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Notable Dates In The History Of Whisky

The whisky history that has shaped the production of whisky in Scotland, Ireland and England is steeped in tradition. Uisge Beatha, which is the name given to the water of life has a folklore that is both religious as well as rebellious.

It has been a source of unregulated, but essential income source to rural people in Scotland and Ireland in addition to an indulgence drink for Highland lairds and English aristocracy alike.

An overview of the history behind distillation

Distillation in its more primitive form, was prevalent across Great Britain and Ireland for centuries. The practice is believed to date back over millennia, in the civilized regions of outside Europe.

It’s through the transfer of knowledge about distillation and the re-appropriation of the methods and ingredients used, that the art of whisky making was born.

Early distilling techniques were likely used for the creation of ‘perfumes, aromatics’ instead of distillations of alcohol. The first recorded evidence of alcohol being distillated was in Italy in the 13th Century.

The distillation of spirits became more widespread throughout the middle ages of Europe It was initially used for medicinal purposes by monks, who made it in monasteries.

The whisky’s origins are located were in England, Scotland and Ireland

There isn’t a clear or documented proof of the exact origins of whisky from England, Scotland and Ireland. Some think that the unrefined precursor of modern whisky may be discovered by farmers creating spirits using their leftover grains.

Another widely accepted idea has it that distillation of whisky was brought over by missionary monks travelling across Ireland, Scotland and mainland Europe.

According to some, distillation of spirits remained a largely medical and monastic practice up to the 1500s.

Between 1536 between 1536 and 1541 Between 1536 and 1541, Between 1536 and 1541, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and scattered monks among the general population, leading to distilled alcohol and whisky production to be consumed in the homes or on the farms.


The Latin name for distillation alcohol was ‘aquavitae”water of life and it was transliterated into Gaelic as “uisge beatha’ (pronounced uska beg). In time, the name became shortened to uska and then evolved into “whisky,” which we are familiar with in the present.

Important dates to whisky’s history

1405 – The first written account of whisky appears in Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, where it was noted that the head of a clan was dead after consuming a surfeit of aqua vitale’
1494 – documented evidence of the distillation of whisky taking place in Scotland. It is documented in the Exchequer Rolls of 1494 that King James IV of Scotland ‘granted 8 bolls of grain to make aqua vitae’ for Friar John Corr
1536 -1541 1536 – 1541 Henry VIII dissolves the monasteries. Monks, along with their distillation methods, become part of the population.
The 1600s saw whisky distillation brought across North America by Scottish and Irish immigrants
1608 – royal license was issued to Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland to distill whisky.
1707 – the Acts of Union merged the Kingdoms of Scotland and England and also their parliaments. This was the year that saw increasing attempts to tax and control illicit whisky distillation
1725 – A malt tax is introduced, which puts at risk the small-scale distillers who are illegally producing whisky
1822 1822 – 1822 – Illicit Distillation (Scotland) Act introduced, bringing in stricter penalties for the manufacture and consumption of illegal whisky
1823 Excise Duty Act – a license fee for distilling whisky was enacted and the whiskey duty was drastically decreased
1830 1830 Aeneas Coffey invents his “continuous still that would eventually revolutionize whisky production and open the way for blended whisky varieties to enter the market.

A small-scale industry

After the art of distillation was spread to the general populace of Scotland and Ireland Whisky production grew into a burgeoning cottage industry for centuries to come.

The distillation process however, was relatively new. The whisky that was made did not get aged as modern whisky. This led to rough, strong and inconsistent product.
Excise and duty on whisky

In 1707 The Acts of Union took effect and the Kingdoms of Scotland and England were merged in order to create Great Britain. The Government attempted to control whisky production, by imposing a variety of taxes.

In 1725 the legislature enacted an additional tax on malt, which posed major danger to the small-scale, cottage industry of whisky production. Scottish and Irish distillers took the bait by avoiding the tax as whisky production became increasingly an illegal business.

In Ireland, the introduction of a tax on whisky production was a major blow to its legal industry. The distillers who were licensed to make ‘parliament whiskey’ (whisky legally produced under licence) decreased from 1,228 in 1779, to 246 in 1780.

Moonshine and Poteen

While the new taxes implemented to control whisky production were causing havoc on the legitimate industry in Ireland, the production of poteen (whisky’s illicit counterpart) was booming. It was frequently regarded as superior to “parliament whiskey” due to the pressures that licensed distilleries had to put out their product and turn profits.

In 1882, there were just 40 legal distilleries throughout the entire region of Ireland however it is thought that, in the Donegal region alone, there were over 800 illicit distilleries making whisky.

In Scotland there was a lot of acceptance by the public of whisky that was illegal production. The illicit stills were usually small scale and provided an important product for local communities, with very low costs.

Highland lairds often turned off illegal stills that were erected on their land since the cash they earned the tenants likely the only way they could pay rent. However, there were still the revenue officials that needed to avoid.

Illicit stills were typically placed in isolated hidden areas. Whisky production also became an activity at night, to hide the smoke created during making whisky. It is this practice that gave whisky its name of ‘moonshine’.

The increase of licensed distilleries

With illicit stills and whisky production being prolific throughout Ireland and Scotland at the beginning of the 1800s, government officials intervened by imposing further tax laws.

In 1822 in 1822, the Illicit Distillation Act was passed in Scotland. The Act allowed the production or supplying of whisky produced illegally came with a slew of severe penalties.

However, the following year was 1823, when the Excise Act was passed. This Act led to a dramatic reduction in the amount of duty that was charged on a gallon of whisky, and also the introduction of a distilling licence.

