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Scotch! The Story of Whisky BBC Documentary
Episode 1

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.

Episode 2
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.

Episode 3
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’.

Stanley Bruce.
20th April 2004

An account of Highland Whisky with smuggling stories and detections
By Ian MacDonald (1914)

Whiskey Still
From McIan's Highlanders At Home

Highland Park
An Introduction to Highland Park and its history

Heather 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 kiln floor.

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!!

Daryl Haldane
Global Brand Advocate
Highland Park

Behind the Stills: Philosophy of Scotch
This film attempts to explain why Scotland is so fiercely proud of its
national drink.

An account of Whisky by Ray Pearson
Taken from the In the Soup web site with permission from the author.

The rise and progress of whisky-drinking in Scotland, and the working of the 'Public-houses (Scotland) Act', commonly called the Forbes M'Kenzie Act
By Duncan M;Laren (1858) (pdf)

The Whisky Woman

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 market.
[Quart. Journ. Agri]

Scotch Whisky: History, Heritage and the Stock Cycle
By Julie Bower, Independent Scholar (2016) (pdf)

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