Whisky escocés, un clásico indispensable - DISEVIL

Scotch whiskey, an indispensable classic

The origin of whiskey

The art of distilling whiskey began as a way to make use of rain-soaked barley, using water from Scotland's pure, crystal-clear streams, a practice that continues to be used today.

Basically whiskey is malted barley that is fermented and distilled twice, sometimes 3 times, usually those made in the Scottish Lowlands, and then aged in oak barrels.

In Scotland, whiskey must mature in its barrel for at least 3 years, although most of them range between 8 and 20 years.

The production of Scotch whiskey begins with water. It is for this reason that many of the distilleries still standing today are located next to sources of pure water, such as a river or even a borehole.

It begins with barley, which is allowed to germinate. It is then dried with smoke (if peat is used, it imparts a smoky flavor to the barley), then ground and added to water (the wort), then fermented. After fermentation, the liquid is distilled in stills, first to produce 20% alcohol, then a second time in a complicated process where the first distillate and the last are discarded, to retain only the “central part of the distillation” .

Acqua Vitae, the water of life

It is believed that the art of distillation was brought to Scotland by missionary monks, who had inherited the long tradition of making spirits , although it has never been proven that farmers in the Scottish Highlands did not discover how to distill spirits from their surplus of barley.

At first, distillation was used mainly to produce perfumes or alchemical substances.
As the distilling business was not established in Scotland, did not need a license or have to pay taxes on the alcohol produced, all farmers could produce whiskey without documenting it.

Whiskey was an important part of Scottish life and was often used for medicinal purposes or as a pick-me-up and stimulant during the long, cold Scottish winters.

The first official record of distillation dates back to 1494, where there is a tax record for eight capsules of malt. A boll was an old Scottish measure of no more than six bushels (equivalent to 25.4 kilograms). These capsules were purchased by Friar John Cor, of Lindores Abbey , in Fife, who was commissioned by the wish of King James IV, to make acqua vitae , Latin for "water of life". It is not clear how big the King's request was, but we can assume that the distillery was very, very small compared to the distilleries we have today.

Lindores Abbey (now in ruins) is located on the outskirts of the small town called Newburgh, very close to the River Tay and is considered the birthplace of Scotch whiskey .

The order of monks who lived in the Abbey was Tironensian, which is part of the Roman Catholic order. As the British Isle slowly reformed, reform leader John Knox ordered the Abbey to be torn down in 1559. All books, statues, photographs and equipment were destroyed as it was considered heresy. This leaves us with little to no evidence about the distillery. John Knox used this event to enhance the reputation of the Reform church by delivering the building blocks to the people of Newburgh. Today only a few ruins of the Abbey remain and most are covered in vines and trees.

The oldest record of a distillery dates back to 1690 and is found in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament. This is the famous Ferintosh distillery of Duncan Forbes of Culloden. However, although this is the first documented record of a distillery, clearly some distilleries were in operation long before that date. For example, there is a record that in 1644, the Excise Act of the Scottish Parliament levied a tax per pint of aquavitae or other spirit (the Scotch pint is about a third of a gallon) and a reference to distillation in a private house in the parish of Gamrie in Banffshire in 1614.

During the rest of the 17th century several modifications were made to the types and amounts of duties collected.

Despite efforts to legislate the trade, during the 18th century, illegal whiskey production flourished. Finally, in 1823, in an attempt to bring Scotch whiskey manufacturing under control, an Excise Act was passed that made small stills illegal and charged a per-gallon tax and license fee for larger operations. With these measures the Scottish industry became (mostly) legitimate.

The industrial revolution of whiskey

The beginning of industrialization also reached the most remote valley of the Scottish Highlands. The tax on alcohol and whiskey had been established much earlier, and the law allowed only licensed distilleries to produce whiskey. The time for illicit distillation was over.

Some of the distilleries that obtained an Excise Act permit include Bowmore , Strathisla , Balblair and Glenmorangie . These distilleries are still in operation today. In 1831 a new type of still was developed, which allowed the mass production of whiskey that was smoother, lighter and less fiery than single malt whiskey, while incurring lower costs.

This continuous still was developed by the Scotsman Sir Anthony Perrier in 1822 and later improved by Robert Stein in 1828. However, this still is often attributed to the Irishman Aeneas Coffey, who patented his design in 1830 and converted it into the one we have today. we know.

At the end of the 19th century, the concentration process that had been triggered by licensing continued. Rural farms with distillation as a complementary activity became economically independent enterprises. New train routes reached the furthest corners of Scotland, and single malt whiskey could be easily transported to the cities. It was mostly used for blending with grain whiskey, which had been introduced a few decades earlier with column stills. During this boom period, major blended whiskey brands such as Dewar's and Haig emerged. Single malt whiskey had a bleak life and was only appreciated by the Scots themselves and as a base for blended whiskeys, which in the meantime were sold around the world.

Many small whiskey distilleries made single malt whiskey by hand. Since single malt whiskeys were the most important ingredient that defined the flavor of the blends, companies became dependent on the supply of single malt whiskeys. They began to secure their 'whiskey sources' and preferably bought the distilleries that already provided them with barrels for their blends.
The Commonwealth with the British Crown Colonies and the independent United States were the preferred markets for whiskey, and the United States was even more important since only a small ruling class in the colonies could afford whiskey.

The First World War and the decline in whiskey consumption

As the entire industry depended on a few countries, World War I led to a drastic decline in whiskey production and consumption . This led to serious problems for the whiskey companies.

The high debt and the first closures surprised the Scots. Recovery came with the end of prohibition in 1933, when Britain was allowed to pay its war debts to the U.S. with whiskey. The Distiller's Company Ltd. became the uncrowned winner and could take over many companies. and distilleries.

Some brands of whiskey , most famously Cutty Sark , were smuggled into the American market at the time when the production of local spirits was banned. Scotch whiskey thrived in the world of underground bars and bootleggers became rich by importing brands from Scotland. So much so, that by 1936, three years after alcohol prohibition ended, the US had become the largest market for Scotch whiskey. It could make up a small part during prohibition (1919-33), but production no longer reached pre-war levels.

Following the success of blended whiskey in the late 19th century, single malt whiskey was only drunk in the Scottish Highlands , until in the 1980s, it was rediscovered by a public longing for its origins and the distilleries themselves started again to produce single malt whiskey .

With the spectacular growth of interest in single malt whiskies, since the 1980s, the ' Highland ' region has been subdivided into Northern, Western, Eastern, Southern and Islands, all producing excellent quality whiskies , such as Tomatin , Glenfiddich , Lagavulin , Fettercairn , Glenrothes , Jura , among many other whiskeys .

Preference is a matter of taste; Some consumers prefer the smoky flavor of Islay whiskeys , while others enjoy the light flavor of a triple-distilled lowland whiskey, the latter being famous for their malty, savory flavors and subtle citrus hints.

There are endless good Scotch whiskeys in both blended and single malt, and it would not be fair to make a ranking of the best, since it depends a lot on the individual palate, so we are going to leave it to your choice.

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