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Medieval Scottish abbey reveals what may be the oldest whisky still


Sobolevnrm | CC BY-SA 2.0

J-P Mauro - published on 12/04/18

Scotland yields yet another archaeological find in 2018.

Archaeologists studying the site of Lindores Abbey, in Fife, have unearthed one of the world’s oldest whisky stills. Diligent excavation revealed a structure they identified to be a medieval kiln, which contained residue consistent with brewing and distilling processes of the time.

Lindores Abbey was founded in 1191 on land gifted to David, Earl of Huntingdon, by his brother brother of William the Lion. Records show that the abbey was known for its distilling, and a 1494 commission from from King James IV for “eight bols of malt” or 580 kg of aquavitae (the medieval term for whisky) suggests that they were well known for their brewing craft.

The abbey continued to produce Scotch whisky (note: it’s spelled without the e, in contrast to Irish or Canadian whiskey) until it was sacked in 1543 by a mob from Dundee. The monks were able to bounce back from this attack, but their time was nearing an end. Then, in 1559, John Knox and his supporters sacked it again.

The second attack left the Abbey in dire straits and in the following years it was quarried as a source of building stone for Newburgh. A modern distillery, named for the abbey, still stands near the site.

Lindores Abbey Distillery Founder and Managing Director Drew McKenzie Smith, commented on the discovery in a statement:

“It is hard to overestimate the potential significance of this discovery. Many signs point towards this being one of the earliest stills ever discovered, and this is almost certainly the site referenced in the Exchequer Rolls of 1494 that include the first ever written record of aqua vitae or whisky, as we know it today.” He added, “Lindores Abbey has long been considered the spiritual home of Scotch whisky, and this discovery underlines the historical importance of this site.”

2018 has been a busy year for Scottish archaeology, which has noted the discovery of an ancient Pictish stone anvil and a horde of Roman silver, discovered by a teenager. Last year, a lost early medieval kingdom was excavated by a team of archaeologists and volunteers.

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