Government reaction against the first moonshine distilleries.
The first measures taken by the authorities were not really efficient. They first forbid the use of small stills (less than 500 gallons for wash stills and less than 100 gallons for spirit stills). hey also sealed the stills, in order to avoid them working without authorisation. The pernicious effect of this laws was that new distilleries had to cease their activities (they nearly all disappeared in no time), but did not affect the greatest one (Ferintosh) at all. Another effect was a new important extension of moonshine distillery.
The number of moonshine distilleries was estimated at about 400, for 8 official ones in 1777 in the city of Edinburgh.
About alcohol drinking in Scotland during the 18th century
The alcohol consumption was very important in those days. Whisky was drunk besides beer and wine. The "normal" consumption was about one dram (1/3 pint) at 60% a day.
The technical progresses made it possible to produce quite better alcohol. This enabled to drink whisky on its own, and not as earlier, just in cordials (with aromatic herbs and sugar added, to hide the bad taste of the whisky at that time) or in punch.
Production increase and illegal distillation
For some unclear reasons, a significant increase of the production of official whisky happened in 1777, going from 70.000 gallons a year to 190.000 in 1779. One of the reasons was that the new distilleries continued producing whisky partly with non malted barley (cheaper because of the taxes), to be able to fight against the home production.
Protectionist measures have also been taken against foreign alcohols (brandy and wine) to protect the local agriculture.
At the same period, the government entirely forbid the production of home made whisky, authorising the excise agents to seize or destroy all the private stills all over Scotland. This was the beginning of the war against moonshine distillers.
This new measures have been preceded two years earlier by severe restrictions on the size of authorized home stills, which were no more allowed to exceed a capacity of 2 gallons (against 10 previously).
The major reason for the government to prohibit the private stills was the need to finance the war against the American colonies. A bonus was even paid to anybody who made it possible for the excise agents to find an illegal still. This money was usually reinvested in a new still... This was another governmental measure proving its inefficiency in the fight against moonshine distilling.