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History of Scotch Whisky

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand
And may his great prosperity
Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

It can get cold, rainy and blustery in Scotland, but a wee dram or two (or three) of the Water of Life (Uisge-beatha in Gaelic or aqua vitae in Latin) - Scotch Whisky - will warm your insides very nicely.

Short History of Scotch Whisky:

In all fairness to the Irish, it would seem they did indeed invent whisky - it was merely up to the Scots to perfect it. References to Irish whiskey can be found as early as the 12th century, while the first reference to Scotch whisky is in Scottish records under James IV (who commissioned a good friar to make his whisky in 1494). Business was brisk enough to prompt Cromwell to impose a malt tax during his protectorship in the mid-1600s - not surprisingly, he found the tax extremely difficult to collect.

The name "whisky" (spelled only in Scotland without the "e") evolved from the English mispronunciation of the gaelic uisge (usky). "Scotch" means it was made in Scotland.

Scotch whisky can be made from barley or grain, but the best Scotch whiskies are single malt.

How Single Malt Whisky is Made:

Malt is made by soaking barley until it germinates, then drying it out in a peat furnace. The malt is then fermented with yeast to produce the whisky. Scotch whisky is left to age in wooden casks for years (sometimes as long as 25 years). As soon as it hits the bottle, whisky stops aging, so year of bottling determines the age, not how long the bottle has been sitting in the cupboard.

Single malt Scotch whisky comes from a single distillery, though it may have been blended with several batches from that distillery. Vatted malt whisky may be blended from several malts of different distilleries. "Blended" whisky, though, indicates that malt whisky has been mixed with grain whisky. The quality depends on the proportion of malt to grain.

The majority of Scottish distilleries are located along the Spey river in northeast Scotland, while a smaller group is clustered on the Isle of Islay in the southern Inner Hebrides. Both locations offer Scotch whisky tours, though you'll want to avoid planning a trip for late summer. Since whisky production followed the harvest in times past, many distilleries follow tradition by shutting down during August and picking up again in September.

Scotch whisky purists avoid adding anything but a splash of water to their Scotch, though surely they make an exception during cold season. Here is a recipe for a hot toddy:

Scotch hot toddy: Take a glass and add a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of honey (Scottish heather honey would be best), add a shot of whisky, and fill the glass with very hot or boiling water. (Don't waste your best single malt Scotch whisky on toddies, use a blend.)

The Whiskies of Scotland: Encounters of a Connoisseur
The Whiskies of Scotland: Encounters of a Connoisseur

By Michael Jackson
World's foremost authority on whisky celebrates Scotland and its distilleries.

Whisky and Scotland
Whisky and Scotland

By Neil M. Gunn
Entertaining and enlightening history of whisky in Scotland by well-known author.

Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History
Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History

By Charles MacLean
Definitive history of scotch whisky.