Hiram Walker was the largest whisky distillery in Canada. This article traces the history of its British subsidiary, which became the second-largest Scotch whisky producer.
Harry Clifford Hatch (1884 – 1946) sold whisky by mail-order in Montreal. He made a small fortune before the business was ruled illegal in 1921.
Hatch then acquired the Gooderham & Worts distillery of Toronto for $1 million in 1923. He then went on to purchase Hiram Walker & Sons of Ontario, the largest whisky distillery in Canada, for $14 million in 1926.
Hatch merged Hiram Walker & Sons with Gooderham & Worts of Toronto to form Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts, one of the largest whisky distillers in the world, in 1927. Its best known brand was Canadian Club whisky.
At the time Distillers held a virtual monopoly on the production of Scotch whisky. Hatch attempted to merge his business with Distillers. When this fell through, he decided to enter into the Scotch whisky industry for himself.
Hiram Walker acquired a 60 percent stake in James & George Stodart of Glasgow in 1930. The purchase included the Stirling Bonding Company (with the Old Smuggler brand) and George Ballantine & Son.
The Glenburgie and Miltonduff-Glenlivet malt whisky distilleries were acquired in 1936.
Hiram Walker & Sons (Scotland) was registered with a capital of £1 million in 1937. It was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts. Capital was increased to £1.5 million the following year.
Due to a growing export trade, particularly to the United States, Hiram Walker struggled to procure sufficient grain whisky for blending purposes. As a result, the company opened the largest distillery in Europe at Dumbarton in 1938. The £450,000 investment produced three million imperial gallons of whisky each year, mostly grain whisky, from a nine-acre site.
90 percent of Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts sales were to the United States by 1939. Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts was the fourth largest distiller in the world by 1946.
Thomas Scott expands the business
Thomas Scott was general manager and a director of Hiram Walker & Sons (Scotland) by 1949. He introduced a resident flock of geese to act as security guards at the Dumbarton distillery from 1950.
Workers at the Dumbarton distillery in the 1950s
Bloch Brothers (Distillers) of Glasgow was acquired in 1954. The acquisition included two distilleries (Scapa, Orkney and Glen Scotia, Campbeltown) and very large reserves of whisky, including some of the oldest in Britain. At that point it was the second largest acquisition in the Scotch whisky industry since the end of the Second World War. Bloch sales were strongest in North and South America.
Hiram Walker & Sons was the second largest producer of Scotch whisky by 1957.
Ballantine’s was a favourite Scotch whisky of John F Kennedy, and during his presidency it was the highest selling Scotch whisky in the United States.
1,100 people were employed at the Dumbarton plant in 1969.
Thomas Scott retired in 1969.
A new complex for Scotch whisky production was opened at Kilmalid, outside Dumbarton, in 1977. It was the most advanced whisky blending plant in Europe.
A new bottling plant was opened at Kilmalid in 1982. It processed more than 100 million bottles a year.
Hiram Walker was the third largest Scotch whisky producer in the world by 1984, with nine malt distilleries and one large grain distillery. Ballantine’s was its large international brand, and although sales had slipped in the United States, it was the market leader in Continental Europe, with particularly strong sales in Italy.
During the 1980s Hiram Walker received criticism for selling bulk malt whisky to Japanese distillers, who used it as the basis for their own blends.
Allied Lyons and Pernod Ricard
Hiram Walker was acquired by Allied Lyons, a British food and beverages company, in 1987.
Allied produced twelve million bottles of Ballantine’s a year from its Kilmalid and Dumbarton plants by 1992. 70 percent of production was destined for mainland Europe.
The Dumbarton distillery was closed in 2002, and demolished in 2008.
Pernod Ricard, a French distiller, acquired Allied Lyons, now known as Allied Domecq, in 2005. Some brands were divested to Fortune Brands and Diageo.
The geese were removed from Dumbarton in 2012.
Ballantine’s was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world after Johnnie Walker as of 2014.
The British records of Hiram Walker up to 1940 are all believed to have been lost during the London Blitz.