The royal family’s love affair with Scotch Whisky can be traced back to King George the fourth and his infamous trip to Edinburgh in 1822. The new king, struggling with popularity, became the first head of state to voluntarily visit Scotland in over 170 years. In a star-studded affair, organised by local writer Sir Walter Scott, the King requested to taste the illicit Whisky of the Highlands.
Due to the differing tax systems for England, the Lowlands and the Highlands, it became increasingly difficult for distilleries to financially survive. In the Highlands, this created an incredible black market, with an astonishing 14,000 illicit distillations detected in 1823 alone.
With the Kings Scottish hosts unwilling to admit such illegal activity was happening under their nose, the task fell upon the bankrupt John Peter Grant to supply the king with the illicit drink. Knowing he had little left to lose, he called upon his daughter Elizabeth, who managed the household’s supplies, to gift their illegally sourced Whisky to the King.
“Lord Conyngham, the Chamberlain, was looking everywhere for pure Glenlivet whisky; the King drank nothing else. It was not to be had out of the Highlands. My father sent word to me–I was the cellarer–to empty my pet bin, where was whisky long in wood, long in uncorked bottles, mild as milk, and the true contraband goût in it.” – Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus
That illegal dram just so happened to come from the parish of Glenlivet, where an estimated 200 distillers were actively producing in the shadows. One drop and The King couldn’t get enough, upon his return to London, he set about tax reforms to ensure Whisky from the Highlands could turn a legal profit. The rest, as they say, is history.