Aqua Vitae, or uisge beatha, and whisky as it is known in English, (spelled ‘whiskey’ if you are in Ireland or the United States), started out as a drink made by monks, and was known as a kind of holy water. Aqua vitae covers a wide range of spirits, being made first from distilled wine, and ulti¬mately forming the foundation for drinks like vodka, brandy, and bourbon. Translated as ‘the water of life’ in Latin, the liquid was celebrated as a pow¬erful medicine. After the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in England, monks with distillery experience moved underground, producing aqua vitae illegally in what was essentially moonshining establishments. The dissolution of the monasteries provided a conduit for whisky to be moved into the mass market as the now displaced monks used their skills to not only make aqua vitae for the general public, but to teach those outside the friary how to make it themselves.
In addition to its’ medicinal applications, aqua vitae quickly became valued as a drink for pleasure. Individual homes were known to have private stills, while taverns and inns made their own aqua vitae to offer to travelers. As early as the 1400s, whisky was largely undiluted and as a result was very raw, strong, and rather brutal to try to swallow. What it lacked in the smoothness enjoyed from modern whisky, aqua vitae made up for as an ex¬cellent disinfectant, being used by Tudor herbalist for the treatment of every¬thing from palsy to smallpox, the common cold, and was even applied as a general stress reliever. We see this stress relief application of aqua vitae in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, written in the mid 1590s, when the Nurse says, ‘give me some aqua vitae’ in Act III Scene 2. She is responding to a stressful event, and calls for liquid fortification.