The History of Scotch Whisky

scotch whisky
single malt

The art of distilling has been known to man for hundreds of years. The traditional story was that it was introduced to Scotland by St Patrick, a native Scot, in the 5th century. Whether it was Pat himself or other Irish missionaries is not certain, but it was no doubt a tool that they used to convert the natives to Christianity

The first written record of distilling does not occur until 1494 when a monk records the supply of barley to a monastery to make aquavitae, probably as a medicine. The monks remained the most skilful distillers until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century.

The taxes that were imposed on whisky in the 18th and early 19th centuries encourages illicit stills and smuggling. The illegal whisky tended to better than its legal competitor and was cheaper. Declining revenues from whisky taxes prompted a rare pragmatic gesture from the tax gatherers - the 1823 Excise Act actually lowered the tax on spirits, and this marked the beginning of the end of the moonshine. It was cheaper and less risky to buy a distillery license for 10 than to continue "free trading".

Therefore most of the single malt distilleries that we know today, date from the 19th century as the owners of previously illegal stills licensed them

At around the same time Robert Stein and Aeneas Coffey invented a patent still which enabled the continuous distillation of grain whisky (up till then pot stills made whisky by the batch) this enabled production of  larger quantities of grain whisky (using a mixture of barley malt and wheat)

The boom in whisky meant that new shops were set up in the towns. You will recognise the names of some of those opening for business

These merchants were among the first to blend and bottle whisky on a serious scale. They sold under their own name, various products

In the 1870's, the Phylloxera infestation of French vineyards decimated brandy production in France. Blended Scotch whisky was marketed to fill the gap in England's drinking.  Through the 1880's and '90's, men like James Buchanan and Tommy Dewar sold their blends in London. The resulting whisky boom meant that more single malt distilleries had to be built to supply the demand for blended whisky. And the blended whisky was also exported to all corners of the British Empire

Today it is mainly the same blends that are still with us, but in recent decades there has been a boom in the demand for single malts. Between 1980 to 1990, the total market for bottled single malts increased by 240%.

Most of the 100 odd distilleries that distil single malt whiskies. Each malt is unique in character, and every distillery has its own story to tell.

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