HOW MUCH did a freshly-made whisky cost in Victorian Britain? What types of whiskies were being made? And how do these prices compare with the present day?
For the first time, these questions can now be answered by using WhiskyInvestDirect‘s new interactive database, writes Leon Kuebler.
Between 1899 and 1970, the Wine & Spirit Trade Record published an annual chart of active distilleries in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the type of whisky produced and, up to 1939, their owners. In most cases, the price of each distillery’s new make whisky is also given.
The level of detail given by the Wine & Spirit Trade Record (WSTR) and the length of time over which they were published make these charts a rich source of historic information on the Scotch whisky industry.
Now, all seven decades-worth of information can be accessed in one place, thanks to our interactive database. [Those using mobile devices may need to rotate.]
This database includes:
- All distilleries listed as active in the United Kingdom in those years;
- The type(s) of whisky they were making;
- How much they were charging for new fillings (in shillings per proof gallon, which I’ve rebased to current £/LPA to remove inflation)
- The owners of the distilleries (pre-WWII – post-1953 owners taken from other sources).
This database gives a vivid insight into the changing nature of the whisky industry in Scotland.
In big picture terms, whisky gradually became cheaper to produce during the 20th century. Over time, this was made possible by reductions in the cost of utilities, transportation and raw materials and rising economies of scale in major Scottish distilleries.
Our database ends in 1970 – but this trend has continued to the present day. In 1899, a Litre of Pure Alcohol (LPA, modern industry standard unit) of the cheapest Scottish new make grain whisky would have cost the equivalent of around £2.70 today; the cheapest new make malt, £5.02.
On today’s date (April 13, 2017), by contrast, one LPA of new make grain can currently be traded at around £1.12, while new make malt can be bought at £2.18.
The database also gives an insight into the impact of warfare on the whisky industry. Aside from 1937, which appears to be missing, the WSTR only did not publish this chart in the last two years of the First World War, the Second World War and the years of post-war rationing (1945-1952). In these years, distillation was either banned or severely restricted.
The impact of wartime grain and fuel shortages was keenly felt in Britain. In 1916, the last year that whisky distillation was allowed during wartime, the average price of new make malt whisky was twice that of 1914. Indeed, the all-time record price for new make whisky was set in this year, when a proof gallon of either Glenlivet or Lochindaal cost 10 shillings – the equivalent of £15.11 today!
Beyond the raw numbers, however, the database illuminates just how much the whisky map of the United Kingdom (not just Scotland, but England and Wales too) and Ireland has altered.
All in all, 232 different whisky distilleries were listed as active at some point between 1899 and 1970: 192 in Scotland, 29 in Ireland, 10 in England and 1 in Wales. Only 97 of these remain active today, with all but two of these located in Scotland.
In the current era of ‘world’ whisky it is easy to forget that, until the 1930s, there were many distilleries located outside of Scotland. Irish whiskey is, of course, justly famous in its own right, and the full range of Irish distilleries making malt, grain and Irish Pot Still whisky was included by the WSTR until 1939 (and intermittently thereafter). But England also had several active distilleries until the Second World War – and Wales also had one distillery, which made Pot Still whisky.
While many more distilleries survived in Scotland, there were big changes in the types of whisky which they made. Cameronbridge, for example, sent several years simultaneously producing three types of whisky – grain, Irish-style Pot Still, and an unspecified ‘malt’ whisky. Nearby Caledonian was also making both grain and Pot Still whisky in the years 1906-1913. Auchtertool produced both ‘peated’ and ‘unpeated’ Lowland malt for most of the pre-WWI years – an unusual distinction, given that most distilleries at this time used peat.
Some types of whisky were more esoteric still. Kirkliston produced Lowland whisky under the name of Glenforth, along with malt whisky distilled in a patent still (now banned by the Scotch Whisky Association, but revived by Nikka in Japan) and a mysterious ‘plain’ malt whisky. In Ireland, Phoenix Park (owned by The Distiller’s Company, Ltd., the forerunner of Diageo) spent 1906 producing two types of grain – one ‘Irish Style’, one ‘Scottish Style’. And in England, Bristol distillery made grain, Pot Still and ‘Blended’ whisky.
