Scotch Whisky Sat, 30 Apr 2016 10:59:24 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Early Warnings

Because they knew the Customs officers could turn up at any time, most communities developed their own systems for alerting those responsible for the "sma stills." Sometimes this would involve a nod and a wink from a most unlikely figure - sometimes it would mean a special signalling system or a mad dash to make sure everyone knew to stay on guard.

It's a White Out

In the early 19th century, at a rural (or "clachan") school at Ballochandroin, near Glendaruel, the teacher, who knew many of his pupils' parents relied on the peatreak for their income, used to send his class out for a bit of impromptu PE when he knew the gaugers were about. They would run through all the backlanes and byways to put the word around.

Then the next part of the scheme would go into action. The Highlands had a tradition of sending a relay of runners out with a fiery cross to carry messages - but this canny community had developed a more subtle, and much more effective, approach. As soon as they knew about the impending danger, the women near the school would hang their sheets and blankets out to dry.

The people in the next group of houses would take heed of the billowing red alert and do the same, until the message spread right through the glen - giving a whole new meaning to "four sheets to the wind!"

A Blessing in Disguise

It was fairly common for men of God to give their wholehearted support to the peatreak makers. They could see no reason why the people should not make a living from a natural resource - just because a government decision had been passed hundreds of miles away, why should they suffer?

Besides, many of them were too fond of the peatreak to see production dry up. One such man was Glenisla minister Andrew Burns. He would often look out of the window while working on his sermon to see a couple of gaugers getting too close for comfort. On the pretence of going for "a wee wander" he would saddle up his pony and head out to "spread the word." As he bellowed Biblical phrases at the top of his voice, a frantic cover-up campaign would get underway as those in the know dashed up to the hills to issue the warning. "God bless you minister," his parishioners would say.

As the good Rev rode further into the glens the activity would get more heated - and by the time the gaugers got near, there wouldn't be a sign of illicit activity left.


Sholto Ramsay
Tue, 22 May 2012 09:51:14 +0000
Dress Sense

When it came to concealing their wares, the smugglers had a style all their own. Wearing a size too big or a few extra layers was an ideal way of getting goods back and forth, and many a togged-up distiller was notorious for "keeping it under his hat." But, of course, there was always the risk of a "body search."

Sunday Trading

One big Highland smuggler who operated in the area of the Sidlaw Hills took advantage of the gaugers' Sabbath rest by putting his Sunday best to good use. He sold his wares to thirsty picnic parties under cover of a big overcoat he wore whatever the season. This concealed a flagon of whisky shaped like a breastplate, complete with a small dispensing tap. Once the deal was done, he would simply button up and move on.

Job For the Girls

Long skirts proved ideal disguise for the bladder-skins that became popular for the ferrying of whisky - it was thought that keeping them close to the body even increased the strength of the spirit. So women were some of the most expert smugglers.

Although this was often an excuse for coarse searches on the part of the gaugers, their victims were usually more than able to hold their own - often in the most unladylike way. One known professional at this method was Jean Anderson, from just outside Dundee, who was widowed when she was quite young and supported herself by making and transporting peatreak - all by the bladder method.

One of her greatest successes was supplying the whisky for a friend's daughter's wedding. Jean was more than delighted to do the honours and only too happy to attend the event - but she knew the gaugers had been vigilant and she was wary of such a high-profile commission. Undaunted, she rode to the wedding on her pony dressed in a gigantic silver and gold ball-gown that had been a gift from one of her customers. It was just the thing to hide the bladders of amber nectar hanging from the saddle of her trustee steed!


Sholto Ramsay
Tue, 22 May 2012 09:52:44 +0000
Famous Whisky Toasts

Famous Whisky Toasts

At most social functions in Scotland a toast will be proffered at the appropriate moment. So, for any occasion there is always a suitable toast which can range from the serious to the lighthearted.

Fortunately, the Gaels have always had a twinkle in their eye and the majority of toasts usually raise the spirits of the assembled company.

Here’s a small selection of traditional toasts and graces which are still widely used in Scotland today. Where dialect is used the relevant words have been translated.

Good health!

~ The Selkirk Grace ~

This was penned by Robert Burns and is a grace said before eating at many Scottish gatherings, especially the traditional Burns Suppers held throughout the world on January 25.

