Scotch Whisky (Scotch). A little bit of history


Scotch Whisky (Scotch).
A little bit of history



Whisky is the Scottish national drink. "Whisky is as essential to the Scots," wrote Mark Twain, "as milk is to the rest of mankind. The first written mention of Scotch whisky is found in a Scottish Treasury document called Exchequer Rolls from 1494. It reads, "To issue eight bolls (about 508 kilograms) of barley to Brother John Corr for making aqua vitae ("living water", or spirit)". In the Middle Ages, monasteries were the centers of production of spirits, including whisky. As a rule, they were located near pure water sources and had the simplest distillation apparatuses - alambics.


Over time, the secrets of distillation became known to the flock. Scottish peasants were engaged in animal husbandry and cultivation of barley and oats, and these crops are the initial raw material for whisky production. Whisky of that time was of low quality, but very popular among Scottish peasants. The production of the drink brought them a lot of profit.


The consumption of whisky grew so rapidly that it began to worry the authorities. In 1506 a decree was passed in Edinburgh, according to which the privilege to produce and sell aqua vitae was transferred only to barbers and doctors. The point is that at that time whisky was considered a medicinal remedy. However, peasants continued to distill and sell barley spirit. Gradually, the drink became an integral part of Scottish life, helping them to shorten long and cold winter evenings. Written sources of that time state that the consumption of whisky took alarming proportions, it was drunk on holidays and weekdays, at funerals and weddings, even by 10-12 year old children.


This is not to say that those in power looked the other way. Scottish Parliament in 1579 limited the circle of those who had the right to produce alcohol - it became a privilege of the aristocracy. But even this measure did not bring tangible results. Then thought about the benefits for the state: in 1642, the English king imposed a tax on the production of alcohol and declared a royal monopoly, approved by the Scottish Parliament, on the discylation. Nevertheless, this circumstance did not cool the passion of the Scots for whisky.


Any legislative acts of the time were in the hands of large producers of alcohol in Edinburgh and Glasgow, with which it was difficult to compete with small suppliers from the highlands. The result was increasing smuggling.


In 1707, after Scotland was officially united with England, one of the first decisions of the English Parliament was to create a body to control whisky production and collect taxes. True, the tax was halved in 1713, but was later increased again in 1725, causing serious unrest in Glasgow. Nevertheless, whisky production grew, which is not the case with beer: the new taxes on whisky production affected its output to a greater extent.


The resistance of the producers of the national drink was in line with the national struggle for independence. In 1746, the Scots revolted, which ended in defeat. This event was a turning point in the history of Scotland. The English defeated the Jacobites, members of the clans, forcing the Scottish prince, the last of the Stuarts, to seek refuge in Europe. From that point on, a real war broke out between tax collectors and underground whisky producers.


At the end of the 18th century, only distilleries from the Lowlands with a parliamentary patent could sell their whisky to England. There were only eight such distilleries, while there were more than 400 illegal ones. To reduce the tax burden, distilleries began to replace barley malt with a grain mixture of rye, wheat and unmalted barley. However, grain whiskey was inferior to single malt whiskey.


Total control over whisky production gave rise to another phenomenon that benefited this drink: producers began to move to more remote uninhabited places where crystal clear water sources were discovered (in particular, on the rocky and inaccessible islands of Islay and Skye). There, the production of single race malt whisky was established. Due to the exceptional quality of whisky from these companies, they successfully compete with the major whisky producers to this day.


In order to cut off the flow of whisky from Scotland to England, the English government passed a law in 1784 that taxed the working capacity of distilling cubes rather than the raw material. This law, more effective than previous measures, favored the distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, which existed there despite the prohibitions: the distillation apparatuses were small in size. But under the previous law they were not allowed to export their whisky, and the result was smuggled whisky sales.

Map of Scotland's whisky producing regions


As for the lowland producers in Scotland, they responded to the innovation by reducing the size of their distilling cubes. The one thing they didn't take into account at the time - the smaller the cube, the quicker you can distill alcohol, and stronger it is.


The English government, completely confused by its laws, continued to raise taxes. The underground whiskey trade flourished everywhere. In 1814, distilling cubes with a capacity of at least 500 gallons were authorized for use. Thus, distilling whiskey in the lowlands became impossible. The "Whiskey War" reached a climax, and murders of tax collectors were not uncommon. By 1820, about 14,000 distilling cubes were confiscated annually.


