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Scottish Whisky Distilleries Celebrating Bicentennial in 2024

Updated: Mar 12


whisky glass 200th anniversary

Image by Shutterstock / The Whisky Ardvark


Reaching 200 years of operation is a significant achievement for any business. This milestone in the Scottish whisky industry also marks the start of licensed distilling. Six Scottish distilleries have survived to this day and are celebrating their 200th bicentennial in the year 2024, which is a cause for special celebration. Some of these distilleries will use this opportunity to release limited edition bottlings.


In this article, we will explore how the law on licensed distilling came into existence and look at the six surviving distilleries, including those that have already begun their celebrations.



 

The Start of Licenced Distilling


The first records of whisky production in Scotland date back to 1494. For almost 300 years, people were allowed to distil spirits relatively freely without a significant change in behaviour until private distilling was eventually banned in 1781 to stop untaxed spirit production. The Illicit Distillation Act in 1822 brought even harsher punishments for producing, supplying and consuming illegal whisky. However, these laws didn't stop King George IV, who was a fan of whisky. The same year the act was introduced, the King visited Scotland and tasted some illegal whiskies. George Smith was one of those illicit distillers known for his exceptional 'Glen Livet' whisky, which the King enjoyed immensely.


King George IV was so impressed with what distillers had to offer that he decided to lower the tax on distilled spirits and introduced the Excise Act in 1823 to promote the legal production of whisky. The first license to produce whisky was granted to George Smith in 1824 from Glenlivet, who became the first licensed distiller in Scotland by the new law. He also became the target of illegal distillers who saw him as a sell-out.


Despite the controversy, approximately 167 licensed distilleries were reportedly registered in 1824, which increased to 264 by 1826 - almost twice the number in operation today. As it happened, only six of the 167 registered distilleries still exist today.



 

The Surviving Six


Along with Glenlivet, five other distilleries are celebrating their bicentenary in 2024: Macallan, Balmenach, Cardhu, Fettercairn and Miltonduff. The one that obviously didn't make it to 200 was the disaster distillery Banff, also established in 1824 and closed in 1983.


Let's take a look at how these distilleries will be celebrating their 200th anniversary. Please note that we intend to update this article as the year progresses.

 

Macallan


Right from the start of 2024, Macallan launched its 'The Macallan. 200 years young.' campaign to celebrate its bicentenary.


The distillery was founded in 1824 by Alexander Reid and was initially called the 'Elchies distillery'. The name was changed to Macallan-Glenlivet in 1892 by then-owner Roderick Kemp. Since 1999, Edrington Group has owned the majority stake in the distillery (52.5%), with Suntory owning 25% and William Grant & Sons owning 22.5% of the distillery's stock.


Over the years, Macallan has built a massive following by marketing the brand and releasing numerous limited editions. It has become one of the world's most sought-after luxury whisky brands, often referred to as the 'Rolls-Royce' of the industry. Macallan is also in the race with Gordon & MacPhail to bottle the oldest whisky ever and is known for releasing high-end expressions.

The Macallan new logo for 200th anniversary

Images of the logos by The Macallan


Macallan revealed its new logo in 2023 for its travel retail-exclusive Colour Collection to celebrate its bicentenary, which will most likely be extended to other releases during 2024. So far, the new logo crowns the official Macallan website, indicating a lasting change.


As part of the celebration, the brand promises to explore its legacy and time travel with the phrase 'Incomparable; Creativity, Craftsmanship, Legacy and Sustainability' and has introduced 'the 200 years logo', drawing inspiration from the idea of infinity. Although no celebratory bottlings have been released yet, we expect a wide range to be made available by the end of 2024, given the time and money spent on preparation.


The Macallan 200th anniversary

Images by The Macallan


In February, The Macallan announced that it would host Cirque de Soleil's Spirit show at the estate for three weeks in May. Tickets start at £200 and include a tasting.



