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Issue 29 - From monsters to minnows

Whisky Magazine Issue 29
March 2003


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From monsters to minnows

Pip Hills looks at who owns what in the world of whisky

A friend of mine, who teaches economics at a university, tells me that he often uses the Scotch whisky industry as an example of what he calls the post-modern economy. I don't much like the description, which smacks of daft literary theory, but I take his point. The ownership of Scotch whisky exhibits many of the features which distinguish today's world of business from that of 50 – or even 20 – years ago.

At one extreme we have gigantism, with conglomerate corporations whose turnover exceeds the Gross Domestic Product of several poor countries, whose brands – from booze to burgers – are household names throughout the world, and who own large numbers of distilleries.

At the other extreme, distilleries which are owned by small private companies survive and even prosper. Most of these serve niche markets made up of people who are enthusiasts and voluntary ambassadors for the virtues of their favourite whiskies.

And in between are companies of all sorts and sizes. Some of these are subsidiaries of conglomerate companies of which they are minor tributaries. Others are fiercely independent and hold their own against the giants in the international arena.

The table which accompanies this article shows who owns which Scotch whisky distillery: grain distilleries as well as malt. It shows the companies in order of the number of distilleries owned (in columns from left to right), though that order does not necessarily reflect the size of the company's business, for some qu...

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