Liquor in the 17th Century: History of Distilled Spirits Timeline

Over the course of the 1600s, distilling expanded as did the demand for spirit beverages. Thus, liquor in the 17th century expanded significantly.

  • ‘From the end of the sixteenth century, distilled drinks were to be found throughout the West.’1
  • ‘While distilling industries were slow to develop, they expanded in the mid-to-late seventeenth century. The rise in distilling industries was driven in part by the expansion of sugar production in the Caribbean, which provided an enormous base material (molasses) for local Caribbean distillers as well as distillers in Europe and North America.’2
  • In the ‘Triangle Trade,’ rum was traded for West African slaves. They were then traded to the West Indians for more molasses. That was used to produce more rum. This three point trading arrangement became a part of colonial commercial life and prosperity.3
  • Almost every important town from Massachusetts to the Carolinas had a rum distillery to meet the local demand, which had increased dramatically. Rum was often enjoyed in mixed drinks, including flip. This was a popular winter beverage made of rum and beer sweetened with sugar and warmed by plunging a red-hot fireplace poker into the serving mug.4
  • The Dutch discovered that fortifying wine with distilled spirit prevented it from spoiling.5

Liquor in the 17th Century by Date

liquor in the 17th century

Old Bushmills Distillery

1608
The Old Bushmills Distillery was licensed in Ireland. It’s the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.6

1619
France imposed state control over distilling.7

1634
Ireland began licensing the retailers of alcoholic beverages.8

1644
First duty on whisky was imposed by the Scottish Parliament.

1650
The importation of rum into New England from the West Indies began. The beverage became especially popular among poor people because of its low price.9

1651
‘The first mention of [rum] is contained in a description of Barbados, dating to 1651’¦.’10  

1652
The first distillery was established in the North American colonies on what is now Staten Island in New York State.11

1657
A rum distillery was operating in Boston. It was highly successful and within a generation the production of rum became colonial New England’s largest and most prosperous industry.12

1662
Maryland passed a law to promote the establishment of inns with a monopoly on alcohol sales within a specific geographic area. It was intended to promote innkeeping, brewing, distilling, travel and commerce.13

1663
Amsterdam had over 400 small distilleries.14

1672
A Massachusetts law prohibiting payment of wages in the form of alcohol resulted in a labor strike.15

1673
An ineffective petition was made to Parliment for legislation to prohibit brandy, coffee, rum, tea and chocolate. It was ‘for these greatly hinder the consumption of Barley, Malt, and Wheat, the product of our land.’16

1678
In Portugal, it was discovered that if enough brandy is added to wine before the end of fermentation, the fermentation stops, leaving some of the natural sugar in the wine.17

1688
The first duty on alcoholic strength of whisky based on its proof (alcoholic strength) was imposed in Scotland.

1690
England passed ‘An Act for the Encouraging of the Distillation of Brandy and Spirits from Corn’ and within four years the annual production of distilled spirits, most of which was gin, reached nearly one million gallons.18

Resources for the History of Liquor in the 17th century

Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1985.

Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation. Leiden: Brill, 1948. Provides excellent coverage of liquor in the 17th century.

Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. NY: Putnam’s, 1965.

Gately, I. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008. Good source of information on liquor in the 17th century.

Holt, M., (Ed.) Alcohol: A Social and Cultural History. Oxford: Berg, 2006.

McGuire, E. Irish Whisky. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1973.

Sournia, J.-C. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.

Smith, F. The Archeology of Alcohol and Drinking. Gainesville: U Press of Florida, 2008.

Tuohy, W. ‘Even in the bad times are good’ at Old Bushmills. Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1981, part I.

References

1  Sournia, J.-C. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 17.

2  Smith, F. The Archeology of Alcohol and Drinking. Gainesville: U Press of Florida, 2008, p. 38.

3  Schlaadt, R. Alcohol Use and Abuse. Guilford, CT: Dushkin, 1992, pp. 8-9.

4  Mendelson, J., and Mello, N. Alcohol: Use and Abuse in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985.

5  Esteicher, pp. 69-71.

6  Tuohy, W. ‘Even in the bad times a currently operatingre good’ at Old Bushmills. Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1981, part I, p. 7.

7   Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation. Leiden: Brill, 1948, p. 102.

8  McGuire, E. Irish Whiskey. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1973, pp. 96-97.

9  Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1985, p. 240..

10  Gately, I. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 142.

11  Rouche,  B. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, S. (Ed.)  Alcohol and Civilization. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963, p. 178.

12  Roueche, ibid.

13  Krout, J. The Origins of Prohibition. NY: Knopf, 1925, p. 6.

14  Kellenbenz, H. The Rise of the European Economy. NY: Holmes and Meier, 1976, p. 538.

15  Austin, G. Perspectves on the History of Psychoactive Substance Use. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1979.

16   Bickerdyke, J. The Curiosities of Ale and Beer. London: Spring Books, 1965, p. 118.

17  Estreicher, S. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. NY: Algora, 2006, p. 82.

18   Roueche, p. 174.