Smugglers and excisemen
From now on and inescapably, production of illicit whisky will strongly proliferate, notably in the Highlands. Having at its disposal easily transportable equipment, the smuggler hides in the innumerable glens. The most valuable part of its rustic still is the copper coil. Immersed in a cask and cooled by the river's water, it enables the condensation of spirit vapours in a distilled liquor preciously collected. The authoritative bodies did have the brilliant idea of offering a 5 Pounds bonus to anyone who would denounce the existence of an illicit distillery. Therefore, when his coiled was worn out the smuggler only had to get the governing authorities visiting the place of the so-called illicit still, where he had previously judiciously hidden his old coil. The bonus money so collected would allow him to buy a brand new coil without delay !
In spite of their isolation in the wild Highlands countries the smugglers, who could be spotted due to the smoke of their distillation, could not always escape to the vigilance of Excisemen. If, taking advantage of their knowledge of the land, of their mobility and of all complicities, they would often run away in time, such was no always the case. Hard confrontations, often marked with gun fires and blood, leaving dead or wounded men on the ground, would then follow.
Gangs of illicit distillers and smugglers could gather up to as many as fifty men and ponies. At the end of XVIIIth they were literally controlling several areas of Scotland where Excisemen would venture only reluctantly and at their own peril.
Illicit production had also developed in towns to the point that in 1777 one could count in Edinburgh eight licensed distilleries and 400 illicit stills !
After countless wanderings in the regulation, realism and common sense will eventually prevail. In 1823, on the initiative of the Duke of Gordon, the "Excise Act" is voted, with an aim at making licensed distillation an economical and viable occupation, at the same time as generating profits for the authorities, thanks to suitable and reasonable taxation. Illicit still will progressively disappear. In the same time many technical evolutions, such as steam heating and continuous distillation, will accompany the development of the industrialization of distilleries during the course of IXth, marking what can be considered as the start of the modern era of Scotch Whisky.
Highland distillery at the end of XIX th (Drawing of the time by John Barnard)
Several factors will favour the growing of this industry. From 1870 on the phylloxera crisis will bring to almost nought the production of Cognac, offering to Scotsmen an opportunity which they will not miss. At the same time, the practice of blending will develop in the Lowlands, consisting in the mixing of malt whisky with grain whisky, the latest being distilled in continuous stills from maize or wheat. The spirit produced in this manner is smoother and easier to drink, at the same time as it is much cheaper to manufacture. The legitimacy of grain whisky will be bitterly contested by Highland distillers, until a Royal Commission will rule on its favour in 1909, after 18 months of deliberation.
Stills room (Islay) at the end of XIX th (Drawing of the time by John Barnard)
In Ireland, the whiskey industry had grown to reach its apogee at the end of XVIIIth with more than 1100 licensed distilleries in 1779. Irish Whiskey was then reigning the world over, far above Scotch Whisky.
Locke's distillery in Kilbeggan, Ireland
Click here to discover the same distillery at the XIX th
Illicit distilling was even more widespread than it was in Scotland, with a production equal to 3 or 4 times that of licensed distilleries ! Whereas in 1834 a total of 692 illicit distilleries was recorded in Scotland, more than 8000 were discovered in Ireland ! Regulation and taxation will then be subject, as in Scotland, to many wanderings, their reinforcement which was aiming at restricting smuggling being bound to heavily penalize licensed distilleries. In the same time, the Irish will refuse to adopt the practice of blending. By an irony of fate, the latest had been made possible thanks to the continuous still developed by an ex Irish Exciseman, Adrian Coffey, who will finally sell his process to the Scotsmen.
The expansion of Scotch Whisky
The Scotch Whisky industry will be subject to important concentration moves between the two World Wars. In parallel, Scotsmen will altogether take rather good advantage of the situation created in the USA by the prohibition between 1919 and 1933. Considerable volumes of Scotch Whisky will be smuggled in, resulting in the Americans discovering the quality of the Scottish drink. The latest, whose main outlets was then constituted of the Commonwealth countries, will see promising openings appear, which will materialize after the second World War.
In 1999, more than 950 millions of bottles of Scotch Whisky were exported, which equals to 30 bottles each second. France represents the N° 1 market for sales of bottled Scotch with 138 millions of them, while sales to the USA amount to 115 millions. Taking in consideration the ageing time necessary for producing Scotch Whisky, there are not less than 18,5 millions of casks currently lying in Scottish bonded warehouses !
(Scotch Whisky Association Copyright Material Reproduced by Permission)
One counts today in Scotland approximately 85 working Malt distilleries and 8 grain distilleries.
The Irish Whiskey industry, which is very much concentrated, is limited to 3 Malt distilleries and 2 grain distilleries, which does not prevent it from being currently in full revival.
Copyright 2007 © Tregorwhisky.com - All rights reserved
Midi file sequenced by Barry Taylor