There are many questions regarding the origins of Whiskey. Historically, the opinions are drastically different according to the native country of the person you ask. More so, it appears that more spectators tend to agree on the hypothesis of an Irish origin. Although, there is no actual date as to when whiskey was first produced, eventually the origin of whiskey migrated from Ireland to Scotland where the first definite record of whiskey making as a transaction in the Royal Courts.
Whiskey, which means “water of life,” is liquor distilled from a mash of grains that are fermented, generally rye, oats, barley, corn or wheat. Inferior whiskeys are distilled with beets, potatoes, and other roots. The most impressive whiskeys nationwide are Scotch, Irish, Canadian and American. Made in pot stills, the Scotch Highland Whiskey as well as the Lowlands (patent stills) differ in the amount of barley used, the quality of the water and the amount of peat employed in the curing of the malt. They also differ in the way the distilling is done and the type of casks in which they are matured.
The art of distillation began with the Babylonians in Mesopotamia (in what is now Iraq) from at least the 2nd millennium BC, with perfumes and aromatics being distilled long before potable spirits. It is possible that the art of distillation was brought from the Mediterranean regions to Ireland by Irish missionaries between the 6th century and 7th century. Distillation was brought from Africa to Europe by the Moors, and its use spread through the monasteries, largely for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of colic, palsy, and smallpox.
Between 1100 and 1300, distillation spread to Ireland and Scotland, with monastic distilleries existing in Ireland in the 12th century. Since the islands had few grapes with which to make wine, barley beer was used instead, resulting in the development of whisky. In 1494, as noted above, Scotland’s Exchequer granted the malt to Friar John Cor; this was enough malt to make about 1500 bottles, so the business was apparently thriving by that time.
King James IV of Scotland (r. 1488-1513) reportedly had a great liking for Scotch whisky, and in 1506 the town of Dundee purchased a large amount of Scotch from the Guild of Surgeon Barbers, which held the monopoly on production at the time. Between 1536 and 1541, King Henry VIII of England dissolved the monasteries, sending their monks out into the general public. Whisky production moved out of a monastic setting and into personal homes and farms as newly independent monks needed to find a way to earn money for themselves.
The distillation process at the time was still in its infancy; whisky itself was imbibed at a very young age, and as a result tasted very raw and brutal compared to today’s versions. Renaissance-era whisky was also very potent and not diluted, and could even be dangerous at times. Over time, and with the happy accident of someone daring to drink from a cask which had been forgotten for several years, whisky evolved into a much smoother drink. In 1707, the Acts of Union merged England and Scotland, and thereafter taxes on it rose dramatically.
In America, whisky was used as currency during the American Revolution. It also was a highly coveted sundry and when an additional excise tax was levied against it, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion took place.
In 1823, the UK passed the Excise Act, legalizing the distillation (for a fee), and this put a practical end to the large-scale production of Scottish moonshine.
In 1831, Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey still, allowing for cheaper and more efficient distillation of whisky. In 1850, Andrew Usher mixed traditional whisky with that from the new Coffey still, and in doing so created the first Scottish blended whisky. This new grain whisky was scoffed at by Irish distillers, who clung to their malt whisky. Many Irish contended that the new mixture was, in fact, not whisky at all.
By the 1880s, the French brandy industry was devastated by the phylloxera pest that ruined much of the grape crop; as a result, whisky became the primary liquor in many markets. During the Prohibition era in the 1920′s in the United States, all alcohol sales were banned in the country. However, the federal government made an exemption for whisky, which could be prescribed by a doctor and sold through licensed pharmacies. During this time, the Walgreens pharmacy chain grew from 20 retail stores to almost 400.