Whisky Magazine Issue 22
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A source of pride for the Scots – but Barry Walsh discovers the ‘truth' behind the origins of whisk(e)y
The Irish and the Scots have always argued about who first invented whisk(e)y. It is generally accepted the noble art of distillation from fermented grain and water had Celtic origins in the British Isles – but which particular brand of Celt was first involved? Well, the Irish have always stoutly maintained that it was almost certain that well-travelled early Christian Irish monks learnt the secrets of distillation in Arabia around about 500 to 600AD; and, on their returning to the ‘ould sod', put their knowledge to good use in turning fermented mashes of grain and water into aqua vitae, or as the Gaels would say, uisge beatha – the water of life.
But the Scots will have none of it – pure speculation, typical Irish whimsy and myth. They point to the indisputable fact that, in the far off year of 1494 in Scotland, there is the well known written record of an entry in the Exchequer Rolls of ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae'. Fact, not fiction, and showing that whisky making was well established in Scotland in 1494. ‘Where is your Irish equivalent?' they cry.
Well, I am happy, as an Irishman with a passing interest in whisk(e)y, to be able to report on the finding of new evidence which finally settles the age-old argument. Ancient writings on tanned reindeer skins, which date back to pre-Christian times, have been discovered during excavations beside the River Liffey in Dublin city. The crude scratchings and scribblings have been...