The Invention of Brandy - Early Alchemists - Aqua Vitse -Distillation - The Still-room - Ladies Drinking - Nantes and Charente - Johnson's Idea of Brandy - The Charente District - Manufacture of Brandy - The Cognac Firms.
Who invented Brandy ? is a question that cannot be authoritatively answered offhand; but the good people of some parts of Germany hold that it was the Devil. And their legend is, at all events, circumstantial.
Every one who is at all acquainted with old legends is fully aware that the Father of Evil is extremely simple and has allowed himself, many times, to be outwitted by man. Once, especially, he was so guileless as to put trust in a Steinbach man, who cajoled him into entering an old beech tree, and there he was imprisoned until the tree was cut down. His first step, on regaining his freedom, was to revisit his own particular dominion, which, to his horror, he found empty !
This, naturally, would not do, and he set about re-peopling hell without delay. He thought the quickest plan would be to start a distillery; so he hurried off at once to Nordhausen, where his manufacture of Brandy (his own invention) became so famous that people from all parts came to him to learn the new art, and to become distillers. From that time his Satanic Majesty has never had to complain of paucity of subjects.
It seems fairly established that the famous chemist Geber, who lived in the 7th or 8th century, was acquainted with distillation, and we know that it was practised by the Arabian and Saracenic alchemists, but have no knowledge whether they made any practical use of the alcohol they produced. They, at all events, gave us the word by which we now know the spirit, or ethereal part, of wine.
Alcohol, distilled from wine, is first reliably mentioned by a celebrated French alchemist and physician, Arnaud de Villeneuve, who died in 1313, who gave it the name of aqua vitae, or water of life,1 and regarded it as a valuable adjunct in physic, and as a boon to humanity. Raymond Lully, the famous alchemist, who is said to have been his pupil, declared it to be "an emanation from the Deity," and on its introduction it was supposed to be the elixir of life, capable of rejuvenating those who partook of it, and, as such, was only purchasable at an extremely high price.
We may see, by a book l written 200 years after the death of Arnaud de Villeneuve, the esteem in which Aqua Vitae was held even after so great a lapse of time.
1 The French name, Eau de Vie, having the same meaning.
1 "The Vertuose boke of Distyllacyon of the Waters of all maner of Herbes, with the fygures of the styllatoryes, Fyrst made and com-pyled by the thyrte yeres study and labour of the most conynge and famous master of phisyke, Master Iherom bruynswyke. And now newly Translated out of Duyche into Englysshe." etc. Lond., 1572.
From use in medicine, Aqua Vitae soon came into domestic use, and here it given one of Iherom Bruynswyke's "Styllatoryes," which he says was the "comon fornays" which was "well beknowen amonge the potters, made of erthe leded or glased, and it may be removed from the one place to the other."
It was in a still of this sort that the old housewives of the sixteenth and succeeding centuries used to concoct their strong and cordial waters - a practice which has given, and left to, our own times, the name of "Still-room," as the housekeeper's own particular domain. They experimented on almost every herb that grew, and some of their concoctions must have been exceedingly nasty. Yet some of their recipes read as if they were comforting, and they were not deficient in variety.
Heywood, in his Philocothonista, or The Drunkard, Opened, Dissected, and Anatomized, 1635, p. 48, mentions some of them. "To add to these chiefe and multiplicitie of wines before named, yet there be Stills and Limbecks going, swetting out Aqua Vitae and strong waters deriving their names from Cynamon, Lemmons, Balme, Angelica, Aniseed, Stomach Water, Hunni, etc. And to fill up the number, we have plenty of Vsque-ba'ha."
The old housewives" books of the latter end of the sixteenth century, until much later, are still in existence, and from them we may learn many drinks of our forefathers, how to make Ipocras (very good, especially when taken in a "Loving Cup"), to clarify Whey, to make Buttered Beer, Sirrop of Roses or Violets, Rosa Solis, a Caudle for an old Man, or to distil Spirits of Spices, Spirits of Wine tasting of what Vegetable you please, Balme Water, Rosemary Water, Sinamon
Water, Aqua Rubea, Spirits of Hony, Rose Water,
Vinegar, very many scents, and a distillation called Aqua Composita, which entered into many receipts. There are many formulae for this, but Bruynswyke gives the following:
Although the Still-room was serviceable for medicinal purposes, yet, as we have seen, there were many comforting drinks made, including Vsquebath, or Irish aqua vita (a recipe for which we will give in its proper place), and doubtless this contributed much towards the tippling habit of some ladies in the 17th and 18th centuries. We hear somewhat of this in the reign of good Queen Anne (who, by the bye, was irreverently termed "Brandy-faced Nan"), when they used to make, and drink, Ratifia of Apricocks, Fenouil-lette of Rhe, Millefleurs, Orangiat, Burgamot, Pesicot, and Citron Water, etc., etc., numerous allusions to which are made in the pages of "The Spectator," and other literature of the times. Edward Ward, who had no objection to call a spade, a spade, thus plainly speaks out.1