Aqua Vitae – The Mother of All Spirits

Aqua Vitae has a long history, yet many seem confused about what Aqua Vitae actually is. The term was commonly used to describe distilled drinks, and translated from Latin it means ‘water of life’. It has been claimed to help fight disease, to warm you inside and out, to support digestion and alleviate many other aches and pains.

Of course, it was used not only as a medicine but also as an enjoyable libation. Aqua Vitae was typically distilled from wine, therefore it is often linked to brandy. In Scotland, however, it was made from a malt base and is believed to be the first form of scotch whisky.


Aqua Vitae dates back to the Roman times. The term was used to describe baptismal waters and various distillates. The term was adopted throughout the land conquered by the ancient Romans until it eventually became the way to describe alcoholic beverages. It was translated into different languages, and the Irish (uisce beatha) and Gaelic (uisge beatha) translations gave us the modern word for whisky. Aqua Vitae is essentially therefore an antecedent of whisky…

Centuries ago, medieval alchemists distilled anything they could think of, including human blood(!!!), often distilling the ingredients several times. Wine was distilled into a stronger liquor, similar to brandy, often together with various herbs, roots and spices. Amazingly, they were looking for ways to increase life expectancy and to cure various illnesses along the way. Distilled spirits seemed like a good idea as they would give you a warming feeling and would often have an instant effect on both mind and body.

In the 13th century, a Florentine alchemist called Taddeo Alderotti (1215–1302) developed fractional distillation (a way to separate chemical compounds according to the heat at which they will vaporise), which was then mostly used for the distillation of fermented products such as wine. He published De Virtutibus Aquae Vitae, describing in detail the distillation of wine and production of Aqua Vitae, which he described as “the mother and mistress of all medicines”. He believed that a little Aqua Vitae every morning would keep you happy into your old age (he did live to 87!).

In 1494, Brother John Cor was noted to have received eight bolls of malt to make Aqua Vitae for King James IV at Lindores Abbey. In modern terms, eight bolls would be equivalent to a staggering 500kg of malt, enough to make 400 bottles of whisky. This is the first written evidence of distillation of scotch whisky. The spirit would have been infused with plants and herbs grown locally as well as with exotic spices brought back from Europe.

James IV was a smart man. He spoke many languages and was very knowledgeable in the art of medicine. He was interested in alchemy and founded a laboratory, which produced large quantities of Aqua Vitae. He also set up a medicinal organisation, which later became the Royal College of Surgeons, and gave them an exclusive licence to produce Aqua Vitae. Aqua Vitae was then used as an anaesthetic and for other medical purposes.

Lindores Abbey Today

The distillery was created by extending the original abbey farm and keeping the traditional features already found on the site. You can actually see the historic abbey grounds from the stillroom and the bar next door. There have been extensive archaeological digs around the abbey ruins, with the discovery of significant medieval pottery and a 12th-century lead plumb line.

And now, after a break over five centuries, Lindores Abbey has begun distilling again. Amazingly, while their whisky is resting, they are keeping the history alive by producing Aqua Vitae.

Lindores AbbeyStills at Lindores Abbey aqua vitae

Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae is a malt spirit, distilled in pot stills before being infused with a blend of herbs and spices, such as cleavers, lemon verbena and sweet cicely. Some of the botanicals used are growing in their gardens, just as they would have been 500 years ago in the grounds of the ancient abbey. No sugar is added, and all the ingredients are 100% natural.

Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae has top notes of peach and pear together with ginger, clove and cinnamon. Expect rich caramel sweetness and herbal notes at the finish. Serve over ice with orange peel or mix with fresh mint, sugar syrup and soda water. My favourite serve is to mix 35ml Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae, 15ml blended scotch whisky and 15ml honey syrup. Stir with ice and strain over a large ice cube.

For wintery serves, try the recipes below.

Hot Toddy

50ml Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae

15ml Lemon juice

15ml Spiced honey syrup (you can use various spices, such as cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, nutmeg etc)

Dash of Angostura bitters

Hot water

Simply mix all ingredients together in a mug and top up with hot water.

Mulled Cider

50ml Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae

15ml Lemon juice

Cloudy Cider infused with figs, apples, pears and honey.

In a pot combine cider, figs, apple, pear and honey. Heat for 20 minutes, do not boil. When ready fill a mug with hot cider and add a shot of Aqua Vitae and a dash of lemon juice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or star anise.

Fancy giving it a try? Who knows, it may lead to a longer life after all!

You can get 10% off Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae when ordering through their website. Use code inka10 at the checkout. Offer is valid until 31st December 2018. They also have other fun Christmas gift ideas, see more here.

Lindores Abbey Distillery

Disclaimer: This article was sponsored by Lindores Abbey Distillery.

You may also like


Share your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.