18th Century whisky

18th Century whisky

One can only imagine the different distilling techniques that were employed by the early distillers prior to the 18th century in Scotland. In our previous article we covered how distillation spread throughout Scotland soon after the Papal Jurisdiction Act 1560 and how some people were distilling everywhere in the country and were even risking their health. It was during the 18th century that distillation became a commercial enterprise and a regulated industry with a dedicated infrastructure and a system of taxation imposed on it. By 1720 there was a distillery located in the village of Kennetpans just outside of Stirling. It was the largest commercial distillery that Scotland had ever seen. Whisky historians argue that the location of the distillery was chosen because of the easy access it gave to vital distilling supplies (coal, crops, water) and its port. This distillery went on to become the most important one of the century together with the Kilbagie distillery. One should be mindful of the fact that the whisky produced at this distillery was of a completely different quality to the one being consumed today. The whisky was consumed for its effect rather than for its flavour. Both distilleries were producing a colossal amount of spirit and the amount of draff produced by both was enough to feed 7000 cattle and upwards of 2000 pigs. Distilleries were self-sufficient, their owners were also the owners of nearby fields and the waste produced was used to feed their livestock. It was in 1777 that owner of the distilleries, James Stein, exported spirit to England for the first time ever. The spirit was being send to the Lucrative London Gin market. In England, the spirit was being rectified into gin and sold on. By 1782 almost a million litres of spirit were being sent to London. A network of agents and wholesalers distributed the rectified-into-gin spirit at prices so low that local distillers saw their profits plummet. The mid and late 1780s were the years when the London gin distillers hit back. Using their connections to MPs based at Westminster their task was clear: get rid of Scot distillers at any cost. Many tactics were employed by gin distillers, most notably, excise officers were being bribed in exchange for delaying spirit imports from Scotland at the quayside in London. From all the tactics that gin distillers employed, lobbying was their most effective weapon. As a result of successful lobbying, several acts regulating and punishing the distilling industry were passed. Among them, The Duties on Spirits Act 1984 (Also known as Wash Act 1784) was amended in 1786 and this caused excessive duties imposed on shipments of spirits from Scotland to England. The Scottish distilling industry suffered massively and the five distilleries which belonged to the Stein family eventually closed down by the mid 1790's. Our next article will cover in more detail the history of the two most important distilleries in Scotland in the 18th century.
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