Legend has it that St Patrick introduced distilling to Ireland during his lifetime and that this secret passed to Scotland when Irish travelers settled there more than 1500 years ago.
In countries such as Scotland where grapes were not plentiful the distilling technique was applied to grains, with the resulting whisky being produced in monasteries and being used for medicinal purposes. It was prescribed for all manner of ailments and if it did not cure it certainly had an uplifting effect on the patients.
During the next 1000 years distilling of whisky remained largely unchanged and the technique produced a strong, potent drink which at times could be dangerous to health. However in the 1400's improvements to still design and the distilling technique saw a gradual improvement in the quality of Scotch being produced which led to an increase in its popularity. From this time on its reputation as a medicine began to wane and it was consumed more for enjoyment.
The growing popularity of Scotch over the next few hundred years eventually caught the attention of the Scottish government which saw an opportunity for much needed revenue and in the late 17th century installed an expensive tax on malt and whisky. This resulted in a long battle between excise officials and distillers with illicit production and smuggling of Scotch a common practice during this time. The distillers were well organized, with stills hidden on many hilltops around Scotland and elaborate signaling systems used to warn when excise officials were spotted nearby. Small battles between distillers and excise officials were not uncommon during this period as both tried to protect their interests.
This method of producing and distributing Scotch was common for over 150 years until the 1823 Excise Act. When this came into law it significantly reduced the taxes involved in producing whisky, allowing the distilling of Scotch for a 10 pound license fee and a set price for selling. This all but wiped out illicit stills and smuggling and was the foundation of the thriving Scotch industry that we know today.
In the years since the Excise Act was passed the distilling of whisky in Scotland has become a thriving industry with many major distilleries and also smaller operations producing some of the finest whisky in the world. Scotch is exported to more than 200 countries and is one of the most famous spirits in the world. As the years pass the business goes from strength to strength and many people enjoy the experience of drinking Scotch and do indeed believe that it is the Water of Life.