Whisky

Franciscan scholar Roger Bacon was largely responsible for planting the seeds of distillation in the British Isles when he translated Arabian texts on the subject into English whilst in the 1230s and 1240s he taught at Le Sorbonne in Paris. Coupled with John Duns Scotus returning from the University of Montpelier’s revelations on distillation thanks to Arnaud De Villeneuve and Ramon Lull, the art of European distillation made its way by 1320 from England to Ireland. The pleasures of ...

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Vodka

The word vodka is a diminutive of the Russian voda, meaning ‘water’ (an analogue of the word whisky which means ‘water of life’ in Gaelic). The Polish call it gorzalka (horilka in Ukrainian) from the verb goret’ (to burn). It is not known who invented vodka, although some claim it was first made in the X century by a Persian physician, Al-Razi. However, as the Persian Arabs were forbidden to drink alcohol, it was used only for medicinal purposes or in chemistry. At around the same ...

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Rum

Chartered in 1621, the Dutch West India Company had a hand in boosting the exportation of lump sugar and cachaça from Brazil’s northeastern “sugar coast” for over a decade. According to some historical sources, in 1637, Dutch émigré Pietr Blower brought sugar cane seedlings and alembics to the British colony on Barbados. Previously settled in Brazil, Blower encouraged the locals to distil molasses as a way to extend the value of each harvest. The British had settled in Barbados 10 ...

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Gin

Juniper-flavoured spirit (made from a blend of malted wheat, barley, corn, and rye) was incredibly popular in the Netherlands when British troops first arrived in 1585 to support the Dutch fight for independence from Spanish rule. Jenever became even more alluring when they shared a dram of “Dutch courage” with their fellow soldiers as British and Dutch fought against the Spanish once again between 1618 and 1648. When Dutch Statedholder William III of Orange ascended the British throne ...

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Tequila

The common ancestor of tequila and mezcal is pulque, the fermented sap of the agave americana, or maguey plant, which has grown in Mexico since ancient times. The drink was very popular amongst the Aztecs, who drank it in place of wine at feasts. In the XVII century, the Spanish brought the art of distilling to Mexico and from then on a strong alcoholic drink based on pulque could be made – mezcal. The name comes from the Aztec Nahuatl language and is made up of two words: melt, meaning ...

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Bourbon

The invention of bourbon is often credited to a man named of Elijah Craig. It is thought that at the end of the XVIII century he came up with the idea of distilling the fermented corn mash which the Indians used for food. However, not everyone agrees with this theory. In The Book of Bourbon, Gary and Mardee Haidin Regan suggest that the inventor of bourbon could be Dr James C. Crow, a Scot living in Kentucky who, in the early XIX century, began using corn as the main ingredient in whisky. He ...

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Vermouth

Wine infused with wormwood was a popular remedy for digestive complaints in ancient Greece and Rome. Documented by Hippocrates, Pliny the Elder and others, this formula was so pleasant, it eventually evolved from a medicine to a pleasurable beverage favoured by the nobility. Recipes developed not only at medieval monasteries and educational institutions such as the University of Salerno but in private homes throughout the Holy Roman Empire from Germany and Prussia to the Duchy of Savoy were ...

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Brandy

It is impossible to say exactly how brandy originated, but there is a legend that a certain Chevalier de la Croix, on retiring, took up wine distilling. He decided to try distilling it twice to improve the quality, and took two casks of the liquid to the Renorville monks. The contents of the first cask were drunk immediately, and the second cask was taken down to the cellar to be saved for a special occasion. This occasion arose only fifteen years later, when the monks paid a visit to ...

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Champagne

When the Romans first settled in Gaul circa 50 A.D., they planted most of their prized vines in places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Loire, not on the dry chalk hillsides around the Plaine de Champagne. The district’s chilly climate and thin, barren soil were considered better suited to corn. Not until around 276 A.D. did Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus grant the people of Champagne the right to plant grapevines once again. Champagne’s vineyards flourished after that. Wines made at ...

