Alcohol comes from the Arabic alko’hl, which translates to finely divided – a reference to the separation that occurs during distillation. While not everyone may have been drinking it (poor things), they were using it for medicinal and perfume-making purposes.
Beverage is from the Middle English pronunciation of the Old French term bevrage, from beivre. This meant to drink, from the Latin bibere.
Brandy stems from brandywine or the Dutch brandewijn, meaning burnt wine. While usually made from a grape-based wine, brandy can also be made with pomace (skins, seeds, pulps and stems) or fermented fruit juice.
Cordial is a term often substitued for liqueur. Technically, they’re supposed to be invigorating or stimulating, a reference to their original medicinal usage. Since the heart was considered the body’s most important organ, these “medicines” were named after the Latin term for heart, cordialis.
Distillation comes from the Latin destillare, meaning to drop or to trickle down.
Distilled liquids used to be called ardent spirits, from the Latin ardor, which means to burn. Sure, we have modern distilling techniques, but the starch source still has to be converted into fermentable sugar.
Gin gets its name from one of its major flavoring ingredients, juniper. The French is genievre and the Dutch is genever. Doctor Sylvius from Holland’s University of Leyden is credited with being the first person to distill gin. His intent was to create a medicinal spirit and he felt he could stretch the diuretic properties of juniper berry oil by redistilling it with a pure alcohol. The Latin juniperus communis translates to youth-giving. I can’t say I’d use gin to treat a bladder or kidney ailment, but at times I’ve certainly found it therapeutic.
Liqueur is from the Latin liquifacere, meaning to dissolve or melt – a reference to the seeds, herbs, roots and other flavorings used.
Rum is a fun one that we already covered.
Tequila is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning place of work that dates back to 6500 B.C. I’ve also seen that tequila stems from a town of the same name in Jalisco, Mexico, known for its high quality spirits.
Vodka is the diminutive of the Russian word for water. No one can seem to agree as to whether vodka first appeared in Russia or in Poland, but it showed up around the 12th century. At that time at a Russian monastery, it was called zhizenenniz.
Whiskey comes from the Irish uisce beatha and Whisky comes from the Scottish uisge-beatha, both a gaelic translation of the Latin aqua vitae, meaning water of life. King Henry II’s soldiers invaded Ireland in the 12th century and couldn’t pronounce uisce beatha, so over time it degraded from sounding like “whishkeyba” to “whisky”. All whisky was spelled without the “e” until 1870 when Scottish distilleries flooded the market with inexpensive spirits. The American and Irish producers added the “e” to distinguish themselves. Today whisky (plural is whiskies) is used for Scotland, Wales, Canada and Japan while whiskey is used for spirits distilled in Ireland the United States.