Whisky is having a revival with new distilleries appearing up and down the country. New practices, uses and flavours are becoming increasingly popular, with our Tamar Tipple Whisky - Spiced Orange Liqueur being one of them! Today, we delve into the rich history of whisky. For the history of gin and rum, check out our blog.
With the practice of distilling dating back into the 2nd millennium BC in Asia and North Africa, there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to the history of whisky. We’ll centre our story around whisky in Britain and Ireland, and begin with how whisky got here…
Origins in Britain & Ireland
While the exact story of how whisky arrived in Britain and Ireland is unknown, there are many theories. Some believe that it was introduced as it spread throughout European monasteries. There is a rich history of monastic brewing throughout Europe, with monks primarily growing ingredients for medicine, and then developing it into forms of alcohol.
Some believe that whisky arrived in Ireland with Saint Patrick when he arrived there in 432AD. It is thought that he brought his knowledge of distillation to Ireland after his travels in Egypt, one of the earliest countries to practice distillation. It is this belief that leads us to how whisky got its name.
The Elixir of Life
The word whisky originates from the Gaelic uisge beatha, which translates to “water of life”. This eventually became Anglicised into the “whisky” we know today.
Uisge - water - whisky!
The tradition of calling whisky the “water of life” is a long held one, and it features in many Irish folk songs, most famously The Humours of Whiskey.
Come guess me this riddle, what beats pipe and fiddle
What's hotter than mustard and milder than cream?
What best wets your whistle, what's clearer than crystal
What's sweeter than honey and stronger than steam?
What'll make the lame walk, what will make the dumb talk,
The elixir of life and philosopher's stone
And what helped Mr. Brunnell to build the Thames Tunnel
Wasn't it poteen from ould Inishowen?
Whisky (or sometimes, whiskey) was first recorded in Ireland during the 8th century, and in Scotland in the 15th century. King James IV enjoyed the whisky produced in his kingdom of Scotland, however its favour with royals soon declined. Henry VIII’s dislike of Catholicism led to the dissolution of monasteries, and distilling happened from homes and farms as monks used it as a way to make an income.
Things got even worse after the Acts of Union in 1707, in which England and Scotland were united. A tax on malt was passed in 1725, and the distilling of whisky went underground, even having produce hidden in churches! The risk of distilling whisky led to the term moonshine, as endeavours to create whisky were relegated to night time.
Whisky regained popularity during the reign of Queen Victoria and beyond, when whisky distillation was taken to India during the British occupation. Fourteen years earlier, the distillation of whisky, for a fee, was legalised in Britain. Lucky us!