Presumably the English knew that there existed a compound common to fermented or distilled liquids that caused intoxication, but before they had the word alcohol, what did they call this chemical compound?
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Here is an interesting article on the etymology of alcohol. It claims that in Middle English, they callled intoxicants licur (which we know as liquor) - which means, well, liquid - and bouse (which we know as booze), which was the word for "beer", and applied in the general to drink, especially in verb form (bousen).
In older scientific literature, ether had many different meanings and usages. See: The Composition and Structure of Ether:
Or (if you're talking about liquor):
which is even earlier:
Alcohol is a later addition to the language: