The Firkin Founder’s Tale of the first recorded mention of whisky, and the bottle created 500 years later to celebrate that historic event.
Who made the first whisky?
It was a bleak afternoon in Scotland in 1494, so traditional weather even back then. Two years earlier Columbus had failed to actually find America so nobody cared, but here in 1494, in the kingdom of Fife, the ancient seat of the Scottish Kings, King James IV was having a real bad hair day. Again.
King James IV posing for a “Hawkwind” album cover
King James, or Jamie to his high-born mates, was not only rocking a 70’s rock mane but was freezing bloody cold, and worst of all, had run out of his favourite ‘hard liquor”. Actually, James was a great Renaissance King and supported the arts and sciences, but kept a special place in his heart, and liver, for hard liquor. Being a patron in the 1400s meant you had monks on call, so he sent a runner for his most faithful apothecary/brewer, the venerable Friar John Cor.
Friar Cor, monk and the first whisky maker
Friar Cor was a Tironensian monk. His order were famous as master craftsmen who built, and occupied, monasteries across Europe. More importantly, they also indulged an obvious penchant for booze. We have many a monk to thank for such divine inspiration. Friar Cor, of course but also his French counterpart, the one and only Benedictine Abbott Dom Perignon for the genius notion of adding bubbles to wine, clearly a champagne moment.
Meanwhile back at the palace: Friar John has arrived having legged it from the Abbey. He hears the king’s demand, bows deeply and dictates to the royal scribe: “To Brother John Cor, by order of the King, to make aqua vitae VIII bolls of malt”.
The very first whisky
Aqua Vitae translates from Latin as "water of life". So obviously the good stuff.
Have archaeologists discovered Friar Cor’s whisky still at Lindores Abbey?
The order is sent and soon the Abbey at Fife is ringing to the happy sounds of malt being mashed. Now whether James was just happy to get a good supply going, or Friar John had fudged the numbers, everyone was going to be happy. This was due to the simple fact that 8 bolls of malt would actually make up to 800 gallons of whisky. Suffice to say, the parties at the palace would have been a lot of fun. There would’ve been many a Scottish noble pushing to get on the A list to enjoy a fearsome dram or two.
The rest is history and the Scots lay claim to inventing whisky as this was the first written record of “whisky”.
Friar John Cor Quincentenary
Fast forward 500 years to 1994 and it was time to celebrate the quincentenary of Scotch Whisky.
The lairds at the Landmark House, perched on the banks of the river Thames, issued a decree: “Go forth and choose great whiskies to produce a 5-century celebration of Scotch whisky for the good folk at the Scotch Whisky Association and all the great and the good north of the border”.
And so, it fell to your Firkin Founder, Mike Collings to call upon the venerable Jago and then ventured forth to ask the famed artisan Gerry, to create a tribute fitting to the noble Friar. And so, the Friar John Cor Quincentenary bottle was created… another milestone for the Firkin Founder.
Friar John Cor Quincentenary whisky
So, raise your glasses to all those folks who are busy producing old classics or new styles of whisky for us all to enjoy. Here endeth the Firkin Lesson.
Written by Mike Collings, Founder, Firkin Whisky Co. & Nick Venus, Whisky Lover and Raconteur.