NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Aberdeen 'home to earliest record of whisky still' in 1505, say historians

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Media captionCould Aberdeen be the home of whisky?

Aberdeen is home to the earliest record of a still for distilling Scotch whisky, historians have claimed.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have found a 1505 record for a still for making aqua vite - water of life in Latin - in burgh records.

It is not the first reference to whisky itself, which is widely recognised as being in 1494.

However the Scotch Whisky Association described the Aberdeen find as an "exciting discovery".

The reference was found by research fellow Dr Claire Hawes, who was working her way through deciphering the 1.5 million words in Aberdeen's municipal registers.

'Understanding of national drink'

The researchers believe the still in question was for a spirit to drink, rather than to be used in the preparation of gunpowder.

The reference appears in the inquest into the inheritance after the death of Sir Andrew Gray, a chantry chaplain in Aberdeen's parish church of St Nicholas.

Scotch whisky facts:

Image copyright Getty Images
  • Scotch exports were valued at £4.7bn in 2018, with 41 bottles of Scotch shipped overseas every second
  • Scotland is home to 128 operating malt distilleries and 68 Scotch whisky visitor centres
  • On average, more than £34 was spent during each trip to a visitor centre in the last year

Source: SWA

Dr Hawes said: "All references to aqua vite or whisky from this period are significant because its early development is largely unrecorded.

"What is really exciting here is that it is part of our extensive burgh records.

"That means we can trace those involved in the distillation of aqua vite throughout the records, looking at their connections, where they lived, their professions and how all of this might be intertwined with the early development of Scotch whisky."

She added: "This could significantly change our understanding of the origins of our national drink."

Image copyright University of Aberdeen
Image caption The find was made in Aberdeen burgh records

Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "This is an exciting discovery which adds to our understanding of the history of Scotch whisky distillation.

"The work that the University of Aberdeen has done to uncover new information about the origins of the industry is particularly timely given the surge in Scotch whisky distilling in recent years.

"All new distillers learn their craft from the past, and so ensure that the heritage and traditions of the industry are taken forward into the future."

'Incredible find'

City archivist Phil Astley added: "This incredible find illustrates what an amazing resource the Unesco-recognised Aberdeen burgh registers are for the study of Scottish urban history."

The team has been awarded £15,000 in funding from Chivas Brothers to carry on the still research.

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