None can deny how Scotch whisky is an absolutely crucial and integral part of Scotland’s history, and just how much it has shaped the country’s identity for centuries. Scotch lovers have for years, undertaken pilgrimages to the beautiful country to visit and savour every aspect of this hugely interdependent history.
The people, distilleries and brands that have played a pivotal role towards enriching this enormous tradition are revered all over Scotland, and for every Scotch lover in the world, this knowledge is gospel.
Let us learn about some of the oldest and the most enduring Scotch whisky brands that have contributed immensely towards keeping the traditions of Scotch whisky making alive, popularized the spirit of the Gods all over the world, and strived for excellence no matter the odds.
The definitive Speyside distillery, The Glenlivet has been an institution unto itself for over two centuries since George Smith, founder and master distiller, established the brand in 1824.
Back in the day, while the Speyside was dotted with illicit distilleries all over, George Smith too was running an illicit operation of his own. Perfecting the craft of distilling what is known today as ‘the single malt that started it all’, George Smith’s whisky gained an infamous notoriety in the region.
Tempting even King George IV himself who requested a dram of The Glenlivet when he visited the country of Scotland, the now iconic single malt brand was the first Speyside distillery to obtain a license to distil whisky. Currently, The Glenlivet Distillery is the oldest distillery in the parish of Glenlivet, and has survived threats of sabotage and destruction from rival distillers, both World Wars, the Great Depression, and the Prohibition too.
Today, The Glenlivet whisky is considered to be the definitive single malt from the Speyside, carving a formidable niche for itself with an unmatched quality, a rich and vibrant history and the strive for excellence that makes it what it is today.
Perhaps the most easily recognized Scotch brands worldwide, Chivas Regal have not only been one of the oldest Scotch whisky brands but have also been pioneers of blended Scotch whisky.
Established by brothers, James and John Chivas in 1801, the Chivas brand came into being as a grocery store that dealt in luxury goods for a wealthy clientele in Aberdeen, Scotland. They began blending and selling whiskies, and soon realized the importance of creating an exclusive blend that could carry their brand name.
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By 1843, the Chivas Brothers had been granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria and were named ‘the finest purveying business in north Scotland’ by Scotland. Chivas Regal are also credited with creating the world’s first luxury whisky in 1909, the Chivas Regal 25, redefining the identity of Scotch whisky worldwide.
Not only is Chivas Regal one of the world’s oldest Scotch whisky brands, but their source single malt whiskies are also distilled at the Strathisla Distillery, the oldest continuously functioning distillery in Scotland, built in 1786. It is truly one of the most remarkable and eternal Scotch whisky brands to have ever existed.
The history of this historic Islay distillery can be traced back to 1815 when two brothers, Donald and Alexander Johnston leased the piece of land that is now known as Laphroaig to rear cattle. Soon the brothers discovered that the barley used for cattle feed was much more lucrative when used to distil whisky and thus, Laphroaig was born.
Over the years, the Laphroaig name grew in stature and later became embroiled in a bitter rivalry brought on by neighbouring Lagavulin Distillery owners. The Lagavulin owners failed to recreate the magic of Laphroaig even as the latter continued to rise steadily.
Laphroaig isn’t just one of Islay, and Scotland’s oldest distilleries but is also one of the very few to have been headed by a female owner and distiller in 1954. She pioneered the success of Laphraoig in the overseas markets by pushing for exports to the American market.
Stronger than ever, Laphroaig is one of the world’s most popular, and richly flavoured single malt Scotches, and is considered to be the quintessential Islay single malt by many, much like The Glenlivet is for the Speyside.
The Old Pulteney Distillery
Established in 1826, the Old Pulteney Distillery was once the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland, in the town of Wick. It was so precariously located that it could only be easily accessed by sea.
This Highland distillery has been named such in honour of Sir William Pulteney, although he passed nearly two decades before the distillery was built.
Many of the workers at the Old Pulteney distillery, known was Pulteney Distillery then, were also employed as fishermen due to the town’s proximity to the sea. It has since been come to be known as the Maritime Malt, and the company now embraces this identity.
It has been observed and cited by many whisky lovers and experts that the coastal characteristics of the Caithness country area play an important role in the maturation process of the Old Pulteney single malt. This iconic distillery is truly one of the treasures of Scotland’s magnificent history with Scotch whisky.
It was 1827 when George Ballantine laid the foundations of the Ballantine’s brand with his grocery store, eventually realizing the more lucrative prospects of the whisky business.
He welcomed his sons into the business as they made a move into the whisky blending business, developing proprietary blends, acquiring and building distilleries in order to maintain a supply of source whiskies for these blends.
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The Glenburgie, Miltonduff, and Glendronach distilleries owned by the Ballantine’s brand ensure a healthy supply of malt whiskies for all the company’s blends, whereas Dumbarton, now replaced by Strathclyde distillery supplies the grain whiskies used in the Ballantine’s blend.
It has been one of the oldest blended Scotch whisky brands to have maintained, and even significantly grown in popularity all across international markets, especially in the Asian and European markets.
With nearly two centuries of an enormous contribution to the Scotch whisky industry, Ballantine’s has been one of the oldest and most formidable brands in history.