Aqua vitae

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Aqua vitae (Latin, "water of life") or aqua vita, is an archaic name for a concentrated aqueous solution of ethanol. The term was in wide use during the Middle Ages, although its origin is undoubtedly much earlier having been used by Saint Patrick and his fellow monks to refer to both the alcohol and the waters of baptism. This Latin term appears in a wide array of dialectical forms throughout all lands and people conquered by ancient Rome.

In general, it is used as a generic name for all types of distillates. It eventually came to refer specifically to distillates of alcoholic beverages.Scully, Terence (1995) The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, pg. 159, ISBN 0-85115-611-8

Aqua vitae was typically prepared by distilling wine; it was sometimes called spirits of wine in English texts, a name for brandy that had been repeatedly distilled.

A local translation of aqua vitae was often applied to an important local distilled spirit. This leads to whisky in Scotland (from Gaelic, uisge-beatha), whiskey in Ireland (from Irish, uisce beatha), eau de vie in France, acquavite in Italy, and akvavit in Scandinavia.

When the term is used in England, it usually refers to French brandy.

Aqua vitae was also known in Slavic lands. It appears in Polish okowita, Ukrainian оковита (okovita), Belarusian акавіта (akavita), and яковита (yakovita) in southern Russian dialects. In Hebrew it is called "מים חיים" (mayyim chayim).


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