Peasant enterprise
Illicit whisky-making, 1760–1840
in Clanship to crofters’ war
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The rapid expansion of illicit whisky production in the Highlands is a telling illustration of the capacity of peasant society to respond to market opportunity, when it possessed a real if ephemeral competitive advantage over the Lowland economy. The manufacture of illicit whisky took place at a time when demand for the spirit in Scotland was on the increase. The most common form of illicit distillation was household manufacture for family and local consumption, a continuation of a tradition long established before the days of costly licences and heavy duties. Some landed gentlemen invested in the peasant enterprises and so had an obvious economic interest incurtailing the activities of illicit rivals. Both legal and illegal manufacturers were able to exploit the growing demand, but the illicit advantage was dependent ultimately on the development of government revenue legislation.

Clanship to crofters’ war

The social transformation of the Scottish Highlands


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