Some years ago there was much discussion of the question, "What is whisky ? " and a good deal of evidence was taken on the point before a Royal Commission, which issued its. report in the year 1909.1 One contention was that whisky muts be distilled in a pot-still, since this was the original method of distillation and at one time all whisky was made by this process. Moreover, the secondary constituents, which differentiate whisky from "neutral" or " silent " spirit, are largely eliminated by the patent-still. Against this it was argued that historically the patent-still represents an evolution from the primitive pot-still, and had long been used for the manufacture of what has been recognised both by the trade and the public as whisky; that in certain districts patent-still spirit by itself is bought and sold as whisky; and that a large proportion of the whisky of commerce is, in fact, a blend of pot- and patent-still spirit- Other questions also arose in regard to the admissible materials; whether, for example, Scotch whisky ought to be made entirely from malt; whether maize is admissible; and whether spirit distilled from potatoes could properly be regarded as whisky-The Commission was unable to recommend that the use of the

1 Report, Cd. 4796.

Fig  43    steam jacketed pot still With retort, rectifier and condenser (Blair, Campbell & McLean, Glasgow)

Fig- 43- - steam-jacketed pot-still-With retort, rectifier and condenser (Blair, Campbell & McLean, Glasgow)word " whisky" should be restricted to spirit manufactured by the pot-still process- They give their reasons as follows: -

"The evidence which we received shows that such [patent-still] spirits have been frequently described as 'whisky' by distillers and traders since the patent-still came into use; and that for many years a section of the public, particularly in parts of Scotland and Ireland, has recognised patent-still spirit without admixture under the name of whisky, and has purchased it as whisky, no attempt being made by distillers or vendors to conceal the method of distillation- Moreover, spirit produced in the patent-still, as we have shown, has long been employed for blending with or diluting whiskies of different character and distilled in different forms of still- This has been by far its largest use, and most of the whisky now sold in the United Kingdom contains in greater or less degree spirit which has been obtained by patent-still distillation-

' Again, apart from the fact that pot-stills differ so much that a comprehensive definition would be difficult to frame without either excluding certain types of still which are now commonly regarded as pot-stills, or including other types which are not now looked upon as legitimate variations of the pot-still, there are strong objections to hampering the development of an industry by stereotyping particular forms of apparatus-

"Finally, we have received no evidence to show that the form of still has any necessary relation to the wholesomeness of the spirit produced-"

As regards the materials, it appeared to the Commission that "whisky as a commercial product is regarded both by the manufacturers and by the public as a spirit made from no other materials than malt and unmalted grain; and it is as a matter of fact so made at the present time-"

The general conclusion arrived at was that whisky is a "spirit obtained by distillation from a mash of cereal grains saccharified by the diastase of malt; that Scotch whisky is whisky as above Refined, distilled in Scotland; and that Irish whisky is whisky, as above defined, distilled in Ireland-"

An interesting outline of the history, manufacture, and technical treatment of whisky is given by the Commission in their report, which should be consulted for fuller details than can be given here-Some of the chief points, however, are included in the description given below-

History- - The early history of whisky is somewhat uncertain. The object of the original manufacturers of alcohol was in all probability to produce a stimulant only- Hence the alcoholic liquid which they obtained was named, according to the language of the different countries in which it was manufactured, "aqua vitae," "eau de vie," "uisque-beatha," "usquebaugh," etc-, all meaning the same thing, namely, "water of life-"

But in course of time the advance of civilisation demanded a specially flavoured spirit rather than a mere stimulant, and it is only natural that the manufacturers in different countries, starting as they would generally with different materials, should have produced spirits of special flavours more or less peculiar to the country or district of origin- In the grape-growing countries, spirit was produced from wine; in the northern countries, where the vine is not largely cultivated, spirit was produced from grain.

The date at which "aqua vitŠ" was first made in the British Isles is uncertain, but in Scotland the manufacture of spirits was a subject for legislation as early as the sixteenth century. Works on "distillation," published in the seventeenth century, show that the method of distillation in use at that period was not essentially different from that practised in the pot-still distilleries of Scotland at the present time.

Extracts from statutes seem to show that "aqua vitŠ" was not the exclusive product of malted barley, but that other substances, such as unmalted grain, were also used in the early days of distillation in Scotland. The English statutes point to the same conclusion. In the year 1802 an Act of Parliament was passed, presumably owing to fear of scarcity during the continuance of the Napoleonic wars, expressly prohibiting the distillation of spirits from any kind of grain.

The term "whisky" is not used in any of these statutes, and it does not seem to have been employed until the latter part of the eighteenth century. At that time, it was undoubtedly synonymous in Scotland with 'aqua vitŠ." It is interesting to note that Robert Burns applies to the same subject the three terms " aqua vita?," "usquebae," and "whisky."