Some hae meat, and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat And sae the Lord be thankit.

~ The Poet's Graces ~

A pair of graces by Burns, one said before a meal and one afterwards.

O Thou who kindly dost provide For every creature's want! We bless Thee, God of Nature wide, For all thy goodness lent. And, if it please Thee, heavenly Guide, May never worse be sent; But, whether granted or denied, Lord bless us with content.

(After the meal)

O Thou, in whom we live and move, Who made the sea and shore; Thy goodness constantly we prove, And grateful would adore; And if it please Thee, Power above! Still grant us with such store The friend we trust, the fair we love, And we desire no more.

~ Here's Tae Us ~

Here's tae us Wha's like us Damn few, And they're a' deid Mair's the pity!

~ There's Nae Luck Aboot the Hoose ~

This is a popular toast by Allan Ramsay of Ayr.

May the best you've ever seen Be the worst you'll ever see; May a moose ne'er leave yer girnal Wi' a teardrop in his e'e. May ye aye keep hale and hearty Till ye're auld enough tae dee, May ye aye be just as happy As I wish ye aye tae be.

(girnal- meal chest; moose- mouse)

May those who live truly be always believed, And those who deceive us be always deceived.

Here's to the men of all classes, Who through lasses and glasses Will make themselves asses!

I drink to the health of another, And the other I drink to is he In the hope that he drinks to another, And the other he drinks to is me.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn, Each man a glass in hand Andy may his great prosperity Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

~ Here’s A Bottle ~

Here's a bottle and an honest man! What wad ye wish for mair, man? Wha kens, before his life may end, What his share may be o' care, man?

Then catch the moments as they fly, And use them as ye ought, man. Believe me happiness is shy, And comes not aye when sought, man!

Robert Burns

~ Here's Looking at You ~

Here's to me and here's to you, And if in the world There was just us two And I could promise that nobody knew Would you?

Jacobite toasts were popular and this is one of the better known ones.

Weel may we a' be Ill may we never see; Here's to the King And the gude companie. Here's a health to them that's away, Here's a health to them that's away, Here's a health to them that were here shortsyne, An, canna be here today.

And if you really want to confuse your guests, try this!

Here's to all those that I love. Here's to all those that love me. And here's to all those that love those that I love, And all those that love those that love me.


Sholto Ramsay
Tue, 22 May 2012 09:54:01 +0000
Great Escapes

Houdini had nothing on some of the devilish distillers who managed to slip through the gaugers' fingers - just when they thought their ward was theirs for the taking. The peatreak industry certainly kept many a man on his toes - because if all else failed, agility was the best bet!

The One That Got Away

A well-known Auchterhouse smuggler called Paterson saved himself with some quick thinking when he was arrested in his bothy one Saturday by a pair of unwelcome visitors. Certain they would have him in jail that night, the officers were soon out with the handcuffs - but not soon enough.

Paterson asked if he could put his coat on first and, since it was a cold day, the gaugers agreed. So when the clamps were put on his wrists, they went over his thick sleeves. When the party were out in the open, Paterson distracted his captors' attention by pointing out an imaginary dog with a hare in a nearby field. Then he pulled up the coat sleeves, slipped off the cuffs and was off like a shot! The gaugers finally gave up the chase - and by the time they returned to the smuggler's bothy he had long since packed up his wares and vanished.

The Key to Success

There was no way James Gilfillan, a man famed for his peatreak along Loch Lomondside, was going to let the gaugers run him aground. Having been press-ganged into the Navy as a lad, he had deserted and fled, not without difficulty, back to his beloved Scots home. There, he decided to try his hand at distilling and soon became a great success.

However, a particular Revenue Officer by the name of Hosie was determined to bring Jamie to book. For a government bribe, he grouped together a few witnesses who were prepared to say Gilfillan was a smuggler. He then called him to court - sure that the arrogant character would show up in the knowledge he would walk away free. But Jamie was on his guard. As he approached the courthouse he noticed a blue uniform - the blue he had feared since he had fled from a life at sea.

