The earliest historical reference to whisky comes much later. Mr J. Marshall Robb, in his book 'Scotch Whisky', says: 'The oldest reference to whisky occurs in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494, where there is an entry of 'eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae'.'A boll was an old Scottish measure of not more than six bushels. (One bushel is equivalent to 25.4 kilograms)
When King James IV was in Inverness during September 1506, his Treasurer's Accounts had entries for the 15th and 17th of the month respectively: 'For aqua vite to the King. . .' and 'For ane flacat of aqua vite to the King. . .'.lt is probable that the aquavitae in this case was spirit for drinking.
The earliest reference to a distillery in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament appears to be in 1690, when mention is made of the famous Ferintosh distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden.
There is also a reference to distilling in a private house in the parish of Gamrie in Banffshire in 1614. This occurs in the Register of the Privy Council, where a man accused of the crime of breaking into a private house, combined with assault, was said to have knocked over some 'aquavitie'.
One of the earliest references to 'uiskie' occurs in the funeral account of a Highland laird about 1618.
An unpublished letter of February 1622, written by Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy to the Earl of Mar, reported that certain officers sent to Glenorchy by the King had been given the best entertainment that the season and the country allowed. It stated: 'For they want it not wine nor aquavite.' This 'aquavite' was no doubt locally distilled whisky.
Another writer affirms that aquavitae occasionally formed part of the rent paid for Highland farms, at any rate in Perthshire, but no actual date is given for this practice.
After the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, English revenue staff crossed the border to begin their lengthy attempts to bring whisky production under control. Ninety years later the excise laws were in such a hopeless state of confusion that no two distilleries were taxed at the same rate. Illicit distilling flourished, the smugglers seeing no good reason for paying for the privilege of making their native drink.
After a lengthy Royal Commission. the Act of 1823 sanctioned legal distilling at a duty of [11.25p] per gallon for stills with a capacity of more than 40 gallons. There was a licence fee of £10 annually and no stills under the legal limit were allowed. The first distillery came into 'official' existence in the following year and thereafter many of the more far-sighted distillers came over on to the side of the law. In 1840. the duty was [2.1p] per bottle and by the beginning of the First World War it had risen to [8.5p]. In 1939, a typical bottle of Scotch Whisky cost [71p] of which [48p] was duty. By 1992, after a succession of duty increases, the same bottle was costing around £10.80. The duty on it was £5.55, the equivalent of £19.81 per litre of pure alcohol.
Since 1973 the price of a bottle of whisky, including the Excise Duty, has been subject to a Value Added Tax.
Date Duty per bottle/£ 1900 0.065p 1920 0.42p 1940 0.57p 1947 1.11p 1968 1.20p 1975 1.57p 1980 1.56p 1985 4.73p 1990 5.21p
© SWA 1995