Scottish Whisky: the World’s Most Famous Drink

Lydia Kendall

Vintage cellars. Image source.

Hello, my lads and lassies,

Who doesn’t enjoy a good Scotch on the rocks to calm their nerves? Scottish whisky is the world’s most renowned alcoholic drink, in my humble opinion. 🙂

But what is its history, and how did it come to be so popular amongst people all around the world? 

Well, let’s find out! 😀

Origins and History

In actuality, the term “whisky” comes from the Gaelic phrase “uisge beatha”, which means “the water of life”. But to in order to make any alcoholic drink, you would need a distillery. When was the first distillery used in Scotland?

A Brief History of Scottish Whisky. Image source.

Well, chances are you probably guessed wrong. It’s quite older than what you think: distillation in Scotland had started as far back as 1494! You could find the official records of the government at the time, in the Exchequer Rolls, who had the role of auditing and deciding on Royal revenues in Scotland. The government sent eight bottles of malt to Friar John Cor. Here you can see the official quote: 

“To Friar John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae, VIII bolls of malt.

— Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1 June 1495.”

Aqua vitae is Latin for “water of life”. How cool is that? You know the phrase “water of life” in three languages! 🙂

Scotch Whiskey was a favorite of King James IV of Scotland, but after his defeat in 1513, King Henry VIII of England dissolved all the monasteries and made it illegal to endeavor that drink. 

But how did it actually become that popular? 

Two events: first, the introduction of the column still in 1831. This type of still produced whisky much more efficiently than the traditional pot stills. This process made manufacturing more popular, dramatically increased production, and made the taste of the whisky less intense and smoother. 

Greybeard Heather Dew Scotch whisky jug. Image source: Wikipedia

The second event that led to the popularity of the whisky was a shortage in wine, brandy and cognac in France, that peaked in 1880. The shortage was due to the phylloxera bug, an insect that destroyed many wine vines. Almost 40 new distilleries opened in Scotland at the time, and their success would continue if it wasn’t for the World War I and the Great Depression. Most of them closed due to these terrible events and never re-opened. 

Economic effects

Whisky production was taxed for the first time in 1644, which resulted in a rise of illicit whisky production in the country. From the 1760s to the 1830s, most of the illegal trade originated in the Highlands. Actually, in 1782, more than a 1,000 distilleries were seized in the Highlands. It is estimated that, that number, was only a fraction of the actual distilleries in operation. Lowland distilleries were not that lucky, unfortunately, and could not avoid taxation; they complained that illicit Highland whisky made up for more than half of the market. 

Johnnie Walker produces a line of blended whiskies. Image source: Wikipedia.

Even in modern times, the Scottish whisky industry supports the modern economy, accounting for billions in exports, increasing more and more each year! 


 Scottish whisky is split into two categories: types, and blends. 

There are two types of Scottish whisky, out of which all blends are made: single malt Scotch, which is distilled at a single distillery, using pot stills and made from a mash of malted barley, and single grain Scotch, which is pretty much the same, except that it may also involve whole grains of other malted or unmalted cereals. “Single” does not mean a single variety of grain; rather, it means a single distillery was needed to complete the process!

Then, we have three types of blends that are defined for Scotch whisky: 

  • Blended malt Scotch whisky means a blend of two or more single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
  • Blended grain Scotch whisky means a blend of two or more single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
  • Blended Scotch whisky means a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.


You can find a lot of distilleries in different regions of Scotland. In the Lowlands, you can find well-known companies such as Auchentoshan, Bladnoch, Glenkinchie, etc. The whisky is mostly lighter, sweeter and with a floral aroma. 

Bowmore Distillery. Image source: Wikipedia. 

The Highlands is the largest region in Scotland and has over 30 distilleries. Some of them are: Aberfeldy, Edradour, Balblair, Ben Nevis, etc. and its whisky is mostly “fruity, sweet, spicy, and malty.

Of course, there are many more regions, and many more distilleries you could visit on your next trip to Scotland. 😉

Do you like whisky, me bonnies? Let me know which one is your favorite!

Until next time…

Written by Lydia Kendall

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