James Buchanan helped to establish sales of Scotch whisky in England, and died as one of the richest men in Britain. Buchanan’s remains the third highest-selling Scotch whisky brand in the world.
James Buchanan helps to establish Scotch whisky sales in London
James Buchanan (1849 – 1935) was born to Scottish parents in Ontario, Canada.
Buchanan relocated to London, England from 1879 where he worked as a salesman for Charles Mackinlay & Co, a well-known Scotch whisky distributor.
Buchanan struggled to earn sufficient money, and lived in a bedsit and worked 16 hour days. His grit and perseverance ultimately paid off when a friend loaned him the capital to form his own whisky wholesale operation in 1884. He established an office at Bucklersbury in the City of London.
Most whisky sold in London at the time was Irish, but Buchanan created a Scotch blend that could be relied on for its consistency and quality. “The Buchanan blend” was the first Scotch whisky to really appeal to the English palate. W P Lowrie & Co of Glasgow was contracted to produce the product.
Buchanan succeeded due to his efficiency and hard work. He also had the gift of the gab; he was a quick thinker and a great talker. Buchanan was the first person to offer free whisky samples to publicans. He charmed landlords, who he convinced that his whisky offered health benefits.
Buchanan established his reputation when he was awarded a contract to supply the House of Commons with Scotch whisky from 1885. Buchanan was soon marketing the “House of Commons blend” to the general public.
Buchanan won the gold medal for Scotch whisky at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
Parliament took umbrage at Buchanan’s use of its brand in order to sell whisky, and as a result, the Buchanan contract was ended in 1893.
Buchanan acquired the freehold of the Black Swan distillery at Holborn from Sir Alan Young for £90,000 in 1897. The premises became his head office and storage and bottling warehouse.
Buchanan entered into whisky production for himself with the acquisition of the Glentauchers distillery in Glenlivet in 1898.
James Buchanan & Co received Royal Warrants to supply Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales in 1898.
Buchanan had won back the contract to supply Parliament by 1901.
Buchanan’s blend was packaged in a black bottle with a white label. Customers referred to it as the “black and white whisky”, and the product was rebranded as Black & White from 1902.
James Buchanan & Co was registered as a limited company in 1903.
James Buchanan & Co acquired majority control of W P Lowrie & Co in 1906. The purchase included the Convalmore distillery on Speyside.
Buchanan opened the largest bonded warehouse in Britain in Glasgow in 1907.
James Buchanan & Co had acquired the Bankier distillery at Kilsyth by 1908.
James Buchanan & Co held the largest reserves of Scotch whisky in the world by 1913.
All reference to the House of Commons was removed from Buchanan’s branding from 1915.
Merger with John Dewar & Sons; acquisition by Distillers
James Buchanan & Co merged with John Dewar & Sons, a rival Scotch whisky manufacturer, to form Buchanan-Dewar in 1915. The move was a defensive one against rising spirits taxation and increasing raw materials costs. The merged business held the largest reserve of whisky stocks in Scotland, and had a combined capital of £5 million.
James Buchanan was raised to the Peerage as Baron Woolavington from 1922.
Mackie & Co of Glasgow, best known for the White Horse brand, was acquired in 1923.
Domestic sales of Scotch had entered into sharp decline following the First World War following a rise in spirit duties. Buchanan-Dewar was acquired by Distillers Co in 1925.
The Inland Revenue estimated that Buchanan’s annual income amounted to £485,000 a year by 1929, making him the third richest man in Britain.
James Buchanan & Co held over 18 million imperial gallons of aged whiskies in 1931, the largest stock in the world. Black & White was made with a blend of whiskies that had all been aged at least eight years.
Buchanan died in 1935. His gross estate was valued at £7,150,000 and was largely dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.
High demand for Black & White
Black & White had received a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Elizabeth II by 1955.
Black & White was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in the United States by 1961. It also held a strong position in the German market.
British sales of Black & White amounted to 500,000 cases a year by 1967.
James Buchanan & Co was awarded the Queens Award To Industry for export achievement in 1966 and 1967. Its products were sold in 168 countries.
Demand for Black & White outstripped capacity, and a new blending and bottling plant was opened at Stepps, Lanarkshire, outside Glasgow, in 1969.
The Glentauchers distillery was closed in 1985.
Acquisition by Guinness
Distillers was acquired by Guinness to form the third largest drinks business in the world in 1986. The bottling plant at Stepps was closed with the loss of 340 jobs in 1987. The James Buchanan & Co head office at St James’s Square in London was also closed, and administrative operations were centralised at Hammersmith.
South America accounted for nearly one third of Black & White sales by 1996.
Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo.
Buchanan’s is the third highest-selling premium Scotch whisky in the world. Its key markets include the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
Black & White was the sixth highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world in 2021.