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Grants & The Goblets of Whisky - The Grant Whisky Families of Scotland

Updated: Mar 5

Grant whisky families of Scotland

It might seem like the name Grant is a common one in the world of Scotch whisky. However, it's important to note that Glen Grant, Grant's Blend, William Grant & Sons, and George & John Grant are not actually part of the same company. This can be a bit confusing, which is why we felt it was necessary to write this article.


The Trinity

There were three Grant families that became famous for producing whisky in the Scottish Speyside. James and John Grant established their Glen Grant Distillery in 1840, while John Grant and his son George acquired Glenfarclas in 1865. William Grant founded his first distillery, Glenfiddich, in 1886. Interestingly, the families were not closely related, and Grant was just a popular last name at the time (as well as the name John).

Operating a whisky distillery has always been a challenging endeavour, especially during times of decline in demand and hardships brought about by world wars. Although not all distilleries have managed to survive, these three Grant houses are still around to delight the taste buds of whisky aficionados with their exquisite whisky offerings.

Grant families owned whisky distilleries Speyside Scotland

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The Grants of Glen Grant

First Grants in Whisky: James & John Grant as J. & J. Grant

Known For: Glen Grant Distillery

Distillery Established: 1840

Now Owned By: Glen Grant Ltd. under Campari Group

James & John Grant as J. & J. Grant, Glen Grant distillery

James and John Grant used to be smugglers before they applied for a license to distil in 1839. They had been working with George Smith from the Glenlivet distillery for almost 20 years. They sold Glenlivet whisky as a counterpart to the harsh illicit Lowland whisky. Eventually, they got involved with the Aberlour distillery as both their customers and themselves started to acquire a taste for Speyside whisky.

Facing the end of the lease in 1840, they decided to build their own distillery, which they named Glen Grant. John Grant took charge of the distillery operations while James focused on the much-needed transport of goods. He established the Morayshire Railway Company, which made the area more accessible, sparking an interest for others to build whisky distilleries.

James Grant Glen Grant distillery

Image by Glen Grant - James Grant

The next person to inherit the distillery in 1872 was John Grant's nephew, James, who later became known as The Major. In 1898, James opened a new distillery called 'Glen Grant No.2' across the road, but it only operated for four years. Later on, when the distillery restarted operation in 1965, it was renamed Caperdonich.

The Major passed away in 1931 and was the last Grant to own the distillery. His grandson, Douglas MacKessack, inherited the facility and in 1952, he re-established the relationship with the Glenlivet distillery by forming The Glenlivet and Glen Grant Distilleries Ltd.

James "The Major" Grant - Major Douglas MacKessack Glen Grant distillery

Images by Glen Grant - James "The Major" Grant - Major Douglas MacKessack

In 2006, Campari Group acquired the Glen Grant single malt distillery, which had become the top-selling brand in the Italian market. As the new owner, Campari introduced an official distillery bottling range, which had previously been produced only by Gordon & MacPhail, an independent bottling company. However, G&M still bottles some of the old Glen Grant whiskies.

Although the Glen Grant Grants have been gone for almost a century, their legacy still lives on. At the distillery, visitors can see pictures of the brothers James and John on the old official labels (before 2016) and the expression called Major's Reserve, which pays tribute to the family's history. It's disappointing to see that some of the company's recent labelling choices seem to discredit or erase the family-oriented image that the Grants had helped to establish.

Glen Grant distillery and brands

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The Grants of Glenfarclas

First Grants in Whisky: John & George Grant as J. & G. Grant

Known For: Glenfarclas Distillery

Distillery Established: 1836 (Purchased by John Grant in 1865)

Now Owned By: J. & G. Grant

Brands Associated With: Royal Heritage Blend, Lismore Single Malt and Blend

John Grant - Grants of Glenfarclas - George Grant

Images by J&G Grant - John Grant - Grants of Glenfarclas - George Grant

The Glenfarclas distillery was founded in 1797 by Robert Hay, and it was officially established in 1836. In 1865, John Grant, a successful local cattle breeder, along with his son George, purchased the Rechlerich farm and the distillery for £511.19s.0d. However, as they were more familiar with cattle than whisky, they leased the distillery to John Smith, the owner of the nearby Glenlivet Distillery.

Just five years later in 1870, John Smith established the Cragganmore distillery, and the Grants took over the distillery operations as J. & G. Grant Ltd. Since then, the Grants of Glenfarclas have run the distillery for five generations. The Grants have a tradition of naming their sons either John or George, who take turns running the distillery. Since 2002, the fifth generation John Grant has held the title of chairman, while his son George from the sixth generation has worked as a brand ambassador. Unfortunately, George is no longer associated with the distillery due to family disputes and has no heirs. Thus, the long-standing tradition of distillery ownership may be at risk.

The Glenfarclas distillery is one of the few 'old' whisky distilleries in Scotland that is still owned and operated by just one family, although they have received help along the way.

Glenfarclas distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The Grants of Glenfiddich

First Grant in Whisky: William Grant (1839-1923)

Known For: Glenfiddich & Balvenie Distilleries

Distilleries Established: 1887 & 1892

Now Owned By: William Grant & Sons

Brands Associated With: Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Grant's Blend, Tullamore D.E.W., Monkey

Shoulder, Hazelburn etc.

William Grant & Sons Distilleries

Glenfiddich - est. 1887

Balvenie - est. 1892

Kininvie - est. 1990

Girvan - est. 1963 - Hendrick's Gin since 1999

Ladyburn - est. 1966, closed 1975

Ailsa Bay - est. 2007

Tullamore Distillery, Ireland - est. 2014 (acquired brand Tullamore DEW in 2010)

The Grant Family Tree/ Scotland Shop - William & Elizabeth Grant Glenfiddich distillery

Images by Glenfiddich - The Grant Family Tree/ Scotland Shop - William & Elizabeth Grant

William Grant was born in 1839 in Dufftown and grew up in a family of cattle herders. Despite his humble beginnings, he managed to secure a job as a bookkeeper before eventually becoming the manager of the only distillery in his hometown, Mortlach. With a desire to distill his own whisky, William bought old stills from the Cardow distillery (now Cardhu) and enlisted his seven sons to help him build and operate the Glenfiddich distillery in 1887. He and his wife Elizabeth had a total of nine children.

Glenfiddich distillery staff picture

Image by Glenfiddich

In 1892, the Balvenie distillery was built next to Glenfiddich for blending whiskies. By 1914, the company exported whiskies to 30 different markets worldwide, thanks to the relentless marketing efforts of Charles Gordon, who was William's son-in-law and married to his daughter Isabella. Even today, the name Gordon is famous in the world of whisky. Since 2012, Glenn Gordon, William Grant's great-great-grandson, has been the chairman of William Grant & Sons.

William's granddaughter, Janet Sheed Roberts, lived to be more than 110 years old and was known as the oldest person in Scotland before she passed away in 2012. William Grant & Sons celebrated her 100th, 105th, 107th, and 110th birthday by releasing celebratory whisky bottlings under the name Hazelwood.

Janet Sheed Roberts Glenfiddich distillery

Images by Whisky Magazine/ Daily Record - Janet Sheed Roberts

William Grant & Sons is currently the largest independently owned whisky company in Scotland, with over 2,800 employees worldwide. The company has existed for six generations and expanded its portfolio to include multiple categories of spirits. Their best-selling single malt is Glenfiddich. The Grants of Glenfiddich are also shareholders in other whisky-making companies, such as Highland Distillers (at 30%). With a current value of over £2.6 billion, the company is now the third-largest whisky producer in Scotland.

William Grant & Sons Glenfiddich distillery

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


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