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Liqueurs, or cordials, as they are also known, are flavored and often sweetened distilled alcoholic beverages. Although these beverages are of more recent origin than that of the other beverages which we have so far examined they are still well within our proper period of study.

History of Liqueurs and Cordials

Among the earliest writings on the subject of flavored alcohols are those of the Catalan Arnold de Vila Nova, an alchemist in Spain and France who was born in 1240. He wrote, in The Boke of Wine, of the distillation of wine into aqua vitae and the subsequent flavoring of these spirits with various herbs and spices.123 He especially wrote of the restorative and life giving properties of these waters. It was the firm belief of Raymond Lully, a student of de Vila Nova's that so vital and life restoring were these waters, their production was a divinely inspired gift from Heaven.124

It was primarily among the alchemists of this early date, however, that these waters became known. It remained for a later period for these beverages to be much used as pleasurable drinks and not as alchemical potions. By the fourteenth century, however, the drinking of these liqueurs had become popular in Italy and spread into France. This popularity is often attributed to Catherine de Medici, who, along with her Court, brought the use of these liqueurs with her to France from her native Tuscany.125 There is, however, some evidence of an earlier diffusion of liqueurs, or an independent outgrowth of these drinks prior to their introduc- tion by Catherine. There can be little doubt, however, that the Court of Catherine certainly increased the popularity and accep- tance of these potables among the nobility of France.

Between the fourteenth century and the early seventeenth century considerable production of these liqueurs was from the alchemists and the monastic orders.126 Benedictine, as the name indicates dates to the Benedictine monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli, in the Abbey of Fecamp about the year 1510.127 The recipe for Chartreuse was originally an 'Elixir de longue Vie' (an elixir of long life), given in 1605 to a Carthusian monastery near Paris by the Marechal d'Estrees, a captain under Henri IV.128 Cusenier Mazarine, a French Anise liqueur, dates to a 1637 recipe of the Abbaye de Montbenoit.129 Recipes, too, for the herbal liqueurs of Aiguebelle, Carmeline, La Senancole, and Trappastine were also originally monastic elixirs (primarily Cistertian).130 It would be a mistake, however, to claim that the total production of liqueurs was limited to these monasteries. By the middle to the end of the sixteenth century several distilleries had been formed which were producing commercial quantities of liqueurs. These included the Dutch distillery of Bols, founded in 1575 and Der Lachs, a German distillery which began producing Danzig Goldwasser in 1598. The first of the liqueurs produced by Bols was an anisette liqueur on which they began production shortly after the founding of the distillery.131

How Liqueurs and Cordials are Made

The word 'liqueur' is derived from the Latin liquefacere which means 'to melt, or disolve'.132 This refers to the methods of flavoring the brandy or whisky which forms the base of the liqueur. There are several methods of obtaining the flavor from the fruits and spices. They are maceration, distillation and percolation.133 The final result of any of these methods, however, is that the flavor of the spice or fruit is dissolved into the alcoholic base. The choice of method used depends on the source from which the flavor is being extracted and on the particular flavor desired from the flavoring agent. Some flavoring agents will yield different flavors, depending on the type of extraction used.

Maceration refers to the steeping of the aromatic/flavoring agent which has usually been bruised in water or alcohol for a period of time in order to extract an essence from it. This essence, then, is added to the base as the flavoring agent.

Distillation refers to the distillation of the desired flavoring agent which has already been mascerated. This is often repeated many times with large amounts of the flavoring agent and reduced to a relatively small amount of liquid. This produces a very strong essence to be added to the bulk of the alcohol base.

In percolation either water or the alcoholic base is allowed to drip though the flavoring agents or, it is heated and the steam passed through the agent prior to recondensing.

It should be fairly obvious from the above descriptions of the methods used, that some would be more suitable than others for extracting the flavor from a particular source. A juicy fruit could easily undergo maceration, providing a juice that could be added to the base. It should be noted at this juncture, however, that citrus liqueurs, which were common (oranges having worked their way from the Orient to Spain by the ninth century), were not made from the citrus juice, but from the oils and flavorings extracted from the rind of the fruit,134 generally though percolation. Distillation or percolation are quite suited to extracting the flavors from harder and drier sources, such as many spices, or from skins of certain fruits.

Even when using the same general method, different flavors can still be extracted from the same flavoring agent. With distilla- tion or percolation as the method of extraction, a very different flavor will be produced if the base liquid is water than will be achieved if an alcoholic base is used.135 In many spices, a much more bitter and astringent flavor will ensue from the use of an alcoholic base as opposed to one of water.136 Depending on tastes and the type of liqueur desired this may, or may not be desirable and the choice of a base liquid should, therefore, be carefully considered.

