“The whisky of this country is a most rascally liquor & by consequence only drunk by the most rascally part of the inhabitants”
Robert Burns 1788
No one knows the exact identity of the first Scotsman to distill spirits, nor are they sure when or where the first malt whisky was made. But one fact of which we can be certain is that whisky is endemic in Scottish culture.
As with all great enterprise mass whisky production was born out of economic necessity, Highland farmers burdened with a surplus of grain discovered through fermentation and distillation a supplementary source of income to be made. Barley was most commonly used, although wheat and oats were also turned into whisky.
The leap toward a global industry started with the invention of the Coffey still in 1827. For many early imbibers malt whisky was an acquired taste. But this new still produced a much lighter, less robust and therefore a more widely appealing whisky than its predecessor and at a far greater volume to boot. Abrogation of laws restricting the use of continuous still whisky in the 1860s paved the way for blended whiskies to consumers’ great delight. In the 1870s a rampant strain of phylloxera devastated Cognac production. Naturally, a suitable replacement was needed; Scotch whisky was suddenly lauded as the drink du jour.