In the 16th century Hieronymous described distillation as "The thing that purifies the gross." The word comes from the Latin distilare = to drip down. While it is often held that distillation of beverage alcohol was a European innovation of the 12th century that built upon the Arab use of the technology for the production of perfume and cosmetics, both archeological and written evidence has now been uncovered in the areas that are present day India and Pakistan that suggest distillation as long ago as 150 B.C., if not as far back as 500 B.C. In all likelihood the products distilled included rice, palm tree sap and sugarcane.
The modern tradition of distillation, however, does begin in the Arab world, where it was used for medicine and eye makeup. Important figures include the alchemist Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Haiyan, who is credited with the discovery of distillation in the late 8th century. Other important figures of this epoch included the physician Avincenna, who used distillation to produce medicine and Abulcasis who summarized Arab medical knowledge and referred to the alembic used to distill al-koh'l or essence of gross substances.
Around 1000 A.D.–1200 A.D. the use of distillation for beverage alcohol began. One important impetus was the translation of medical works from the Arabic by Constantine the African in the medical school of Salerno. The 13th century physician Thaddaeus Alderotti of Florence is also credited with improvements to the copper still, specifically, the addition of the condenser.
[Link to this Entry]