There’s a “national day” for nearly everything, but we take some of these days more seriously than others. One of these upcoming days that we’re definitely taking seriously is July 27th, National Scotch Day. Scotch whisky is a staple of bars everywhere, a serious drink for serious people. But this spirit has an interesting history going back over 500 years that may change the way you think about it.
Whether you’re a Scotch drinker or not, you can enjoy a little whisky history with us.
500 Years in the Making
We think of Scotch as a traditional drink, which is a reasonable assumption, considering that it’s been around for over 500 years. The first record we have of it is from 1494 in the tax records of the day, called the Exchequer Rolls. There is a listing of “eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.” That much malted barley would have been enough to make about 1,500 bottles of spirit that would be refined into what we know today as Scotch whisky.
A Rebellious Spirit
You won’t be surprised to learn that Scotch quickly became popular as the distilling process spread throughout Scotland. The Scottish Parliament also took notice of this new industry and decided to tax it starting in 1644. The distillers took issue with this development, and illicit distilling and smuggling became standard practice for the next 150 years. A rebellious and resourceful people, the Scots came up with increasingly creative ways of hiding their whisky from the taxman. Members of the clergy would hide Scotch in their churches, and distillers would even hide whisky in coffins to transport it.
After decades of tax collectors and distillers playing their game of cat and mouse, the Scottish government passed the Excise Act in 1823, which made producing whisky legally profitable for the distillers. This effectively put an end to whisky smuggling. Many distilleries today are actually on sites formerly used by whisky smugglers.
Bars can’t serve just anything and call it Scotch whisky. Let’s take a look at what makes a Scotch a Scotch.
Rules are Rules
Despite their rebellious nature, the Scottish people take their whisky very seriously. In fact, there are very strict rules governing spirits that are allowed to be labeled Scotch whisky. For starters, it has to be distilled in Scotland and aged for at least three years in oak barrels. When bottled, the whisky must have a minimum strength of 40% abv. The UK has had laws on the books defining Scotch whisky since 1933, which they clarified in 1988 and again in 2009. They are serious about protecting the tradition of their whisky.