Liquor in the 16th century: History of Distilled Spirits Timeline

The development of liquor in the 16th century was slow. The production and distribution of spirits spread very gradual. Spirit drinking was still largely for medicinal purposes throughout most of the sixteenth century.

  This is Part of a Series

Liquor in the 20th Century.

Liquor in the 19th Century.

18th Century Liquor Developments.

Liquor in the 17th Century.

16th Century Liquor Developments.

Liquor in the 15th Century.

Earliest History of Liquor.


  • This has been said of distilled alcohol. That “the sixteenth century created it; the seventeenth century consolidated it; the eighteenth popularized it.”1  That’s an over-generalization. Yet it’s a useful way to think in general about spirits.
  • The original grain spirit, whiskey, appears to have first been distilled in Ireland. Its specific origins are unknown.2 But there is evidence that by the 16th century it was widely consumed in some parts of Scotland.3

Liquor in the 16th Century


The Guild of Surgeon Barbers in Edinburgh was granted a charter to sell whisky. That reflected its medicinal use.

King James IV of Scotland bought large amounts of Scotch whisky. It was from the Guild of Surgeon Barbers in the town of Dundee. That was one of the best known whisky producers of that time.

Cir. 1510
The liqueur Benedictine was first produced by Benedictine monks in France.4

The Irish judged quality of spirits in an unusual way. It was the higher the proportion of spices and aromatics it contained, the higher the quality.5

“Although tequila and mescal are considered national beverages [of Mexico], they made their appearance only after the Conquest. That’s when the Spaniards brought the knowledge of distillation processes they had learned from the Moors.”6

liquor in the 16th century
King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII of England abolished the monasteries. This shifted the distillation of whisky from the monks to members of the general population.

Cir. 1532-1539
Cachaca was first distilled in Brazil. It is made from fermented sugarcane juice, rather than molasses (as is rum). The exact date of its first made is not known. It’s usually estimated to have been between 1532 and 1539. Cachaca is currently the third most-consumed distilled beverage in the world.7

The Irish Parliament required distillers to obtain a license.8

Distilling had become so common in Bordeaux that it was banned as a fire hazard.9

Lucius Bols established a distillery near Amsterdam. He appears to have been the first to produce gin commercially.10 It is the oldest distillery in the Netherlands and one of the oldest in the world.11


First recorded export of whisky from Ireland.


Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland praised whisky.


Popular Books

1 Braudel, F. Capitalism and Material Life, 1400-1800, p. 170.

2 Magee, M. 1000 Years of Irish Whiskey, p. 7.

3  Roueche, B. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, S., (Ed). Alcohol and Civilization, pp. 167-182. pp. 175-176.

4  Seward, D. Monks and Wine, p. 152.

5  Morewood, S. Philosophical and Statistical History of  Inventions, p. 618.

6  Rey, G. Mexico. In: Heath, p. 179.

7  Brazilian Cachaça.

8  Morewood, p. 619.

9  Younger, W. Gods, Men, and Wine, p. 326.

10  Watney, J. Mother’s Ruin, p. 10. Doxat, J. The World of Drinks and Drinking, p. 98.

11  Lucas Bols website.