Monday, October 10, 2011

Drop by drop - distilling things down

Ancient still
So we've delved into the origins of the term "cocktail" and some early ideas about what construes a proper drink.

But we just may have gotten ahead of ourselves.

Knowing what a cocktail is made of and the many ways one can concoct a cocktail overlook one thing -- where the stuff that we make cocktails with, came from.

Cocktails wouldn't be possible without distilled spirits. 

Europe had a long tradition of creating local varieties of spirits that began long before the cocktail in the moderns sense, was born.

Both the Greeks and Arabs knew the art of distillation, but the earliest written record of alcohol distillation came from the School of Salerno in the 12th century. The production method was written in code, suggesting that it was kept a secret. Fractional distillation was developed by Tadeo Alderotti in the 13th century.

In 1437, burned water (brandy), made from wine, was mentioned in the records of the County of Katzenelnbogen in Germany. Records show that it was served in a tall, narrow glass called a “goderulffe.”

Consumption of distilled beverages rose dramatically in Europe in and after the mid 14th century, when distilled liquors were commonly used as remedies for the Black Death.

Then, around 1400 it was discovered how to distill spirits from wheat, barley, and rye beers, a cheaper option than grapes. This discovery began the "national" drinks of Europe: jenever (Belgium and the Netherlands), gin (England), schnapps (Germany), grappa (Italy), horilka (Ukraine), akvavit/snaps (Scandinavia), vodka (Russia and Poland), rakia (the Balkans), poitín (Ireland).

The actual names only emerged in the 16th century but the drinks were well known prior to that date.

And there we have it, the origins of some of the prime ingredients for cocktails.

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