Put simply whisky was originally a cure
The newspaper “Daily Mail” reported recently about the 112th birthday of the oldest Briton. Grace Jones, born in 1906, a slim 20 years older than Queen Elizabeth II, has survived two world wars, experienced 26 prime ministers, 5 kings and 10 popes, so far. Her elixir of life is whisky. She never forgets to drink a glass before going to sleep for over 60 years and notes that “I do not intend to give up this habit.”
“Water of Life”, or Eau de Vie is, surprisingly, the origin and meaning of the term “whisky”. On June 1, 1494 recorded a tax official of the king in Dumfermline, Scotland, that the Benedictine monk John Cor from the abbey of Lindores in the county Fife about 50 kilometers on the grain market on the grain market eight Bollen (about 500 kilos) malt for the production of “Aquavite” bought – on behalf of King James IV
Half a ton of malt bought by the monk John Cor is the first proof of whisky distillation on record
This entry in the so-called Exchequer Rolls, the files of the Royal Scottish Tax Authority, is the oldest known proof of the production of whisky. The sheer quantity of half a ton of malt is staggering – because it was suffient to produce up to 300 liters of whisky. Whisky, Or Aquavit – or Eau de Vie? To understand this, we must go back several hundred years, as the priest and author Wolfgang F. Rothe explains in his books “Water of Life” and “whisky Pilgrimages”.
Background: The author of whisky pilgrimages:
Wolfgang Rothe, born in 1967 in Marburg, is a Catholic priest and church lawyer. Because of his events and publications on the subject of “whisky spirituality” he is also known as “whisky Vicar”. In Rome he received his doctorate in church law in 2002; PhD supervisor was today’s Pope Secretary Georg Gänswein. After a leadership role at the seminary in Sankt Pölten Rothe works since 2008, among other things, as a senior pastor in the Munich Parish Perlach. This year, his book “whisky Pilgrimages – A Spiritual Guide Through Scotland” was published. In 2016 he wrote “Water of Life – Introduction to the Spirituality of whiskys.
From the 5th century, Ireland and Scotland were Christianised by wandering missionaries. They brought to the Celts much knowledge and technical equipment from the Roman culture, which were cultivated and refined in the monasteries over the centuries. This included the distillation of alcoholic liquids. On the mainland, this was usually done with wine – which one would have to import expensive and expensive on the island. So instead, the iro-Scottish monks developed the cheaper but equally suitable distillation of fermented cereal mash.
Initially, their spirits were probably used exclusively as a basis for putting on medical tinctures, for preserving perishable medicinal and active ingredients such as herbs, berries and roots, for pain relief and disinfection. Supposedly, nothing tastes like that whisky, for today a growing fan community visits courses and tastings and thus opens up whole flavor and flavor landscapes. Rather, the potions were probably reminiscent of herbal spirits or liqueurs.
From “aqua vitae” to “whisky”
Nevertheless: To this day, many Scots drink a decent whisky in case of impending flu or other diseases, before they actually go to the doctor – the much famed Hot toddy. The monastic techniques refined, the apparatuses enlarged. And so it is not surprising that the potions “did not only do good to people at the end of the 15th century, but also tasted good”, as Rothe writes; nor that on that June 1, 1494, the monk John Cor needed such a lot of malt. It may be assumed that the monks expelled from the monasteries during the Reformation now also carried their art into the secular area in order to make a living.
From then on, the clans distilled for their own use and the number of private whisky distilleries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries increased so much that in 1644 the anti-genial Protestant currents in the Scottish parliament decided to tax the production of grain in the future. This started two centuries of blacksmithing and smuggling.
Missing the link between the “aqua vitae” and the “whisky”. The term used today appears for the first time in the 18th century and goes back to either the Scottish Gaelic “uisge beatha” from which this website takes its name, or perhaps it’s Irish cousin uisce beatha. Intermediate stages were “uschkiba”, and “uiskie” – until 1763 for the first time the “whisky” is documented. And “uisge beatha” means – nothing but “aqua vitae”: water of life.
Does the splendid grain distilling that Grace Jones, at least according to her own perception, helped to celebrate her 112th birthday, still retain some of that Christian-monastic spirituality of the Middle Ages to this day? Maybe one or two stormy autumn evenings will give you the opportunity to follow suit.