Alcohol has an important role in human history, managing to tie itself to various cultures and regions -- for those in Scotland and Ireland whiskey is synonymous with national pride. In Classical Gaelic, whiskey is the water of life.
The art of distillation, which dates back to Mesopotamia and Babylon before the common era, first came to Scotland and Ireland between the 11th and the 13th centuries. Because Scotland and Ireland lacked the vineyards and grapes to create wine, they began distilling grain mash. While in the rest of Europe the practice of distilling “aqua vitae” (producing spirit alcohol) was primarily used for medicinal purposes, it is likely that whiskey began as a spirit for drinking. Records indicate the first written mention of whiskey in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise when a clan leader died after consuming too much whiskey on Christmas.
By the sixteenth century, whiskey was a more widely enjoyed drink, and its production shifted to the general public. After King Henry VIII dissolved monasteries, monks found new ways to make a living: mainly, distillation. Still, the whiskey of the sixteenth century tasted very different from today’s versions of it. It was raw and brutal, extremely potent, and not allowed to age.
The history of whiskey is also an illicit one. Following the Malt tax of 1725, whiskey distillation sites in Scotland were either shut down or forced underground. Those who once distilled “parliament whiskey,” distilled under license from the crown, turned to distilling “poteen,” distilled under no license. This illicit whiskey industry thrived primarily in the Scottish Highlands region where whiskey bottles were hidden in coffins, beneath hens, and in funeral corteges. Those who distilled whiskey began doing so at night, hiding their illicit activities in the darkness. It was for this reason, the drink was given the name moonshine.
The whiskey industry, both legal and illicit, boomed during urbanization in the 18th century. Life during urbanization was challenging: unsanitary, polluted, overcrowded, and crime-ridden. In many ways, whiskey became an antidote to these challenges. With an alcohol content far higher than that of beer, its appeal established whiskey as the drink of the masses.
A man pours some whisky into a flask in this 1869 oil painting by Scottish artist Erskine Nicol.
In Ireland, citizens have associated whiskey, a symbol of national history and pride, with another national symbol: St. Patrick. Irish people told the legend of how St. Patrick had introduced the process of distillation -- despite the historical evidence that proves otherwise. To this day, the country celebrates its patron saint with its patron drink.
This St. Patrick’s Day, celebrate in proper style: with Irish Whiskey, coffee, and a Rip Van Wafel. Low-sugar, authentic, and completely legal, follow this simple recipe below!
- freshly brewed hot coffee
- 1 tbsp monk fruit sweetener
- 3 tbsp irish whiskey of choice
- Low sugar whipped cream
- Rip Van Wafels