On twitter recently a new article with the above self explanatory title was mentioned, written by Christopher Booth and published in The Journal of medieval Monastic studies, Volume 6, 2017.
The starting point for his paper is the venerable but still interesting paper on “Medieval distilling apparatus of Pottery and Glass” in 1972 by Stephen Moorhouse. This brought together a number of sites on which evidence for distillation had been found and as such was intended to spur more research. Booth points out that unfortunately not a lot has been done since then, so his paper tries to carry things further. He deliberately brings alchemy into the discussion from the start, but I think we can skip over his explanation of early alchemy and get into expanding and discussing the rest of it.
He points out that “The two most significant distillates of later centuries, mineral acids and alcohols, were likely only discovered within Western Europe in the twelfth century, as recipes for their production only became common by the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries”
His references are to Anderson in “Instruments and Apparatus”, Forbes, “A short history of the art of distillation and Multhauf “the origins of Chemistry”
The latter two are ancient works, very out of date. It is a sad fact that there hasn’t been a work pulling together all the research done since Forbes wrote his book. If anyone wants to give me money to write it I’d be happy to do so, but what a history of distillation in Europe and the middle east needs is a multi-lingual team and 5 years.