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The end of the 15th Century must have been a euphoric time; Christopher Columbus had landed in the Americas from Spain, The War of the Roses in England was over and Scotland acquired the last two island groups held by the Scandinavians – the Orkneys and Shetlands. After such happy and content events it was only natural that a drink of celebration would emerge and in 1494 it was ‘officially’ found.
Unfortunately the finder was the tax man (who has kept a close eye since). An honest Friar named John Cor acquired the 'Eight bolls of malt…wherewith to make aqua vitae”, ‘aqua vitae’ is Latin and means ‘water of life’ and this order was noted in early tax documents. However, this suggests that Aqua Vitae was well established as this order would have created approximately 1,500 either that or it would have made for a very jolly Friar! This is the earliest mention of the spirit in Scotland.
Image from the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/people/henry_viii/
Advances to the original spirit were made during the 16th and 17th centuries to make it less potent. However, it was the 16th Century which forced the knowledge of Whisky out of the realms of monasteries. Henry the XVIII arrived on the scene and began the Dissolution of the Monasteries (between 1536 and 1541) whereby the monasteries, priories, convents and frairies of Monks in England, Wales and Ireland were disbanded whereas in Scotland the monasteries were already in decline through the work of John Knox and those that were left withered away or were acquired by King James VI through Act of Annexation 1587. Forced out of their safe havens but with their knowledge the monks continued to use their skills but now it was to survive in the outside world.
The term to describe the spirit then evolved to ‘uisge beatha’ which evolved to Whisky. Originally it was taken for its medicinal purposes but I wouldn’t advise that now although a ‘wee hot toddy’ during cold and flu season is not necessarily a bad thing.
That’s some of the founding history and it is not comprehensive and this is only in reference to Scotch malt Whisky; whisky from Scotland. If you would like to learn more you could visit Scotch Whisky Association or if you are in Edinburgh – The Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile is a must!
In the next post, I will go over the five stages of Whisky