Scotch Lesson #1: History

The Macallan Fine Oak 10 Year Old Scotch LabelIt’s always important to get your facts straight when discussing something that you are passionate about.  Unfortunately, whiskey seems to be one of those topics that most people think they know, but they are way off.  A few weeks back, I posted a little lesson about bourbon.  Like most things labeled “American”, its roots are European, and bourbon has Scotland and Ireland to thank for getting the whiskey movement going.

Unfortunately for us enthusiasts, the origination of whiskey is unknown.  The written word “whiskey” (or whisky) comes from the the term “uisge beatha” which means “water of life“.  This term was later shortened to “uishie” which is where we get our modern day translation.  The Scots claim to have begun the process and the Irish counter that argument relentlessly.  Regardless of who started distilling it and why, the sale or trade of whiskey began in the 15th century.

So, why did it take so long to develop this drink, when wine had been around since before the time of Christ?  And why did it happen in Northwestern Europe of all places?

Geographic areas like the Middle East and Southern Europe have been fermenting grapes into wine for what seems like forever.  The mild-to-hot climate in these areas makes harvesting a non-issue.  Scotland is another story.  Not to be left out, the Scots (or Irish depending on who you ask) began distilling fermented cereals; a mix of ingredients easy to obtain in their climate.  To their surprise, this created a whole new type of end product.

This liquid was not always used for recreational human consumption.  Doctors became very interested in this for its medicinal purposes, both for treating illnesses and preserving organs.  Once the distillers began to understand how to condense the liquids and repeat the distillation process, they quickly discovered that this could be drunk!

Of course, the Scottish government saw a wonderful opportunity to tax this new product, and both legal and illegal whiskey distillation began in the late 17th century.  In some geographic regions, there was one legally licensed distillery for every fifty illegal distilleries!  After a couple centuries of turmoil between the government and the distillers, agreements on taxing were reached, and the industry began to prosper once more.

As an American drinking Scotch, I have to thank Prohibition!  Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.  Because whiskey-making in the United States and neighboring countries was no longer regulated in any way, the quality of that whiskey suffered tremendously.  Those powerful enough to demand a better product, brought in single malt Scotch.  Although Prohibition was lifted in 1933, we still feel the residual effects as the United States remains a big market for quality Scotch.

There you have it; a very brief, concise history of Scotch and whiskey in general.  Your next lesson will be on the five main Scottish geographic locations; Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown.  Class dismissed!



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  1. […] that fits into a category I haven’t reviewed in a little while.  If I just reviewed a Scotch, then I might review a bourbon.  If I already reviewed those, I might check out a rye […]

  2. […] its flavor away.  Although light in color, you can quickly tell that this is just as robust a Scotch as any other Highland single malt.  Fruit notes are present, particularly apples and […]

  3. […] ago, I was shopping for my wife’s birthday.  Like me, she is a huge fan of whiskey – Scotch specifically.  I went to the local state store and was browsing the Scotch section.  I picked out […]

  4. […] first experience with it was about two years ago.  My father was educating me on Scotch for the first time, starting with Highland malts and progressing to Islay.  Because I did not have […]

  5. […] make things worse, being a young adult starting out in my career, a $60 investment into my favorite Scotch can seem much larger compared to that of an established […]

  6. […] there are the regions preferring the “whisky” spelling.  Scotch typically utilizes this spelling, as do the Canadian and Japanese […]

  7. […] fully expecting the wonderful aroma of a bourbon, and was surprised with the wonderful aroma of a Scotch instead.  That’s right; the Japanese who I had assumed would craft their whisky in the style […]

  8. […] nose of Bastille is very unique.  It’s light and florally, with just a touch of a Highland Scotch […]

  9. […] Ryan Tweet Two weeks ago, we got a little refresher course on the history of Scotch.  This time, we’ll be focusing on the geography of Scotland and how it affects the whisky in […]

  10. […] of leather and slight hint of tobacco.  Stranahan’s has the florally taste of a light Scotch, with the robust full-body of a bourbon.  Be warned that this is a very sweet whiskey as […]

  11. […] for Christmas.  I know, I know, that sounds a bit ridiculous.  Who needs six brand new bottles of Scotch?  Well, I used the holidays as an excuse to splurge on some bottles I wouldn’t have […]

  12. […] – I’m not a big fan of rye whiskey.  I struggle to find all of the intricacies of a Scotch or bourbon in a whiskey made predominantly with rye.  Likewise, I struggle to pick up much more […]

  13. […] being said, what is the best type of whiskey; American (including bourbon), Canadian, Irish, Scotch, or other international […]

  14. […] reviewers (or reviewers in general) have their own personal preferences.  Some prefer peated Scotches, other prefer ryes, and some settle for the light taste of a Canadian.  I can say in all sincerity […]

  15. […] main difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch are the styles produced.  Many blends of Scotch are sent to market (in fact, 90% of Scotch is […]

  16. […] no.  He brought it out to me, and after my first taste, I asked him to repeat the name of the Scotch.  A few weeks later, I went out and bought my […]

  17. […] Dalmore 12 Year Old is another bottle of Scotch that was given as a gift to me from my dad.  I didn’t know much about this brand, but it was […]

  18. […] back in November of last year.  I was shopping for my wife for her birthday, and was browsing the Scotch section of the liquor store for something we had not previously tried.  I noticed a box set for […]

  19. […] only assume that it was “cartoony” and mis-representative of the classiness of the Scotch world (I mean, c’mon – The Peat […]

  20. […] recently wrote a review of Glenfarclas 12 Year Old, a Highland single malt Scotch.  It’s a whisky that I enjoy, but not one that I would likely purchase regularly.  […]

  21. […] week, I reviewed Glenmorangie Lasanta, a Scotch matured for ten years in ex-bourbon casks and an additional two years in Oloroso sherry casks.  Quinta Ruban, however, spends 10 years […]

  22. […] Although we had many differences, there was one thing we could agree on – our mutual love for Scotch.  His brand of choice was Glenlivet, a preference passed down from his godfather.  Although my […]

  23. […] By this I mean, in your opinion, do you prefer American (including bourbon), Canadian, Irish, Scotch, or another international variety of […]

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