Whisky History - The beginning of Whisky
What a lot of people do not know is probably that alcohol was first invented in the 10th Century by Arab alchemists. This technique was found when trying to make cosmetics and perfume as Arabs do not really have the need to drink alcohol. But soon the techniques where taken to Spain and then spread throughout Europe. Two Century later farmers, monks and university scholars where making alcohol from grape and grain or really any produced that were available to them with ease. Over in Ireland at this time monks really became the first to distil what we know as whisky when they used fermented barley. The timing of this was very vague and is believed to be around the middle of the 11th Century.
Over this time with the travellers going between Ireland and Scotland this process spread quickly and whisky was starting to be produced by all the local farmers. This is when I would say whisky finally came to Scotland.
Other facts regarding the history of whisky.
People will always argue about where whisky was invented. Scotland or Ireland? Well distilling was brought to Ireland by St. Patrick in 432AD, but the first written recording of it being sold was in Scotland 1494 and it soon became widespread as knowledge spread on how to distil whisky and soon afterwards nearly every farmer in Scotland became a maker of whisky. As you can see there is a lot of time between the two dates. The Celts could be the first to produced whisky as they named their liquid usquebaugh which means ‘water of life’ and the word whisky also comes from the gaelic word 'Uisga'.
In the early years of whisky there was no period of ageing and after the whisky was distilled it was consumed. So the whisky had a raw taste. It was then discovered by accident when a cask was forgotten about in the mid 18th century and when the owner of the cask tasted the whisky he found that the whisky mellowed after ageing thus the process of ageing began and why we have whisky maturing now for years just to have the correct taste that we all love.
At the start of the 17th Century whisky distilling in the Scottish Highlands was massive with nearly every farmer joining in with the making of whisky. This was because the crop was easy to produce (barley and oats). This was when whisky became massive in Scotland, but really was only sold to local people in each of the farming communities. But then came the Act of Union.
In 1707 and the Act of Union, Scotland and England join parliaments and soon after taxes were introduced on distilleries and malts. Of course this did not go down well and a lot of illegal whisky was beginning to be produced. But more penalties were brought in to reduce this illegal trade and smuggling of whisky. The penalties where very steep and in a very short space of time this practice nearly disappeared.
It was not until the late 1700’s when whisky became very profitable because of the improving farming methods. So with all the distilleries at this time present in the Highlands of Scotland and the main population in Scotland being in the Glasgow and Edinburgh area, distilleries began to be built within this area. This would help get the whisky to the marker quicker as the transport network was very poor in these days. But with taxes very high still and so many costs involved it was hard to keep this as a profitable business.
So illegal distilling was still happening and with the government really cracking down on this production the ‘smugglers’ tended to move all there distilling production to small islands around Scotland where they were very unlikely to be discovered. It was not until excise act of 1823 when taxes fell with the reducing of duty was reduced by 50%. This cut down massively the operations by smugglers and the whisky industry became legal once again.
Generally whisky was really only sold within Britain, but as time when on it spread around the world and is sold in most countries. Also with it being sold worldwide other countries producing there own whisky. Hence why this website is about all the whiskies in the world and not just relating to whisky in Scotland and Ireland.
With the history of whisky very vague it really has been adopted by Scotland and is one of Scotland biggest export with it being comsumed in nearly every country in the world. Over the coming years the whisky industry will keep growing and the making of this site all help the process.
With regards to Irish whisky they have some amazing brands and deserve so much credit. There exports are always growing, and the merging of certain distilleries this will keep growing also. There is such a large market place for whisky that there is enough room for everyone to take a slice of the action. My own thoughts are Scotland and Ireland are both massive within the whisky industry and both have to keep growing.