Who invented the whiskey?

A journey through the history and origin of the Scottish single malt whiskey


From the gÄthe water of life that conquered the world.

The art of distilling is so old that its origins can no longer be precisely identified. However, experts agree that distilling appeared in the Far East as early as the 9th century BC. First of all, it was distilled to produce scented waters and medicines. It was only when the art of distilling came to Europe that potable distillates were created.

The beginnings of distilling on European soil are also not entirely clear. Although it is known that the art of distilling came to Europe via Egypt, the exact time is unclear. It is believed that the distilling of schnapps from pomace or grain was already widespread in Europe in the High Middle Ages.

Whiskey as we know it today came about later, however. There is still a dispute as to whether the home of whiskey is Ireland or Scotland. An Irish legend tells that the Irish patron saint Saint Patrick, who Christianized the island, brought the art of distilling from the Mediterranean countries to the island, which was then inhabited by Celtic tribes. According to the Scots, however, Saint Patrick was born in the Scottish town of Dumberton, which is why Scotland should be considered the actual birthplace of whiskey. The Irish, on the other hand, claimed that whiskey was invented in Ireland and then came to Scotland. It is probably correct that Ireland is the home of whiskey (correct in this case one would even have to speak of "whiskey"), because the name used all over the world for this distillate comes from the Gaelic language and derives from the Gaelic expression usquebaugh ab, which means "water of life" and was derived from the Latin aqua vitae at the time.
When British soldiers conquered Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries and discovered the delicious water of life, but couldn't get on with the Irish or Gaelic name, they called it "whiskey" without further ado.
The art of making potable alcohol from grain was originally reserved for monasteries only. At that time, however, it was already well known and was about to gain a foothold on British soil, as the whiskey had been very popular with the troops of the English crown. The whiskey officially came to the English court in the 16th century. The Irish Count of Cork had Queen Elizabeth I. and Sir Walter Ralleigh gave 32 gallons of this noble water of life as a gift and was subsequently reviled by many in his homeland as a traitor to the fatherland.

For a long time, however, before Queen Elisabeth l. the Gaelic water of life was already distilled as malt whiskey in Scotland. The first written evidence of this is in a Scottish register from 1494, when a certain brother John Cor of Lindoris Abbey in County Five is listed as the buyer of 8 "bowls" of malt that could make 35 cases of whiskey, albeit at least up to At the end of the 12th century whiskey was an exclusively Irish affair, but in the centuries that followed it made its way to Scotland, where the local population quickly learned not only to make the drink, but also to modify the original recipe immediately, as the Scots introduced a new element Whilst the Irish use coal to heat the ovens in which the sprouted barley is kilned, peat is burned in Scotland, which gives every distillate that unmistakable smoky aroma that characterizes Scotch whiskey Production of Scottish whiskey hardly differs from that of Irish Whiskey's. In both countries malt was used exclusively until the middle of the last century, a new and painfully high malt tax forced the Irish distilleries to add unmalted barley to the malted barley. The new blend was so successful that even after the malt tax was abolished, the Irish continued to make their whiskey with a portion of non-germinated barley. In Scotland whiskey was of such great medicinal importance that in 1505 the Edinburgh surgeons and bathers' guild acquired the monopoly on whiskey production. After this exclusive right was frequently violated, the Scottish Parliament was forced to only allow the nobility to distill in 1579, as barley as a food was scarce across the country.

Throughout the 16th century and well beyond that, whiskey remained a synonym for Ireland, as exemplified in John Marston's tragic comedy "The Malcontent" from 1604:
"The Dutch are drunkards, the Danes are blond, the Irish have usquebaugh and the French have syphilis."
While Scottish whiskey was drunk exclusively within Scotland, not least because of its strong peat aroma, and only reached England in the 18th century, Irish whiskey was imported to England earlier.

Whiskey quickly became a national affair, so that even the basic ingredients for whiskey production, such as malt and barley, are anchored in various poems and ballads.
In Scotland, whiskey distilleries sprang up everywhere, even on the western Orkney Islands. However, it was mainly in the Highlands, the highlands that take up around half of Scotland, that the pure Scottish malt whiskey originated. It was there that the barley brand experienced its exciting history between the 17th and 19th centuries, which was dominated by smuggling and illegality.

With the unification of Scotland and England in 1707, the English Parliament introduced a malt tax on Scottish soil. Although, in contrast to England, this was only half in Scotland, despite this concession, most Scottish whiskey distillers were not inclined to submit to the English regulations. In addition to several uprisings, the response to the malt tax was the establishment of numerous illicit distilleries. The Scottish highlands were impassable and barely developed and could only be safely traveled by a local Highlander, making them ideal for the illegal production of whiskey.
The hated malt tax, however, also had other effects. Those who made their whiskey legally had to reduce the amount of malted barley and replace it with unmalted barley to offset the higher cost. In the 18th century, therefore, only illegally produced whiskey was considered genuine and original Scottish whiskey and the few legally authorized distilleries were left with their products.
On the green island of Ireland, too, illicit distilleries were widespread and there, too, a distinction was made between legally and illegally produced whiskey. The distillate obtained with the blessing of the authorities was called Parliament, while the black-distilled whiskey was called "Poteen". Needless to say, Ireland was of course also convinced that the Poteen was far better than the Parliament, which produced the English tax bag filled.


