This is a book by Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell, compiled and edited by Marc Ellington, published by Birlinn.

Daniel explores the history of the illicit distilling and smuggling of whisky in Scotland from the 18th century onwards, with tales of whisky gangs, the involvement of women and girls in the trade, and the unusual methods taken to evade the authorities. One of the very few novels written about smuggling during its heyday was Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering (1815), whose Solway free traders were kidnappers as well as murderers. Indeed, right down to Graham Greene’s The Man Within in 1929, British fiction about smugglers tended to paint them as violent to a degree almost unknown in the historical record, and to feature grim litanies of murder and execution.  In truth, deaths of Georgian era smugglers caught red handed on Scotland’s shores were rare ‒ and in the case of one fellow who was actually killed by the Excise near Slains, Aberdeenshire, in 1798, the officers were tried for murder. Scotland’s Secret History: The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky, in a sense, despite being set in modern times, Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 novel Whisky Galore – and the immensely popular Ealing film version shot by Alexander MacKendrick on Barra in 1948 – painted a more accurate picture of Georgian smuggling than the great majority of stories written or set in that era.

Smugglers versus the law. There was no resident excise man in the whole Isle of Islay in 1791, raising the possibility that the iconic locales of the whisky industry, then and since, were shaped as much by patterns of enforcement – and the lack thereof – as by water quality, transport infrastructure, availability of cereal crops and so forth.  Outnumbered by three to one (or worse) in typical encounters, the authorities’ armament was also often of a lesser order: with Customs officers literally bringing knives to a gunfight in some cases. Scotland’s whisky gangs – far from having sprung into existence suddenly – were legatees of old established criminal networks.  Stretching back through the Civil War era and beyond, these had profitably fused subversive anti Campbell, Royalist (latterly, Jacobite), and pro French political activity with the clandestine importation of French brandy (National Records of Scotland).  Women and girls within the smuggling trade. It is perhaps the old established family or community nature of Scottish smuggling that accounts for one of its’ most distinctive features, vis-à-vis its English and Manx counterparts: the apparently much greater direct involvement of women and girls – whisky had to be smuggled from the interior to the coast by unarmed men and women in broad daylight and in plain sight of the authorities.  Such expeditions became the site of the real Whisky Galore-ish ingenuity: with women wearing two-gallon ‘belly canteens’ made of sheet iron, simulating pregnancy bumps; phoney funeral processions convened simply to move whisky from point A to point B in the coffins or hearses and bottles concealed in the heavy black knapsacks of pseudo soldiers, and even in un plucked dead geese.

In this book Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell give a fascinating insight into the day to day struggles that led to the increase in illicit distilling from the mid 1600s, then to its’ eventual demise in the early twentieth century. The Cabrach, a wild and sparsely populated part of Aberdeenshire, became renowned for its’ production of illicit whisky. Local inhabitants mixed farming and distilling with great skill, creating a network of stills and distribution to evade customs. Using new research first hand historical accounts and official records, the authors show how spirits from this small parish were made and travelled far and wide, across the border to England and across the North Sea to France, firing up revolution and lending solidarity to the struggles of the Jacobites. Features: Making Whisky (Dennis McBain), The Jacobite Legacy (Murray Pittock), The Bard and the Bottle (David Purdie), The Dram In Folklore (Tom McKean), A Smuggler’s Paradise (David Ferguson); Banff – The Smuggler’s Royal Burgh (Jay Wilson), Scotland’s Lost Distilleries (Brian Townsend).

Daniel MacCannell, a graduate of Aberdeen University and UCLA Film School, is a widely published non fiction writer. He is the author of How To Read Scottish Buildings and Oxford: Mapping the City. Charles MacLean is a world authority on whisky and has written over 35 books on the subject, including the bestselling Whiskypedia. In 2009 he was elected Keeper of the Quaich, the whisky industry’s highest accolade.

Publisher : Birlinn; None edition (March 1, 2018). Paperback : 160 pages. ISBN-10 : 1780273037. ISBN-13 : 978-1780273037