The technology of Scotch whisky production was formed during XVI-XVIII centuries. By the middle of the XIX century it became the same for all distilleries of Scotland: 1) obtaining malt - germination of barley to the required condition;


2) drying the malt under special conditions (usually using smoke);


3) mixing the malt with water to produce wort;


4) fermentation of the wort (to produce a fermented alcohol);


5) obtaining a strong spirit by distillation of the abortive liquor;


6) aging of the obtained alcohol in oak barrels.


In fact, all stages, except for the last one, are typical for production of strong alcohol from grain and are familiar to any experienced moonshiner. Only the last stage is specific: here ordinary strong alcohol turns into whisky. If it were not for the peculiarities of the Scottish national character - patience and frugality, whisky would not have been aged in barrels for decades, it would no longer be scotch, but just moonshine.


"The Whisky War" began to subside only from 1822, when King George IV of England visited Edinburgh. It was the monarch's first visit to Scotland since the overthrow of the Stuarts. The king may have needed the support of the Scots in the future. Therefore, during his stay in the Scottish capital, he dressed in a plaid skirt, which greatly flattered the ego of the Scots, participated in national festivals, like the Scots, immoderately drank whiskey, a great lover of which he was himself. He promised to reduce the pressure on whisky producers, and with this he won fame and honor. A year later, a new law was issued, which reduced the cost of annual licenses and tax on whisky production. The Glenlivet distillery, run by the famous smuggler George Smith, was the first to be officially licensed. The clandestine production and smuggling of whiskey came to an end.


In 1877, Scotland's major grain distilleries decided to form a company to protect the collective and individual interests of each member of the agreement - the Distillers Company Limited (DCL). Around the same time, Robert Stein invented a new type of distilling apparatus that allowed for continuous distillation (previously distillate was obtained in "discrete batches"). This apparatus was improved in 1830 by Enias Coffey. This gave the Scotch whisky industry a strong incentive to conquer the markets of England and America. The latter was due to the emergence of a new type of whisky - blended, or blended whisky, obtained by mixing malt and grain whisky.


A number of fortunate circumstances in the 19th century contributed to the popularity of Scotch whisky, most notably the crisis in the wine industry of the 50s and 60s. The phylloxera fly "ate" most of the vines in Europe, as a result of which many famous vineyards of France, Spain and Italy ceased to exist. Receipts of traditional wines (sherry, port, claret (red dry Bordeaux), madera, etc.) to the English market decreased, and in a few years they stopped altogether.


The Scots promptly responded to the increased interest of the English in whisky and quickly met the demand not only in England itself, but also in its colonies. Until the 30s of the XIX century, whisky production was also limited due to the lack of efficient distillation apparatuses. Only the above-mentioned invention of a modern type of distilling cube allowed to put whisky production on an industrial basis. Distilleries also appeared for the production of single malt whisky: Bruichilladich (1881), Glenfiddich (1887), Balvenie (1891), Longmorn (1894) and a number of others. In 1900 there were 160 active distilleries. However, some factors (overproduction and the economic crisis at the end of the 19th century) also affected the whisky industry. Some companies were forced to close their distilleries, and in 1908 there were only 132 of them.


The First World War only increased the pressure on whisky producers. In 1918, whisky exports were banned and taxes doubled. During the American Prohibition (1920-1933), the Scotch whisky industry was not destroyed only thanks to DCL, which bought up many companies on the verge of collapse. Production, which had reached 120 million liters of pure alcohol in 1919, fell to 30 million in 1932. By the time Prohibition was repealed, the Scottish whisky industry had revived. However, the period of its revival was short-lived - the Second World War began. In 1942-1944 Scotland did not produce whisky at all. After the war, the distilleries became active again. In 1948, production reached 80 million liters per year.


However, in 1983, during the next economic crisis, about 30 more distilleries closed. The production volume dropped again from 450 million liters in 1975 to 235 million liters in 1983. At the end of the 1980s, a revival of the whisky industry began. DCL, renamed United Distilliters in 1979, began producing classic malt whiskey in 1988. This is a collection of drinks from regional versions of single malt whiskies from distilleries Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban, and Talisker. Its other series have also appeared. Scotch whisky has never known such success as it did at the end of the 20th century.


In Scotland there are currently about 100 distillers producing more than 2000 brands of Scotch whisky. The most popular of these are around 300 brands.





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