Ever wondered where the origins of Scotch lie? (not to be confused with a Scotch pie) Too tight to buy a book by some so called whisky historian or expert?
Then I’m your man.
Pull up a seat, sit your arse down and pour a dram and get ready for a roller coaster ride; Captain John’s history of Scotch.
It was in the 1700s that Scotch as we know it first appeared, England and Scotland had always had a cosy relationship but an invasion by the Norweegieans into what’s now modern day East Kilbride saw a Union of convenience between the two in 1707 which lay the foundations for what we now call Scotch Whisky.
Before then Scots enjoyed gin, served cold in wee glasses topped up with tonic water and slices of locally grown limes (the Lime fields of Galashiels are a sight to see, let me tell you), often whilst reading Shakespeare and other Scottish heroes of the time, but the Viking invasion ended this, supplies of gin were stopped from England, alcohol was banned and the Great Gin Drought of 1708 began.
Harsh time lay ahead for thirsty Scots but a canny smuggler known only as “The Gloag” had began smuggling in naked raw spirit from the gin factories south of the newly formed Gillhooley’s wall which stood at four foot two inches which was a good two inches taller than most Scots of the time but the ingenious Gloag used a mixture of tunnel networks and the huge Grouse birds for smuggling.
A Grouse bird was an impressive twelve feet in height and could easily carry four barrels of gin across the border into the hands of the smugglers, many brave smugglers died during these smuggling runs as the Grouse bird was notoriously fickle and would often eat smugglers, the Grouse was later hunted to extinction, which frankly we can all be thankful of, good riddance to the big scary bastards.
Barrels full of gin could lay for years, hidden in ditches, covered in moss and bits of smuggler that the Grouse hadn’t managed to wolf down, and occasionally a local farmer would find one of these barrels and take it home delighted at the thought of drinking some gin with his supper.
Now picture the scene.
A dark barn, lit only by candlelight, the hunched over Scots peering at the barrel, cleaned of its dead smuggler and moss it gleams as the farmer cracks open the seal to reveal the sweet gin inside.
Imagine the look of horror as a brown stained liquid poured out of the barrel into the awaiting gin tea cups, the trepidation as the first man game enough to try this abomination and then the look of terror in the man’s eyes as the first sip of this wood infused spirit touched his lips, imagine that, if you dare.
But the liquid wasn’t foul, the gin had somehow, some say magically, been turned into something else, a few more souls took a sip, then a few more and a man stood proud and shouted the old Norse word for “I see a profit here” which as we know is “whisky”.
By 1760 Scotland was now officially a strange political union of England, Wales, bits of Ireland and Scotland but in Scotland everyone spoke Norse, as of course we still do, and the Scots had been given autonomy by the Viking horde because as we all know Scotland is too warm for Scandinavian giants and they had already retreated to the Orkney Isles.
As there are almost no trees in Scotland, barrels were imported on a truly grand scale by the great barrel merchants, men such as Davey “The Salad Dodger” Edrington, Billy Grant and Christopher Diageo made fortunes importing the barrels and then Gloag would fill them with the smuggled gin and everyone made a killing.
By 1800 the law was relaxed somewhat, gin could still not be legally brought into Scotland but the production of spirit could commence, those who had already made money illegally used their wealth to create hundreds of distilleries mainly in the North of Scotland and of course most of these distilleries are still owned by those same families which I’m sure we’re all grateful of.
Whisky as it was now formally known was becoming popular and soon became the national drink of Scotland, gin was thankfully cast aside and even the English began to take an interest in whisky with disastrous consequences.
By 1830 the great smuggler Gloag and his old friend Johnnie “the blender” Walker had begun to take Scotch whisky which was traditionally taken neat at around 60% abv and water it down to a more manageable 59% abv with plans to sell their drink to the English.
The English who had been drinking gin bottled at 35% abv since the Romans had brought it across from Gaul could not handle whisky, and the infamous “whisky murders” ensued, dozens of men and women killed by people under the influence of Scotch Whisky, something had to give, luckily those kind souls Johnnie Walker and The Gloag came up with an idea.
Both men watered down their spirit to a more reasonable 40% abv, this allowed the more genteel English to take the nation drink of Scotland and within ten years not a drop of gin was taken south of the border.
In 1835 The Vikings renounced their ownership of Scotland allowing the peaceful union between the two great allies of Scotland and England to be formally ratified on the condition that they got the credit for inventing whisky and their legacy would always be remembered, this was agreed by all parties and many still believe the Orkney distillery Highland Park to be the original distillery and of course Orcadians still celebrate their whisky history with their weekly held festival of human sacrifice which culminates in a new bottle being released. Every. Fucking. Week.
And Whisky has rumbled on ever since, every drop produced for Scottish consumption bottled at cask strength or thereabouts and the English given the dodgy stuff that maybe a dog had pissed on or something, watered down and then sweetened up with caramel juice.
In fact there really hasn’t been much change at all, a few multi national companies have taken a couple of distilleries over here and there and of course the last twenty or so years have seen whisky being produced in the small Fife town of Islay but it’s a funny old place Islay, everyone smokes so most of the whisky produced their smells and tastes like it’s on twenty Capstan Full Strengths a day and is best avoided.
Scotland of course has benefited hugely from whisky, the small amount of tax put onto a bottle of whisky has seen the country thrive with the lowest levels of poverty, violence and teenage pregnancies in the world with no one out of work and no one addicted to anything because Scotland is lovely, in fact some would say, it’s braw.
And there you have it folks, I’m pretty sure this is one hundred percent accurate but if it’s not please let me know by sending any comments on a postcard to Scotland, trust me, it will get to me.
Cheers, as we say up here.