 

Glenlivet


Glenlivet, being the first to obtain the license to distil, was also the first to release an anniversary edition bottling among the six. In celebration of this milestone, the Pernod Ricard-owner Glenlivet launched a worldwide competition seeking bold and original designs for their limited labelled 12-year-old commemorative bottling. The brand chose four from over 400 submitted designs to be displayed on the bottle. The expression has been aged exclusively in first-fill American oak casks.


The Glenlivet 200th anniversary

Images by The Glenlivet


Pernod Ricard introduced The Whisky Exchange Cabinet in February 2024, after acquiring The Whisky Exchange in 2021. The first release for the new high-end whisky platform is a limited edition of 12 bottles of The Glenlivet, aged 50 years. This range of bottlings, that celebrate the distillery's bicentennial, is named The Twelve Elements.


Furthermore, Glenlivet has announced that they will celebrate the occasion with 'a line-up of exciting news, experiences, and innovations' throughout the year.


 

Miltonduff


miltonduff distillery logo

Image by Whiskybase


Miltonduff, another distillery owned by Pernod Ricard, is also celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Although it is not as well-known as other distilleries, it is an important contributor to the Ballantine's blend. Since 2017, Miltonduff has been bottled under the Ballantine's malts label, so a commemorative bottling is possible to mark the occasion.



 

Cardhu


Cardhu distillery logo

Image by Diageo


Cardhu distillery, also known as 'the Speyside home of Johnnie Walker', was founded in 1824 by John and Helen Cummings. Originally named the Cardow distillery, Helen trademarked the Car Dhu' in 1872 after her husband's passing.


Cardhu was the first distillery acquired by Johnnie Walker, and today, it remains a key component in the company's blends. To commemorate the 200th anniversary, a specially labelled 12-year-old bottling of Cardhu was released in March, also celebrating International Women's Day.

Cardhu 12-year-old special edition 200th anniversary of the distillery International Women's Day

Image by Whisky Magazine

 

Fettercairn

Fettercairn distillery logo

Image by Fettercairn distillery


Fettercairn distillery was founded in 1824 by Sir Alexander Ramsay. Since 1973, it has been associated with the owner Whyte & MacKay. Although it is a lesser-known distillery, it gained significant recognition after a brand update in 2018. So far, there have been no announcements of special bottlings by Whyte & MacKay this year, although the company has acknowledged the distillery's milestone. Due to the distillery's newfound popularity, we cannot rule out the possibility of celebratory bottlings later this year.

 

Balmenach


Balmenach is the least likely distillery out of the six to celebrate the milestone. The distillery was initially established by James McGregor under the name 'Balminoch' but was renamed in 1897. Due to the lack of official bottlings from the distillery and the fact that it is more well-known for its gin Caorunn than its single malt whisky, the distillery owned by Inver House Distillers might skip the celebration this year.




 

Who Else Is Celebrating?


It's worth noting that 2024 will be a significant year for two other Scottish distilleries. In addition to the milestone anniversary of 200 years for the six distilleries mentioned before, Tullibardine distillery will be celebrating its 75th anniversary, and Auchroisk will be commemorating its 50th. It remains to be seen if either of them will release any special products to mark the occasion.


Longmorn celebrates its 130th anniversary in 2024 by relaunching the whole range as a high-end, art deco-inspired single-batch, cask-strength annual release.


Adelphi, an independent bottler, has already released a collection of special edition bottlings to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Signatory, another independent bottler, is also celebrating their 35th anniversary this year and has launched a commemorative range. Additionally, Milroy's of Soho also celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2024 with the release of four unique bottlings.


For fans of American bourbon, a limited edition of Blanton's is expected to be made available. The highly coveted single-barrel bourbon will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2024, and given that commemorative bottlings were released for its 20th and 30th anniversaries, a 40th-anniversary bottling is likely to be released.


The Irish Midleton distillery also celebrates its 40th anniversary. To commemorate the event, the distillery released a 40-year-old expression in March 2024.


 

Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark!






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