According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch whisky evolved from a Scottish drink called uisge beatha, which means "lively water" or "water of life". The earliest documented record of distillation in Scotland occurred as long ago as 1494, as documented in the Exchequer Rolls, which were tax records of this time, The quote above records "Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae". This was equivalent to about 1,500 bottles, which suggests that distillation was well-established by the late fifteenth century.
Whisky production was first taxed in 1644, causing a rise in illicit whisky distilling in the country. Around 1780, there were about eight 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 to increase 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, the Phylloxera bug destroyed wine and cognac production in France in 1880.