The history of whisky

And More

During whisky tastings the question ‘Who actually invented this God-given drink?’ often comes up. Unfortunately there is no definite answer to this. It probably all comes down to the following story.

Where it all started

It all starts with distillation. Distillation is basically nothing more than the process of separating alcohol from water. Alcohol has a lower burning temperature than water, so it will evaporate faster. This is how it is separated. So for this process, you need a substance that contains alcohol. Every time you go through the distillation process, you will have less of the substance left. The alcohol percentage is rising though, so that’s what we want to achieve. In the case of making whisky, you need a substance that is made of grains. Beer it is.

History of beer

It is proved that beer was invented about 7000 years ago. In the current Iran they found pottery in which a biological fermentation process took place. In those times people used to make a little mush out of grain. By baking this grain you create a sort of bread. If someone felt like a beer (or the consequences of it) they would soak the bread in water. This would create fermentation and, after several days, a lightly alcoholic drink.

The discovery of distillation

The Arabs started distillation in the early medieval ages. Allegedly this was not for drinking alcohol, but for the production of a black powder that was used as a cosmetic. Uh-uh, we’ll believe that…

Most likely they discovered distillation when they warmed a jar of beer. Those smart Arabs saw the vapour and were curious about the taste. By catching the vapours in a cotton ball, they were able to save them. The vapours went back to their liquid form as soon as the environmental temperature got lower.

How distillation came to Europe

The Arabs were very good salesmen. They travelled all through the west to sell their produce and spread their knowledge of distillation. This way their knowledge reached the alchemists. These educated people lived in monasteries and had plenty of time to experiment around. Besides optimizing the distillation process, they also discovered that if your put herbs in alcohol they can be preserved way longer than when you dry them. A nice side effect was that it also made the alcohol taste good.

Who invented whisky?

Monks spread the knowledge about and tactics of the distillation process across Europe. Via Greece to Italy and via Italy to France, only to slowly make its way to the north. Christian monks are said to have taken the distillation process to Ireland around the 11th – 13th century. These friendly folks like to say they invented Whisky. The Scots however laugh about this and proudly claim that the first written statement about whisky (1494) comes from Scotland and that therefore Whisky was born there. They called it Uisge Beatha, meaning water of life.

Whoever may have invented it, the Scots currently are masters in distillation and specialized in refining whisky. They are worldwide whisky market leaders for a reason after all.


This article was written by Peter & Mike Verbeek.