Legends of Scotch Whisky

Written by Sholto Ramsay on Tuesday, 22 May 2012. Posted in 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.