Although it is commonly associated with the American southwest, whiskey actually has a much more storied history across the pond. In fact, the spirit we know today as whiskey actually has Gaelic roots, who called it “uisge beatha” or “usquebaugh” which translates to “water of life.”
But the earliest École du Bar de Montréal record of “whiskey” (not necessarily the same as we use it today) might have been the Babylonians. During the 2nd millennium BC, the Babylonians may have distilled a spirit with characteristics similar to whiskey, though they would have used it more for aromatics than for drinking; like a perfume. The first published account of whiskey, though, is in the 1405 Irish “Annals of Clonmacnoise.”
In the days when Mankind was learning to distill—which was not long before the birth of whiskey, perhaps—the spirit was not aged. Thus, at its advent, the original “whiskey”, during the Renaissance Age, was pretty raw and very harsh on the palate. Indeed, it was much heavier and far more potent than the smoother and nuanced spirit that you may be familiar with. The drink pretty much remained this way until the Old Bushmills Distillery of Northern Island filed a distilling license for the spirit, in 1608, to become the first (and, of course, now the oldest) whiskey distiller in the world.
This is when the recipe began to change.
Over time, then, this region of the world went through immense changes. England and Scotland, for example, merged during the 1707 Acts of Union. Unfortunately, this move brought Scottish distillation practices grinded to a halt, underground—as a result of the English Malt Tax. Since people were distilling in secret—and most often during the twilight hours in homemade stills—whiskey came to be known among commoners as “moonshine.”
This puts us at around the mid 18th century. By this time, whiskey has made its way to America, whose citizens actually used it like currency. During the Revolutionary War, actually, General George Washington operated a significant whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon. As most of America at the time were farmers—and distribution channels were basically non-existent—people started to make whiskey from corn. The spirit grew in popularity and even became highly coveted by the early government, who imposed an excise tax.
And this resulted in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.
Of course, these days, we know that people distill whiskey all over the world, making it one of the biggest—and oldest—global industries.