When you study the history of eau-de-vie, you can recognize some important developments that are extended in each other:
The history of alcohol and its use (from 6-7th millennium BC)
The discovery of distilling in its generality (from 3-4th millennium BC)
The origin and dissemination of wine culture (from 3rd millennium BC)
The origin and distribution of distilled beverages (from 800 BC)
The emergence of the destiller boiler (2nd century AD)
The distillation to alcohol (9th century)
Use to distill wine to eau-de-vie (12th-13th century)
The history of the origin of cognac only starts later (at the end of the 16th century) and knows his own story.
Alcohol and wine:
Alcohol has been known to people for a very long time. The oldest indications that people have made alcohol dating back to prehistory and neolithic (11,000-3,300 BC) and are based on pottery in which residue of alcohol was found. The question remains whether fruit and cereal residues have spontaneously started to ferment but have not been used as such, or that alcohol (beer or wine) has been deliberately made. Pottery from the 7th millennium has been found in Turkey (Çatal Hüyuk) in which grape seeds were found. Are these remnants of wine residue?
Wine jug found in Haji Firuz Tepe around 5400-5000 BC.
In the 6th millennium BC, wine was made with certainty in the region of northern Iran, witnessing the jars found with large amounts of tartrarate crystals (approx. 5400 BC).
But probably people, like animals, have known alcohol for much longer, namely the fallen fruit that has started to ferment on the ground. It is known that some animals, such as monkeys, sometimes go beyond this fruit and show signs of drunkenness. Of course, it is not difficult to imagine that people from prehistoric times have also known this phenomenon.
Beer was made of bread, which was put inwater and fermented.
It is only in the 3rd millennium BC that we find the first evidence of winemaking. It is believed that this has begun in the caucasus and eastern Turkey area.
5400 v C.
pottery in northern Iran used for wine.
4500 v C.
Egyptians refine the technique of making beer (learned from the Babylonians).
3000 v C.
Beer recipe on clay tablet in Sumerië (where Euphrates and Tigris culminate in Persian wave; part of Mesopotamia).
2500 v C.
start of winemaking wrsch. in Caucasus and Eastern Turkey.
1500-1000 v C.
making wine comes more invogue, especially among Greeks and Italians.
600-500 v C.
the likely start of viticulture in France.
Clay tablet with Sumerians drinking beer through a straw so as not to get contaminants
Since the 4th millennium BC, destiler aircraft have been known (China around 3,000 BC, India around 2500 BC and the Egyptians around 2,000 BC) However, the distillation for obtaining alcohol only started later. We know the Chinese have fired some kind of brandy in 800 BC.
The first distillation methods were very simple: a liquid was heated in a jar above a wood fire and the rising fumes were collected, for example in wool that was hung above. If the wool was sufficiently infused, new wool was placed above it again. The wool was eroded to obtain the desired distillate. This process is called ‘distillation per ascensum’.
Distillation used to be used for several purposes, for example to obtain fragrances, for use as medication or (as much later) to obtain drinking water from seawater.
The alambiek or destilleerketel is attributed to Mary from Alexandria (Mary the Jewess) in the 2nd century AD. Maria was a well-known alchemist who propagated the use of the destiller boiler. She is also the originator
Three-armed distiller device from Alexandria (schematic)
of the ‘bain-marie’ who bears her name. Through the Egyptians, the art of distilling has spread to Arabia.
Although it has not been shown anywhere conclusively, it is generally assumed that it was the Arabs who invented the distillation of alcohol in the 9th century. In particular, the alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan (also known as Geber) has played an important role in this. The name alcohol also comes from Arabic: all = the, hoehl = mind or the fine. So literally translated means alcohol so “the mind” or “the fine”. Hence probably the name “mind-rich drinks”. Al-Kohl is also the name for antimony powder, black fabric used by Arab women as eye makeup.
The name alambiek also comes from Arabic: al anbīc, jug or pot. Incidentally, this term comes back from Greek: ambix.
The first clear evidence for the distilling of alcohol comes from 12th century Salerno.
Around 1250 it is Arnaud de Villeneuve (Arnaldus de Villanova) who was the first to apply the distilling of wine in France. He is attributed to the term ‘eau-de-vie’, but magister Salernus already used the term Aqua Vitae in his writings (12th century).
Ramon Lull (also written as Llull and in Latin as Raimundus Lullus) writes the writings ‘Testamentum’ in the 13th century with extensive clues about the process of wine distillation.
At the beginning of the 15th century, the first brandy in the Armagnac region is distilled. It is only in the second half of the 16th century that we find the first indications of distillation of wine in the cognac region. Some deeds have been kept from the sale of eau-de-vie in this region (1549: ‘un achat par un marchand de La Rochelle: quattre barriques playnes d’eau-de-vie bonne et marchande’ (according to another source (Cyril Ray, who cites Professor Dion) for this purpose) this took place in 1529); 1571: widow of ‘sieur Serazin, marchand et faizeur d’eau-de-vie’).
The double distillation as applied for cognac is attributed by the French to Chevalier de la Croix Marron (approx. 1580-1620). He would have gained the idea of this during a dream, but this story is based on popular tradition and the truth content is questionable.
In 1617 we find the first mention of brandy from Cognac. It was only around 1650 that the name cognac comes invogue to identify eau-de-vie coming from that region. And it’s the English who introduced the use.
Chinese already light firey (kind of Raki).
2nd century AD
Maria of Alexandria finds the destiller kettle.
9th century AD
Jabir Ibn Hayyan develops the destilleer boiler further.
12th century AD
Alcohol distillation in Salerno
Arnaud de Villeneuve is the first to distill wine in France
initial instructions for distilling in cognac region
‘discovery’ of double distillation
first mention of brandy with origin Cognac
name Cognac comes in vogue to denote eau-de-vie from the cognac region.