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1909 Royal Commission – A Little Known Detail. By Gordon Dallas

Posted on 30 Jul 2020 by Glengoyne Distillery

"What is whisky?" might seem like a philosophical question now, but at the beginning of the 20th century, it was a red hot topic of debate with pot still purists on one side and blenders, who used grain whisky mixed with pot still whisky, on the other.
 
I read in some detail about this Royal Commission and how it came about, but there is a fact I unearthed which did surprise me! Before I get to that, it all started with a court case in Islington, North London, where some spirit merchants were taken to court by the borough council. The quality of their Scotch was being questioned. If it did not taste "very good", they doubted it was whisky!
 
The case led to the magistrate ruling that a blend of grain whisky and pot still whisky could not be legally called whisky, something the Irish distillers had been lobbying for since 1879.
 
The Scots who were heavily involved in blending were not going to let this one go. This ruling could be the thin end of the wedge, so they sent down squads of lawyers and a Royal Commission was convened to establish once and for all "What Is Whisky?"
 
I was unaware that Custom and Excise Officer, Arthur John Tedder, who worked at Glengoyne from 1889 was the very first expert witness to be called on March 2nd 1908 to the 'Royal Commission On Whiskey And Other Potable Spirits' – note the spelling of whisky! 
 
At the top of the page, you'll see a copy of the facsimile of the actual transcript that I found in the Glengoyne archives. If you look closely, you will note it is the first day that Mr Arthur John Tedder is called to give his expert testimony. It's a small detail, but it demonstrates how important Excise Officer Tedder was in the eyes of those who put together this Royal Commission. 
 
Custom and Excise Officer Tedder left Glengoyne It was in 1893 to become the Chief Inspector of Excise for the United Kingdom. His family are quite synonymous with our distillery; his son was born at Glengoyne who went on the become the Air Marshall of the RAF.
 
The Scots won the day, and a lot of the credit for this victory was laid at the door of Arthur John Tedder. He was later knighted for his contribution to this commission which finally rested in 1909 with a legal definition of what whisky was! 
 
Namely, that whisky has to be made in Scotland, matured in wooden casks and could be a blend of grain and malt whisky. Ageing and oak would come later!
 
Now let me leave you with a topic for debate. If Tedder had worked as a Custom and Excise Officer in Ireland, would this Royal Commission's decision have gone the other way? The fact he spent almost four years at Glengoyne, with his son born there, may have contributed and influenced his support for Scotch. Our industry might have gone Ireland's way and almost disappeared for the best part of 100 years. It certainly is a topic for deliberating, best done with a Glengoyne in hand!