Whisky History

THE GILL

Dufftown, 1887 – Donald Grant, a public-house-keeper, was charged with an offence against the public-house laws. It was said that in June he had sold two gills of whisky to a farm servant in the district. The offence was a second one. Grant pleaded not guilty, but was found guilty on evidence and sentenced to pay £1 of a fine, with £2 14s 6d of expenses.

The gill, pronounced like the girl’s name Jill, is a unit for measuring volume. It is equal to a quarter of a pint. One gill = 5 imperial fluid ounces (fl. oz.) = 142.0653125 millilitres (ml) (exactly) = 4 drams. In Great Britain, the standard single measure of spirits in a pub was 1⁄6 gill (23.7 ml) in England, and 1⁄5 gill (28.4 ml) in Scotland, while the 1⁄4 gill (35.5 ml) was also a common measure in Scotland, and still remains as the standard measure in pubs in Ireland.

The gill was introduced in the 14th century to measure individual servings of whisky or wine. Soon after ascending to the throne of England in 1625, King Charles I scaled down the jack or jackpot (sometimes known as a double jigger) in order to collect higher sales taxes. The jill, by definition twice the size of the jack, was automatically reduced also.” Half of a gill is a jack, or an eighth of a pint.

THE HOT TODDY

One story about the toddy is that it was invented by 18th-century Scottish doctors as a medicament, in fact the drink was invented to disguise the flavour of raw Scotch. “Sugar, dates, saffron, mace, nuts and cinnamon were piled on to hide the foul taste.

One story about the toddy is that it was invented by 18th-century Scottish doctors as a medicament, in fact the drink was invented to disguise the flavour of raw Scotch. “Sugar, dates, saffron, mace, nuts and cinnamon were piled on to hide the foul taste. It was given to patients in hospital as part of their treatment, but it was also common to prescribe hot wine or a measure of hot whisky. A special copper ladle was used to warm an exact amount of the liquid.

The earliest known use of hot toddies is from 1786 and is also known as hot whiskey in Ireland. It is typically a mixed drink made of liquor and water with honey, herbs and spices, and served hot.In 1905, the Stephen Cottage Hospital in Dufftown were still prescribing wine and whisky to their guests… sorry … patients, haha! All was written down in this so called Wine Book.

The copper item in the photo is an antique toddy maker. Hopefully it wasn’t this wonderful Dallas Dhu from 1979 that was cooked and boiled!

The word ‘Dallas’ is from the Gaelic word ‘dalais’, which means Valley or water. The word ‘Dhu’ means black and is from the Gaelic word ‘Dhub’. Whether Dhu is a reference to dark water or a dark valley is undecided.

THE DRAM

If you like whisky, you must have heard of a dram. And probably know it’s a measure of whisky, preferably in a whisky glass. But how much is a dram precisely? Did you know a dram started as an apothecaries weight measure before it was used as a fluid measure and actually originated from ancient Greece?  

The fluid dram (or fluid drachm in British spelling) is defined as 1⁄8 of a fluid ounce and is exactly equal to 3.5516328125 millilitre. 

In Scotland dram came to mean a small draught of alcohol; hence the term dram-house for the taverns where one could purchase a dram. In those days whisky was a rare luxury hence the small measure. I think the best definition given for today’s dram is: “A dram is a lot of whisky, which is determined by the generosity and mood of the person who is pouring.”

THE QUAICH

Most people pronounce the word as ‘quake’ with a hard ‘k’, however, it’s pronounced as a more Scottish ‘ch’ sound, similar to loch. A Quaich is a traditional Scottish bowl which was used for drinking and its name comes from the Gaelic “cuach” which means “cup”. Quaichs were used for special drinks, such as whisky or brandy. 

Traditional quaichs were carved from a single block of wood, they were used across the Scottish Highlands and Islands to offer a welcoming drink to a visitor. Whether it was presented by a clan chief or a crofter, the quaich was a humble creation that represented friendship. The trust element of the cup exists in the relationship between the giver and receiver. The cup is typically offered so that the receiver grasps both handles, the idea being that doing so would make it impossible for the receiver to use any weapons. The two chiefs would drink first from the Quaich, followed by the rest of the clans. This sounds nice, however glass bottom Quaichs were invented to keep an eye on rivals whilst the Quaich was being drunk from!

THE DIPPING DOG & WHISKY THIEF

A traditional size dipping dog has a penny at the bottom. Copper dipping dogs originated in the 1800’s in Scotland. Distillery workers crafted dipping dogs to lower into aging barrel to steal whisky.

The dipping dogs were attached to chains or rope, secured to the workers’ belts and concealed in their trousers legs. The thieves could then easily take a drink on the job or sneak it out of the distillery. The cylinder became known as a ‘dog’ on account of it being a man’s best friend that, it never leaves your side as it was also kept on a lead.

Dufftown 1892 – Between the 14th September and 6th October 1892 William Clark, who was a labourer in Dufftown, stole two quarts or ten gallons of spirit at the Glenfiddich Distillery by drilling a hole in a copper pipe or “worm”. He pleaded not guilty, but there were seven witnesses and Clark was sent to prison for 30 days. He was released on bail of £10.-

WHISKY THIEF – A whisky thief is a tool that master distillers use to extract small portions of whisky from an ageing barrel for sampling or quality control. The old-fashioned ones are made typically of copper and resemble a drinking straw in design. It has a coned narrow hole at the bottom and a vent hole at the top in which a distiller can cover with the thumb once the device is inserted in the barrel to trap and lift the whisky out. By removing the thumb from the upper vent hole, the whisky is released to drain into drinking glasses for tasting.

THE JACOBITE GLASS

The Jacobite movement in Britain was one born out of a support for the exiled Catholic monarch, James II & VII, and later his descendants James III & VIII and Charles Edward Stuart, who would become known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

To combat this support and maintain the new Protestant line of succession, the Whig government passed a series of strict sedition and treason laws, with capital punishment posing a very real threat to those who disobeyed. To effectively subvert these laws, the Jacobites devised their own secret language of code, allowing them to express their political sympathies to others in the know without running the risk of arrest and prosecution.

To drink to the health of the Stuarts was a treasonable offence but this did not stop Jacobites like Henry Jones having their toasting glasses and decanters engraved with emblems of their faith. However, to avoid discovery, many of these engraved glasses were destroyed and it became the custom to smash the glasses after the toast to the Jacobite cause had been drunk.

MONKEY SHOULDER

The unconventional name ‘Monkey Shoulder’ harks back to whisky making heritage. Years ago, distillery workers would shovel tons of malting barley hour after hour for long shifts. This hard work would sometimes cause their arm to hang down, a bit like a chimpanzee’s. The men called this temporary affliction ‘monkey shoulder’.

Luckily the working conditions have changed, which means this injury has been consigned to the past.

There are several lesser-known animal/body part afflictions that affect people of whisky. For instance, there’s Flounder Toe, a condition suffered after dropping a full cask on your foot, very similar to the lesser-known but equally painful Squid Hand. There’s Donkey Face, which is a colloquialism for the nerve damage one suffers after falling into a tub of fermenting mash.

William Grant & Sons started producing Monkey Shoulder Blended Whisky in 2000. Then it had 3 different whiskies in it (hence the thee monkeys on the shoulder of the bottle): Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. Nowadays many other whiskies are used, because the whisky became so popular that the three distilleries couldn’t produce enough of it.