"Illicit liquor, sound familiar?" Scotland Things to Do Tip by iandsmith
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Clandestine stills were cleverly organised and hidden in nooks and crannies of the heather-clad hills, and smugglers organised signalling systems from one hilltop to another whenever excise officers were seen to arrive in the vicinity. By the 1820s, despite the extraordinary fact that as many as 14,000 illicit stills were being confiscated every year, more than half the whisky consumed in Scotland was being swallowed painlessly and with pleasure, without contributing a penny in duty.
This flouting of the law eventually prompted the Duke of Gordon, on whose extensive acres some of the finest illicit whisky in Scotland was being produced, to propose in the House of Lords that the Government should make it profitable to produce whisky legally. In 1823 the Excise Act was passed, which sanctioned the distilling of whisky in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit.
Smuggling died out almost completely over the next ten years and, in fact, a great many of the present day distilleries stand on sites used by smugglers of old.
The Excise Act laid the foundations for the Scotch Whisky industry as it is known today. However, two further developments put Scotch Whisky on firmly on the world map.Until now, we have been talking about what we now know as Malt Whisky. But, in 1831 Aeneas Coffey invented the Coffey or Patent Still which enabled a continuous process of distillation to take place. This led to the production of Grain Whisky, a different, less intense spirit than the Malt Whisky produced in the distinctive copper pot stills. The lighter flavoured Grain Whisky, when blended with the more fiery malts, extended the appeal of Scotch Whisky to a considerably wider market.
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