Why Do We Call Liquor ‘Spirits’?


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The word ‘spirit’ has many meanings. The Holy Spirit as an example, or the scary entities terrorizing people in horror movies. However, when it comes to drinking, ‘spirit’ is a popular synonym to liquor.

Spirit can be defined as a strong distilled liquor such as whiskey, gin, rum, etc. Specifically talking, spirits can be defined as a liquid containing ethyl alcohol and water that is distilled from alcoholic liquids.

So how an earth did the word come to describe something so holy… to something wholly intoxicating?

There are in fact quite a few reasons:

The Bible-

The New Testament in the Bible has five images for the Holy Spirit: tongues, doves, fire, water, and wind. However, in Acts 2:13, Pentecost bystanders actually mistakenly thought intoxication from too much new wine were effects of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit is intoxicating like spirits.

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Aristotle Felt Possessed By Spirits-

In 327 B.C., Aristotle wrote about the term ‘spirits’ being attributed to alcohol. Even though we do not have proof that his fellow Greeks distilled spirits on a significant level, Aristotle is the one that gave the name ‘spirit’ to the product of distillation. He thought that when he drank distilled wine or beer, they put ‘spirits’ into the body of the drinker.
However, this claim is quite suspect as if Aristotle was talking about spirits in the way we use it, he would’ve used the word ‘pneuma’, which is an ancient Greek word for ‘breath’, ‘spirit’, or ‘soul’. Pneuma is the most often translated word in the New Testament, meaning ‘Spirit’. But distillation of alcohol wasn’t common in ancient Greece anyway.

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Liquor Is The Spirit Of Alcohol-

In the Middle East, there were Alchemists who were the first to master distillation. They were not only trying to find gold, but they were trying to make medical elixirs. To do this, they would distil liquid, collect the vapor, and then gather what they call the ‘spirit’ that came off it.

Roman Llull, who was a Franciscan monk, is one of the first people who used distillation purely for alcohol. In his journals. he is said to be the first to pen specific formulas for ‘loosening’ the alcohol from the wine.

Liquor is, in fact, a base alcohol that has the water physically taken out through the process of distillation, which increases the concentration of alcohol through evaporation. The alcohol is then condensed down. In more simple terms, the spirit of the liquor is leaving the lower alcohol base liquid, coming back in a purer form to drink. So in turn, we are drinking the spirit of the fermented liquid.

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