It may sound odd that at one time the Scottish drink of choice was not whisky (considered crude and provincial) or beer, but claret (Bordeaux Wine). Plentiful supplies of Bordeaux wine were the legacy of Scotland’s medieval ties to France, “the auld alliance,” and every Scottish gentlemen was a connoisseur, with his own preferred vintages and his private cellar. After 1707, as the English taste for port or sherry began to seep northwards, continuing to drink claret became almost a patriotic act. John Home even composed a short verse about it:
Clear-eyed and proud the noble Caledonian stood,
His claret old and his mutton good.
“Let him drink port,” the Saxon cried,
He drank the poison, and the spirit died.
A gentleman or writer would be routinely identified as a “two-” or “three-bottle man,” depending on how much claret he consumed at a meal or single sitting.
Scottish distilling began during the 11th century in Christian monastaries. The first written mention of Scotch whisky is in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1495. A friar named John Cor was the distiller at Lindores Abbey in the Kingdom of Fife. The first taxes on whisky production were imposed in 1644, causing a rise in illicit whisky distilling in the country. Around 1780, there were about 8 legal distilleries and 400 illegal ones. In 1823, Parliament eased restrictions on licensed distilleries with the “Excise Act”, while at the same time making it harder for the illegal stills to operate, thereby ushering in the modern era of Scotch production. Two events helped the increase of whisky’s popularity: first, a new production process was introduced in 1831 called Coffey or Patent Still. The whisky produced with this process was less intense and smoother.
Second, Phylloxera destroyed wine (and cognac) production in France in 1880. Within a few years, wine and brandy had virtually disappeared from cellars everywhere. The Scots were quick to take advantage of the calamity, and by the time the French industry recovered, whisky had replaced wine as the preferred spirit of choice.
It was during the 19th Century that the tipple began to switch from wine to whisky! So, you don’t need to feel to tied to whisky for a “traditional” Scottish meal, unless it’s Burns Night when whisky is the natural tipple due to the connection to Burns, who said that “Freedom and Whisky Gang Thegither”.
There are indeed Scottish wines as well. I am not sure how good they are or their availability!