The Excise Act saw a huge transformation in the production process of whisky, bringing about an end to massive production of whisky that was illegal in Scotland.

The lower duty rate, to two shillings and just three pennies (roughly 12p) for a gallon in addition to the cost-effective licence fee made it possible for legal trade and exportation of whisky into England quickly became more appealing too.

By 1824 there were approximately 167 licensed distilleries that were registered in Scotland in 1826. By the time of 1826, this number had risen to 264.

The introduction of the cask and barrel ageing

The process of maturing whisky, which we know now steeps whisky in rich tones and increases its deep flavour profile, was probably discovered by accidental accident in the 1800s.

Prior to being aged in barrels or casks whisky was usually consumed “raw,” direct away from the still.

Spanish sherry barrels became more widely available in the 19th Century after Blight had destroyed the wine harvest of the Cognac region of France. In the midst of Cognac supply being hugely impaired in England and Scotland, Spanish sherry was imported as an alternative.

Because it was inefficient and cost-effective to send empty barrels to Spain, Scottish distillers seized the opportunity to buy up empty barrels, which are likely to be better than the vessels they were previously using to store their whisky production.

It was due to this chance discovery that the origin of cask-aged whisky was established.


From the 18th to 19th centuries, Irish and Scottish whisky was produced in a pot still in batches. The process of distillation by pot made smooth, rich and flavorful whiskies.

In the 1820s the 1820s, a brand new design started to appear that was eventually licensed in 1830 by Aeneas Coffey, in the year 1830. Coffey who was the previous Director General for Excise in Ireland created what was referred to as a “continuous or column.

Pot still

This distillation machine is synonymous with the tradition that whisky is produced. They vary greatly in both size and form, in large part, based on the amount and type of spirit distilled, a pot still consists of an individual heating chamber and an arm or pipe which leads to vessels that hold the distillate alcohol.

Continuous still

A column still acts like a series of pot stills arranged into the form of a long vertical tube. The still produces the rising vapour, which is at first low in alcohol, that will condense and become more enriched with alcohol as it rises into the column.

Coffey’s development of the column nevertheless allowed whisky producers to produce their spirits in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

Rather than distilling in batches The Coffey’s still operated on a continuous basis and produced much greater quantities of whisky, which had a higher alcohol content – even though the resulting whisky was largely deemed to be less fragrant and flavorful as pot still whiskies, particularly by Irish distillers.

Modern stills

Though column stills were, and still are, the most preferred equipment for the distillation of many spirits, pot still technology remains part of the modern production of single malt and single pot still types of whisky.

The pot stills as well as continual stills are usually constructed from copper as copper helps in removing sulphur-based compounds from the alcohol during the distillation process.

Nowadays, many modern stills are made of stainless steel and copper lines.


The continuous design of Coffey’s stills paved the way for the creation of whisky blended that created a whole new market for whisky production.

Even though Coffey who was Irish however, the majority the established Irish distilleries at the time opposed his innovation, favoring the traditional pot still method. This led Coffey to take his design to Scotland and Scotland, where it was much more enthusiastically received.

In time, the blend Scotch whisky was created and surpassed its consumption Irish whiskey that was created using the traditional method of making pot stills.

Types of WHISKY

Single Malt Whisky is a whisky created using a single malted grain, in the distillery of a single person. Single malt whisky is typically created by the pot still distillation process.
Blended Whisky: Typically, blended whisky is made of different kinds of grains. It is usually a blend of various whiskies that have already been seasoned. Blended whisky may also refer to whiskies that aren’t in line with the traditional kinds. Blended whisky can be distilled by using a continuous or column still method.
Scotch Whisky: according to law, Scotch whisky may only be labeled as such only if it was made in Scotland (and has a certain distillation process). Scotch whisky can be single malt or blended whisky. Scotch is known for its distinctive peaty or smoky taste which comes from the malt that is that is dried in a fire that is peat-fuelled.
Irish Whiskey like Scotch, Irish whiskey is only legal to wear this label if it goes through an exact distillation procedure, and is made in Ireland. While it is typically blended, Irish Single Malts may also be purchased.
Rye Whisky While rye whisky is a product of North America, there is no geographic restriction on where it is produced. Rye whisky is naturally, made using an rye-based grain, however other grains like barley and wheat could be incorporated too.


New World Whisky refers to whisky produced outside of the traditional whisky-making nations, or “whisky that is made in a way not normally tied to the country it is made in” According to Distill Ventures, an independent drinks accelerator.

Traditional whisky-producing countries include Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Canada, and Japan. As various countries around the globe gain a foothold in whisky production and distribution, the whisky industry is growing to bring a new dimension to the world of spirit.

Often, New World Whisky producers will use traditional blending techniques that are in keeping with traditional and original whisky-making practices, while exploring innovations in the production process.

New World Whisky producers, like those from Australia, Bolivia, Scandinavia, as well as South Africa, are forging their own distinct tastes, welcoming the new generation of consumers and shaping what the next direction of whisky production.


While the background of English Whisky isn’t as extensive as Scotland or Ireland’s, whisky manufacturing in England dates back to at least the 1800s. In 1903, England’s last distillery, Lea Valley Distillery, Stratford had to shut its doors, drying up English whisky production in England for nearly a century.

Over the last 10 years however, distillers who are craft in England have emerged, bringing back English whisky making. There are more than thirty English whisky distilleries, all at various phases of the production process. Most of English whisky distilleries have been operating for a while making and selling mature whisky. However, some are still in construction.