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Whisky has been distilled here in Scotland since at least the 15th century, with the first record of it dating back to 1494 when Friar John Cor of Lindores Abbey in Fife was granted the king’s commission to make acqua vitae, Latin for ‘water of life’. The word ‘whisky’ derives from its Gaelic translation: uisge beatha (pronounced oosh-ga beh-huh). Read on to discover more about whisky’s illustrious past.

To view timeline of key events


Water isn’t only part of the name; it is an integral part of whisky creation. The art
of distilling started as a way of using up rain-soaked barley and, as it still does today, uses water from Scotland’s crystal streams and burns. It has been produced in Scotland for hundreds of years. It is generally agreed that monks brought distillation with them along with Christianity in the fourth and fifth centuries. The first official recording of distilling stretches back to tax records from 1494.

The first official taxes on whisky production were not imposed until 1644, causing a rise in illicit whisky distilling in the country. Around 1780, there were about 8 legal distilleries and 400 illegal ones. In 1823, Parliament eased restrictions on licensed distilleries with the “Excise Act”, while at the same time making it harder for the illegal stills to operate, thereby ushering in the modern era of Scotch production.

Two events helped the increase of whisky’s popularity: first, a new production
process was introduced in 1831 called Coffey or Patent Still. The whisky produced
with this process was less intense and smoother. Second, the Phylloxera beetle destroyed wine and cognac production in France in 1880, meaning that stocks of both in
cellars around the world dwindled to almost nothing.

Since then, whisky production has gone from strength to strength, weathering
prohibition in the United States, two world wars, the Great Depression and
economic recessions throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Today, it is enjoyed
in over 200 countries around the world.

There are two kinds of Scotch whisky: malt whisky, which is made by the pot still process, and grain whisky, which is made by the patent still (or Coffey still) process. Malt whisky is made from malted barley only while grain whisky is made from malted barley together with unmalted barley and other cereals. A third, blended whisky, involves an intricate process of mixing different single malts with grain whisky.