Whisky Magazine Issue 101
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Our writers look at several businesses across the globe find out if family owned is the secret? Does being family run mean slicker and more innovative, more adaptable; or does it put pressure on future generations? Can the power of a collective family past, its struggles and successes, inform the future? Dave Broom starts us off
Whisky has been a familial spirit from its earliest inception. The earliest distillers weren't large corporations, but farmers making product for their own household, maybe their (small) communities. When the Scottish, and Irish, whisky world was changed in 1823, it was predominantly these farmers and their likes who started the great whisky boom. Some of these pioneers are still making whisky today.
The notion of the whisky-making dynasty is not confined to Scotland however. The Beams have been distilling whisky since 1788 when Jacob Boehm arrived in Kentucky.
Seven generations on, Parker and Craig Beam are still making Bourbon at (family-owned) Heaven Hill while Fred Noe works ambassadorially for Jim Beam itself. Scratch almost any Bourbon brand or distillery and a Beam will have been involved at some stage.
Elsewhere in Kentucky, the Samuels family (distillers since 1783) remain involved at Maker's Mark, while the fifth generation of Browns still control the mighty Brown-Forman, owner of Jack Daniel's, Early Times, Woodford Reserve and a host of other beverages.
In other words, while its easy to think that whisky is a playground for multinationals, family firms still exist at all levels: from the Grants of Dufftown, the Browns of Louisville or the Torii family of Osaka (themselves the founders of a whole new whisky style), to single distillery operations.
This isn't as surprising as it may seem initially. As Gavin Smith argues in his piece on William Grant & Sons whis...