Scotch whisky is very characteristic, and the taste of it is rather different from one distillery to the other one. For those reasons, the selling of whisky has been confined to Scotland for many years. People outside Scotland were not really interested by this beverages. To be successful on international markets, to major problems had to be solved:
the taste of whisky is very different from one distillery to the other
French Cognac represented a big concurrence
Blended whiskywas a solution for the first problem. The principle is a clever proportioning of malts from several distilleries and grain whisky. Grain whisky was made possible by the invention of the Coffey Still.
The solution to the second problem was found in the major ecologic catastrophe which affected the French vineyards during the second half of the 19th century and destroyed nearly all the vines on the French territory, including the ones used in production of Cognac.
Phylloxera is a microscopic insect living form the sap of vine. This insect arrived from America, and wiped the French vineyards off the map in a few years time. Only the grafting technique could save France from this major catastrophe. The redding technique consisted of grafting French vines on american stocks. The american stocks were insensible for phylloxera. The european vineyards resumed slowly thanks to this technique. But the production of Cognac was reduced to the meanest share.
So water-of-life lovers had to turn towards whisky. But, unlike Cognac (which is in most cases sold as a blend) single malt was still very different according to the producing distillery or region. Standardisation of the taste was then the major challenge for whisky producers, who wanted to take this unique opportunity to sell their product worldwide.
An Irish invention solved that problem.
The Coffey Still
Aeneas Coffey invented a new kind of still, making continuous distilling of grain alcohol a reality. This still is called "Coffey still" or "Patent still". In opposition to the traditional "pot still", is was not made for distilling malted barley.
Aeneas Coffey was an Irish man born in Dublin in 1780. This could rekindle the controversy about the origin of whisky. Both nations fight over the paternity of whisky since ages.
His invention, patented in Ireland in 1830, and still considered as a major contribution of Ireland in the world of innovation, consists of a kind of "warmth exchanger made of two columns called respectively the "analyzer" and the "rectifier".
The functioning of this kind of stills is rather complex.
Unlike malt whisky, grain whisky is distilled in a continuous operation. The invention of the "Patent Still" made distillation of grain and corn possible. Corn is the basic ingredient of american whisky, also known under the name of "bourbon". The way to standardisation of scotch whisky was open.
This made it possible for the scotch industry to put on the market a product able to compete with the French cognac which was in a very bad situation due to the catastrophe of the phylloxera. Blended whisky quickly ousted single malt till recently.
Lots of distilleries exclusively produced whisky for blenders. Some of them were build especially for that purpose.