A blend particularly popular in the United States for its very light character, which led to the adoption of the slogan “Scotch at its lightest”, Ambassador was created by the Taylor & Fergusson company, founded in Glasgow in 1820. The company was bought in the early 1930s by Hiram Walker, who, in 1965, also bought the Scapa distillery, then operated by Taylor & Fergusson. Scapa was a leading malt in the creation of the Ambassador blends range which featured a series of different ages. A 20 year old version from the 1950s was replaced by various 25 year old bottlings in the 1960s and 1970s. Around the same time, a 12 year old and 8 year old were released in various markets. Like many brands, the turn of the 1980s saw the end of age statement releases. In Europe at least, Ambassador does not seem to have survived the turn of the 1990s.
A blend brand rarely found in Europe and better well-known in Latin America (Argentina), it was launched in the early 1970s by McCafferty & Sons. Several versions exist including a 5 year old, produced with the help of Aberlour - Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd, a subsidiary of the family-owned company House of Campbell which, in 1974, became the property of the Pernod Ricard group. Its no age-statement version Very Special Old Light Blended Scotch Whisky makes reference to Glenlivet Distillers Ltd, then owners of the distilleries Glen Grant, Glenlivet, Longmorn and Benriach, who would become a part of the Chivas Brothers group. A blend with a strong Speyside influence.
A brand associated with Karuizawa distillery, which closed in 2012. The first bottlings came from the distillery’s successive owners, Saranku-Ocean in 1962 and Mercian in 1990. When Number One Drinks bought the stocks, it brought the brand back to life, not as a blend or a blended malt, but as a single malt. Asama is used for Karuizawa’s young and old releases, a blend of dozens of casks from the vintages 1999 and 2000, diluted to 46%, 48%, 50.5% and 55%.
Aged just 18 years old at the time, George Ballantine set up in Edinburgh in 1827 as a fine wines and spirits merchant. In less than half a century, he founded the company Ballantine’s & Sons, which earned a solid reputation as a blender and distributor of high-quality whisky, including several malts such as Talisker and Old Glenlivet. Ballantine’s was at the time a blend with no age statement marked Fine Old Highland Whisky. When George Ballantine put his sons at the helm in 1881, he made them heirs to a prosperous business which, in 1895 was awarded the Royal seal by Queen Victoria. The company passed out of the family’s hands in 1922, and the prohibition era in the United States turned out to be a springboard for the development of the sales and renown of the brand, which, in 1933, was bought by the Canadian Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts. To ensure its supply of malt whisky, the Miltonduff and Glenburgie distilleries were bought in late 1936. In 1937, Ballantine’s 10 Year Old and 15 Year Old Old Pure Scotch Liqueurs were exported to the United States, just as the grain distillery Dumbarton came into existence (1937-1938). In 1951, six years after the end of the Second World War, the company was finally able to stabilize the range of Ballantine’s blends and the versions aged for 10, 17 and 30 years were confirmed. At the same time, the British Ministry of Food Control forced it to drop the term “Liqueur” from the label. Ballantine’s Finest was created, later going on to become one of the three top-selling blends in the world. In 1954, Glencadam and Scapa joined the group’s team, followed by Pulteney in 1955. In 1964, the range, composed of Ballantine’s Finest 17 Year Old and 30 Year Old, welcomed a 12 year old version which would quickly become a hit in markets across the world. At the turn of the 1970s, Balblair was born, followed by Ardbeg in 1976. This distillery would be its last acquisition under the Hiram Walker brand. The 1980s brought its share of troubles, leading to a drastic reduction in production and the closure of various distilleries, including Ardbeg. In 1987, Hiram Walker and Allied Vintners decide to band together, going on to form Allied Distillers in 1988, thus writing a new chapter in the history of the legendary brand. Today, all pre-90s versions of Ballantine’s are considered high-quality collectible whiskies due to the quality of the stocked used, sourced, for the youngest versions, from the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Like most leading brands of blended scotch, Bell’s history began in the 19th century (officially in 1825 and unofficially in 1851), for its part in a delicatessens in the town of Perth founded by T.R. Sandemon (port), for whom a young Arthur Bell worked as a wine and spirits merchant. In 1851, he became a shareholder and in 1865 the owner. In 1895, he was joined by his two sons and founded the company Arthur Bell & Sons. It was not until the late 1860s that the blending part of the business would really develop. Until then, their activities were primarily focused on the sale of malt whiskies bought from farmer distillers and matured in their vaults before being released for sale. It was only in 1904 that the first bottling bearing the name Bell was released on the market. Making the most of the 1930s economic crisis, the brothers decided to buy strategic distilleries for their blend, including Blair Athol and Dufftown in 1933 and Inchgower in 1936. In 1967, they opened their blending and bottling plant near Broxburn and in 1983 bought Bladnoch. Bell’s would remain independent until 1985, before being taking over by Guinness and then joining United Distillers in 1987. Until the late 1970s, Bell’s was a blend available, for the most common versions, as 5 Year Old Extra Special, Extra Light, 12 Year Old De Luxe and Very Old, 20 Year Old Royal Reserve. A Pure Malt 5 year old version was also available, marked with the slogan “Afore Ye Go”. The 1980s saw the appearance of what would become a collectors’ phenomenon, the ceramic Bell’s Decanter celebrating the events surrounding the British coronation, as well as various Christmas editions.
