to be known by, let us call thee devil." (Othello, Act II, Scene 3.)
As regards the early use of alcohol in this county, "usquebagh," a spirit of native origin, is stated by Scarisbrick,1 though the authority is not given, to have been probably manufactured in Ireland about 1100 A.D. Brandy, according to the same writer, may have been received from France as early as the twelfth or thirteenth century; but the earliest trustworthy mention of spirit imports is of arrack ("huraca") brought to South Britain by Genoese merchants in the fifteenth century. The item ' to a woman for bringing aqua vitŠ, 3s. 4d.," occurs in an account of the privy purse expenses of Henry VII. Distilling had become known in the English monasteries, and alcohol figured in the pharmacopoeias of the period as a stimulant and curative agent in disease. By 1530 alcohol formed a recognised article of English diet. "Spyrites of the buttrye" was a common phrase for spirits of wine, which was also referred to as "brennynge watir" and "watir of lijf."
1 "Spirit Assaying," p. 47.
Alcohol may have been introduced into Scotland from Ireland in the twelfth century, but there appears to be no proof of its manufacture there till towards the end of the fifteenth century. The earliest reference so far traced occurs in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for the year 1494-5, where a certain friar, Brother John Cor, is directed to be supplied with eight bolls of malt ad faciendum aquavite for the use of the Scottish king.1 In 1498, the king, James IV., making a tour of his dominions, fell ill at Dundee, and a barber-surgeon called in to treat him prescribed alcohol. Hence in the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland the entry occurs: - "Item to the harbour that brocht aquavite to the king in Dunde be the lcingis command - IX shillings."
In the time of the Tudor kings, Scotch whisky obtained a considerable reputation in England. Thenceforward the knowledge and practice of distillation became gradually more widespread, and eventually the manufacture of spirits attracted the attention of the tax-gatherer. It was in due time brought under official scrutiny, and made a source of revenue by means of licences and excise duties.
Of the subsequent landmarks in the history of alcohol production, we may note here the introduction of distillation with direct steam by Sir A. Perrier at Cork in 1822. Much more important, however, was the introduction of the " patent ' or Coffey still, by means of which it became possible to produce alcohol of high strength and purity at a single distillation, carried on as a continuous process. This still was invented by Aeneas Coffey in 1831, and patented in 1832.