The history of whisky
Whilst the process of distillation dates back to around 2000BC, when it was used by the ancient Mesopotamians to make perfumes, producing alcohol through distillation is a far more recent innovation. The Romans stuck mainly to producing wine and it was not until the 12th or 13th centuries that Italian monks began to produce alcohol from distilled wine. By the 15th century, the manufacture of distilled alcohol had spread throughout the monasteries of Europe, where it was used predominantly for medicinal purposes. Eventually, grains were used instead of grapes, creating aqua vitae, or uisge beatha in Gaelic.
The first documentary evidence of whisky production is from 1494, when 500 bottles were produced, by order of the king. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, monks found themselves needing to earn a living. Whisky production moved from the preserve of the monasteries to ordinary locations, with whisky becoming available to the masses.
In 1725, the English malt tax was imposed, causing the price of whisky to rise dramatically and forcing many Scottish distilleries to operate illicitly, often at night, giving rise to whisky’s nickname of ‘moonshine’. In 1823, the UK’s Excise Act finally allowed Scottish whisky producers to operate legally on payment of a fee.
Until the 1880s, French brandy was the main distilled alcoholic drink in many countries; however, a devastating vine pest called phylloxera savaged France’s grape harvests, allowing whisky to become dominant.
From jeroboams to miniature whisky bottles
As the production of whisky developed over the years, more and more bottle sizes were made available. Whilst a standard whisky bottle is 700ml in the EU, and 750ml in the US, whisky is available in sizes ranging from miniature bottles of 50ml through to jeroboams, which are 3,000ml – the equivalent of four standard bottles. Needless to say, jeroboams are mainly purchased for special occasions or to add to a whisky collection.
Modern uses for miniature whisky bottles
Whisky miniatures, along with other spirits such as brandy and rum, were incredibly popular in the 1970s and are still available today. One very popular use for miniature bottles is as wedding favours, with wedding couples choosing to buy their own bottles and decant their favourite whisky into these miniatures to give as a gift to each wedding guest. This is popular across the board, but especially so for weddings where either the bride or groom is Scottish or where the wedding is taking place in Scotland. The long Scottish association with whisky and whisky-making is clearly alive and well today, hundreds of years after the very first whiskies were created.