SPIRIT OF THE MACRAES
The earliest record of whisky being distilled in Scotland was in 1494 when an entry in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls recorded 'eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae'. However, it is probable that the spirit was being produced for hundreds of years before that, particularly in our remote western seaboard and islands. The early product varied greatly from area to area, often being made from unmalted grains such as oats and barley and was very different from the whisky that we know today.
We know that liquors were being distilled in India from rice and flowers as early as 800 BC. It is thought that the secrets of distillation were then brought to Ireland and Cornwall by the Phoenicians and from there by the Celts as they migrated to the westernmost fringes of Scotland. These settlers produced their whisky mostly for their own use as a part of a subsistence existence and was perhaps necessary to survive the deprivations of a Scottish winter! As agriculture developed the distilling of whisky from the farmers surplus grain provided not only liquid comfort but also came to be a commodity that could be exchanged for cash to help pay the rent. When Distilleries came to be licensed at the beginning of the 19th century, a number were actually built by the more progressive landlords to create a market for their tenants surplus grain.
It was around this time that illicit production of whisky reached its peak. Whether legally or not, the MacRaes seem to have had an involvement throughout!