Category Archives: Whisky

Great Scot: James Buchanan & Co

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.

James Buchanan in 1923

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.

James Buchanan & Co was registered as a limited company in 1903.

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 1904.

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.

Black & White was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in Britain in the 1920s.

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.

Hatching a plan: Hiram Walker & Sons of Scotland

How did Hiram Walker become the second largest producer of Scotch whisky in the world?

Harry Hatch builds a whisky business
Harry Clifford Hatch (1884 – 1946) sold whisky by mail-order in Montreal, Canada. He made a small fortune before the business was ruled illegal in 1921.

Hatch acquired Gooderham & Worts of Toronto for $1.5 million in 1923. It was the oldest distillery in Canada but had lain inactive for eight years.

Hatch purchased Hiram Walker & Sons of Ontario, the largest whisky distillery in Canada, and best known for the Canadian Club brand, for $14 million in 1926.

Harry Clifford Hatch (1884 – 1946) in 1934

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. For biographer Claude William Hunt, Hatch’s progress was “an astonishing vault into the corporate elite”.

Harry Hatch enters the Scotch whisky market
At the time Distillers Co controlled around 70 percent of the Scotch whisky industry. After a failed attempt at a merger with Distillers, Hatch decided to enter into the Scotch whisky industry for himself.

Hiram Walker acquired a 60 percent stake in James & George Stodart of Glasgow for “a few hundred thousand dollars” in 1930. The purchase included the Stirling Bonding Company (with the Old Smuggler brand) and George Ballantine & Son. Full control of the business was acquired in 1936.

Hiram Walker acquired the Glenburgie and Miltonduff-Glenlivet malt whisky distilleries in Morayshire in 1936. Both distilleries were modernised.

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 production was exported 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 Chinese geese to act as security guards at the Dumbarton distillery from 1950.


Bloch Brothers of Glasgow was acquired in 1954. The acquisition included two distilleries (Scapa, Orkney and Glen Scotia, Campbeltown) and large reserves of whisky, including some of the oldest in Britain. Bloch sales were strongest in North and South America. It was the second largest post-war acquisition in the Scotch whisky industry to date.

Hiram Walker & Sons was the second largest producer of Scotch whisky by 1961, with ten percent of the global market. Ballantine’s was the highest-selling Scotch whisky in the United States, and was a favourite of President John F Kennedy.

1,100 people were employed at the Dumbarton plant in 1969.

Continued growth
The Balblair distillery of Ross-shire was acquired in 1970.

Ballantine’s was the fifth highest-selling Scotch whisky in the United States in 1971.

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.

Allied Lyons and Pernod Ricard
Hiram Walker was acquired by Allied Lyons, a British food and beverages company, for £1.27 billion in 1986. Ballantine’s was the fourth highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world, with market leadership in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and Switzerland. Allied Lyons controlled 17 percent of the global whisky market.

Allied Lyons 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. Allied had an oversupply of grain whisky, and the labour costs at its Strathclyde distillery were lower. The Dumbarton distillery was 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 in 2021.

The British records of Hiram Walker up to 1940 are believed to have been destroyed during the London Blitz.

Rare pleasure: a history of J&B whisky

How did J&B Rare become the fifth highest-selling spirit in the world?

J&B Rare is introduced to the United States
Long-established London wine merchants Justerini & Brooks introduced J&B Rare, a blended Scotch whisky, from 1936.

J&B Rare was conceived of as an export brand. Its straw-gold body, and light, smooth, delicate character was designed to appeal to the American taste for rye whiskey. It is made with up to 50 percent single malt whisky, including Knockando, Auchroisk, Strathmill and Glen Spey.

J&B Scotch whisky

Charles Guttman (1893 – 1969) of the Paddington Corporation was appointed as the United States distributor, and he initially established the brand in the New York City area.

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. He began to expand J&B Rare distribution outside of its New York City heartland into the wider United States. 70,000 cases of J&B Rare were sold in 1954.

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.

Justerini & Brooks refused to bolster sales by price-cutting, and J&B Rare was the most expensive non-aged Scotch whisky on the market.

Sales grew quickly as J&B Rare benefited from a shift in American tastes away from heavier Scotch whiskies such as Black & White and Ballantine’s, towards lighter blends. 700,000 cases of J&B Rare were sold in the United States in 1961, and it was the leading Scotch whisky in the New York City area.

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

J&B Rare became the highest-selling Scotch whisky in the United States, with one million cases exported in 1962. The New York City area remained the heartland of the product. The brand remained virtually unknown in its native Britain.

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.

Grand Metropolitan
IDV was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1972.

J&B Rare was the seventh highest-selling spirit in the United States by 1974, and the bestselling Scotch.

Rising sales of J&B Rare helped to render Grand Metropolitan the second largest distiller of branded Scotch whisky in the world by 1977. J&B Rare held ten percent of the global Scotch whisky market. Justerini & Brooks were awarded with a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1978.

A push for sales outside the United States was a success, and J&B Rare was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world by the mid-1980s.

J&B Rare was the fifth highest-selling spirit in the world by 1993.

J&B Rare was the tenth highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world in 2021. Its key markets are Southern Europe, South Africa and the United States.