Alcoholic Spirits
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Get you a copper kettle, get you a copper coil
Fill it with new made corn mash and never more you'll toil
You'll just lay there by the juniper while the moon is bright
Watch them jugs a-filling in the pale moonlight.

Build you a fire with hickory, hickory, ash and oak
Don't use no green or rotten wood, they'll get you by the smoke
You'll just lay there by the juniper while the moon is bright
Watch them jugs a-filling in the pale moonlight.

My daddy he made whiskey, my granddaddy he did too
We ain't paid no whiskey tax since 1792
You'll just lay there by the juniper while the moon is bright
Watch them jugs a-filling in the pale moonlight.

Copper Kettle Bob Dylan

Basic Information

Alcoholic Spirits are a group of drinks created by distillation of fermented alcohol. The resulting distillate is then either consumed without further treatment (as in the case of vodka, poteen and similar clear spirits), treated by cask conditioning (as in most rums, whiskies and brandies), flavoured with additives (especially in the case of gin) or used to fortify other forms of drink (this is the process used to make port, sherry, marsala and vermouth from wine and to create white cider). Like most alcohol products, these are the recreational drug of choice for a great many cultures, and arguably the most refined and potent form thereof.

Distillation appears in Greek sources around the first to second century AD but there is no record of it being used to produce alcoholic drinks before the 12th century. Alchemy … or at least Alchemists may have been involved. The original method of production seems to have been using the alembic - which is more or less preserved to the modern day in the form of the pot still. More industrial production uses column distillation which tends to yield a purer product1 (and thus a less flavoured and more concentrated one). Alternatively, a "distiller" can use the lower freezing point of ethanol (as opposed to its lower boiling point) and "freeze distil" his alcohol by allowing the bulk of his feedstock to freeze and pouring off the ethanol rich supernatant. This technique is still used to produce several central Asian beverages and some European ones - notably applejack. In all forms of distillation the distiller risks contaminating his product with toxic congeners - of which methanol is probably the most significant - however, whilst in a thermal still this will be the result of an incorrect setup it is more or less unavoidable in most forms of freeze distilling.

Historically it was hard to assess the purity and concentration of alcohol - until the invention of the alcohol hydrometer (which measures the relative density of liquids on a calibrated scale) which allowed the calculation of percentage alcohol by volume, the primary method was to mix it with gunpowder (the "proof") and determine how much of the spirit by weight can be blended in before the powder fails to ignite. Thus, any statement of strength should be checked for units.

Besides their recreational applications, alcoholic spirits also have limited medical potential for sterilization, anti-sepsis and primitive pain relief. Pure distilled spirit can also be used as a solvent, cleaner or fuel. An early - and obvious - example of such uses is the preparation of herbal tinctures by infusing macerated herbs in spirit. Pickling in alcohol can also be used to preserve food (typically luxuries such as soft fruit) or medical specimens. As a fuel, alcohol may be used "as is" in a spirit lamp or stove, or gelled to provide an alternative to solid fuel tablets.

Nothing to do with spirits … most of the time2.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • An important trade good in many eras, especially between cultures that can produce it and those which cannot (such as between Europeans and Aboriginal Americans). Also significant within producing cultures.
    • Note that non-producing cultures include dark ages/early medieval Europe - Michael Scott earned the name "aqua ardens" (burning water) by being one of the few (perhaps "only") people to be able to distil alcohol in 13th Century Scotland. Characters from the times and places in question may be somewhat taken aback by distilled spirits - and even more so by the idea of drinking them.
  • Also a significant treasure, even into the modern era.
    • and a popular form of petty bribery and corruption - a good bottle of booze has sweetened many a deal and paid off many a favour. A bottle, or a case, or a barrel … or occasionally a vehicle load, depending who you are bribing, for what and with what.
  • The possibility that a given cask of spirits may have something preserved in it when found lying about should not be discounted.
    • Or indeed someoneviz. the legends of "Nelson's Blood".
    • This may be deliberate … some cultures may consider such things as flavouring…
  • May cause hilarity amongst drinkers not used to such concentrated alcohol.
  • Rum, as we all know, was a key fuel source for stereotypical pirates (and, in some times and places, real ones as well).
    • Not just pirates - HM Forces virtually ran on the stuff until the middle of the 20th century…
  • As per the flavour text, significant effort is usually put into taxing the production and consumption of this sort of thing - and the inevitable opposing effort into avoiding such extortion.
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