Another day another sixteen century reference to beer that has me puzzled. This is an excerpt from an account of the voyages of John Davis who sailed both in the eastern Arctic of what becomes Canada in the 1580s and also in the tropics on spice trade expeditions around the turn of the century. This passage describes the stay Davis and his crew had waiting in August of 1599 for a king on the island of Sumatra to decide whether to given them a cargo of peppercorns:
The two and twentieth, I went to the King early in the morning, who did use me very friendly. I stayed with him foure houres or better, banqueting and drinking. After an houre, he Davis his caused the Sabandar to stand up, and bad me likewise men with stand up. The Sabandar tooke off my Hat, and put a Roll of white linnen about my head ; then he put about my middle a white linnen cloth that came twice about me, hanging downe halfe my legge, imbroydered with Gold : then againe he tooke the Roll from my Head, laying it before the King, and put on a white garment upon me, and upon that againe one of red. Then putting on the Roll upon my Head, I sate downe in the Kings presence, who drank to me in Aquavitae,* and made me eate of many strange meates. All his service is in Gold, and some in fine Porcellane. Hee eateth upon the ground, without Table, Napkins, and other linnen. Hee enquired much of England, of the Queene, of her Bashaws, and how she could hold warres with so great a King as the Spaniard? (for he thinketh that Europe is all Spanish). In these his demands he was fully satisfied, as it seemed to his great good liking.
The three and twentieth, the Prince sent for me ; I rid to his Court upon an Elephant : hee used me exceeding well. Excessive eating and drinking was our entertainment...
* Aquavite was a beverage made of beer; it contained a large proportion of "hope" and was well fermented.
A beverage made of beer? I added the quotation marks around hope. Was that "hops"? I had always assumed that the stuff called aquavitae was hard liquor, as we used to say back in the Maritimes - distilled spirits to all you all. I ran into this term in the research for Upper Hudson Beer when in the diary of Robert Jeut, one of Hudson’s crew, the first night of drinking in the Albany New York area on 20 September 1609 is described. Jeut states that Hudson wanted to determine whether the chief men of the area of Albany had any treachery in them. He gave them so much wine and "aqua vitae" that they were all merry but drink was strange to those hosted by Hudson. Things must have gone well as two days later, the Mahicans returned with gifts of wampum belts as well as a platter of venison.
Was aquavitae on these voyages strong hoppy beer? Hudson appears to have a small cask of strong beer on his final voyage to the Arctic in 1611 when he is set adrift to die as his mutinying crew immediately drain it when they are rid of their wacko of a captain. This note from 1653 seems to give the answer. It is a distillate of beer or wine. Twice or thrice distilled of you start with beer according to the instructions.
So I was rightish and wrongish. My favorite beery reference in the Davis records is this one which describes something definitely wrongish: "We had of them some 10 or 11 Tonnes of beere for the Victory; but it proved like a present purgation to them that tooke it, so that we chose rather to drinke water then it. Yikes.