So called because the smell of peat clung permanently to their clothes, the “peatreekers” were the brave rogues and renegades who defied Royal decree in 18th century Scotland to produce illegal whisky.
Riots, anger and Islay
Back then producing illegal, untaxed, whisky was a way of life. Many in the local community were involved in smuggling the whisky from the hidden bothies, forests, and caves where the liquid was distilled, to its final destination. But their way of life was to be changed forever…
The introduction of the 1725 Malt Tax caused widespread anger and riots throughout Scotland. So much so that the lavish property of MP Daniel Campbell, who voted for the tax, was ransacked and looted. In compensation he was given £9,000 with which he later bought the island of Islay — now famed for its whisky production.
Communities band together
Legend has it that local women, working with the peatreekers, would hang certain items of clothing on their washing line as a warning sign when excisemen (government officials responsible for collecting the tax on whisky) were approaching. This was often also a signal for children to run riot around investigating excisemen and create a distraction, giving the peatreekers enough time to hide their stills and disappear.
From concealing their product in coffins supplied for staged funerals, or even inside of church organs, various objects were used to smuggle this illicit Scotch. The peatreekers’ livelihood depended upon successful evasions and dodging the exciseman quickly became a game in itself, a game where many became extremely wealthy and ended up climbing the social ladder, from working class farmers to upper class estate owners.
The challenge for excisemen
Being tasked with ending the war on illicit whisky put excisemen up against the majority of Scotland’s population, making it a near impossible task. Since their income was based entirely on bounties collected for captured peatreekers and their contraband, determined excisemen tried all sorts of tactics, including bribing locals, conjuring complex ambush plans, or even calling upon the service of His Majesty’s Forces.
The Double Standard
Although these excisemen took an oath to uphold the decree, not all of them kept it, and corruption was rife. Whenever corrupt excisemen managed to catch a peatreeker in the act, bottles of contraband were often exchanged in return for turning a blind eye. The choice was simple for a peatreeker—sacrifice a few bottles and keep the majority of the batch, or refuse the excisemen and lose everything.
This was the “Double Standard” which eventually became THE standard as many excisemen worked out that they could profit more from selling the confiscated whisky than by actually doing their job. The population craved illicit whisky, as it wasn’t watered down like the legal, commonly known as Parliament, whisky. It was a simple choice for the excisemen.
The First Batch
As our first release, the Double Standard is a nod to these excisemen who chose to turn a blind eye and unwittingly helped the whisky industry mature into what it is today. We used casks from Islay for Double Standard to capture the essence of the rebel spirit of the 1725 riots, while also giving a wry smile to the fact that Mr Campbell MP (him of Islay fame) was known for his fondness for a dram of illicit whisky (or two or three). Now that truly is a Double Standard…