Hosie had sent a group of Navy officers, stationed at Loch Lomond, to help him get his man. Still, Jamie wasn't finished yet. Noticing the key to the courtroom was still in the door, he turned it, closed the door behind him and kept the key in his pocket Calm as you like, he went and stood in the dock. Then he made his move, sprinting towards the window, pushing up the frame and leaping out with a wild cry of victory.

By the time the Navy officers got out of their courtroom prison he was miles away - and no one had the nerve to mess with Gilfillan again.


Sholto Ramsay
Tue, 22 May 2012 09:55:16 +0000
Whisky Tasting How to tipple

First it was known as aqua vitae...the water of life or in Gaelic, uisge beatha (ooshka baytha), and then the Sassenachs, the Lowlanders and the English decided that 'whisky' was the word. Water... yeast and barley. Three simple ingredients and one hugely success story. Scotch whisky is the world's most popular spirit because it is essentially simple, unadulterated and of the highest quality. Nothing tastes quite like it. do you take it?

Whisky has never been regarded as a mixer spirit in the same way as gin or vodka but that has never diminished its popularity. Traditionalists will maintain that there are only two things you can add to a measure of Scotch, the first is some water and the other is more Scotch!

In the States the most popular addition is probably ice, and plenty of it. The only drawback to this is that it tends to chill the whisky to the point where any subtleties of texture and mouthfeel are undetectable. Soda has always been a fine way to lengthen a Scotch but few other additions marry as well as pure water. Water effectively opens the bouquet, reduces the alcoholic strength to an acceptable level (or to one's taste) and lengthens the drinking experience.

Arthur Bell & Sons of Perth have just started bottling a mix of their blended Scotch with Barr's Irn Bru to mixed response from a somewhat astonished public. And it is true that there are some things with which Scotch will mix extremely juice, for instance was simply made to mix with Scotch.If you want added zest, try a little Appletize instead.

But when you enter the realm of Scotch malt whisky, tread carefully, for the connoisseurs and traditionalists will not brook any nonsense.

We are talking about the premier crus of the whisky world when we discuss malts such as Talisker, Cragganmore, Bowmore, Glenlivet and Mortlach. In these instances there is only one correct way to take a dram.

If the bottling is at standard strength (40% abv in UK, 43% abv or 86º US proof) then simply add a splash of good natural mineral water. Some of you will prefer it straight, but don't try the cask-strength bottling (frequently between 55 and 60% abv in the UK / 110º - 120º US proof) without water.

Remember, you are simply adjusting the strength to taste by adding one of the malt's main ingredients. The bouquet unfolds, the taste expands over the palate and the aftertaste lingers longer.

Why spoil a great experience? Remember the water and remember what whisky means in Gaelic...'water'.


Sholto Ramsay
Tue, 22 May 2012 09:56:40 +0000
Legends of Scotch Whisky

"Freedom and whisky gang the gither"

So wrote Robert Burns, a man who knew about such things. He knew exactly how far the Scots were prepared to take their spirited struggle - and pity anyone who tried to stop them.

Burns had spent some time as an Exciseman in Ayrshire, and saw that the smuggling trade was not just about getting precious flagons from A to B.

From 1609, when central government first tried to restrict the manufacture of whisky in Scotland, to 1823, when a new law struck fear into landowners with distillers operating on their acres, the struggle between the roguish producers and the men charged with putting them out of business was one of fierce nationalism that saw communities rally in defence of their right to the lucrative liquor.

This determination led to many a mischievous scheme, many a forceful clash and, occasionally, bloody battle.

As that golden liquid continued to warm veins from the Highlands to the heart of the lowlands, the Celtic blood was raised to boiling point. It was a period of history that brought out the wiliest, wickedest ways of the Scots. It must also have brought many a dutiful Exciseman to breaking point.

~ Terms ~

Smuggling - Originally meant the avoidance of paying duty to the government. Therefore, all illicit distillers came to be known as smugglers.

Gauger - The common name for a Customs and Excise officer, whose job it was to seek out smugglers and put paid to their trade.

Peatreak - The usual name for the whisky made over peat fires. It was also sometimes called poit dubh, Gaelic for the black pot (the vat in which the fermented barley was heated).

Bothy - The turf hut, usually in the hills, where the fire water originated.


Sholto Ramsay
Tue, 22 May 2012 09:59:04 +0000
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