The history of whisky

The water of life

The history of whisky goes back hundreds of years. The practice of distilling alcohol made its way to Europe in the 12th century, but the earliest written evidence of distillation in Scotland is from the 15th century. Records show an order from the king in 1494 for enough malt to make 500 bottles of aqua vitae, Latin for 'the water of life'.

The same name in Scottish Gaelic is uisge beatha. 'Uisge' was mispronounced time and time again, and eventually became 'whisky'.

Sun shining down on a mountain range

The earliest whisky was fairly bracing stuff, distilled almost exclusively by monks. It was never left to mature and mainly seen as a medicine to treat everything from pox to palsy.

Then along came Henry VIII, who dissolved the monasteries and turned out the monks. Whisky production made its way into the homes of regular Scots, who refined the process over time and discovered whisky could be enjoyable in its own right.

Whisky barrel surrounded by fog

Fast forward to the early 19th century and a dram of whisky was a staple of life. The trouble was, these whiskies tasted different every time.

For one young man named John Walker – the owner of a grocer's in Kilmarnock – this inconsistency wasn't good enough. He wanted his customers to enjoy the same quality and flavor time after time. So he started to blend them together until he created a whisky he was happy to put his name to. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Black and white photo of men creating whisky
Keep Walking Man
Those pioneering
whisky blends
have led us
to the iconic
range of
Keep Walking Man
Visit the
Johnnie Walker flagship
in Edinburgh
and discover
our whisky
making story