DISCOVERY WHISKY: The history of whisky
The history of whisky
Whisky has been distilled in Scotland for hundreds of years. There is some evidence to show that the art of distilling could have been brought to the country by Christian missionary monks, but it has never been proved that Highland farmers did not themselves discover how to distill spirits from their surplus barley.


1494: The earliest historical reference to whisky comes much later, Mr. J Marshall Robb, in his book ‘Scotch Whisky’, says: ‘The oldest reference to whisky occurs in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494, where there is an entry of ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae’. A boll was an old Scottish measure of not more than six bushels. (One bushel is equivalent to 25.4 kilograms)

1506: When King James IV was in Inverness during September 1506, his Treasurer’s Accounts had entries for the 15th and 17th of the month respectively: ‘For aqua vite to the King. . .’ and ‘For ane flacat of aqua vite to the King. . .’. lt is probable that the aquavitae in this case was spirit for drinking.

1608: License granted to produce whiskey at Bushmills Distillery, Northern Ireland. 

1614: There is also a reference to distilling in a private house in the parish of Gamrie in Banffshire in 1614. This occurs in the Register of the Privy Council, where a man accused of the crime of breaking into a private house, combined with assault, was said to have knocked over some ‘aquavitie’.

1618: One of the earliest references to ‘uiskie’ occurs in the funeral account of a Highland laird about 1618.

1622: An unpublished letter of February 1622, written by Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy to the Earl of Mar, reported that certain officers sent to Glenorchy by the King had been given the best entertainment that the season and the country allowed. It stated: ‘For they want it not wine nor aquavite.’ This ‘aquavite’ was no doubt locally distilled whisky.

1644: Evolving from a Scottish drink called uisge beatha (meaning “water of life”), whisky began to circulate throughout the country, causing policymakers to begin taxing it come the year 1644. Unfortunately, despite the government’s attempt to regulate and draw income from such a popular drink, distillers began to sell it illegally and sales flourished across Scotland.

1690: The earliest reference to a distillery in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament appears to be in 1690, when mention is made of the famous Ferintosh distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden.

1707: A treaty between Scotland and England signed in 1707 stipulated that the taxes on alcohol has to be the same on both sides of the border.

1713: In addition, a tax on malts was introduced in Scotland in 1713. This tax existed in England, but was not part of the treaty. This resulted in very violent demonstrations.

1775: This year the Glenturret Distillery was founded.

1826: First patent for a continuous still awarded to Robert Stein. James Allardes of GlenDronach takes out a license.

1880: Then in 1880, Scotch whisky became a global phenomenon thanks to a new microscopic insect that preyed on the grape vines in France. Since wine and brandy were considered two of the most popular drinks of the day, when the phylloxera bug began to destroy vineyards across France, wine and brandy production came to an almost immediate halt. With alcoholics around the world craving a substitute, the doors to the global marketplace opened wide for Scotland’s distillers and Scotch whisky became the world’s new popular drink.