LOVINGLY distilled behind whitewashed walls from the west coast islands, maturing in casks piled high from Speyside down to the Borders, whisky could surely only be “Scotch”.

However, in a declaration that’s enough to make you want to pour a very stiff drink – a dram, preferably – our national drink has been declared as anything but.

According to the makers of a new film that explores the cultural impact of whisky from its origins to modern times, whisky’s Scottish roots would appear to be ever so slightly Irish.

As if that wasn’t enough to make whisky drinkers choke on their finest malt, there’s even a very strong hint that our best-loved export might just have a slice of English DNA too.

According to Glasgow-based whisky expert Dave Broom, who explores whisky’s heritage in the film The Amber Light, and its producer Adam Park, there is “strong evidence” to suggest whisky may have been first developed in Ireland and brought to Islay, to be drunk at the seat of the High Kings.

There, under the distilling expertise of one particular Irish family, the spirit is thought to have evolved into a tipple bearing at least a passing similarity to today’s whisky.

According to Mr Park, research carried out for the film suggests the Beaton family – Irish physicians who developed a vast international knowledge of botanical remedies – probably hold the key to the earliest forms of what would become the first Scotch whisky.

“The Beatons were pretty amazing people, they travelled the world translating medical scripts and building their knowledge,” he said.

“They came to service of the High Kings and became experts in distilling spirit and added to it the plants and flowers that grew around them.”

The Beatons, whose family name appears as MacMeic-bethad and MacBeth, are thought to have arrived on Islay in the 13th century at the time of the marriage between Aine O’Cathain and Angus Og MacDonald, Lord Of The Isles.

While there is no clear documentation to conclusively link the family to the origins of whisky, there are said to be clear signs their skills were almost certainly involved.

Mr Park added: “It gets murky and there’s not an accepted history of how whisky came about, but the best guess is the Beatons came to Islay when it was the seat of the High Kings who ruled huge parts of Scotland and Ireland.”

However, research for the film led to another twist: the English were probably already creating their own form of a dram at about the same time.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Mr Broom said: “If you look at the north of Ireland and across to Islay, that’s the cradle of distillation… but the first record I found is in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.”

The Beaton family became hereditary physicians to the Scottish crown, serving Robert The Bruce and every subsequent Scottish king, while also providing medical knowledge to clan chiefs from the Western Isles to the Lowlands.

They were known to make use of medicinal plants and traditional therapies at a time when others relied on superstition and myths as often ill-fated cures for illnesses and injuries.

As word spread of their comforting drink, whisky stills spread across Scotland.

Scotch whisky was first recorded on the Exchequer Rolls in 1494 when a friar called John Cor, distiller at Lindores Abbey in Newburgh, Fife, and servant to the court of James IV, was noted to have made “aqua vitae, VIII bolls of malt”.

While the Beaton’s fellow countrymen pursued distilling their own Irish whiskey, Mr Park says Scots’ ingenious methods of circumventing taxes and American prohibition laws – when Scotch was allowed as a “medicinal” product – helped embed whisky as the premium spirit.

Later, shrewd marketing practices with their focus on Highland history and heritage, saw whisky overwhelm its Irish and American cousins and lay foundations for today’s £4.7 billion export market.

The film, which is currently touring cinemas across the country, also explores how whisky has become embedded in Scottish culture yet is constantly evolving to attract new generations of drinkers.

That, he adds, includes cocktails and mixers that shatter whisky’s traditional “gentleman in tweeds” image – such as Lagavulin mixed with Coke, dubbed a Smokey Cokey.

“Like any commercial enterprise, whisky needs to attract new customers,” says Mr Park. “The image of the stuffy old man in a leather armchair in the library having an undiluted single malt is still there, but it’s also not there.”

A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “The earliest known record of Scotch Whisky production dates from the Exchequer Rolls of 1494, but it is likely the ‘Aqua Vitae’ was being produced long before this date.

“It is likely early development of distillation in Scotland and Ireland took place in parallel, ultimately leading to two distinct global industries.”

Details of screenings of The Amber Light can be found at: www.amberlightfilm.com