Whisky Smuggling


Whisky Smuggling

Despite its criminal aspect, whisky smuggling was seen as an honourable career in the late 18th and early 19th century. These smugglers had to be sly and creative in order to produce a small income and provide for the ever thirsty enthusiasts.

Many of the Scots living in these regions were crofters with very little money. Whisky became a form of payment used to pay tinkers for clothing and sold to land owners to pay rent. It became big business, employing many and involving most of the people in the area in some way. As incomes rose, people flocked to the border villages to be a part of it. City dwellers also took to this black market very quickly.

Authorities tried to get rid of illegal distilleries which only resulted in a better quality of Highland whisky and the smugglers quickly learned to better cover their tracks. They used small stills that could be taken apart quickly and sunk into the lochs to avoid detection. These stills produced a heavier whisky with more flavor than the lighter products from Lowland stills. People quickly took a liking to the new whisky.

Stills were built in caves and hillsides for concealment. They used long tunnels to distract authorities into thinking the source of the escaping still fire smoke was far away from the actual source. One area even introduced a warning system. If a tax collector was seen approaching, the people would hang their washing on the line as a signal. However, this system was not failproof, as some distillers were caught on Mondays, which were regular washing days. Occasionally, sly smugglers would tip off authorities to an old abandoned still to collect a recovery reward, using it to purchase copper for their own still.

This was not an easy or safe job. Rewards for turning in smugglers and stills increased and penalties rose. Smugglers began traveling in packs and carrying weapons. George Smith's Glenlivet whisky was the most sought after, forcing him to sleep with 2 guns for protection.

You can still travel many of the old smuggling trails today. Some companies, like the Glenlivet distillery, offer tours giving visitors the chance to explore the history of the smugglers.

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