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Mountain dew




In Dictionaries of the Scots Language, mountain dew appears in the entry for mountain, defined as


“Highland whisky, especially that prepared in an illicit still”.



In Scott’s Old Mortality (1816) it’s unclear whether its sale was legal or not:


“A pleasing ... liquor which was vended ... under the name of mountain dew”.


Ironically, the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture reported in 1828 that:


“It is a curious fact, that until the legal distillation of whisky was prohibited in the Highlands, it was never drunk at gentlemen's tables. ‘Mountain dew’, and such poetic names, are of modern invention, since this liquor became fashionable”.



By the 1800s, the authorities were taking notice. In 1884 they published their cottars’ and crofters’ findings in the Report of H.M. Commissioners of Inquiry:


“They are exposed more or less to temptation when they go to the hills sporting. I suppose some mountain dew will be going there, and I am afraid some of them will come to be a little too fond of it”.



Looking for any more recent evidence, I came across the following from the Northern Times (2021). It’s unclear whether this whisky was legal or not, but it clearly did the trick:


“Hogmanay weather in Dornoch was of the worst description, rain falling continuously and rendering all outdoor movement uncomfortable. The streets and roads about the town were in a dirty state and added nothing to the comfort of those in search of ‘mountain dew’, the [black]bun and shortbread. The New Year was welcomed in with great jubilation”.


This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel.

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