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History of Whisky


It is not altogether clear when we started producing whisky - the first documented evidence that this drink was being made was in 1405 in Ireland and 1494 in Scotland. The Scottish Exchequer Rolls showed that Friar John Cor purchased some malt to make ‘aqua vitae’ (water of life). This fits in with expert opinion that believes that the whisky making process was spread through the monasteries of Europe.

During the next few years the understanding of how to distil whisky in Scotland spread through to everyday people - it was quite common for farmers to distil their own whisky at home. The whisky that was made here was not really the same as that we drink now as it was not left to mature. So, the taste at this time was much rougher and rawer. It is thought some years later that a distiller forgot about a cask of whisky, tried it when he remembered it later and discovered that ageing it produced a better flavour.

In 1707 the Scottish and English parliaments came together in The Act of Union. A few years later a tax on malt was set up - an unpopular tax which led to a lot of people distilling their whisky illicitly. In the 1820s the Excise (and other) Acts laid out clear guidelines on the legal production of whisky and the penalties that had to be paid for smuggling - this saw a decrease in the number of people distilling whisky in illicit stills at home.

Up until the 1800s whisky was produced in both Scotland and Ireland with both countries competing fairly equally. In the 1830s an Irish man (Coffey) invented a whole new type of grain still which made the production of whisky easier and cheaper. Irish distillers wouldn’t use the still as the whisky it produced was of a lower quality than that produced by the methods they used. But, Scottish distillers did use it and later developed a way of mixing the inferior whisky with better quality stuff to produce the first blends.

This allowed the Scottish distillers to produce more whisky than the Irish could and they assumed market leadership. Blended whiskies also appealed more to the export market which helped make (and keep them) popular to this day.