In the early 19th century the duty on whisky in Scotland was lower than in England, usually by about four shillings a gallon. If legal Scottish whisky was purchased just north of the border and quietly taken south for sale, this four shillings was pure profit. Even though this traffic meant additional business in Scotland, not everyone there welcomed it, church ministers not liking the type of people involved.
Government figures show that over 50 excise officers (known as gaugers) were employed along the border, all of whom were on a bonus scheme linked to what they could seize.
The other form of illegal activity involved illicit distillation to avoid paying tax altogether. Remains of a few stills can still be found along the Border Roads. At least one of them was operated by the well-known Black Rory; there is no evidence that such a person actually existed and it may be that he was a figure invented by the real distillers as a cover for their own activities.
In general, a still consists of a remote building near a water supply with a kiln at one end and a floor for malting. This process involved soaking grain, and then laying it out on the floor and turning it regularly for a number of days to dry it. This green malt, as it was known, was then further dried in the kiln to develop the desired colour before being mixed with how water for fermentation. The final step, prior to drinking, was the distillation itself.