Ballad of the Ballantine: A Royal Saga

Imagine sitting on your grandmother’s lap on a lazy summer afternoon, with the birds chirping in the backyard, occasional sound of a leaf or two falling interrupting the silence. Imagine her gentle, old voice narrating a fairy tale, as she holds the book open on your knees, with pictures of princes upon horses, princesses in high towers, and monsters breathing fire. As the evening fades into dusk, the fairy tales comes to an end. Days pass by. You grow up. The heroes of fairy tales trade places with bottles of Scotch.

Once upon a time…

The saga of Ballantine begins 1857, on the hilly terrains Edinburgh. The name that is the flag bearer of one of the world’s finest blended scotch whiskies was a family name of a farming family in Scotland. George Ballantine’s father may have been just another Highland farmer, but he had dreams that’d make him famous years down the line. George opened a grocery shop in the ancient, not so empty streets of Cowgate, much like the Chivas brothers did in their time. He’d procure, bottle, and sell those bottles of fine whisky to those who came to his shop, looking for more than just mundane grocery supplies.

Going to Glasgow…

Eight years later, George Ballantine opened a bigger shop in the far more crowded locality of Glasgow. By that time he had left the safe shores of selling whisky sourced from local distilleries, and jumped on the bandwagon of distillers. Ballantine had a soft spot of fine, Blended Scotch Whisky, and began making some of his own for steady stream of happy clientele who thronged his shop. His sons joined their father in his whisky adventure, and George Ballantine & Co. was formed. A bonded labour house was rented to keep up with the increasing demand of supply. Soon, the bottlers cum distillers started exporting their scotch. Since then, it has been an upward climb.

The Royal Connect…

Ballantine & Co. caught Queen Victoria’s notice, and she awarded the distillers a Royal Warrant in 1895. This gained them the rare but golden opportunity of serving the royal family, all the way in England! From the humble origin in a Glasgow store, Ballantine’s fine blended Scotch had now reached the imperial chambers of the Queen. George’s eldest son, Archibald Ballantine was a master craftsman with business acumen par excellence. Soon, Ballantine’s had traversed the seas, and landed on the Indian shores. Many Hindu families are fabled to have taken great delight in raising a glass or two of Ballantine’s and basked in its glory.

Days of Glory…

With the death of Archibald Ballantine following his father, the firm changed hands and came into George Junior’s able custodianship. After handling the family business for years, Ballantines and Co. was amicably sold to Barclay and McKinley in 1919. But, Ballantine’s was a household name, much loved by whisky lovers far and wide. So, the brand name lived on, and was later acquired by Canadian master distiller Hiram Walker, of Gooderham & Worts in 1937.

Shortly a year later in 1938, Ballantine’s was graced with the respectable Grant of Heraldic Arms, recognising the company as a renowned noblesse among the nobles of Scotland. The Scottish flag encircled with four essentials of whisky-making still burns bright on every bottle of Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky marketed till date, bearing the legacy of the company. Today, Ballantine’s is owned by Pernod Ricard, and retains its stronghold as the world’s second best-selling blended Scotch whisky. An unique blend of 50 single malts from the distilleries of Glengurgie, and Miltonduff with 4 grain whiskies, Ballantine’s, with its atypical layered vanilla, cocoa, and honeyed spicy notes continues to win over hearts.

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