Whiskey: Water of Life

Well before Whiskey started to be distilled, the Celts were drinking it. Whiskey’s history can be traced to around 825 A.D., during the Irish Gaelic invasions of Scotland, which resulted in settlers taking their knowledge of Whiskey with them. Whiskey was called uisce beatha which meant “Water of Life”. Whiskey was also used as payment for taxes and rents, so distilleries became commonplace throughout Ireland and Scotland by
1494.

Whiskey gained popularity now that better stills allowed for more efficient fermentation and greater quantities than had been possible before. Whiskey eventually reached England, where it was an expensive drink because transportation costs made it difficult for suppliers to deliver Whiskeys from Scotland or Ireland. Whiskey was smuggled into England by vendors called ‘smashers’. Whiskey’s popularity grew because the excise tax on it in England caused Whiskey prices to triple during 1757. Whiskey became even more popular during the American Revolution. Americans looked for Whiskeys that were made domestically rather than being imported from Britain or Ireland. Whiskey began to be produced domestically after the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, when distillers refused to pay taxes levied against them by Alexander Hamilton.

By 1803, Kentucky and Tennessee were two states known for their production of Whiskeys using new techniques such as sour mashing, which quickly made whiskey faster and easier to produce. The invention of the column still allowed Whiskey distillers with greater efficiency and output. Whiskey production increased in the 1850s due to the introduction of grain mills that improved its consistency, making Whiskeys more uniform and allowing for higher quality Whiskeys to be produced.

Whiskey became popular worldwide when Prohibition was enforced in the United States from 1920 until it was repealed in 1933. Whiskey was smuggled into America’s speakeasies by ‘rumrunners’ who made illegal Whiskey very lucrative. Scottish distillers came up with the term ‘Scotch’, hoping to differentiate their product from American counterparts, resulting in today’s definition of Whiskey being a distilled alcoholic beverage made in Scotland.

Today there are many different types of Whiskeys throughout the world, along with different methods of production used which have become traditions in Whiskey making. Whiskeys produced in different regions of the world have their traditions and expectations, such as Whiskeys produced in Scotland having an expected smoky taste.

Whiskey continues to be a popular drink worldwide, with Whiskeys being produced in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States, and Japan among other countries. Whiskey has been around for centuries and Whiskey traditions are just one reason that Whiskey is still enjoyed today.