1902 Encyclopedia > Whisky


WHISKY, or WHISKEY, a spirit distilled for drinking, which originated, at least so far as regards the name, with the Celtic inhabitants of Ireland and Scotland; and its manufacture and use still continue to be closely associated with these two countries. Distilled spirit first became popularly known as aqua vita?, and it was originally used only as a powerful medicinal agent. It was not till about the middle of the 17th century that it came into use in Scotland as an intoxicating beverage. In August 1655 the town council of Glasgow issued regulations for persons who should "brew, sell, and tap ail and acquavit»," and in 1656 the town treasurer was indemnified for "aquavytie sent to ane friend." In 1660 an excise duty was first im-posed on " acquavitas " consumed in England; but not till the year 1684 was any record kept of the quantities on which duty was charged. In that year duty was paid on the considerable quantity of 527,492 gallons. The con-sumption thereafter rose with great rapidity, reaching one million gallons at the end of the century, and in 1743 the enormous quantity of 8,200,000 gallons was consumed. Meantime the evils of the traffic had induced the legislature to pass, in 1736, the Gin Act (see GIN) with the view of checking the demoralization attendant on the drinking habits of the people. It was principally in the form of gin that distilled spirits were consumed in England; but gin is nothing else than a rectified and specially flavoured variety of whisky. In Scotland and Ireland the attempts of the excise authorities to control the distillation of whisky, and to derive revenue from it, led to unlimited smuggling and open evasion of the law, and it was not till well into the 19th century that efficient regulations and energetic supervision brought the traffic in these countries under public control. Indeed illicit distillation is still extensively practised in Ireland, where the detec-tions average more than eight hundred yearly.

It is not easy at the present day to define whisky. Originally it was made from malted barley, the fermented wort from which was distilled in the common pot-still (see DISTILLATION, vol. vii. p. 264); but with the introduction of the Coffey and other continuous stills, which yield a " silent" or flavourless spirit, it has become possible to prepare alcoholic liquor, which is sold as whisky, from any cereal grain, malted or unmalted, and from potato starch, grape sugar, and numerous other starch and sugar yielding substances. As a rule, however, whisky is made from grain, and by preference from barley, malted or raw. The bulk of the whisky made in the United Kingdom can be separated into three classes. (1) Malt whisky is the product of malted barley alone, distilled in the ordinary pot-still. Its flavour is partly due to the circumstance that the malt is dried over a peat fire; and a spirit so prepared con-stitutes the pure Highland malt whisky of Scotland. (2) Grain whisky, under which heading comes the bulk of the Irish whisky of commerce, is made in the pot-still, principally from raw barley, with only a small proportion of malted barley to favour the trans-formation of starch into sugar in the preparation of the wort. (3) Plain spirit is produced from barley, rice, and other cereals dis-tilled in the Coffey patent still. Plain spirit forms the basis from which gin, British brandy, and other rectifier's drinks are prepared ; and it is used for blending with other flavoured pot-still spirits, to produce a certain character of potable spirit sold by wholesale dealers and known by special blend names. It is only the finer qualities of matured malt and grain whisky that can be used as single or unblended spirit. In the United States whisky is distilled chiefly from corn and rye, wheat and barley malt being used, though only to a limited extent. When spirit is distilled as whisky, it retains the natural principles which impart an agreeable flavour to the beverage; for the fusel oil, which is contained in alcohol, and is acrid to the taste and stupefying in its effects, is to a great extent extracted. Whisky is greatly improved by age ; it is not mellow, nor its flavour agreeable, until it is several years old. In its original state it is almost colourless, but it derives a reddish hue from the wood of the barrels into which it is drawn, the inner surfaces of which are usually charred to facilitate the colouring.

In the financial year ending 31st March 1886 there were in England 10 distilleries, in Scotland 127, and in Ireland 27. The quantity of spirits distilled in that year in the United Kingdom was 38,961,842 gallons ; the number of gallons consumed as bever-age was 26,342,851 (England 15,290,816, Scotland 6,297,365, Ire-land 4,754,670); the quantity exported was 2,808,198 gallons ; and the stock held in bonded stores at the end of 1885 was 64,405,817 gallons. The total excise revenue from the manufacture, sale, and consumption of British spirits was £13,140,695, a considerable de-crease on previous years ; and distilled spirits are now a steadily declining source of public income.

Distilled spirits in the United States are the principal, and an increasing, source of internal revenue. In the fiscal year ending 30th June 1887 there were in the United States 969 grain distil-leries ; and the quantity of spirits distilled in that year (including whisky, alcohol, high-wines, and cologne or neutral spirits, and excluding fruit-brandy) was 77,831,599 gallons. The stock of spirits remaining in bonded warehouse on 30th June 1887 was 65,145,269 gallons. The total revenue from the manufacture and sale of dis-tilled spirits for the fiscal year ending 30th June 1887 was $65,829,322. This includes the tax upon whisky, fruit-brandy, alcohol, high-wines, cologne spirits, and rum. The revenue from the manufacture of whisky alone was $2,263,718,070.


Celtic uisge (water); the term in its present use is probably an abbreviation of " usquebaugh " (uisge-beatha, " water of life "). Cf. oSkeat, Btym. Diet., s.v.

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