A brand of blended scotch no longer in existence which belonged to John Blisset & Co Ltd, founded in Glasgow in 1828. In 1926, it bought the Royal Brackla distillery, whose production it used to create its blends. The company and its assets were sold in 1943 to the Distillers Company Limited. In 1992, the Royal Brackla license was still registered under the name John Bisset & Co Ltd and independent bottlings from Gordon & MacPhail continued to name the company as the distillery’s owner until 2005-2007. Up until the 1950s, Bisset’s existed as a Gold Label 8 Year Old Extra Liqueur. At the start of the 1960s, the age statement disappeared. The name John Bisset & Co Ltd is found on certain bottlings, including Lagavulin 1909 and Glencoull 1908 (a distillery built in 1897 and closed in 1929).
The history of Bulloch Lade, also known as “BL” is closely linked with that of the Caol Ila distillery. Bulloch was founded in 1855 in Glasgow from an alliance between Sandy Bulloch and D. Lade & Co. In 1857, BL Gold Label was launched. It was an immediate success. To secure the supply of whisky for its brand, Bulloch Lade & Co began buying distilleries and became the owner of Camlachie in 1859 (Lowlands), Caol Ila in 1863 (Islay) and Benmore in 1868 (Campbeltown). Nonetheless, from the end of the 1890s, its stocks were rare and demand exceeded supply. The First World War further weakened the company’s position and in 1920 it went bankrupt. The Camlachie and Benmore distilleries were taken over by the Distillers Company Limited. Camlachi was closed in 1920 and Benmore in 1936. Caol Ila was sold to J P O’Brien Ltd. The Bulloch Lade, BL Gold and Old Rarity brands were relaunched by DCL (Distillers Company Ltd) in the late 1920s. King Arthur, Marlboro and Glen Ila, a 5 year old pure malt, would be added to the range.
A subsidiary of Arthur Bell & Sons, C&J McDonald Ltd is a Scottish company which, up until the mid-1980s, offered various blends of blended scotch, including McDonald’s Special Blend, Queen’s Choice and Heathwood. Inchgower’s distillation license was associated with it for a short period, indicating that it made a significant contribution to the company’s blends. Until the 1960s, C&J McDonald was a 12 year old blend whose stocky brown bottle featured a white label marked Fine Old. It disappeared in the 1970s, making way for Special Blend 5 Year Old, before finally abandoning the age statement in the 1980s. The brand disappeared from the European market before the turn of the 1990s.
Chequers is a Scottish brand of blends which appeared in Italy and Latin America in the second half of the 20th century (60s). It was registered under the name John McEwan & Co Ltd, a Leith-based company which was bought in 1933 by Distillers Company Limited (DCL). From 1945 to 1992, Linkwood’s distillation license was associated with it, indicating that the malt was at the heart of the company’s blends, including Abbot’s Choice. Chequers was released primarily in a 12 year old version presented in a green bottle which, unusually, was numbered and signed on the back label. A green ceramic jug with no age statement was also created at the very start of the 1970s. The brand disappeared from the European market before the turn of the 1990s.
