The distillation process was still in its infancy; whisky itself was not allowed to age, and as a result tasted very raw and brutal compared to today’s versions. Renaissance-era whisky was also very potent and not diluted. Over time whisky evolved into a much smoother drink. With a license to distill Irish whiskey from 1608, the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland is the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. In 1707, the Acts of Union merged England and Scotland, and thereafter taxes on it rose dramatically. A man pours some whisky into a flask in this 1869 oil painting by Scottish artist Erskine Nicol. After the English Malt Tax of 1725, most of Scotland’s distillation was either shut down or forced underground. Scotch whisky was hidden under altars, in coffins, and in any available space to avoid the governmental excisemen or revenuers. Scottish distillers, operating out of homemade stills, took to distilling whisky at night when the darkness hid the smoke from the stills. For this reason, the drink became known as moonshine. At one point, it was estimated that over half of Scotland’s whisky output was illegal.
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