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

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

                                                         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.


  • “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. It had increased greatly. Rum was often enjoyed in mixed drinks, including flip. This was a popular winter beverage made of rum and beer sweetened with sugar. It was 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

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

France imposed state control over distilling.7

Ireland began licensing the retailers of alcoholic beverages.8

First duty on whisky was imposed by the Scottish Parliament.

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

“The first mention of [rum] is contained in a description of Barbados, dating to 1651.”10  

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

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

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

Amsterdam had over 400 small distilleries.14

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


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

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

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

England passed “An Act for the Encouraging of the Distillation of Brandy and Spirits from Corn.” Within four years the annual production of spirits reached nearly one million gallons. Most of it was gin.18

History of Liquor in the 17th Century


Popular Readings

1  Sournia, J. A History of Alcoholism, p. 17.

2  Smith, F. The Archeology of Alcohol and Drinking, p. 38.

3  Schlaadt, R. Alcohol Use and Abuse, pp. 8-9.

4  Mendelson, J., and Mello, N. Alcohol: Use and Abuse in America.

5  Esteicher, pp. 69-71.

6  Tuohy, W. “Even in the bad times a currently operating good” at Old Bushmills. LA Times, Jan 4, 1989, part I, p. 7.

7   Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation, p. 102.

8  McGuire, E. Irish Whiskey, pp. 96-97.

9  Austin, G. Alcohol in Western Society, p. 240..

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

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

12  Roueche, ibid.

13  Krout, J. The Origins of Prohibition, p. 6.

14  Kellenbenz, H. The Rise of the European Economy, p. 538.

15  Austin, G. Perspectves on the History of Psychoactive Substance Use.

16   Bickerdyke, J. The Curiosities of Ale and Beer, p. 118.

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

18   Roueche, p. 174.