Aqua vitae /ˌækwə ˈvt/ (Latin for "water of life") or aqua vita is an archaic name for a concentrated aqueous solution of ethanol. These terms could also be applied to weak ethanol without rectification.[1] Usage was widespread during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, although its origin is likely much earlier. This Latin term appears in a wide array of dialectical forms throughout all lands and people conquered by ancient Rome. The term is a generic name for all types of distillates, and eventually came to refer specifically to distillates of alcoholic beverages (liquors).[2]

Distillation apparatus for aqua vitae from Hieronymus Brunschwig, Liber de arte Distillandi (1512).
Distillation apparatus for aqua vitae from Hieronymus Brunschwig, Liber de arte Distillandi (1512).

Aqua vitae was typically prepared by distilling wine and in English texts was also called ardent spirits, spirit of wine,[1] or spirits of wine, a name that could be applied to brandy that had been repeatedly distilled.

The term was used by the 14th-century alchemist John of Rupescissa, who believed the then newly discovered substance of ethanol to be an imperishable and life-giving "fifth essence" or quintessence, and who extensively studied its medical properties.[3]

Aqua vitae was often an etymological source of terms applied to important locally produced distilled spirits.[4] Examples include whisky (from the Gaelic uisce beatha), eau de vie in France, acquavite in Italy, and akvavit in Scandinavia, okowita in Poland, оковита (okovyta) in Ukraine, акавіта (akavita) in Belarus, and яковита (yakovita) in southern Russian dialects.

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  1. ^ a b William Campbell Ottley, A Dictionary of Chemistry, and of Mineralogy (1826) asee "Aqua Vitæ"; bsee entry "Alcohol."
  2. ^ Scully, Terence (1995) The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, pg. 159, ISBN 0-85115-611-8
  3. ^ Principe, Lawrence M. (2013). The Secrets of Alchemy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226103792. pp. 69-71.
  4. ^ Artemas Ward (writer), "Aqua Vitae" The Grocer's Encyclopedia, p. 32.

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