History of Whiskey
How The Name Of Whiskey Was Derived:
Since the invention of Whiskey is tied to Scotland, so does its name derive from the ancient languages spoken there. The term Whiskey originates from the Gaelic “uisge beatha” or “usquebaugh” which means “water of life”.
One of the earliest references to the actual word “uiskie” occurs in a funeral account of a Highland laird around 1618. (Whiskey History Retrieved from here)
The earliest official records that document and prove organized production of the drink are from 1494. A certain Friar John Cor received an order of “eight bolls of malt to make aqua vitae”. This was enough for approximately 1500 bottles of whiskey which indicates mass production was already ongoing for quite some time, it just wasn’t recorded until then.
History of Distillation:
Whiskey is made through distillation of fermented grain. Distillation itself has a long and rich history as well, going back some 2500 years when sailors from ancient Greece boiled seawater to make it drinkable. Around 2100 years ago a similar process was used to filter spirit from wine. The Greeks used a container with a small mouth covered by a bowl. (The History Retrieved from here ) At a later stage, a tube was added along with a container at the bottom to catch the spirit giving us first similar distillation process that we know today. The distillation process was also used in ancient civilizations of the far-east like Mesopotamia originally to make perfumes and aromas. Earliest installments of distilleries throughout Western Europe are tied to Christian Monasteries. At first, the church was against producing distilled spirits but eventually allowed production as monasteries had herbs ready in their gardens which could be used to produce medicine trough the distillation process.
Whiskey is made from fermented grain mash. Various grains are used for different variations: barley, corn, wheat, and rye. Whiskey is most often aged in wooden casks most frequently made from charred white Oak.
The first commercial distillery:
The first commercial distillery is credited to one Evan Wiliams. It was founded in Louisville on the Kentucky River in 1783. The first officially licensed distillery, however, is the Old Bushmills Distillery. The official license dates back to 1608 and it is the oldest of its kind in the world. (Whiskey History: A timeline of Whiskey Retrieved from: http://www.bottleneckmgmt.com/blog/whiskey-history-timeline/)
Evolution of Whiskey:
Like already mentioned, earliest production of whiskey was tied to Monks. This tradition came to an unexpected end in 1541 when the English King Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries in Scotland. This act actually led to an increase in whiskey production since unemployed monks started producing in their own distilleries across all of Scotland. Even though the dissolvent of monasteries by the king had an involuntary positive effect on whiskey production the crown did have a major negative impact on whiskey at a later stage. In the early 18th century the English crown merged with the Scots and with this merger came a new set of heavy taxation rules on all unlicensed alcohol brewing. This move, however, led to illegal production on a mass scale across all northern England. The production was carried out mostly at night to hide the smoke from the distilleries. The process was nicknamed “Moonshine” a name that remains until today in rural areas of the United States. Heavy taxation lasted for around 150 years. Shortages of Whiskey had major effects on events around the world. During the American Revolution, there was such a shortage of Whiskey that it was often used as currency! After the end of the Civil war, the US government also introduced heavy taxation on the ingredients as well as production and sales. The dissatisfaction was so great that the farmers started the famous Whiskey rebellion! (Origins and History of Whiskey Retrieved from here: The end of the struggles for the producers of whiskey came in 1823 when the English government introduced a law that legalized production. Whiskey production has suffered only one major blow since and it was during the prohibition in the United States. It lasted for 13 years from 1920-1933. The USA followed a similar pattern to the Scots when they had similar conditions, illegal manufacturing and smuggling were blossoming which led it to becoming a great underground industry. However since 1933 there have been no further obstructions with the production whatsoever.
During that troublesome period, there were some positives as well, there were a few technological breakthroughs and lucky breaks for whiskey manufacturers. The invention of the “Continuous still” by Robert Stein, that was later patented by Aeneas Coffey, revolutionized the whiskey industry as it allowed for faster production and whiskey of a markedly higher quality. Scott Andrew Usher perfected his “Blended whiskey” during the second half of the 19th century. Around this time there was another important event that boosted the popularity of the drink. A plague of the pest Phylloxera had a devastating impact on wine production. With a huge shortage of wine, people turned to whiskey as an alternative drink which further enhanced production!
Single malt whiskey:
A single malt whiskey is a special form of production where only one grain is used and thus the name. Most commonly it is produced from just water, barley, and yeast. The barley is malted which means to start the barley seed to sprout by soaking it in water and then interrupting the process with heat. Single malt whiskeys are mostly associated with Scotland and are usually products of one distillery.
Today, whiskey is one of the most popular drinks worldwide and its popularity is increasing with each passing year, thankfully, with no obstacles with production or distribution! Production that originated in Scotland spread across the whole world, biggest producers of the drink are the United States, Canada, Ireland, and Japan. Besides these titans in the industry countries that have notable production are: Australia, South Africa, England, Taiwan, Spain, Sweden and Wales.