In the 18th century the Scottish highlands were literally littered with illegal whiskey distilleries. This was the result of a deluge of laws that imposed several different tax rates on the distilleries and only made the situation more confused. Despite being escorted by English soldiers, collecting the unpopular taxes remained a dangerous task; several tax collectors paid for their efforts with their lives. Stories of heroism and cunning towards these officials and soldiers belong to many old distilleries. Since the distilleries were mostly small and an illegal distillery could be dismantled and removed very easily, it was difficult to locate them. The stills often consisted of a metal kettle in which barley, yeast and water were boiled over a fire, a thin, water-cooled pipe that caught the steam, and a barrel for the raw distillate. While the equipment could easily be hidden, it was not that easy to hide the whiskey supplies, and numerous stories tell of how valuable supplies were saved from destruction or confiscation. Magnus Eunson, for example, distilled whiskey in Highlandpark (Orkney Islands) in 1798. As a notorious smuggler, the local preacher used to store the whiskey casks in his church. When he heard that there were tax collectors in the area, he had the barrels fetched from the church, brought them to his house, and spread a white sheet over them. While officers searched the church, Eunson and his staff held a funeral service. One of Eunson's workers whispered to the tax collector that they were mourning a man who had died of smallpox. This was enough for the Crown officials to flee in horror.
In the Highlands, whiskey had meanwhile risen to become the national drink, to which all classes and social classes equally applauded. According to Robert Burns' famous verse: "Freedom and whiskey belong together", the malt distillate made social differences disappear and also brought the smell of freedom to the working class and the lower classes in general. Whiskey became part of everyday life. Women have always been allowed to whiskey drink and one of the most popular drinks was the so-called Toddey made from whiskey, hot water and sugar, and even children were given a teaspoon of whiskey every now and then.

Even the offer of a reward of 5 pounds by the English government for naming secret whiskey distilleries could not harm the flourishing illicit distilleries. The cunning Highlanders even made a business out of it by collecting the reward but not harming their illegal distillers. They reported the discovery of an illicit distillery to the tax officials; However, since the spiral of the still, the most expensive part of the entire system, had to be replaced at certain intervals anyway, the burners dismantled their apparatus and set it up again at a different location. The tax officials then only found an abandoned distillery and a few old and useless equipment. But with the 5 pounds sterling, Brenner could buy a new IUD again.

It was not until 1823 that the far-sighted Duke Alexander Gordon ended the era of illicit distilleries. Gordon assumed that centuries-old habits of the Highlanders could not be erased, and that this practice should not be suppressed, but rather incentivized to legalize illicit distilleries. A new law then introduced an admissions fee of only £ 10 per still and a tax of 2 shillings and 3 pence per gallon of distilled alcohol. The consequences of this new regulation were not long in coming. Of the 14,000 illicit distilleries that were counted in 1823, there were barely 700 left in 1834, 10 years later only 170, another 10 years later 100 fewer and in 1874 their number had dropped to 6. The heyday of illicit distilleries and illegal Scottish whiskey came to an end.
The 19th century was not only characterized by the legalization of the earlier illegal whiskey distilleries, but also and above all by an event that was to influence the entire later development of whiskey. This revolution, which also changed the fate of both Scottish whiskey and Irish whiskey, was triggered by the invention of a new still. Aeneas Coffey, a senior tax officer responsible for alcohol taxes in the British Empire, invented and patented a new burner that still bears his name today.

Since we are now turning to the Scottish malt whiskey, which is still made with the traditional direct-fired still (pot still), it should only be noted at this point that the Coffey patented still (patent still) does it brought with it that it can be distilled continuously, which enabled a higher reject rate of whiskey in a shorter time. In addition, a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and other types of grain, such as corn, could be burned with this device. However, the distillate obtained in this new apparatus no longer had the typical peat aroma for which Scottish whiskey has always been known.

In 1850, a mixture of pure malt whiskey and the distillate obtained with Coffeys apparatus was marketed for the first time in Edinburgh. This was the first "blended whiskey". Success came immediately.
The consequences of "blended whiskey" were catastrophic, especially for Irish whiskey production, because due to the more complex production processes - malt whiskey is still distilled three times in Ireland and twice in Scotland - the product had to be sold at a higher price The centuries-old supremacy of Irish whiskey was broken, but in Scotland the incredible rise of whiskey to a world-renowned beverage began and the legendary Scotch whiskey was born.
The name of this new drink caused a problem. Was it possible to call blended whiskey "Scotch whiskey" even though it was so different from the traditional Scottish malt whiskey from the Highlands? An expert commission set up by the British government defined whiskey in 1909 as "a distillate made from various malted grains". According to this, both the whiskey obtained from pure malt and according to the traditional method and the distillate obtained according to the Coffey system and the mixture of the two Scotch whiskey could be named. In 1915 it was also decreed that whiskey had to mature for at least three years before it could be placed on the market.

At this point it should also be mentioned that long before Scotch whiskey - or the distillate of malt and grain - was born, the water of life had already reached the new world through Irish and Scottish settlers and whiskey was also produced there. There is reliable evidence of the existence of stills on American soil since 1770/1780. Whiskey is made in the United States in Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Tennessee. The American President George Washington was also an important whiskey producer in Virginia, as was the later President Ab-rahm Lincoln, who produced whiskey in Kentucky.

 

 

In Canada, too, several whiskey stills gradually emerged.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Scotch whiskey was also known in Japan. Whiskey production began in Japan as early as the 1920s. Today Japan ranks second behind the United States among whiskey producing countries. With Suntory, Japan has the largest malt whiskey distillery in the world. Malt whiskey is also produced in Australia, the Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand and Pakistan.

The two world wars and American prohibition also had far-reaching consequences for whiskey production and trade. For example, in 1939, due to a decree by the British Ministry of Food, whiskey production was completely discontinued and was not released for the market until 1954.
After numerous stills were forced to close due to insufficient capital, high expenditure and the general recession, a special interest in single malt whiskeys only arose again in the mid-1960s, as these were needed to meet the demand for whiskey blends . More companies then started a marketing offensive for single malts.

 

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