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The Rise and Fall of Whisky: From the Golden Era to the 1920s Slump

Updated: Mar 6

The Rise to the Golden Era


During the mid to late 1800s, whisky was becoming increasingly popular. Four inventions played a crucial role in the rise of its popularity: Aeneas Coffey's invention of the continuous still in 1830, the decimation of French vineyards by Phylloxera parasite in the 1860s, the mass production of cheap glass bottles, and whisky blending.

Phylloxera pest

Image by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Phylloxera


Before the 1860s, cognac was considered a drink for the upper class, while gin was the preferred drink among the poor. However, when Phylloxera destroyed the wine and cognac industry in France, cognac became scarce for over a decade, causing people to switch to whisky. Spanish sherry, which was imported to Britain in large oak barrels, became another popular drink. The barrels were not returned, so the whisky industry used them to mature whisky. The result was a drink that reminded people of cognac. Even after cognac returned to the market, people continued to prefer whisky.


Johnnie Walker Old Highland whisky blend

Whisky blending first emerged in the late 1800s as an attempt to create a consistent product. Before this, whisky was sold from barrels in bars and taverns and identified as distributing their products easily grain or malt. With the arrival of cheaply made glass bottles, wine and spirit traders were able to easily distribute their products and introduce the first whisky brands on labels. Blending made it simpler for people to enjoy whisky, which was previously known for its shortcomings and inconsistency, and guaranteed a consistent product.


When Alfred Barnard toured the UK in the 1880s, there were nearly 160 functioning distilleries. Scotland had 129, with 21 in Campbeltown. Ireland, which was still a part of the UK, had 28 distilleries, while England had 4. Before the year 1900, an additional 20 distilleries were constructed.


Image by The Whisky Exchange


 

The Decline


During the early 1900s, Britain was known for its cheap drinks, and whisky with an alcohol by volume (ABV) higher than 40% was widely available. For many who were struggling with poverty and homelessness, alcohol was the only source of comfort. However, alcohol later became the scapegoat for most societal problems. Women's groups, churches, and the temperance movement united to fight against this perceived evil.


The Pattinson brothers ventured into the whisky business from dairy farming in the 1880s. They soon became blenders and gained stocks in Glenfarclas, Oban, and Aultmore distilleries. However, their business dealings didn't help the industry's reputation. They were caught selling bottles of 'Fine Old Glenlivet' that contained extremely cheap whisky, causing more distrust in spirits.

Pattinsons whisky crash late 1800s ad

In 1908, David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, attempted to pass a Licensing Bill that would have led to the closure of one-third of all licensed premises, but he was unsuccessful. However, in 1909, he raised the tax on spirits, resulting in a significant decrease in demand. This led to a rise in alteration among barkeeps. Eventually, in 1915, Lloyd George announced that Scotch whisky could only be legally called so if it had been matured for at least three years in bond.


During World War I, many distilleries were shut down, and barley was reserved for the war efforts and to feed people. Some grain distilleries shifted their focus to producing industrial alcohol for weaponry and solvent purposes. After the war ended, people thought things would return to normal, and there was a sudden rush to distil in 1919. However, the 1920s turned out to be a dark era for whisky as it faced several challenges.



In 1920, the US introduced prohibition, causing the UK to lose a significant export market. Although some whisky was still sold overseas for medical purposes and on the thriving black market, the UK felt the impact of the loss. The country almost went through with its own prohibition, but fortunately, it never came to pass.


The 1920s proved to be a challenging period for everyone. The General Strike in 1926 and the 1929 Wall Street Crash ultimately led to the Great Depression between 1929-34, causing the number of working distilleries in Scotland to decrease to just eight.


William Ross founder of DLC

Amidst the chaos, William Ross emerged as the saviour of the whisky industry by creating a vision that brought together distillery ownerships to create a fairer market. He encouraged whisky makers to work together instead of competing against each other and inspired others to follow suit. This led to the birth of the DCL, which later became Diageo.


The Second World War was a time of great hardship, but after the war, the whisky industry had an opportunity to bounce back stronger than ever before.


