Category Archives: Whisky

Scotched earth: Hiram Walker & Sons of Scotland

Hiram Walker was a large Canadian whisky distiller. This article traces the history of its British subsidiary, which became the second largest Scotch whisky producer.

The Canadian businessman Harry Clifford Hatch (1884 – 1946) acquired Hiram Walker & Sons of Ontario in 1926. He merged it with Gooderham & Worts of Toronto to form Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts Ltd, one of the largest whisky distillers in the world.

Hiram Walker acquired a 60 percent stake in James & George Stodart Ltd of Glasgow in 1930. The purchase included the Stirling Bonding Company (with the Old Smuggler brand) and George Ballantine & Son Ltd.

The Glenburgie and Miltonduff-Glenlivet malt whisky distilleries were acquired in 1936.

Hiram Walker & Sons (Scotland) Ltd was registered in 1937 with a capital of £1 million. It was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts Ltd. Capital was increased to £1.5 million the following year.

Due to a growing export trade, Hiram Walker encountered difficulties procuring 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 on a nine acre site produced three million imperial gallons of whisky each year, mostly grain whisky.

Harry C Hatch hoped that increased Canadian investment in Britain would help to strengthen the British Empire.

Thomas Scott was general manager and a director of Hiram Walker & Sons (Scotland) Ltd 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) Ltd 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.

Stephen McCann replaced Scott to become managing director of Hiram Walker of Scotland in 1969. In 1971 McCann became chairman and Alistair Cunningham (1926 – 2010) became managing director.

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.

Hiram Walker attempted to buy Highland Distilleries in 1979. Highland Distilleries owned the Famous Grouse brand, which would have given the company a foothold in the British market. The Monopolies Commission ruled that the bid was against the public interest.

A new bottling plant was opened at Kilmalid in 1982. Soon, it was handling 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 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.

Hiram Walker was acquired by Allied Lyons, a British food and beverages company, in 1987.

Alistair Cunningham retired in 1992.

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.

As of 2014, Ballantine’s is the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world after Johnnie Walker.

Rare pleasure: J&B Scotch Whisky

J&B Rare is one of the highest selling Scotch whiskies in the world. Its key markets are in Southern Europe, South Africa and the United States.

J&B Scotch whisky
Look at me, look at me!

Long-established London wine merchants Justerini & Brooks introduced J&B Rare in 1936. Charles Guttman (1893 – 1969) of the Paddington Corporation was the United States distributor, and he initially established the brand in the New York area.

An export only brand, J&B Rare was designed to appeal to the American taste for rye whiskey, with a straw-gold body, and a light, smooth, delicate character.

Back in London, Justerini & Brooks merged with Twiss, Brownings & Hallowes to form United Wine Traders in 1952.

Abe Rosenberg (1908 – 1985) became a partner in the Paddington Corporation from the mid-1950s, and he began to expand J&B Rare distribution outside of its New York heartland into the wider United States.

J&B Rare would compete fiercely with Cutty Sark, another Scotch whisky tailored for the American market which had been introduced by Berry Brothers, wine merchants of London, in 1923.

United Wine Traders merged with Gilbeys to become International Vintners & Distillers from 1962. Gilbeys’ strong international distribution network helped to establish J&B Rare in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Ireland.

Blended and bottled at Strathleven, near Glasgow, J&B Rare commanded a slightly higher than average price.

J&B became the highest selling Scotch in the United States, with one million cases exported in 1962. A large proportion of sales were still made in the New York area.

Two million cases of J&B Rare were exported to America in 1967. J&B Rare was exported to 84 countries.

2.7 million cases of J&B Rare were sold in 1971, accounting for a substantial 55 percent of IDV profits.

J&B Rare was the highest selling Scotch in America in 1974, followed by Cutty Sark, Dewars and Johnnie Walker. Rising sales of J&B Rare helped to make Grand Metropolitan the second largest distiller of branded Scotch whisky in the world by 1977. J&B had ten percent of the global Scotch whisky market. Justerini & Brooks were awarded with a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1978.

In 1983 J&B Rare contained up to 50 percent malt whisky, similar to Johnnie Walker Black Label.

J&B Rare was the second highest selling Scotch whisky in the world by 1988.

J&B Rare was the highest-selling Scotch whisky in Spain by 1990.

The heart malts in the blend are Knockando, Auchroisk, Strathmill and Glen Spey.

The rise of Jack Daniel’s

JackDanielsLogo

Jack Daniel’s was a small American regional brand through the 1950s and much of the 1960s. But it landed on the radar of Hollywood stars, including Humphrey Bogart’s Rat Pack. The famous, simple monochrome adverts were first introduced in 1954.

By 1980, 3 million cases were shipped. “Jack” has always been marketed as a premium product. Marketers remind us that the product is not bourbon, but “Tennessee whisky” that is filtered through maple charcoal.

Originally, there were two main Jack Daniel labels: black (the famous one) and green. Although both whiskies were aged for at least four years, Black Label had a higher ABV content of 45% versus Green Label’s 40%. Black Label was reduced to 43% in 1988. Green Label was later delisted, and Black Label was further reduced to 40% ABV. So Black Label essentially became Green Label, but with no corresponding price reduction!