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From The Rebels To The Royals – The Scotch Whisky Story
From The Rebels To The Royals – The Scotch Whisky Story
As the nation looks forward to an extended bank holiday in honour of Her Majesty The Queen's Platinum Jubilee, we take a look back at the Royal Families' affection for Scotch Whisky and how they helped shape the spirit we love today.

The royal family’s love affair with Scotch Whisky can be traced back to King George the fourth and his infamous trip to Edinburgh in 1822. The new king, struggling with popularity, became the first head of state to voluntarily visit Scotland in over 170 years. In a star-studded affair, organised by local writer Sir Walter Scott, the King requested to taste the illicit Whisky of the Highlands.

Due to the differing tax systems for England, the Lowlands and the Highlands, it became increasingly difficult for distilleries to financially survive. In the Highlands, this created an incredible black market, with an astonishing 14,000 illicit distillations detected in 1823 alone.

With the Kings Scottish hosts unwilling to admit such illegal activity was happening under their nose, the task fell upon the bankrupt John Peter Grant to supply the king with the illicit drink. Knowing he had little left to lose, he called upon his daughter Elizabeth, who managed the household’s supplies, to gift their illegally sourced Whisky to the King. 

“Lord Conyngham, the Chamberlain, was looking everywhere for pure Glenlivet whisky; the King drank nothing else. It was not to be had out of the Highlands. My father sent word to me–I was the cellarer–to empty my pet bin, where was whisky long in wood, long in uncorked bottles, mild as milk, and the true contraband goût in it.” – Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus

That illegal dram just so happened to come from the parish of Glenlivet, where an estimated 200 distillers were actively producing in the shadows. One drop and The King couldn’t get enough, upon his return to London, he set about tax reforms to ensure Whisky from the Highlands could turn a legal profit. The rest, as they say, is history. 

The Royal Warrant

The royal families’ affection for Scotch thankfully didn’t stop with George, with many notable monarchs having a tipple of choice over the years. King William IV was the first monarch to issue a royal warrant to a distillery in 1835. Awarded to the popular Brackla distillery, its opportunist proprietor Captain William Fraser immediately rebranded the distillery to the Royal Brackla, promoting his brand with the icon strapline, “The Kings Own Whisky”. 

Queen Victoria had made no secret of her love of Scotland, visiting so frequently that the country became a popular tourist destination for the wealthy. In 1843, the Queen awarded the Chivas Brothers a Royal Warrant to supply her luxury food and drink during her visits. During the 1860s the company released its first regally titled blended scotch, The Royal Strathythan. 

Following the purchase of the Balmoral Estate in 1848, Queen Victoria and her family were invited to the Lochnagar distillery, located just over the river. Much to the surprise of distillery owner John Begg, the royal family arrived a day later. After the first ever royal distillery tour, the Queen sampled a dram and quickly awarded the third royal warrant for Whisky. A big fan of Scotch, Queen Victoria went on to award two further warrants to John Dewar & Sons (1893) and George Ballantine & Son (1895). 

Unlike the Lochnagar distillery which received its warrant just three years after establishment, The world’s most popular Whisky brand, Johnnie Walker (est. 1877), had to wait until 1934, when King George V ended the brand’s 57-year wait for the royal approval. Most recently The Duke of Rothesay, HRH Prince Charles, awarded his personal favourite distillery Laphroaig a Royal Warrant in 1994. Her Majesty The Queen has only awarded one Whisky such honours during in her current reign, that being The Famous Grouse back in 1984.

A Dram Fit For A Queen

As we look forward to the extended bank holiday this week, celebrating the incredible reign of Her Majesty the Queen, you might be looking for a special dram to raise in honour. Fortunately, Her Majesty has been commemorated in many Scotch Whisky bottlings over the years.

One of the most notable is the Bowmore Queens Cask. This exceptional 21-year-old bottling is taken from the infamous Queen Cask, a barrel filled in the presence of Her Majesty on the 9th of August 1980 on her first ever trip to a working distillery. This cask was then gifted to the Queen and laid down to rest in Bowmore’s No 1 vault.

Bottled in 2002 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee, many bottles were gifted by the Queen to her family and friends. With some bottles being sold to raise money for Charity it is still possible to buy one of the 648 bottles privately. What better way to celebrate Her Majesty than with her own single malt?

For those looking for something extra special, Glen Grant’s 1952 Platinum Jubilee is the ultimate celebration. Bottled exactly 70 years after Her Majesty’s coronation on the 6th February 2022, this single cask whisky has matured for the entirety of Her Majesty’s reign.

Costing £22,000 a bottle it’s no ordinary dram, but then again, Her Majesty has been no ordinary Queen.

Slàinte Mhath, Your Majesty! 


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