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A Brief History of Whiskey

Although there is some evidence to suggest the origin of whiskey, or at least the grain distillation process, in the 2nd Millennium BC, the origin of the word comes from the Gaelic phrase ‘uisge beatha’, meaning, water of life. In other accounts it is referred to in Latin as aqua vitae (also meaning ‘water of life’). Originally distilled as a medicine, the techniques used to make whiskey made their way to Ireland and Scotland by 1300 and were used explicitly for treating wounds. In the late 15th century, knowledge of how to make this initial form of whiskey had spread further than the apothecaries and monks of the region after King Henry dissolved most of the monasteries. Whiskey production even began to spread into individual homes. Visitors to the region saw the potential for whiskey to be sold elsewhere as well.

In 1608, the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland was awarded the first ever license to distill Irish whiskey. Though most of the 1700s saw a decline in mass produced whiskey due to tax hikes, moonshining was becoming increasingly common. Meanwhile in America, Whiskey was used as a currency for much of the American Revolution. George Washington himself even operated a distillery at one point.

Fast forward to the 19th century and whiskey is now becoming popularized around the world through the perfection of the blended whiskey by Andrew Usher. That, combined with a pest infection which tainted a majority of the world’s wine supply, led to whiskey becoming increasingly more sought after. From then on, there have been a number of taxes and laws levied against whiskey and spirits in general. Perhaps the most notable of the regulation was the prohibition in the United States which lasted from 1920 until 1933.  The prohibition didn’t stop whiskeys increasing popularity, however. In fact, the popularity of whiskey continues to grow to this very day. In 2009, over a billion bottles of whiskey were distributed from Scotland alone. How many of those did you purchase?

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