A surprising new contender for the title of Scotland's oldest whisky distillery has emerged after university researchers poured doubt on claims by several leading distilleries.

Glenturret and Bowmore are among those which claim to be the first distillers of Scotland's most famous drink.

However, research into the historical validity of the claims by academics at the Scottish Brewing Archive at Glasgow University has prompted calls for further proof to be provided by the distilleries. It also uncovered evidence that Glen Garioch - not previously included as one of the oldest distilleries - may, in fact, be the first.

Iain Russell, an archivist at the university, said: "Glenturret and Bowmore both claim to be the oldest whisky distillery in Scotland, Glenturret claiming to be founded in 1775 and Bowmore in 1779.

"However, Excise records suggest that Bowmore was not founded until 1816 and Glenturret followed almost two years later, long after distilleries such as Ardbeg, Oban and Blair Athol.

"While Strathisla appears to have the strongest case out of the current claimants, we have discovered a strong contender in another distillery that was unaware of how far back its history goes.

"A report in the Aberdeen Journal from 1785 refers to the sale of spirits at the Meldrum distillery which we believe is almost certainly the former name of the Glen Garioch distillery. The owners previously believed the distillery was not founded until 1797."

He added: "It is still too early to say for sure that we have found Scotland's earliest distillery as whisky companies themselves may have more evidence to prove their antiquity.

"However, the challenge to establish the facts once and for all has been made to the distillers. To be crowned the oldest distillery in Scotland is a rich reward indeed."

Campbell Evans, director of government and consumer affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association, said of the research: "Scotch whisky distilleries lie at the heart of communities across Scotland.

"Investigating the establishment of distilleries is not just to delve into the colourful history of Scotch, but into the economic development of Scotland as a whole."