"History and Geography of Whisky"

The Whisky it is a distillate whose history is lost in time and whose paternity is still disputed between Ireland and Scotland.

What is certain is that it was born in a monastic environment and it was only with the dissolution of the monasteries implemented by King Henry VIII of England that distillation moved from the clerical to the civil environment. In 1707 the Act of Union unified Scotland with England by dramatically increasing taxes on whiskey production. As a consequence of this new tax many distilleries were closed and the distillation continued mostly clandestinely until in 1823 a new law lowered the excise duties making most of the distilleries re-emerge into legality. Up to this point, Whiskey was produced exclusively with pot-still stills but in 1831, Aeneas Coffey invented the first single column still which allowed for a faster and more economical production of the distillate. The Coffey alembic was soon adopted to produce Blended Whiskey resulting from the assembly of lighter Coffey spirits with the traditional pot-still alembic. The development of industry and marketing also began the practice of combining whiskeys from different distilleries to create a smoother and easier to consume blend.

Whiskey production arrived in America with the arrival of Irish and Scottish immigrants who added corn and rye to the more traditional European cereals (barley and wheat). However, whiskey production was abruptly interrupted in 1920 by prohibition which banned the sale and production of alcohol in the United States. The activity obviously continued clandestinely and taking place mainly at night, which is why the term Moonshiner was born. The absurd prohibition period ended in 1933 giving birth to the American spirits industry.

The arrival of whiskey in Asia, and in particular in Japan and India is much more recent. Although the first distilleries were born at the end of the nineteenth century, most of the production until the early 2000s was intended exclusively for local consumption.

The classifications used to divide the various and different faces of whiskey are many, generally the one that divides whiskeys starting from the material of origin is taken into account and in this case the main ones are:

  • Malt whisky: they are whiskeys produced with malted barley, they can be Single Malt Whiskey or Blended Malt Whisky. Single Malts are produced by a single distillery while Blended Malts are produced by assembling malt whiskeys from different distilleries.
  • Grain whiskey: they can be produced from any type of grain and are often distilled in a column alembic.
  • Blended Whisky: they are produced by assembling malt and grain whiskeys produced by various distilleries.
  • Bourbon Whisky: is an American Whiskey produced from the distillation of a mash composed of at least 51% corn and aged in new toasted barrels.
  • Rye Whisky: is an American whiskey made with at least 51% rye. It has an intense spicy taste which makes it ideal for cocktails such as Manhattan or Boulevardier.
  • Corn Whisky: it is an American whiskey produced with at least 80% corn and aged in untoasted barrels.


...And the one that instead determines whiskeys from the place of origin of the raw material, production and maturation:

  • Scotch Whisky: Scotland 

  • Irish Whiskey: Ireland and Northern Ireland

  • American Whiskey: United States and Canada

  • Japanese Whisky: Japan

  • Australasian Whisky: India and Australia

  • European Whisky: England, Wales and France are the main ones


Scotch Whiskey undoubtedly deserves a separate chapter given the innumerable quantity of distilleries present in its territory, often very distant from each other and with different and unique production methods.
In accordance with the Scotch Whiskey Association, Scotch Whiskey means only that which is produced, aged for a minimum of three years and bottled entirely in Scotland.
The SWA clearly establishes the necessary indications to ensure that Scot-tish Whiskey is clearly identifiable and that it also presents all the useful information of the distilleries, whose methods and traditions must be defended.
The technical specifications of each single type are also given, in order to avoid misinformation about it:
Per Single Malt it means a Scotch Whiskey produced only from water and barley malt from a single distillery and from a discontinuous distillation in alembic;
The Single Grain Scotch Whiskey is distilled in a single still but which, in addition to water and malted barley, can also be made from whole grains of other malted or unmalted grains;
Blended is defined by the SWR as a combination of one or more Scottish Single Malts with one or more Single Grains, according to traditional blending practices;
Blended Malt/Blended Grain they are two different combinations of only barley malt or only wheat taken from different distilleries to mix them together.
In addition to the production methods, Scotch Whiskeys are also classified according to the Scottish region of origin:
Highlands it is the largest producing region and includes a wide range of whiskeys that are very different from each other due to the different climates of the region. Highlands includes the distillates of Campbeltown, a small area around the city of the same name, on the Mull of Kintyre, and the whiskeys of the distilleries located on the islands of Orkney, Skye, Mull, Jura, where spiced whiskeys are produced, which need long periods of aging. Here are dozens of distilleries including Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Ben Nevis, Lochnagar, Longrow and Springbank.
Speyside is the region east of the Highlands where the River Spey flows. It is here that the majority of Scottish distilleries are concentrated, producing whiskeys known for their elegance and complexity. Among the most notable are Aberlour, Ardmore, Cardhu, Cragganmore, Glen Grant, Glenfiddich, Macallan and The Balvenie.
Islay is a small island west of the Scottish coast, and is very exposed to the wind and the ocean, this influence is clearly perceived in the strong and pungent aroma of its whiskies, characterized by a marine character of seaweed and saltiness. Considered among the finest whiskeys, distilleries such as Bowmore, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain are found here.
Islands it comprises the almost 800 micro-islands scattered off the west coast of Scotland, of which only a few are inhabited and very few still have a distillery. Arran, Mull, Jura, Skye, Lewis and Orkney are home to an eclectic mix of styles from light citrus to full peat smoke.
Campbelltown it was once a thriving whiskey region with no fewer than 34 distilleries. Now only three producers remain, but they make up for their scarcity by producing unique malt whiskies, notably peaty whiskeys that are a reminder of this region's illustrious past.
Lowlands it is that region south of the line joining Dundee and Greenock, where gentler and smoother whiskeys are produced than those of the Highlands. Glenkinchie, Bladnoch and Auchentoshan among the most renowned distilleries in this area.
Important for history and for having followed a similar but different path is Irish Whiskey, i.e. Irish whiskey, typical of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.


 Irish whiskey (spelled with an e, like American Bourbon Whiskey) is a distinctive product of the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Here, the definitions were enacted by Parliament in the Irish Whiskey Acts 1950 and 1980.

The 1950 Act distinguished pot whiskey from blends and stated that the title Irish Pot-Still Whiskey was reserved exclusively for spirits distilled in pot stills in the Republic from a blend of cereals normally grown in that country.

The 1980 legislation specified that the term "Irish Whiskey" applied only to "spirits distilled in the Republic or Northern Ireland from a mixture of grains saccharified by the malt diastase contained therein, with or without other natural diastases". This means that unlike Scotch, Irish whiskey can be made with the use of microbial enzyme preparations in addition to malt.

The 1980 law also specified that whiskey must be aged for at least three years in Ireland in wooden casks. Furthermore, in Ireland the distillation is not double, but triple, in order to give the distillate a stronger body and a more decisive taste.

The huge popularity of whiskeys made in Scotland, Ireland, the United States and Canada has prompted many other countries to try making whiskeys, usually designed to look like Scotch. Some countries, notably Australia and Japan, produce surprisingly good whisky, capable of venturing into the export sector. Other countries, however, including the Netherlands and Spain, have distilleries that cater mainly, if not exclusively, to domestic consumption.