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Issue 87 - In the beginning

Whisky Magazine Issue 87
April 2010


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In the beginning

Distilleries covet the title of Scotland's oldest – but where was Scotland's first distillery, and what happened to it? Ian Buxton finds out.

The historical record implies the widespread production of ‘aqua vitae', often flavoured with berries or herbs, from the early 1500s. The Scottish Parliament restricted distilling in 1555 and again in 1579 in order to preserve grain for food: the need to pass legislation suggesting that large-scale production was already taking place. There are also references in domestic records; accounts of spectacular consumption at wakes (binge drinking is nothing new it would seem) and occasional court cases concerning distilling on the Sabbath.

The first taxation on spirits was imposed in Scotland, still an independent country, in 1644, but despite the monopoly granted to Edinburgh's Guild of Surgeon Barbers as early as 1505 we know little or nothing of the early commercial distillers.

It took an act of revolutionary violence for the first distillery to be recorded by name.

In March 1603, Queen Elizabeth, died. She was unmarried and had no children Her nearest relative was the Stuart king, James VI, King of Scots, who then took the throne of England as James I.

The Stuart dynasty continued in power in Scotland, until a constitutional crisis in 1688 led to the ousting of the Catholic James VII and II in favour of the Protestant William of Orange. However, James and his successors continued to claim the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland and there were periodic uprisings, the most famous of which was the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

All this was enormously controversial so, when in ...

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