The Cutty Sark blend is closely linked to the independent bottler Berry Bros & Rudd and owes its creation to the crisis that hit the whisky industry upon the introduction of prohibition in the United States in 1920. The Cutty Sark brand was born in 1923 at a restaurant table. Shortly after, the blend was illegally imported to the United States via the Bahamas through the intermediary of a certain Captain William McCoy. Cutty Sark was the name of one of the fastest sailing boats of the era but also a reference to the famous Scottish bard Robert Burns and his poem Tam O’Shanter. The malts used in the blend include Tamdhu, Glenrothes, Macallan and Bunnahabhain.
Dalvegan was a 10 year old Pure Malt bottled before the mid-1970s by James Martin & Co, a subsidiary of Macdonald Martin Distillers, which was created in 1953 by the blender Macdonald & Muir (1893), owner of the distilleries Glenmorangie (1918) and Glen Moray (1923). James Martin founded his company in 1878 as a whisky merchant in Edinburgh. In 1912, it was bought by Macdonald & Muir. His leading brand, Martin’s, was primarily exported to the United States and experienced some success after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. It was when the SS Politician sank in February 1941, however, that this whisky became the subject of legend, as, of the 50,000 or so cases of whisky contained in the cargo, much of it was Martin’s. Dalvegan is one of the many brands of blend (Pure Malt) produced by the company, which also includes Highland Queen, Baillie Nicol Jarvie and Martin’s VVO. Glenmorangie and Glen Moray are just some of the malts used.
Dewar’s history closely resembles that of the others in the Big Five, Haig, Walker, Buchanan and Mackie. It began in 1828 when John Dewar, born into a family of farmers, became the assistant to James Macdonald, owner of a wine and spirits bottling company in Perth. In 1846, he decided to set up on his own and successfully opened a small bottling company in Perthshire. In 1879, his son John Alexander took over at the helm and brought on board his younger brother Thomas, who he sent to London to develop the business beyond the Scottish border. It was at the Brewers’ Show in London in 1886 that Thomas really attracted attention, employing a bagpiper to play in traditional dress. The bagpiper then became the mascot for the Dewar’s brand. The rest is history. In 1893, the company was awarded the highly coveted Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria. In 1896, they built their own distillery, Aberfeldy, which became Dewar’s standard bearer. In the early 1920s, they found themselves at the head of a group of eight additional distilleries, including Aultmore, Benrinnes, Glen Ord, Lochnagar and Pulteney. Although the company joined DCL in 1925, its management remained in family hand’s until long after the 1950s. The company has created and managers several brands, including Ancestors, John Dewar & Sons Old Highland Whisky, Dewar’s Pure Malt, White Label, Glenburn and Imperial Institute.
Dixon’s No. 1 was a brand of blend available in the 1970s, particularly in the Italian market via the importer Darma in Rome. This version exists in a stocky, green bottle and also in a tall, clear bottle. The House of Dixon also sold another brand of blend called Royal Baron. Note the existence of a very similar brand without the “No. 1” affix from the Spanish company Scott, Roger & Nixon, which appeared in 1851 and whose logo featured a stag.
Distilled at the Heaven Hill distillery founded by the Shapira brothers, Evan Williams is named after a bourbon pioneer who, in 1783, founded his own distillery in Louisville. He was officially given a license in 1788, but, due to persistent complaints from his neighbours, had to leave the site in 1802. The brand was introduced in the early 1960s. Over time, various expressions have appeared, including in the 1970s a 10 year old 1783 vintage, distilled in the late 1960s. In the early 1980s, a decanter celebrating the 200th anniversary (distillation 75-76) was released, as well as a still-shaped ceramic (1981 inventory). From the 1990s, various prestigious versions appeared, including an outstanding 23 year old (blue label) in a tall bottle (distilled in the 1960s), as well as the first vintage single cask versions (Evan Williams 1986), which would then become the norm.
The heir to a long dynasty of distillers linked to the Stein and Jameson families, John Haig was behind the first major merger-acquisitions taking place in Lowland grain distilleries in the 19th century. These led to the creation in April 1877 of the Distillers Company Ltd, a company created to control and rationalize the production of spirit, with several members of the Haig family named as its directors. Alongisde DCL, several blending companies were founded by various members of the family, including Haig & Haig in 1888, founded by John Alicius Haig, and John Haig & Co, founded by Hugh Veitch Haig in 1894. All were incorporated into DCL at the turn of the 1920s. Haig & Haig was responsible for the eponymous blend, which would later become Dimple and its easily identifiable bottle introduced at the start of the 20th century. The blend is composed of malts including Glenkinchie, Linkwood and Clynelish and the grain Cambus. John Haig & Co’s brown stocky bottles - topped with ‘spring cap’ stoppers used from the late 1920s - and marked ‘John Haig & Co Ltd, Gold Label, Scotch Whisky Liqueur’, are particularly sought-after. Malts used included Glenkinchie, Glenlossie and Linkwood. Note also the Pure Malt Glenleven 8 year old and 12 year old, which were widely distributed in France at the turn of the 70s and 80s.
It was in 1820 that John Walker set himself up as a wine and spirits merchant in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. It is, however, to his son Alexander that Johnnie Walker owes a large part of its success. Alexander opened his offices in London in 1880. In 1886, he was joined by his two sons George and John. In 1890, George took over from his father at the helm. Helped by his brother and a certain James Stevenson, they quickly led the company to prosperity. In 1893, they bought Cardow (Cardhu). Aided by designer Tom Brown, they created the Johnnie Walker mascot and came up with the slogan “Born 1920, still going strong”, at the same time adopting the brand’s small square bottle. Now a member in its own right of the “big five” and whisky barons, John Walker & Sons, like Dewar, Buchanan, Mackie and Haig, was created to maintain its independence in the face of the ever-powerful DCL. In 1909 it turned to Dewar and Buchanan in the hopes of creating a strategy of counter-attack, but it was in vain. In 1925, the company was incorporated into DCL. The oldest bottling of Johnnie Walker dates back to the early 1900s, featuring a white label and the statement Old Highland Whisky. The Red and Black versions were soon introduced and became the company’s standard bearers. Malts used in the blend include Caol Ila, Talisker, Cardhu and Craigellachie.
Distilled for the first time at the Czech distillery Tosh (Tesetice) in 1973, King Barley has been released in 4, 6 and 12 year old versions at 43% ABV. A 40% edition named Gold Cock was produced especially for Russia, its leading export market. From 1989, production slowed before eventually coming completely to a halt. A few bottles of the 12 year old 43% version were imported to France in 1999. Production of the malt began again in 2017.
Founded in 1971 by John Haig & Co (Distillers Company Ltd) and built on the site of the Glenlossie distillery, Mannochmore produced a malt primarily for use in Haig Dimple’s blends. Despite its young age, the distillery has been closed twice, once between 1985 and 1989 during the height of the 1980s crisis and then again between 1995 and 1997. On 17 December 1997, it was sold to United Distillers & Vintners (formerly DCL). At the turn of the new millennium, Mannochmore became known under its assumed name Loch Dhu, releasing a 10 year old single malt which, ahead of time, caused a huge stir due to its black colour. This was the result of a practice known as “charring”, in which the inside of oak barrels were charred to release distinct aromatic compounds. This bottling is now a collectible for this reason. Mannochmore was one of the distilleries featured in the Rare Malts Selection (90s), Flora & Fauna, and The Manager’s Dram (1997) ranges, testimony to the malt’s elegance. It nonetheless remains a very niche distillery.
The resolutely modern and somewhat futuristic Miltonduff, also known under the names Milton and Milton Duff, made a name for itself in the late 19th century when, for a short time (1885-86), it introduced triple distillation. It entered the whisky industry’s modern era in 1936 when it was bought by the Canadian company Hiram Walker, who monopolized a large part of its production for the group’s blends (Ballantine’s and Old Smuggler, then Teacher’s and Ambassador). From 1964 until 1981, it was home to a second production unit known as Mosstowie, which used Lomond Stills to produce a single malt. Official versions are rare and less than five exist from the 50s and 60s. They are, however, highly sought-after due to their “heritage” character, presented in a tall or stocky brown bottle, with a label stating “13 Year Old Liqueur Scotch Whisky”. Little changed until the end of the 1970s and it was then replaced by a 12 Year Old in the 1980s. Note the existence of a limited edition 15 year old in the Special Distillery Bottling range.
Founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co Ltd owns two Japanese distilleries, Yoichi (Hokkaido) and Miyagikio-Sendai (Honshu). It has also owned the Scottish distillery Ben Nevis since 1989. Its distilleries produce a wide range of styles and types of whisky, including malt whiskies distilled in pot stills and Coffey stills, and grain whiskies. Yoichi and Miyagikio are also able to produce malts with a palette ranging from very mild to very full-bodied, and very fruity to heavily peated. This diversity enables the company to produce its blends and Pure Malts (blended malts), the most prestigious of which bear the name “Taketsuru” and are available in versions with no age statements or ages ranging up to 35 years. The blend range is led by the legendary Nikka From the Barrel, which is easily recognizable by its small square bottle and high alcohol content, as well as a venerable 40 year old.
MacDonald, Greenless & Williams Ltd was founded in 1919 by James Calder (owner of Dalwhinnie) following the merger of various major blending companies including Williams, William & Sons Ltd (owner of Glendullan), Greenless Brothers of Glasgow and Alexander & Macdonald (owners of Stronachie).
Joining the Hiram Walker team in 1954, which was then also the owner of Ballantine’s, the Scapa distillery primarily supplied malt to blends. It has seldom been closed and when it has been, only for short periods, which makes its somewhat reserved history a little surprising. Like many distilleries, Scapa owes its renown to bottlings from independent bottlers who made the most of the situation to release a large number of different versions. The best of these from the distillation period 1960-1975 include Gordon & MacPhail’s 1960, 1963, 1966 and 1970 versions, and Cadenhead’s many 1965 versions bottled in the early 1980s. Old vintages are nonetheless the exception, reflecting the distillery’s consistent popularity with blenders and a lack of desire or need to promote it as a single malt in its own right. The distillery’s operating license seems to have been in the hands of Taylor & Fergusson from the start of the 1990s until the mid-2000s, when the distillery was sold to Pernod Ricard, who has since been more proactive in developing official bottlings.
Built between 1896 and 1897 by a group of businesses including William Grant and a handful of blending companies, the Tamdhu distillery was bought in 1899 by Highland Distilleries Co Ltd, which later became the owner of Macallan and Highland Park. Until 2011, Tamdhu benefited from the group’s expertise, notably in terms of sherry cask maturation and managerial stability, but it remained a blender’s malt, with Famous Grouse, J&B, Cutty Sark and Dunhill all in its sights. This led to independent bottlers being largely responsible for developing the malt’s reputation among enthusiasts, releasing a huge number of their own versions. The most sought-after bottlings include the 1970 vintage from Signatory Vintage, the 1957 from Gordon & MacPhail and the 1963 from Cadenhead. Although rare, the distillery’s own bottlings are also highly sought-after, including the white label 1953 version, the green label 16 Year Old (imported by Gouin) and the stunning 15 Year Old sherry cask decanter which was widely distributed in the 1980s.
Built between 1965 and 1966 by Invergordon Distillers (Whyte & Mackay), Tamnavulin is a blender’s malt, limited from the mid-1980s to just two versions, a 10 year old and then a 12 year old. In the 1970s, the distillery adopted a stocky, rectangular bottle and released an 8 year old version and a version with no age statement. A few vintages, including a 1967 bottling, were also still available. Owners Whyte & Mackay used the Stillman’s Dram (burgundy label) and Old Mill (black label) ranges to release its small batch vintage versions - the malt’s most prestigious expressions, Tamnavulin 1967, 1968 and 1970. Then, in the mid-90s, the Stillman’s Dram range was updated for the tastes of the day and offered versions bottled at 45% featuring only an age statement. Note that only one official bottling from Tamnavulin’s first year of distillation exists, Tamnavulin 35 Year Old, distilled on 26 October 1966. All others are from independent bottlers.
This blend was created in 1863 by John McEwan, who was born into a family of Perthshire farmers. The brand was then registered under the name John McEwan & Co Ltd, a company based in Leith (Edinburgh) which was bought by the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1933. From 1945 to 1992, Linkwood’s distillation license was associated with it, indicating that the malt was at the heart of the company’s blends, including Chequers. The most common bottlings of The Abbot’s Choice date from the 60s, 70s and 80s, particularly the ceramic and stoneware jugs and monk figurines. The oldest versions, housed in a brown bottle, date from the post-war period. The brand disappeared from the European market before the turn of the 1990s.
After being closed down for the first time in 1906 and then again 80 years later, Tomatin finally found its salvation in 1986 when it was bought by Japanese Shochu producer Takara Shuzo and the Okura & Co Ltd group. This made it the first Scottish distillery to be owned entirely by a Japanese consortium. In 1974, Tomatin was one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. It was equipped with 23 stills and had a huge production capacity of 12 million litres of pure alcohol, enabling it to supply a large number of blending companies, including Johnnie Walker, J&B and Chivas, and to export its malt wholesale throughout the world, notably to Japan. What had been a strength in the 70s, however, became a problem in the early 80s, when a major international crisis hit. The distillery managed to stay afloat only by drastically reducing its production capacity. Since 2005, it has released many special bottlings for its clients and numerous single casks, working hard to gain recognition for the quality of the malt, which has often been challenged in the past. Of particular note are several 1973 single casks released in 2005, heralding Tomatin’s arrival in the 21st century.
Founded in May 1863 by William Sanderson, William Sanderson Ltd started out as a producer of whisky-based bitters and liqueurs. Its base malt was none other than Royal Lochnagar, which was owned by John Begg, one of Sanderson’s close friends. Experimenting with a wide range of blends himself, in 1876 he decided to acquire a spirits retail license. In a blind tasting, he was particularly drawn to the blend #69 and chose it to become the company’s blend, released under the name Vat 69. Note that all bottles bore a red seal representing a Talbot, an extinct race of hunting dog and the emblem of his ancestors. Fearing the monopoly of the newly established Distillers Company Ltd (DCL, founded in 1877), in 1885 he teamed up with various other blending companies (including Usher, Crabbie and Robertson) to create a separate company, North British Distillery, which then opened a grain distillery of the same name in Edinburgh in 1887. Having also become the owner of Glen Garioch in the same period, he now had, along with Royal Lochnagar, sufficient resources to ensure the future of his blends - not only Vat 69, but also AM (a “morning” blend!), PM and Glen Garioch Special Vatting. The company joined DCL in 1937.
The story of White Horse is closely linked to that of the Logan Mackie family, descendants of a long line of whisky merchants. The J. Logan Mackie & Co company was founded in Glasgow in 1883 by James Logan Mackie and Captain Graham. Both operated at the Lagavulin distillery from 1851. Lagavulin became the property of J.L. Mackie & Co in 1867. In 1890, Peter Mackie took over from James Logan Mackie and the White Horse brand was registered. It was such a success that the company became whisky barons and a member of the “big five”. In 1916, it bought the Craigellachie distillery. In 1924, the company was renamed White Horse Distillers Ltd. A few months later it introduced the metallic screw top and quickly took the industry with this innovation, doubling its sales. White Horse was incorporated into DCL in 1927. Lagvulin was a key component in the blend until it joined the Six Classic Malts range in 1987-1988. From this point on, only a trace of it was found in the blend. Glen Elgin, Clynelish and Talisker was also used. Another blend now particularly difficult to find, responsible for Logan’s De Luxe (70s) and, of course, Logan’s Extra Age Superb Old Highland Whisky (40s).
The Wild Turkey Distillery is also known as the Boulevard Distillery. At its helm stands Jimmy Russel, a living legend of the bourbon world who cut his teeth at the DL Moore Distillery in 1954. The same distillery was bought in 1970 by independent bottler Austin Nichols, creator of the Wild Turkey bourbon brand in 1942. The distillery was renamed Wild Turkey (Boulevard). In 1980, the Wild Turkey brand and distillery were bought by Pernod Ricard, before then being sold to the Campari group in 2009.