Little Bits of History

Not Hops Scotch

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 1, 2011

A selection of Scotch whisky brands. (photo by Chris huh)

June 1, 1495: Friar John Cor makes this listing in the Exchequer Rolls: “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae” (water of life). This amount of malt is enough to make 1,500 of Scotch whisky.

Alcoholic beverages have many uses: dietary, hygienic, medical, and even religious. Pottery dating from 9,000 years ago found inNorthern Chinacontain residual bits of the first known alcoholic beverages made from fermented rice, honey, and fruit. At about the same time, barley beer and grape wine were available in theMiddle East. Early recipes can be found saved on clay tablets inMesopotamia.

The distilling of alcohol began in Europe in the mid-12th century with some archeological evidence showing that it may actually have been first discovered in China around 5000 BC. In Europe, it took about 150 years to travel across the continent, and then it moved eastward and was reintroduced to China. We don’t know where or when the actual discovery took place or the “chefs” responsible for it. Ancient Celts called the beverage uisge beatha or the water of life.

Scotch whisky can be made, by definition, only in Scotland. Early whisky was made with uneven results due to non-consistent methods of production. The drink could be very potent, sometimes even harmful. With the closing of monasteries during a time of religious upheaval, monks and friars were put out on the street and needed to make a living. They knew how to make Scotch and did so. The drink became an integral part of life and soon was making a profit, so it was taxed. Like Prohibition in theUnited States, this led to underground manufacture of the drink. All early Scotch was malt whisky. In 1831 grain whisky was patented and could be blended with the fiery Scotch to give a more mellow taste. Today, Scotch is exported to over 200 countries around the world with the commodity earning £2,000 million yearly.

“When a good bottle of Scotch cost more than a barrel of oil, you’re in trouble.” – proverb

“Spirits are perceived as affordable luxury. People are more careful with their spending today. Maybe they can’t buy a $40,000 BMW but they’re willing to buy a good $60 to $70 bottle of Scotch. You don’t get that kind of trading-up feeling with beer.” – David Ozgo

“For her fifth wedding, the bride wore black and carried a scotch and soda.” – Phyllis Batelle

“My God, so much I like to drink Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whiskey.” – Igor Stravinsky

Also on this day:
And Now – The News – In 1980 Ted Turner begins broadcasting with CNN.
Breathing – In 1974, the Heimlich Maneuver was published.

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