WHISKY AND PERTH, SCOTLAND – Scotch Whisky News
WHISKY AND PERTH, SCOTLAND
Bell’s whisky; Operated from a shop in Perth 1825, Arthur Bell began trading in two most precious commodities: whisky and tea. But only one was pure gold… The years of the 1850’s Arthur Bell defied convention, mixing several fine whiskies to create the Bell’s blend. Perth’s importance to the whisky trade was partly due to being a fertile area, home to 44 distilleries (Perthshire) in 1819 although that number would fall, the city’s role in the industry would do the reverse. Arthur Bell, John Dewar, and Matthew Gloag ( a restaurant/pub in Perth is The Famous Grouse, in the old Gloag offices) would start blending whisky, taking their fathers’ whiskies to the world. In 1825, Thomas Sandeman opened a wine and spirit merchant in Kirkside selling his relative George’s new range of Port wines (a large pub in Perth is called Sandemans). The Sandemans were an influential family, Sandemanian’ churches were founded in Scotland, England and America. Arthur Bell’s family belonged to the London church, and in 1845 Arthur was employed as a traveller for Sandeman’s wine business. By 1851, he was a partner. Matthew Gloag had been an assistant butler at nearby Scone Palace (still a good visit today just over the River Tay). He then moved to perform butler duties for James Patton, the Sheriff Clerk of Perthshire, met his wife Margaret Brown. Margaret applied for a licence to sell wines and spirits in the shop below their home in Atholl Street (just around the corner from where I live). Four years later, Matthew joined the business full-time.
In 1842, Matthew supplied wines and spirits for a banquet to celebrate Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s royal visit to Perthshire. Sadly, the event never took place (wonder where the whisky went?), meanwhile John Dewar had come from Glen Lyon to Perth to take up a position as cellarman at his relative Alex McDonald’s wine and spirit merchant in Castle Gable. John opened his own shop, complete with bonded warehouse, at 111 High Street (a few doors doon from my old address!). The firm would stay there for 54 years. Whisky was an important role in all three businesses. In 1848, the railway came to Perth. Over the next 20 years the railway opened up Speyside, allowing distilleries to be built. Casks could now be transported easily from the Lowlands, while whisky could be shipped south. Perth, where the railway lines split to go to Glasgow or Edinburgh, was now a whisky railway hub. In 1870, William B Gloag took over his father’s business, Kinnoull Street (where my local pub Christies is located). Matthew took over in 1896, making blended whisky. The Grouse Brand (as it was first named) appeared in 1897.
John Dewar & Sons, John’s sons, Tommy and John Alexander, now one of the three major blending houses (John Walker and James Buchanan). Its High Street base was now too small and, in 1894, the firm moved to a large site on London Road (no street name now exists), next to the railway where whisky was bonded, blended and bottled. J A Dewar became Lord Forteviot in 1916 was Perth’s Lord Provost (Mayor) Liberal MP for Invernesshire, cleared the Perth’s slums, built its gas works and established the charitable Forteviot Trust. His brother Tommy donated Kinnoull Hill to the city, a nice walk with great views, but unfortunately is now a place to make a jump (suicide). On the death of Fred Gloag and his wife, Matthew Gloag became part of Highland Distillers, at which point The Famous Grouse started to be premium blend. By the end of the decade, it was selling 1m cases. Perth had become a city of whisky landmarks: Dewar’s Corner (on London Road), the bottling hall at Inveralmond (now a brewery lies there), Gloag’s Bordeaux House, Bell’s offices at Cherrybank (another good pub there) and the sports centre the firm donated to the city Dewar’s Leisure centre and ice rink – we do many curling tours there. .
By the 1980s, Dewar’s was one of the world’s top-selling blends, Bell’s dominated the UK market and was looking to export, while The Famous Grouse had become Scotland’s favourite blend. Perth could claim to be Scotland’s most successful whisky city. Sadly not any longer. First to go was Dewar’s in 1994, its then owner United Distillers closed five distilleries and three bottling plants, one of which was Inveralmond, with 310 people laid off. Four years later, Bacardi bought Dewar’s (Aberfeldy) and in 2000, opened its bottling hall/office complex in London Road, Glasgow. Bell’s was bought by Guinness, then bought DCL and then merged with IDV to form Diageo (keeping up?). Bell’s base at Cherrybank was, briefly, the firm’s UK sales and marketing headquarters. We still have a Bells sports centre in Perth. Wandering aboot the city on the old high street, a painted wall sign states Thompson’s Whisky – more later. Highland Distillers turned into The Edrington Group, in West Kinfauns a mile or so out of town. They left last year! Now, all that remains of Perth’s whisky heritage are leisure centres and pubs.
Some local detail; In the 19th century the population of Perth doubled. However the population of Britain quadrupled. So Perth grew relatively smaller and less important pro rata. A piped water supply was created in Perth in 1829. However Perth was dirty and unsanitary, in 1832-33 a cholera epidemic killed 148 people. In 1812 a prison was built in Perth for French prisoners of war after Waterloo. It is still here. The railway came to Perth in 1848. From 1895 horse drawn trams ran in the streets of Perth. In the 20th century Perth harbour declined but the insurance industry and whisky distilling continued. Perth gained an electricity supply in 1901. In 1923-26 St Johns Kirk was restored and made into one Kirk again, one of the oldest buildings in town (12 century). 1905 electric trams ran in the streets of Perth but from 1927 they were replaced by buses. The last tram ran in 1929. Bells Sports Centre was built in 1968. A K Bell Library officially opened in 1995.
NOTE; Peter Thomson Ltd. Turned into Haddows, Old Perth blend was resurrected in 2013 and Morrison and Mackay Whisky Merchants, the company behind this renaissance is based locally. Old Perth blended malt of a superior quality malt Whiskies in the blend and I have 3 versions of this in my cupboard. A typical blended scotch will have on average 50 – 70% of the blend as grain whisky and the remainder malt whisky. Old Perth is 100% malt whisky and is now on its 3rd release but the core whisky has always remained the same, Aultmore 2009 matured in first fill bourbon casks. A rich flavoured and malty dram revealing banoffe pie, caramel and honey with a mature oakiness.
Perthshire as a county has Deanston, Tullibardine, Bells Blair Atholl, Edradour, Glenturret and Aberfeldy distilleries, all with 35 minutes of my house! Been to them all many, many times. I have lived and worked here for many years now, a great location base for our whisky tours; www.whiskytours.scot/