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Issue 106 - Rugged & Canny

Whisky Magazine Issue 106
September 2012


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Rugged & Canny

Gavin D. Smith looks at the fortunes of Vat 69

One of the oldest Scotch whisky jokes is ‘What is the Pope's telephone number?' ‘Vat 69, of course.' It is probably worth warning the unwary that it is not to repeat this ‘joke' if you happen to find yourself in Glasgow and drinking in a pub too close to Celtic Park!

These days the relevance of the said joke in UK bars is minimal anyway, since the old brand is principally to be found in foreign markets, while once it was a mainstay of the UK trade.

Vat 69 was launched in 1882, and was the creation of William Sanderson, born and bred in Edinburgh's historic port of Leith, where he learnt the wine and spirits business before setting up in his own right as a ‘British wine and cordial' manufacturer in the town's Charlotte Lane in May 1863.

Sanderson was soon blending malt and grain whiskies, creating what he termed ‘Mixture Whisky,' and he particularly favoured malt spirit from Lochnagar distillery, near to Queen Victoria's Highland home of Balmoral, on Deeside. He became close friends with distillery owner John Begg, serving as a director of the distillery after Begg's death in 1896.

Aided by his son William Mark, William Sanderson set about choosing a blend to bottle as the principal representative of the House of Sanderson. William proceeded to make up nearly 100 different permutations of blends.

Each was filled into a small vat, and the Sandersons then invited a number of friends and associates to choose their favourite blend. The result was a unanimous vote of...

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