Provenance aside, the Scots are true masters of malts
I’m writing this just before heading to Dublin to support Scotland in the Six Nations Rugby tournament.
As I’m bracing myself for a weekend full of Guinness and the welcoming craic of the Irish I started to think about an age-old pub debate, who invented whisky?
There are differing opinions between the Scots and the Irish, both of whom have variously claimed provenance over the spirit. The Irish argue that early Christian Irish monks coming from Arabia around 600 AD learned the secrets of distillation in the Middle East and this skill was then taken to Scotland where the locals embraced it. That seems pretty logical, great that’s it decided. Back to the rugby? Not quite.
Another story involves the Vikings, believable simply because at the very minimum the Vikings loved their booze. Apparently they hit the west coast of Scotland around 400 AD and after a bunch of raiding, decided to relax and distil whisky.
To add to the Scots argument we introduce a man named Friar John Cor. There is a tax record for his order of “VIII bolls of malt” in 1494 and is the first ever recorded reference to whisky production in Scotland.
Ok, so if it was invented in Scotland, why was the first legal distillery on the British Isles Bushmills in Northern Ireland in 1608?
Then there’s the fact that when Henry II went to Ireland in 1174 he “recorded the use of Aqua Vitae”. The term was adopted throughout the land conquered by the ancient Romans until it eventually became the way to describe alcoholic beverages. It was translated into different languages, and the Irish (uisce beatha) and Gaelic (uisge beatha) translations gave us the modern word for whisky.
Regardless of who invented it, I genuinely believe the Scots have mastered it.
Matt MacPherson is the owner and founder of The Malt Room in Inverness.