Scotch! The Story of
Whisky BBC Documentary
David Hayman surveys the state of the Scotch whisky industry and
examines the threats to its world dominance. He meets coopers and
coppersmiths, whose craft it relies on, before visiting Campbeltown to
enrol on a distilling course. Hayman is then schooled in the alchemy of
blending whisky by Kirsteen Campbell, Famous Grouse master blender, and
visits distilling students at Heriot-Watt University.
David Hayman feels that
the Scottish terrain and air are just as important as science in the
creation of the drink. He visits Islay, rejoicing in the land and people
who make it The Whisky Island. On Speyside, he encounters the
progression of whisky from illicit distilling to a landmass dominated by
global brands. Scotch whisky's profile and sales would be lost without
marketing - though image does not always meet with reality, as Hayman
learns. Finally, at a fine whisky auction, the tale of Scotch's
lucrative investment and collection sub-industry is told.
So great is worldwide love
for Scotch whisky, many countries have begun making their own versions.
It represents a threat to Scotland's dominance of the market. Presenter
David Hayman travels to meet some of these rivals. His journey begins in
Norfolk, where he encounters the thriving English Whisky Company. He
visits Japan, learning of that great country's whisky culture, and then
Tasmania, a world whisky hotspot. In Europe, Sweden represents
cutting-edge trends and impassioned appreciation of the amber nectar.
Finally, there is time for reflection on the future and status of this
totem of a drink.
A Scotsman who spells Whisky with a n ‘e’, should be hand cuffed
and thrown head first in the Dee.
In the USA and Ireland, it’s spelt with an ‘e’ but in Scotland it’s real ‘Whisky’.
So if you see Whisky and it has an ‘e’, only take it, if you get it for free!
For the name is not the same and it never will be, a dram is only a real dram, from a bottle of ‘Scotch Whisky’.
It is said that some of
the finest brands of whisky derive some of their most delicate flavours
from the heather.
At the Highland Park
Distillery, in Kirkwall, Orkney, there was a peculiarly shaped timber
building, referred to as the ‘Heather House’. This was where heather,
which had been gathered in the month of July when the plant was in full
bloom, was stored. Carefully cut off near the root, and tied into small
faggots of about a dozen branches each, the heather was used on the peat
fire to help dry the malt and impart a delicate flavour which, was
claimed, to give Highland Park Distillery its unique taste.
It is interesting to note
that in former times the wooden containers for fermentation, known in
whisky distilleries as ‘washbacks’, would be cleaned using heather
besoms. And when new stills were installed, bundles of heather would be
placed in the water and boiled in order to sweeten the still before the
first distillation took place.
In the nineteenth century
and possibly even earlier, illicit stills were used to make whisky - in
broad daylight. The crofters were able to do this because, by gathering
up and using old stumps of burnt heather, they could make a fire without
smoke, and so not raise suspicion!
Editor's Note: I
wrote to Highland Park to see what they had to say about this and here
is their reply...
This is interesting.
As for drying the peat in the Peat house
we do use a lot of Fog (top layer of the peat bog). This helps dry
the peat and keep the store dry. This is also where a lot of the
first smoke comes from as it passes over the moist barley on the
As the heather sustains such strong
winds it is very hardy and wiry. We don’t do this anymore as we have
equipment especially for cleaning but in years gone by I imagine
this would be the best thing to use. As we have no trees it would be
difficult to use anything else.
As for sweetening the stills, resting
heather in boiling water would have very little effect on the final
spirit. I don’t think sweetening the stills would have occurred. It
may have made them smell fresh for a couple of days but once charged
the smell of evaporating wash would soon take over.
Interesting that you mention washbacks.
These vessels are around 29,000l in size. During the second world
war the locally based Seaforth Highlanders used these as baths.
Marching 2 miles every day to the distillery for a scrub.
Some history in those walls!!
Global Brand Advocate
Behind the Stills: Philosophy of
This film attempts to explain why Scotland is so fiercely proud
Manufacture of Scotch Whiskey
IT is a remarkable fact, says major-general Stewart, in an article on
the prevention of smuggling in the Highlands, inserted in the Quarterly
Journal of Agriculture, that a spirit of the best quality and flavour
has been distilled by men with their apparatus at the side of a burn,
and, perhaps, changing weekly from fear of a discovery; malting on the
open heath far up the hills, and hurrying on the whole process to avoid
detection; yet, with all these disadvantages, they received the highest
price in the market for the spirit thus manufactured. The quantity
might, perhaps, be less than what could be produced by a more regular
process of distillation; but then the liquor was so much superior in
flavour and quality, as to compensate for the deficient quantity.
Several of these men have been employed, by way of experiment, in a
licensed distillery on the estate of Garth, with directions to proceed
in their own way, only to be regulated by the laws under the control of
an officer; yet, with the advantage of the best utensils, the purest
water, and the best fuel, they produced a spirit quite inferior in
quality and flavour to what they made under the shelter of a rock, or in
a den, and it sustained neither the same price nor character in the
[Quart. Journ. Agri]
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