In the 17th century, the surging popularity of Scotch Whisky captured the attention of the Scottish Parliament, who sought to capitalise on the emerging industry. In 1644, the first taxes on Scotch were introduced, inadvertently sparking a surge in illicit whisky distillation throughout Scotland.
For the next 150 years, smuggling became the norm. The excisemen, known as gaugers, and the illicit distillers engaged in a relentless game of cat and mouse as resourceful Scots devised increasingly inventive methods to shield their spirits from taxation. Even typically honest members of the clergy resorted to hiding Scotch under the pulpit, while others went to extraordinary lengths, such as transporting the illicit spirit in coffins to evade the watchful eyes of the taxman.
By the 1820s, the situation had reached staggering proportions. Approximately 14,000 illicit stills were being confiscated each year, and more than half of the whisky consumed in Scotland was enjoyed without the taxman receiving his due share. The illicit whisky trade had become deeply ingrained in Scottish society, a testament to the determination and craftiness of the Scottish people in their pursuit of preserving their beloved spirit.
The Whisky Excise Act – 18th July 1823