Scotch-Irish-L Archives

Archiver > Scotch-Irish > 1998-02 > 0886389718

From: Bonnie M Fountain< >
Subject: Re: Scots Pot Stills?
Date: Sun, 01 Feb 1998 22:21:58 EST

On Sun, 1 Feb 1998 16:03:33 -0500 Colleen Eagan <>


>All the talk about toddies and whiskey, Blue Label or no, rang my bell
>the item in the inventories of my ancestor's estates: the pot still,
>aka in
>the records as steels. Historians and/or journalists referred to the
>Scotch-Irish or those moving from hill to hill "carrying their pot
>wherever they went." I could not find any definitve description of
>the "pot
>still," how big it was, how the drink was mixed, what was used, how
>much it
>would make, what the pot was made of (wood, metal)?
>Are they still used anywhere or has it gone the way of the piggin? My
>great grandfather, John MCCONNELL, was a cooper, so I can throw words
>piggin out there. <;-)
>Thanks for listening,
>Colleen McConnell Eagan
>Gainesville, FL
Hi Colleen,

You sound like you might be interested in carrying on the fam'ly
tradition??? Do you suppose cooper was in some cases the polite term for
moonshiner? I'm Interested in hearing about the inventories of estates
you found. In the US? Was there a listed value? Too bad you didn't
inherit one of those pots!

While I can't find an exact recipe, I was able to dig this much out for

Daiches in 'A Companion to Scottish Culture,' 1981, says:

Whisky: The traditional spirit of Scotland is distilled from malted
barley in a pear-shaped copper still known as a pot still. This Pot
Still Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is unique to Scotland. Its requisites
are barley, peat and water, all of which were readily available
especially in the northeast of the country, where there are still large
numbers of distilleries, even though today much of the barley used is
likely to be imported. Distilling was the natural part of the rhythm of
life and work of a rural population, being carried on between October and

The first stage in the process is the soaking of the barley in water so
as to let it germinate, before it is dried by the application of heat to
produce malt. The malt is then dried in a kiln with a floor of
perforated iron or wire mesh beneath which is a ventilator which draws up
the hot air from the fire through the malt. The dried malt is then
ground and put into a 'mash tun' where it is extracted with hot water to
produce a liquid called 'wort.' ..................... [and more
paragraphs of the same technical jargon]

The earliest record of a spirit being distilled from barley in Scotland
dates from the late fifteenth century, but it must have been going on
from a much earlier period. By the 18th century it was a widespread
activity that was attracting the attention of tax-hungry governments.
Changing patterns of taxation, all opposed by the small local distillers,
were directed at altering the distilling process from a cottage industry
prosecuted on a small scale in numerous small localities to larger, more
centralized and thus more easily controlled distilleries. After many
unsuccessful attempts at legislation, most of which merely increased the
number of illicit stills, an Act was passed in 1823 which brought many
illicit stills into the open and laid the foundation of the flourishing
large-scale Scotch whisky industry.

In Brander's 'The Making of the Highlands,' there is a picture of
contemporary "gleaming copper pot stills." But these are giant
containers that appear to be about triple the height of a man.

If the Scots are like their hillbilly descendants in the hills o'
Tennessee, I bet there's still plenty of those pots being hustled from
brae to brae out o' sight o' the law. Maybe I'll check it out for you
when I look for the BEAN's haggis recipe for Linda in a couple of weeks.

Bonnie M. Fountain

You don't need to buy Internet access to use free Internet e-mail.
Get completely free e-mail from Juno at
Or call Juno at (800) 654-JUNO [654-5866]

This thread: