Whisky Advocate

Who owns Scotch whisky? Who drinks Scotch whisky?

August 10th, 2009

There was a good overview answering both of these questions in the Sunday Herald. Have a look here.

22 Responses to “Who owns Scotch whisky? Who drinks Scotch whisky?”

  1. B.J. Reed says:

    Interesting – George made an good point about the fact that conglomerates like Diagio do make things easier for the independents by having the capacity to promote not only their own brand products but whisky in general.

    I love what George at Glenfarclas, Russell at Highland Park, Ian at Glenfiddich, Stuart at Edradour and Jim & Duncan at Bruichladdich do for the industry. I am partial to how I am treated when I visit their distilleries and they are wonderful ambassadors.

    Still, one has to recognize the nature of the industry and the fact that the “big guys” make it possible for the industry as a whole to grow.

  2. That a fair amount of Scottish distilleries is owned by overseas investors is often considered to be a nightmare. But I would prefer a more differenciated view on this.

    For example I have absolutely no problems with the fact that Bowmore is owned by the Japanese. I don’t notice any bad influence (although I’m not an insider), and the whisky they’re making is definitely not worse than before.

    But I do feel somewhat uneasy by global luxury companies like LVMH trying to turn Scotch single malt into a lifestyle procuct, along with hefty price adjustments. Branding perfume bottles with fantasy names that could as well belong to cars or insurance companies is not the right path to take, IMHO.

    But you also must not forget that for every distillery owned by a global company there once were Scottish owners who sold it to them.

  3. Nationalism brings with it a sense of pride, but we could have this discussion about a growing number of products in demand around the globe. The key is the quality of the product not who signs the pay checks or where that person lives.

    I love to drink a wee dram that I know was made at a distillery owned and operated by the people of Scotland. In many ways it makes that sip a little more authentic. On the other hand, when I sip Talisker or Longmorn, the fantastic elixer doesn’t sour my palate because a conglomerate owns the distillery.

  4. Euan Shand says:

    But doesnt Scotch Whisky just taste so much better when you know that it is bottled in Scotland! Most malts and a high proportion of blends are bottled here in Scotland , however, too much good whisky is being delivered abroad in bulk into the hands of those who dont care, becoming just another commodity. Just make sure you know where its bottled, you cant go far wrong if its bottled in its hame country.

  5. bgulien says:

    @two-bit cowboy
    The upshot is that when the huge distillery is finished and the boffins in the laboratory have found the chemical characteristics of, say, Talisker 12yo, the need to keep the Skye site operational is none.
    We do Talisker 12 yo today, tomorrow we distill Smirnoff Wodka and then we do a run of Caol Ila.
    It all happened before, with the beer breweries in the UK. All very huge breweries who one day distill one brand and the next day another.
    What stay’s are the micro-distilleries, like Bladnoch or Bruichladdich.
    The other distilleries are museum pieces, with a nice visitor centre.
    Do we want that?

    And B.J. Reed, you said that the Big Boys made it possible for the industry to grow.

    No they didn’t. They economized, streamlined and consolidated the industry. If you think it’s a good thing….?
    Then they advocate using spirit caramel and chill filtering, which, under pressure of the customers, they slowly abandon.
    I find Bruichladdich much more innovative, in the whisky sense, then the whole of Diageo.
    Of course, technically Diageo is miles ahead. But that is changing everything stainless steel and equiping the distilleries with computers, so that 2 people can run a complete distillery.
    No wonder you are not allowed to visit the bulk of the Diageo distilleries, only those set apart as museum distilleries.
    So the independents, like Bruichladdich and a few others are the real keepers of the Scottish whisky. Bruichladdich alone employs 45 people and make a profit.
    But they have shareholders that are not that greedy, I think.

    OK, rant finished.

  6. NW says:

    Hey John,

    A piece of that article you linked really struck me. It said only 20 or so of Scotland’s distilleries remain in independant Scottish hands. I actually didn’t realize there were that many.

    How about a listing?


  7. John Hansell says:

    BJ, I did think that George Grant from Glenfarclas made a good point.

    NW, I don’t have the lest of all of them handy, but there’s a good chance someone else aout there does. If you do, post ’em up here. If not,we couldd probably figure them out.

  8. Iain says:

    Off the top of my head (and there are more than 20 here, so maybe I’ve got some wrong!)

    The new one at Girvan
    The Clotworthy place (sorry – I’ve forgotten the name)
    Loch Lomond

  9. Harvey Fry says:

    if any of this was going to change because of OUR traditional/cultural, mythic/iconic or even socio/economic inputs/concerns, i’d be a lot more enthusiastic about diving into the fray. but it’s not, not even a smidgen. face it friends= this is a biz &, like a whole lotta other biz[z] in these tough economic times, the bottom line is all that matters.

    & while i do lean towards the view that all the added investment should be (on balance) good for CUSTOMERS too, i’m confident they can/will decide for themselves &, when/as they do, ultimately call the shots with their bucks/pounds/euros/yen, etc. especially today, money speaks a crowd!

    in the end, then, what we need ALWAYS to be talking about is WHAT’S IN THE BOTTLE(s).
    how it got there, etc. is just a distraction that diverts the focus & allows those who’re forever finding new ways to get over on us an easier path. IF reducing the alcoholic strength (Dalmore, 43.% down to 40.) of your expressions or even raising them (along with the prices, Glenmorangie) makes for a better drink, fine. IF repackaging (what a cruel joke on the drinker) upwards &/or any other (Glenmorangie plc, THE Edrington Group + Whyte & Mackay, among many others) PR driven “repositioning” gives you value for money, fine. &, of course, if you think you come out ahead with the (artificial) scarcity sham or any of the many other not so transparent market manipulations these outfits seem more & more to be coming up with, by all means keep the bucks coming their way. like they say, follow the money & find out how much of yours they already have in their pockets.

    i for one will be giving more & more of mine to the Walkers (Benriach & Glendronach), the Mitchells (Springbank), the J & B Grants (Glenfarclas), the McEwans & Reyniers (Bruichladdich), the Davidsons (Arran), the great new startups (Kilchoman)

    &, fellow Americans & whisk(e)y lovers everywhere, if you don’t think the price is right at your local retailer, you have a whole lotta choices. THE INTERNET GIVES YOU VERY EASY ACCESS TO JUST ABOUT EVERY QUALITY WHISK(E)Y PROVIDER ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH…..+ THEY SHIP IT RIGHT TO YOUR DOOR, often for fewer bucks.

    but you know all that^

  10. Glenglassaugh isn’t own by Scots. (And it was mentioned twice :))

    I am thinking that where it’s made and hows its made are far more important than who pays the bills.

    “Ownership” is not as clear cut as it seems.

    There’s so much cross ownership that few people realize that William Grant owns part of Edrington. Diageo owns part of Moet Hennessey if I recall.

    In the end I like supporting independents, because I like entrepreneurial spirit that goes along with it.

  11. bgulien says:

    It doesn’t matter by whom it is owned, it’s how greedy they are.
    Point in case is Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Glenglassaugh , etc.
    They are the guys who innovate, in the whisky sense, while the Big Boys consolidate.
    That’s why I am a bit optimistic, because there are some people who are refusing to roll over and die.
    And yes, support the independents. They need it!!!

  12. Kyle Nadeau says:

    I’m going to have to agree with many of the comments everyone here has made. Yes the people of distilleries such as Bruichladdich, Benriach, Springbank/Longrow may pave the way for many of the innovations and ‘experiments’ we see coming onto the market, many of the larger companies do a great deal for the industry as a whole. Being on the business end I hate more than anything dealing with the Diageo’s and LVMH’s of the world, their constant price fluctuations, not keeping retailers informed of whats coming, how much there is, how much it will be, ie. Ardbeg Supernova. I still at the end of the day will go home and enjoy a dram of Caol Ila 25, or a Talisker 10 even the previously mentioned Supernova. These companies have the dollars to put whisk(e)y in front of people, via marketing and/or tastings. And while i’m sure many people here are less than enthused by the likes of a Macallan 12, malts suck as these are vital in getting people to change the way they view single malts. And even though the Balvenie, Macallan, Glenmorangie, Glenlivet may not be my cup of tea, we do owe a lot to these companies. So yes BJ i do agree with you, while we don’t have to like it, it is the truth. On the other hand it is people like John that have provided us a platform to expand our horizons and put advocates of the industry in touch with one another. So John, thank you, and to everyone that contributes here, thank you. If you have a problem with the big guys then get out there and educate your fellow single malt fanatic, go to the store grab something Duncan Taylor and enjoy, see what the big distilleries have to offer with the price tag.

  13. Iain says:

    Oops. Didn’t read the question properly. I thought it was about “independents” (the second Glenglassaugh should have read Glendronach).
    If we’re talking Scottish-owned, then Benriach isn’t owned by Scots either – the main shareholders are South African? Mark Reynier and his business friends are hardly Scottish. Nor the chaps at Angus Dundee? And Bladnoch is owned by a man from Northern Ireland. Any more?

  14. Sam S. says:

    I wish it was that simple.
    Many states have laws that say that alcohol can’t be shipped across state lines.
    The distributers are in bed with the politicians.
    We in AZ can’t legally have anything shipped in–there are few exceptions where you can have a few bottles from a winery shipped if you’re there to order them.
    Some retail sites won’t even list AZ in the shipping address, while others say it’s your responsibility to know your local laws and will ship anyway.
    I guess they haven’t been burned badly enough yet.

  15. Harvey Fry says:

    Sam S.,
    sadly i know= i live in Washington, D.C, where just about anything goes BUT, i’m from Texas, where if you’re even catching a connecting flight that you have to go thru a re-entry process at a gate on the other side of the airport, you’d better have whatever you brought with you deep in your checked baggage ‘cuz if they catch you trying to take it on the plane, it’s probably history.

    still, it’s theoretically illegal to send anything into the country (from say the UK) BUT, via Parcel Force & the USPS, not a single person i know has ever had a package
    marked collectible ‘whatever’ go astray. & i’m talking about many many many packages to many many states over at least the 5 years time since they discovered it was a better method than the previous courier services. you gotta work on the local pols + please keep your fingers crossed for the rest of us.

  16. B.J. Reed says:


    I think my point, and George’s as well isn’t about the down side of conglomerates – all of which you mentioned – but the fact that they do market and promote whisky, particularly Scotch Whisky and that helps everybody including the independents.

  17. John Hansell says:

    Good point, BJ. I think we all are aware of the downside, but there’s an upside too, which you pointed out.

  18. Neil Fusillo says:

    The downside is that, I’d hate for the entire Scotch whisky market to be dominated by only a few major players offshore and not really part of the Scottish history and tradition.

    However, on the flip side, most of the single malts available here in merry old Georgia are ONLY available from the few major players because they have the money and the international connections as well as the marketing foresight and muscle to put their products on many shelves throughout the world. The smaller independents either don’t want to or simply can’t do that, and no amount of breaking up the bigger players or giving Scotch back to the Scottish will change that.

    From a purely selfish Scotch drinker’s perspective, as long as they’re producing whisky I like to drink and making it available to me (and that includes making it affordable), so don’t necessarily care who controls the corporate reigns per se.

    Yes, it’s nice to see the independents doing well because everyone loves to root for the underdogs, and there’s a lot of creativity that you can get away with when there’s 15 of you distilling. With a massive company of 500 and a distant board of directors making all their decisions based solely on maximising profits, you run into less in the way of innovation. But innovation means nothing if you can’t get your products in front of paying customers.

  19. John Hansell says:

    Like it was mentioned earlier, it’s good to see that smaller companies are willing and able to purchase the distilleries that the big boys don’t want or need anymore. It breathes new life into the industry.

  20. Harvey Fry says:

    John, especially when they’re bought & then operated by REAL whisky people= people who have the experience, savvy & tempered passion to go with their enthusiasm. it’s our good fortune that, at least recently, most of those who have taken the plunge ARE good enough to have an immediate effect on what would otherwise be a much less exciting state of affairs. i’ll ALWAYS take SOLID stuff IN the bottle(s) over creative merchandising.

    &, while it’s no secret who i like & why, i’ll be the first to cheer for all the good things the less loveable guys do/have done. BTW, i have far fewer problems with Diageo than with the other 3 i’ve mentioned. Diageo’s biggest problem is simply that it’s TOO BIG. over time it’s just grown to the point where poor internal communication keeps vital information from passing from one level to the next (both up & down) in anything like a timely fashion. if one hand doesn’t know what the other’s doing, the poor customer (who’s ready to part with his coin) ends up giving up on ever finding out what’s happening &, unable to plan, let’s the money find its way to the more agile competitor. if you’ve been sent e-mails that include the chains seeking answers down the lines, you know what i mean. fortunately, this bureaucratic bumbling doesn’t seem to extend to the distilleries= for the most part they’re left alone to do what they do best. overall, maybe with the exception of some of the infrequent high-end offerings, i’ve found their pricing consistent & fair.
    that’s more’n i can say for the angle shooters, repositioners & others who think their seemingly endless slight-of-hand shenanigans are fooling anybody.

    in spite of all this &/or that, we still have a whole lot more choices than we did even a few years back. that’s something to toast every time we pour, don’t you think?

  21. John Hansell says:

    You got that right Harvey, we do have a lot of choices (prices notwithstanding), and we can be thankful for that.

  22. Is that what you are looking for ?

    French :
    Pernod Ricard => Chivas Bros. + Ballantine’s, Strathisla, Longmorn, Glenlivet, Scapa, Aberlour, Tormore
    LVMH => Glenmorangie-Ardbeg
    La Martiniquaise => Glen Moray

    South African with Billy Walker => Benriach-Glendronach

    Takara => Tomatin
    Nikka => Ben Nevis
    Suntory => Bowmore-Auchentoshan-Glen Garioch

    Russian => Glenglassaugh

    Campari => Glen Grant

    Whyte & MacKay => Dalmore, Jura, Fettercairn, Tamnavullin & Invergordon grain

    Inbev => Balblair, Pulteney, AnCnoc, Speyburn

    Am I missing some other foreign investors ?

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