Ancient Scotch and Real Deal Experts

By / Magazine / December 21st, 2008 / Like

I always thought that Scotch whisky was an ancient tipple. If I’m right, how come so many of my favourite distilleries claim to have been established only in the mid-to-late 1800s?

It depends on your definition of both ancient and Scotch. I’m no spring chicken, but anything coming on line in the middle of the nineteenth century seems pretty darn ancient to me. Now, before you get your Braveheart face on and start rallying the troops for battle, let me say that I do get your point. Surely the Scots were mixing up a little moonshine to ward off the cold winters (not to mention the oh-so-warm summers) of their not-so-forgiving home and native land well before the date shown on the labels at your local booze shop.

They were — some claim whisky came to Scotland from Ireland back in the fifth century, and many were having a gay old time selling it to their friends and relatives. Problem is (and here comes the government-conspiracy part, Agent Mulder), anything that makes life more tolerable is worth taxing.

Back around 1644, the rulers of the day decide that there be moolah in them thar stills, so they slapped a fee on every drop produced. That sent most do-it-yourselfers underground where they plied their trade to an eager consumer base disinterested in paying one red penny extra to king and country.

It’s said that illegal stills got so out of hand that, by the early 1800s, half the Scotch in Scotland was being enjoyed tax-free. By 1823, the Excise Act was signed into law, legalizing the distilling of whisky in Scotland with only a nominal charge being levied against those licensed.

Are you getting a whiff of my drift? While the water of life may have been around prior to the 1800s, it’s no coincidence that the origins of most of today’s distilleries date back to the time when black-market whisky makers were able to sell their wares on the right side of the law. 

All the wine “experts” I know have a different story about why there is an indent in the bottom of most wine bottles. What’s the real deal?

The reasoning behind your indent — officially called punt by the way — is a mystery worthy of its own CSI episode. (The New York team could investigate; they have the best wine shops). But as you may have noticed, everybody and their Internet-blogging mother has an opinion on why glass makers found the necessity to include one on the butt end of every bottle.

Here’s the funny thing; almost every one of these weird and wonderful hypotheses makes at least a little bit of sense.

The most logical draw a line from old-school glass blowers to either structural integrity (a bigger punt equalling a stronger bottle — especially in Champagne where a bubbly needs all the support it can get) — or stationary integrity (back in the day, a flat bottom could be a rocky bottom if the surface wasn’t perfect).

Then there’s the storing and serving theories. Presumably the punt allows winemakers to link bottles together cork to bottom, allowing for more secure cellaring. Others claim it was created for the benefit of wine waiters who use it to pretty up their pouring technique by slipping their thumb inside when gripping the bottle. While it may offer the opportunity for some fancy schmancy table service, the varying sizes of punts actually makes it the least plausible reason for their existence.

While I have no doubt that the structural claims began the trend, I think consumers (whether it be 1888 or 2008) see the indent as a sign of quality, so they to exist as part of a bottle’s design.

You know, the bigger the hole the better the wine — sort of the same way that a heavier bottle seems to suggest the juice inside is top drawer. And if you really believe that, I’ve got a nice piece of swamp land on Nova Scotia’s south shore to sell you.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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