Once an aromatized base has been prepared by one of the above methods, or by a combination of these methods (if several different aromatic/flavor sources are used, different methods for the extraction of these essences may well be a necessity) the remaining steps in the production of the finished liqueur are set forth in Hannum's book Brandies and Liqueurs of the World as follows:

     * The mixing of the final blend of aromatized bases and 
       if necessary, ageing.
     * The mixing of the aromatized base with the desired alcohol
       and any desired sugar and/or water. 
     * A generally short period of ageing to rest the final product
       and allow the marrying of the aromatics to the alcohol.
     * Coloration.
     * Cold stabilizing.
     * Bottling.
Please note that for the purposes of our study within the Medieval framework, coloration and cold stabilization are not applicable. All coloration would generally have been provided, within our period of study, by the aromatic and flavoring agents which were used in the liqueur's preparation. Cold stabilization is a technique too modern for our studies. The remainder of the steps outlined above, however, are virtually unchanged from the time of our study and comprise all of the steps required in producing flavored and aromatic liqueurs.

Liqueur and Cordial Recipes

Recipes for liqueurs and cordials are a strange and unusual lot. Of those liqueurs whose names have come down to us through the years, in many cases that is all that we know. Others are simple herbal mixtures of only a single spice, such as anise. Some, like Kummel are made up of only two herbs i.e. caraway and cumin. We know that Hippocrates drank an anise flavored beverage called anisum, and that the ancient Greeks used caraway and cumin in their beverages.137 We can also find references to the use of these herbs in alcoholic beverages in the Bible in the Book of Isaiah. Legend has it that apricot pits were distilled four centuries ago to make amaretto.138 We also have some liqueurs which have survived to this day, but for the most part ignorant of what the actual ingredients are unless we happen to be one of the four people in the world which are trusted with the secret of the recipe for Chartreuse. I am not one of those people and I don't know anyone who is. I have neither seen, nor heard of any recipes which claim to duplicate Chartreuse at all well. Recipes for Benedic- tine-like liqueurs do exist, though they often contain bitter almonds, or the oil of bitter almonds, which, contain cyanide and are quite poisonous, and oil of wormwood, which can cause brain damage and is also illegal in most civilized countries as well as other ingredients now known to be quite poisonous. Almond extract may be used in place of oil of bitter almonds and oil of horehound or oil of hyssop for oil of wormwood.139

The following recipe would be a brandy, were it not for the steeping of spices prior to the distillation, which tends to put it into the category of a liqueur, which is why I have listed it here, and not in the prior section.

Recipe from Maison Rustique

               Take equal parts of cloves, ginger, and
          fowers of rosemary, infuse them in very good
          wine the space of eight days: distil the
          whole.  This water comforteth the stomacke,
          assuageth the pains and wringings of the
          belly, killeth worms, and maketh fat folk to
          becom leane, or maketh fat the leane, if they
          drink it mixt with sugar.
The following four recipes were taken from Delights for Ladies. The first is an extract from which cordials and liqueurs could be made. The second and third recipes are liqueurs distilled from various herbs and spices steeped in wine in a similar fashion to the recipe from Maison Rustique above. The last recipe in this section is a sweet cordial, made from the liqueur in the third recipe, further infused with other spices and sweetened with sugar. Please note that a 'white sugar candy', is called for. Yes, this is yet another example of sugar specifically called for in a period recipe.

Spirits of Spices

          Distill with a gentle heat either in balneo,
          or ashes, the strong and sweet water, where-
          with you have drawen oile of cloves, mace,
          nutmegs, Iuniper, Rosemarie, &c. after it hath
          stood one moneth close stopt, and so you shall
          purchase a delicate Spirit of each of the said
          aromaticall bodies.

Spirit of wine tasting of what vegetable you please

          Macerate Rosemarie, Sage, sweet Fennel seeds,
          Marjerom, Lemmon or Orenge pils, &c. in spir-
          its of wine a daie or two, and then distill it
          over againe, unless you had rather have it in
          his proper colour: for so you shall have it
          upon the first infusion without any farther
          distillation: and some young Alchymists doe
          hold these for the true spirits of vegetables.

D. Steevens Aqua composita

          Take a gallo of Gascoign wine, of ginger,
          galingale, cinamon, nutmegs & graines, Annis
          seeds, Fennel seeds, and carroway seeds, of
          each a dram; of Sage, mints, red Roses, thyme,
          Pellitory, Rosemary, wild thyme, camomil,
          lavender, of each a handfull, bray the spices
          small, and bruise the herbs, letting them
          macerate 12 houres, stirring it now & then,
          then distill by a limbecke of pewter keeping
          the first cleare water that cometh, by it
          selfe, and so likewise the second.  You shall
          draw much about a pinte of the better fort
          from everie gallon of wine.

Aqua Rubea

          Take of muske sixe graines, of Cinamon and
          ginger of each one ounce, white sugar cany one
          pound, powder the sugar, and bruse the spices
          grossely, binde them up in a cleane linnen
          cloth, and put them to infuse in a gallon of
          Aqua composita in a glasse close stopped
          twenty foure houres, shaking them togither
          divers times, then put thereto of turnsole one
          dram, suffer it to stand one houre, and then
          shake altogether, then if the colour like you
          after it is settled, poure the cleerest forth
          into another glasse: but if you will have it
          deeper coloured, suffer it to worke longer
          upon the turnsole.

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