Unsurprisingly, as in many other aspects of life, the Great War was the great watershed in whisky production. While distilleries had closed in the depressed conditions of the 1900s, the pace quickened rapidly after 1918. Most Lowland and Campbeltown distilleries disappeared, along with the oddities of the Victorian whisky world – the multi-product distilleries, the malt distilleries using patent stills and the like.
At the same time, as ownership consolidated in the hands of an ever-smaller number of companies (particularly The Distiller’s Company, Ltd. and Scottish Malt Distillers, its malt-producing subsidiary), prices began to homogenize.
If the Victorian whisky era seems quaint, then that of 1953 onwards is instantly recognisable, dominated as it is by Scottish malt and grain distilleries. It is only in recent years, with the rebirth of ‘world’ whisky, that the picture has altered once again.
Full table of distilleries featured:
|Country||Distillery||Whisky produced||Active today?|
|Scotland||Adelphi (Loch Katrine)||Grain | Malt (Type unspecified)||No|
|Scotland||Auchentoshan||Highland Malt | Lowland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Auchtermuchty (Stratheden)||Lowland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Ben Morven (Gerston)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Ben Nevis||Grain | Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Ben Wyvis (Invergordon)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Benachie (Jericho)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Blair Athol||Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Caledonian||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Scotland||Cameronbridge||Grain | Pot Still | Malt (Type unspecified)||Yes|
|Scotland||Caol Ila||Islay Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Dallas Dhu||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Dalwhinnie (Strathspey)||Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Dundashill||Grain | Lowland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Esk (Hillside, Montrose)||Grain | Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Ferintosh (Ben Wyvis)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Glen Albyn||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Glen Coull||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Glen Elgin||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Glen Grant||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Glen Keith||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Glen Mhor||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Glen Moray||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Glen Nevis||Campbeltown Malt||No|
|Scotland||Glen Rothes||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Glen Scotia (Scotia)||Campbeltown Malt | West Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Glen Spey||Speyside Malt | Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Glenfyne (Glendarroch)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Glengoyne||Highland Malt | Lowland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Highland Park||Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Inverleven||Lowland Malt | Malt (Type unspecified)||No|
|Scotland||Isla (Tay)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Jura (Isle of Jura)||Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Kinclaith||Highland Malt | Lowland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Kirkliston (Glenforth)||Lowland Malt | Malt (Plain) | Malt (Patent Still)||No|
|Scotland||Loch Katrine (Camlachie)||Lowland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Loch Lomond||Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Lochside||Grain | Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Malt Mill||Islay Malt||No|
|Scotland||Milton Duff||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||North of Scotland (Bon Accord)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||North of Scotland (Strathmore)||Grain | Lowland Malt||No|
|Scotland||North Port (Brechin)||Highland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Port Ellen||Islay Malt||No|
|Scotland||Saucel||Grain | Lowland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Springbank||Campbeltown Malt | West Highland Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||St. Magdalene (Linlithgow)||Lowland Malt||No|
|Scotland||Strathisla (Milton)||Speyside Malt||Yes|
|Scotland||Yoker||Grain | Silent Malt | Malt (Type unspecified)||No|
|Ireland||Abbey Street (Londonderry)||Grain||No|
|Ireland||Avoniel||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Bow Street||Malt | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Coleraine||Grain | Malt||No|
|Ireland||Comber (2)||Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Connswater||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||D.W.D. [Jones Road]||Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Dublin City Distillery||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Dundalk||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Glen Distillery||Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||John’s Lane||Malt | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Kilbeggan (Brusna)||Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Killowen (Springmount)||Grain | Malt | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Marrowbone Lane||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Midleton (Cork Distilleries (2))||Pot Still||Yes|
|Ireland||Monasterevan||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Nun’s Island||Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Phoenix Park||Grain | Grain (Irish Style) | Grain (Scottish style) | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Royal Irish||Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||Thomas St. (Geo. Roe & Co)||Pot Still||No|
|Ireland||West of Ireland (Banagher)||Malt||No|
|England||Bristol||Blended | Grain | Pot Still||No|
|Wales||Welsh Whisky Distillery||Pot Still||No|