Image by wordpress.com -William Ross


 

The Slump of the 1920s - Lost Distilleries


During the period between the war years, a total of 45 whisky distilleries were permanently closed, out of which 18 were located in Campbeltown alone. Below, you will find the names of the lost distilleries listed alphabetically, which unfortunately fell during these hard times.


It is important to note that some of the distillery names have been later used by other distillers to commemorate bottlings or blended whiskies. However, there are also counterfeit bottlings in the market, so it is crucial to ensure that they are genuine before investing if you come across one of these rare bottles.


  1. Albyn 1830-1927 The Roading, Campbeltown

  2. Annandale 1830-1921 Annan, Rebuilt 2014

  3. Ardlussa 1879-1923 Glebe Street, Campbeltown

  4. Argyll 1844-1923 Longrow, Campbeltown

  5. Auchinblae 1896-1927 Auchinblae

  6. Auchtermuchty AKA Stratheden 1829-1926 Auchtermuchty, Lowlands

  7. Auchtertool 1845-1927 Kirkcaldy, Lowlands

  8. Ballechin 1810-1927 Near Ballinluig, Highlands

  9. Bankier 1827-1928 Denny

  10. Ben Wyvis AKA Ferintosh 1879-1926 Dingwall, North of Inverness

  11. Benmore 1868-1927 Saddell House, Campbeltown

  12. Bo'ness 1813-1925 Bo'ness

  13. Burnside 1825-1924 Witchburn Road, Campbeltown

  14. Camlachie AKA Whitevale Loch Katrine 1834-1920 Camlachie Street East End, Glasgow

  15. Campbelton 1825-1924 Longrow, Campbeltown

  16. Dalaruan 1824-1922 Broad Street, Campbeltown

  17. Dalintober 1832-1925 Queen Street, Campbeltown

  18. Dean 1881-1922 Bell's Brae, Dean, Edinburgh

  19. Glen Cawdor 1898-1927 Nairn, Speyside

  20. Glen Coull 1897-1926 Justinhaugh


Single malt whiskies from closed distilleries before 1920s

Image by The Whisky Ardvark



21. Glen Nevis 1877-1923 Glebe Street, Campbeltown

22. Glen Sciennes AKA Edinburgh AKA Newington AKA West Sciennes

1849-1925 Newington, Edinburgh

23. Glendarroch AKA Glenfyne AKA Glengilp AKA Glengilph

1831-1937 Ardrishaig

24. Glenfoyle AKA Dasherhead AKA Gargunnoch AKA Westerkepp

1826-1923 Near Stirling

25. Glengyle 1873-1925 Glengyle Road, Campbeltown,

Rebuilt 2004

26. Glenochil 1746-1929 Menstrie

27. Glenside 1834-1926 Glenside, Campbeltown

28 Glenskiach 1896-1926 Evanton, Highlands

29. Grange 1795-1925 Burntisland, Lowlands

30. Hazelburn 1825-1925 Longrow, Campbeltown

31. Isla AKA Clockserrie 1851-1926 Bridgend, Perth

32. Kinloch 1823-1926 Saddell Street, Campbeltown

33. Kintyre 1825-1921 Broad Street, Campbeltown

34. Langholm 1765-1921 Langholm

35. Lochhead 1824-1928 Lochhead, Campbeltown

36. Lochindaal 1829-1929 Port Charlotte, Islay

37. Lochruan 1835-1925 Princes Street, Campbeltown

38. Man O'Hoy AKA Stromness 1817-1928 Stromness, Orkney

39. Parkmore 1894-1931 Dufftown, Speyside

40. Provanmill AKA Mile End AKA Milltown

1815-1929 Craighead Avenue East End,

Glasgow

41. Rieclachan 1825-1934 Off Longrow, Campbeltown

42. Springside 1830-1926 Off Burnside Street,

Campbeltown

43. Stronachie 1900-1928 Pathstruie, Milnathort

44. Towiemore 1896-1930 Botriphnie

45. Yoker 1770-1928 Yoker, Glasgow


Single malt whiskies from closed distilleries before 1920s

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

 

This article's main source of information was Brian Townsend's amazing book, Scotch Missed: The Original Guide to the Lost Distilleries of Scotland.


The book is available in many outlets, but follow the link below to check it out at WHSmith.

 

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