Scots expert claims whisky first developed in Ireland.. or even England

A whisky expert is claiming Scotland’s national drink has its origins in Ireland, while similar drams were being created at the same time in England.

Drinks writer Dave Broom, from Glasgow, who explores whisky’s heritage in the film The Amber Light, said there is “strong evidence” to suggest whisky may have been first developed in Ireland and brought to Islay, to be drunk at the seat of the High Kings.

There, under the distilling expertise of one Irish family, the spirit is thought to have evolved into a tipple bearing at least a passing similarity to today’s whisky.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Broom said: “If you look at the north of Ireland and across to Islay, that’s the cradle of distillation… but the first record I found is in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.”

Drinks writer Dave Broom has been exploring whisky's origins.Drinks writer Dave Broom has been exploring whisky's origins.
Drinks writer Dave Broom has been exploring whisky's origins.

Adam Park, the film’s producer, said research carried out for the film suggests the Beaton family, who were Irish physicians who developed a vast international knowledge of botanical remedies, were most likely to be instrumental in creating what would become the first Scotch whisky.

“The Beatons were pretty amazing people, they travelled the world translating medical scripts and building their knowledge,” he said.

“They came to service of the High Kings and became experts in distilling spirit and added to it the plants and flowers that grew around them.”

The Beatons, whose family name appears as MacMeic-bethad and MacBeth, are believed to have first arrived on Islay in the 13th century at the time of the marriage between Aine O’Cathain and Angus Og MacDonald, Lord Of The Isles.

Research for the film also found the English were probably creating their own form of dram around the same time.

The Beaton family became hereditary physicians to the Scottish crown, serving Robert The Bruce and every subsequent Scottish king, while also providing medical knowledge to clan chiefs from the Western Isles to the Lowlands.

While the Beatons’ fellow countrymen pursued distilling their own Irish whiskey, Park says Scots’ ingenious methods of circumventing taxes and American prohibition laws – when Scotch was allowed as a “medicinal” product – helped position whisky as the premium spirit.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Marketing targeted Highland history and heritage, overtaking Irish and American versions and laying foundations for today’s £4.7 billion export market.

However, a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “The earliest known record of Scotch Whisky production dates from the Exchequer Rolls of 1494, but it is likely the ‘Aqua Vitae’ was being produced long before this date.

“It is likely early development of distillation in Scotland and Ireland took place in parallel, ultimately leading to two distinct global industries.”

The film, currently touring cinemas across the country, explores how whisky has become embedded in Scottish culture and is constantly evolving.