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Absinthe

There is also a bit of a dispute over the originator of another wormwood-based spirit: absinthe. Some historians declare that Dr Pierre Ordinaire, an exiled French royalist living in Switzerland, created la fée verte [the green fairy] in 1792 as a distilled elixir. Others say Ordinaire stole the recipe from the Henriod sisters from Couvet, who advertised their extrait d’absinthe, around 1769, in a Neuchâtel newspaper. And both sides claim that Major Daniel-Henri Dubied purchased the recipe ...

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Sambuca

The history of the liqueur we know today as sambuca is linked to the nomadic Saracens who landed on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs moored their ships in a port owned by the Italians, after which an aniseed-based drink began to gain popularity among the Romans. It was drunk as a light remedy, to raise the fighting spirit, or just to relax. Thus, sambuca came to Italy and established itself on the Mediterranean coast. With time, the Italians learned the production basics for this ...

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Liqueur

The term liqueur comes from the Latin liquefacere, meaning ‘to liquefy’, a direct indication of the way they are made – by liquefying different ingredients in alcohol. The term was first used widely by French monks who had learned the art of distillation in time immemorial and had a good knowledge of medicinal herbs. Over many centuries, the painstaking work of the liqueur makers led to the creation of real masterpieces. It is, actually, highly characteristic for liqueurs to have a ...

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Bitter

Bitters are one of the largest categories of alcoholic drinks. They have no clear national or geographical connections, are made from a wide range of different ingredients, and can be based on grape or grain spirit, rum or wine. The only thing they have in common is their bitter taste, and this is what gives these drinks with totally different colours, aromas, strengths, geographical origins and recipes their name. The only exception is Italy, where this type of drink is called amaro. Bitters ...

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Cachaça

Cachaça was born with the Portuguese settlement of Brazil. King John III of Portugal, in 1530, sent Martim Afonso de Sousa to Brazil with a fleet of noble-born captains to explore and establish settlements. Because of de Sousa’s efforts, the monarch awarded each captaincy one to three regions to develop and exploit in the name of the Portuguese crown. De Sousa and his captains established sugar cane plantations along the coast from north to south. Martim Afonso de Sousa and his partners ...

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Grappa

It is thought that grappa has been around for about eight centuries. The Italians claim that back then is when it first appeared in northern Italy. Grappa originated in the town of Bassano del Grappa, close to Monte Grappa. Since it was first produced as a way of using up the remnants left over from wine production, it was drunk by the poorest members of society, mainly peasants and tradesmen. Although born into poverty, grappa became centuries later a high-class, stylish drink. Its image had ...

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Calvados

Cider was made by Vikings in northwestern France, when during the XI century they first invaded the apple-rich region. Although experiments in distillation first occurred in southwestern France around the thirteenth century, it wasn’t until the mid-sixteenth century that apple wine was distilled into a brandy in Normandy. Unlike other fruit eaux-de-vie, cognac or armagnac, calvados was not appreciated outside of Normandy and was therefore left untaxed until the late 1700s when the government ...

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Sake

The history of sake is indelibly linked with Japan. The Japanese have been brewing it for more than two thousand years, since around the time when they began growing their main agricultural crop – rice. In the Yayoi period, long before the modern era, the drink was already part of everyday life. Legend has it that the first sake was brewed as a drink to be offered up in sacrifice to the gods, to pacify them and guarantee a good rice harvest. For a long time, only a chosen few had the ...

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Beer

The earliest evidence of fermented beverage making dates to circa 7000 BC in China, where rice and fruit were malted and then fermented into a beverage. Beer made with other grains traces its roots to Persia circa 3500 BC. By 3000 BC, the practice of making beer spread throughout Germanic and Celtic tribal communities, incorporating trains with fruits, honey, or botanicals such as wormwood. Hops was introduced as a flavouring agent during 800s through 1000s, continuing to this day. The ...

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