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Issue 14 - Whisky pioneer

Whisky Magazine Issue 14
February 2001

 

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Whisky pioneer

In the male-dominated world of whisky, the contributuin of women is oftern overlooked. Helen Arthur puts the record straight

A formidable, able tyrant who ruled the family with a rod of iron – and half the countryside as well!” This is how John Bruce Lockhart described his great grandmother Jean in an interview with The Strathspey and Badenoch Herald in May 1989. Jean Macgregor took over the running of her husband's distillery, Balmenach, on his death in 1888. A leading Elgin lawyer said at the time that she was “worth all the distillers put together both in character and in business acumen.”

Jean Macgregor disagreed with many local people – including the local minister. As a result of this particular dispute she built a second church of her own in the village of Cromdale. This building is now Cromdale Village Hall. There is no doubt that without her the Balmenach distillery would have closed. Jean kept the Balmenach distillery going for quite some time until another member of the family, Jim Macgregor, was finally persuaded to come back from New Zealand. Unfortunately, its present owners mothballed Balmenach in 1993. However, Jean was not the first woman to run a distillery. Indeed, when her father-in-law, James Macgregor of Balmenach took out one of the first licences to distil whisky in 1824 he was in good company. George Smith of Glenlivet, the owner of Mortlach at Dufftown and a Mrs Gordon of Ballintomb also applied for licences. The success of Ballintomb was short-lived: it closed in the late 1860s when a Mr John Stewart Smith took over the distillery from its second lady owner, An...

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