While in New Hampshire this past weekend, we thought it might be nice to visit some local wineries. New Hampshire’s wine industry is in its infancy, with the oldest vineyard, Jewell Towne Vineyard of South Hampton, opening in 1994. Although there were two previous to Jewell Towne, they’ve since ceased operations.
Our day out took us to the Haunting Whispers winery in Danbury. As we drove up along the winding, tree-lined, immaculately manicured road, we were unsure about what we were going to discover. But there at the top of the hill was a large impressive home with imposing stone fireplace looking out over a magnificent vista. The vineyard was at the bottom of the grassy knoll enclosed in a Jurassic Park-like wire fence, laid out in perfectly aligned rows, with young trellised vines just starting to show their fruit.
Our host was very gracious and took us on a detailed tour of the winery, from the fermentation room to the bottling area. But what was most interesting, after touring the wine-making process, was being escorted into the distillery. Distillery? This, it seemed to us, was where his passion lie …. making whisky!
This visit brought us right back to our tour of the whisky distilleries in Scotland and how magnificent those distilleries were. There are approximately 10 different, organized whisky trail tours in Scotland, with over 50 distilleries. Because we were in the Aberdeen area at the time, we took a self-drive tour of the distilleries in that region. From Strathisla, established in 1786 to Glen Moray established in 1897, each distillery was unique in its approach to providing an impressive atmosphere where you could walk through the historic buildings and watch the intrinsic processes of malting, milling, mashing, and distillation of the barley. From there you proceed to the barrel storage cellars and then to the tasting rooms where an informative presentation is made and where you would be schooled in the art of tasting whisky, each with its distinctive taste, texture, color and smell.
The word “whisky” evolved from the Gaelic “uisge beatha” meaning “aqua vitae” or the “water of life”. According to Wikepedia, the ‘art of distillation’ began in Ireland but was not recorded until the 12th century in Scotland. Some historians believe that the ‘Heather Ale’ drink could have been brewed since 2000 B.C. In the 12th century, however, whisky was being produced in Scotland, in monasteries by monks for the relief of colic, palsy and even smallpox. It’s amazing how beverages, such as tea, coffee, and whisky, were introduced to us for their beneficial and medicinal qualities. The practice of distilling grains solely for medical purposes eventually became a beverage to be enjoyed by the aristocracy. In 1494 James IV, King of Scotland, so enjoyed this “water of life” he ordered approximately 500 bottles “To Friar John Cor, by order of the king, to make aquavitae“.
With the cold raw winters in Great Britain, it doesn’t surprise me that whisky became very popular very quickly. And when in 1536 King Henry VIII, self-proclaimed Supreme Head of the Church of England, forced the closure of the monasteries, monks had nowhere to go and needed to find a way to earn money. That was when whisky production moved into the farms and homes. With the merging of England and Scotland in “The Act of Union” in 1707, taxes were applied to this now very popular beverage. This is when the government, realizing the potential for additional taxation, introduced the English Malt Tax, forcing most of the distilleries underground, where they remained for the next 150 years.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand
And may his great prosperity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!
By definition, we are not ‘whisky drinkers’ (although we do enjoy a wee dram now and then), we did, however, come away with a new appreciation for this beverage and the dedication of the men and women who have been working in this industry for over 300 years. With its breathtaking landscape, warm and generous people, should you get the opportunity to visit Scotland this summer, or any time, you MUST make the Scottish Whisky Tour part of your journey.
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References: Scotch Whisky Association, Wikipedia.org, Biography.com, Visit Scotland