The origins of Scotch whisky may lie in 16th Century Aberdeen, according to a group of researchers.
Historians from Aberdeen University have uncovered the earliest-ever reference to a still for distilling the spirit in the city’s UNESCO-recognised Burgh Records, suggesting it may have originated in the city.
The reference was unearthed by research fellow Dr Claire Hawes as she pored through 1.5 million words in Aberdeen’s municipal registers in order to make them available online.
The record dates back to 1505 and refers to an inquest into the inheritance from the death of Sir Andrew Gray, a chantry chaplain at the parish church of St Nicholas.
He passed away in December 1504 and it is believed he used the still throughout his life.
Dr Jackson Armstrong, who led the project to transcribe the Burgh Records, believes the discovery will help form a more detailed picture of the early history of Scotch whisky.
He said: “This is significant in terms of being able to place the apparatus involved the production of whisky in Aberdeen in the period from 1504, and possibly much earlier.
“Most existing references to the distillation are linked to the king, but this is interesting because it is placing it in an urban context.
“It helps us put Aberdeen’s rich and continuous archives into the context of a specific story. This is going to let us trace the stories of the people linked to the first reference of the still.
“The royal references are really limited but these will allow us to build up the story with the surrounding context. It’s going to let us put names and individual people to the story of this still.”
The record also includes suggestions about where the still may have been located – with the spot believed to be on a street already associated with whisky.
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Dr Armstrong added: “Andrew Gray had property in a street known as Guestrow.
“Today just a small section of Guestrow remains and it is home to the appropriately named ‘Illicit Still’ pub.
“The name recalls a later age when whisky was crafted for sale undetected by the taxman, but it is possible that its location has a connection to the history of Scotch going back much further.
“This is a very significant find in the history of our national drink. It reframes the story of Scotch whisky and suggests new layers of complexity in Scotland’s urban history.”
Dr Hawes said: “All references to aquavite or whisky from this period are significant because its early development is largely unrecorded.
“This could significantly change our understanding of the origins of our national drink.”
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 detailed picture of late-medieval society that emerges from these records is one of a developing social structure increasingly influenced by the cultural, scientific and educational forces of the Renaissance period.”
Researchers have now been awarded £15,000 by Chivas Brothers to fund research into the still.
Head of heritage and education Alex Robertson said: “This is a truly significant and exciting discovery for Scotch whisky.
“Given Chivas Brothers’ historical ties with Aberdeen, we did not hesitate to lend our support to the furtherance of this important research.”