What Is The Oldest Whisky In The World?
Then there's the issue of working out the oldest whisky distillery in the world. Even though we know Scotland now produces some of the finest whisky in the world, that has not always been the case. In fact, the earliest reference to whisky production in history points to monks in Ireland.
The first known whisky production in Scotland
The first written reference to whisky production in Scotland dates back to 1494, appearing in the Exchequer Rolls of King James IV. This "aqua vitae" had apparently come from Lindores Abbey. The Abbey ceased production in 1559, however, in 2017, it reopened and is once again producing whisky. Even though this is the oldest evidence of Scottish whisky production, is it fair to call Lindores Abbey Scotland's oldest distillery when it spent over 450 years out of production?
Arguably, Scotland's oldest distillery is the now-demolished Littlemill Distillery in West Dumbartonshire. Believed to have been founded in 1772, Littlemill ran until 1994, albeit with brief periods with no production. Although the site no longer exists, it holds the title of being Scotland's oldest licensed whisky distillery.
What is the longest running distillery in Scotland?
As for holding the title of Scotland's longest running distillery, it's a three-man race between Glenturret, Bowmore, and Strathisla. They have all existed in the same location since their opening in the late 18th century. Glenturret and Bowmore have both had periods of ceased production whereas the youngest of the three, Strathisla, has never stopped operating since opening its doors. Let's look at all the distilleries in a little more detail.
Founded in 1775, Glenturret is widely regarded as Scotland's oldest distillery. Sitting next to the Turret River, Glenturret has a history of illicit distilling that dates back to 1717. The distillery has had several periods of closure as a result of the First World War and Prohibition. However, Glenturret has been opened consistently for the last 65 years.
Some experts argue that Glenturret should not be deemed Scotland's oldest whisky distillery due to its lengthy periods of inactivity.
Founded in 1779, just four years after Glenturret, Bowmore Distillery is one of the oldest Scottish distilleries. The Islay distillery is based next to Loch Indaal and is renowned for its outstanding whisky produce.
Just like Glenturret, Bowmore halted production throughout the First World War and the majority of the Second World War. However, despite these periods of inactivity, to this day Bowmore is one of the most famous names in Scottish whisky.
The Strathisla Distillery is a small distillery that is based in the Speyside region of Scotland. It was founded in 1786, over a decade after Glenturret and over five years after Bowmore. However, Strathisla has a claim to being Scotland's oldest distillery due to the fact that it has never closed, unlike Glenturret and Bowmore.
A bit of an outlier for the title of Scotland's oldest distillery, Glenmorangie stakes its claim with the rumours surrounding the origin of the distillery. Officially founded in 1843 (over half a century after Glenturret, Bowmore, and Strathisla!), you wouldn't think Glenmorangie could be a contender. However, it is believed that the distillery had been illegally running from as early as 1700!
It's pretty tricky to prove what distillery can be officially be deemed as Scotland's oldest due, to the amount of illicit distillation that was taking place in the 17th and 18th centuries. Almost every farmhouse had its own still, so it is almost impossible to trace what distillery really came first.
What is the oldest whisky in the world?
The earliest record of whisky production ever was in 1170. Henry II noted upon his invasion of Ireland that the monks would make and drink "uisce beatha" which is Gaelic for "water of life." It is, therefore, unsurprising that the oldest known distillery in the world is located in Northern Ireland.
The town of Bushmills in Northern Ireland has a history of whiskey production that dates back to 1608 when a licence to distil in the area was granted to Sir Thomas Phillipps by King James I. The Old Bushmills Distillery was officially built in 1784, making it technically younger than Glenturret and Bowmore. However, due to the town's long history of whiskey making, Bushmills is generally regarded as the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world.
For the first seventy years of its (official) existence, Bushmills saw numerous periods of closure. However, since being purchased by Jame McColgan and Patrick Corrigan in 1860, the distillery has seen success after success.
The only blip in Bushmills timeline after this point was when the original distillery was tragically destroyed by a fire in 1885. However, it was quickly rebuilt, and they were back in production as soon as they possibly could be, shipping whiskey all over the world using the company's steamship, the SS Bushmills. Surviving both World Wars and Prohibition that saw hundreds of distilleries shut their doors for good, Bushmills kept on going.
To this day, Bushmills are still producing triple-distilled single malt whiskey. Isn't it amazing that anyone can buy whiskey from the world's oldest ever distillery? It remains one of the best-loved names in history and is one of the most referenced whiskey brands in pop culture.
The historic distillery is one of Northern Ireland's tourist hotspots, seeing in over 120,000 visitors every year.
What about Kilbeggan?
Often swept to the side in favour of Bushmills, there is a lot of contention amongst experts that Kilbeggan Distillery is, in fact, Ireland's oldest distillery. The distillery, formerly under the monikers of Brusna Distillery and Locke's Distillery, was founded in 1757. The distillation has gone through significant periods of inactivity which has added to the debate of whether or not it should be regarded as the oldest whisky distillery in Ireland. However, the distillery has been fully operational since 2010.
There is no way of knowing what the oldest whisky distillery in the world truly is. Truthfully, the first ever distillery is likely long gone. However, we know for a fact that the oldest whiskey distillery that is still standing is the Old Bushmills Distillery.
In Scotland, this title goes to Glenturret, though some people would contest this claim. Regardless of how you view it, the history of whisky distillation is an intriguing topic and plays a huge part in Scotland's history as well as its heritage.