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Issue 30 - Whatever happened to the heroes?

Whisky Magazine Issue 30
April 2003


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Whatever happened to the heroes?

Some of the great whisky brands have remained popular, others have all but disappeared. Why? Tom Bruce-Gardyne investigates

When The Stranglers first growled the words “Whatever happened to … ” in their hit No More Heroes, they could have been singing about Scotch. For just as punk destroyed many older bands in the late ‘70s, some of the great names in whisky were beginning to get pushed aside.

Twenty-five years on, it seems a good time to ask the same question of those once great whisky brands that helped build an entire industry.

At the start of the ‘70s, Haig Gold Label became the first brand of spirits in the United Kingdom to sell more than a million cases in a year. With its closest rival a long way behind, Haig felt supremely self-confident.

It came from the oldest whisky dynasty in the world and had been Britain's favourite Scotch for a generation. It was unfazed by the retail revolution sweeping the high street and was about to enter the supermarkets for the first time.

By the decade's end, Haig was in serious trouble, fatally wounded by Bell's, which had come from almost nowhere to seize poll position.

With its 40-year-old slogan – ‘Don't be vague, ask for Haig' – and its dumpy, dark glass bottle with a plain label, it was looking old and tired.

All the usual tricks were tried – Haig was dressed in a clear bottle like Bell's, it was backed with a new advertising campaign.

But it was too little too late. In 1986, the United Kingdom rights to Gold Label were sold to Whyte & Mackay by its parent company DCL. It is now back with DCL, or rather Diageo, who currently s...

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