If we are going simply by the amount sold then Johnnie Walker is by far and away the leader with no less than 15.9 million cases sold at the last count in 2010. That’s 191,000,000 bottles. And that is an awful lot of Scotch!
John Walker was born in 1805, the son of a farmer, Alexander Walker and his wife Elizabeth. In 1819 Alexander Walker died and the family sold the farm and raised enough money to buy a grocery shop in Kilmarnock for the 14 year old John to manage. By 1825 John had started distilling his own whiskies and selling them to the townsfolk. In 1843, the railway arrived in Kilmarnock and John immediately began distributing his whiskies wholesale throughout Scotland.
John died in 1857 and his son Alexander took over the business and in 1860 invented the square bottle and offered ships captains a commission to sell the brand worldwide. The rest is history. Johnnie Walker is simply the best selling brand of Scotch in the world.
Ballantine’s was started by George Ballantine who was also the son of a farmer born in 1809. He opened a business in Edinburgh and began distilling his own whiskies, in 1831 specialising in blending various malts. Over the years, Ballantines has developed into one of the most sought after whiskies in the world, selling some 74,000,000 bottles in 2011.
William Grant & Sons
William Grant was born in 1839 and didn’t produce his first drop of whisky until 1887 when, with the help of his seven sons and two daughters, he opened his first distillery. It was his son-in-law Charles Gordon who became the company’s first ever salesman. His determination takes some beating. Carrying a selection of William’s samples he began by knocking on doors. His first sale was made after 181 calls. Then he made the second after another 503! Fortunately things got a bit easier from then on.
By 1914, Grant’s fame had spread and the company was now selling its’ whisky in 60 countries. In 1915 a law was passed making the minimum period for maturing whisky two years, but fortunately William had enough aged whisky in the casks to ensure a continuing supply throughout the war.
In 1963 the company built its Girvan distillery and William’s great grandson – also named Charles Gordon – was so keen that everything should be correct that he lived on the site in a caravan and cycled around it checking every last detail.
In 1973 Grant’s first hit sales of 12,000,000 bottles and today has increased that to 74,000,000 annually. The company is now owned by Diageo of London. Their Glenfiddich line is the highest selling single malt scotch brand in the world.
Justernini & Brooks (J&B)
The history of J & B Rare goes back as far as 1749 when an italian named Giacomo Justerini arrived in London to win the hand of an opera singer. Having no luck, he then set up a business in Pall Mall with a partner, George Johnson, supplying fine wines. In 1760 they obtained a Royal Warrant as suppliers of alcoholic drinks to King George III.
In 1831, the business was sold by Johnson’s descendants to Alfred Brooks who re-named the business Justerini & Brooks, the name which still stands today. J & B Rare was developed in the 1930′s when prohibition had ended in the US and was intended to be sold in the US in order to let people have a pleasant drink after years of moonshine. Today J & B Rare is sold in almost every country in the world and is selling at the rate of 60,000,000 bottles every year.
Chivas Regal can be traced back to yet another grocery store in 1801 – this time in Aberdeen. in the 1830′s James Chivas began laying down casks of whisky to mature in the cellar of the shop. In the 1850′s James and his brother John began the blending of many different malt whiskies in order to achieve a rich, creamy smoothness with which the blend is still associated today.
In the 1880′s French vineyards were hit with the catastrophic disease phylloxera which badly hit wine and cognac production and discerning businessmen and socialites turned to drinking Scotch instead.
In the prohibition era, of course, sales slumped, but in 1938 Chivas Regal was back with a 12 year old blend. In 1950 the brand became more widely distributed and in another thirty years had achieved the distinction it still has today, selling some 54,000,000 bottles annually. The company is now owned by Pernod Ricard of France.
So there you have it. The best 5 brands of Scotch available today. of course the word “best” is subjective – you might think that none of these brands is the best for your taste. However in terms of popularity these stand out above all others.