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Everything You Need To Know About Ballantine’s

Ballantine’s is a brand of blended scotch whisky produced by Chivas Brothers, a subsidiary of the French beverage group, Pernod Ricard. Originally created by George Ballantine in 1865, the blend has grown into a brand synonymous with Scotch whisky worldwide – Ballantine’s was the world’s second highest-selling scotch whisky in 2021. 

The Ballantine’s brand produces several core expressions, ranging from the entry-level ‘Finest’ blend to a 40-year-old blended whisky. Exploring the brand’s origins, heraldry, and geese – here is everything you need to know about Ballantine’s.

The Origins of Ballantine’s 

The Ballantine’s legacy began when the brand’s namesake, George Ballantine, established a grocer’s shop in Cowgate, Edinburgh in 1827. Opening a second grocer’s shop in Edinburgh’s South Bridge area in 1836, George expanded to also operate as a wine and spirit merchant. 

By 1857, George Ballantine pioneered a ‘shop and drop’ scheme which offered free delivery within 10 miles owned, requiring further expansion – Ballantine’s would operate six shops across Edinburgh by 1895. In 1865, George turned the Edinburgh businesses over to his eldest son, Archibald, while he established new premises in Glasgow.

In Glasgow, the business concentrated on the wine and spirit trade as George began to create his own blended whiskies in 1865. his, George Jr., subsequently joined the business, which began trading as, George Ballantine and Son Ltd. 

By 1881, Ballantine’s had acquired a bonded warehouse and was exporting blended Scotch whisky worldwide. George Sr. retired in 1881, passing away in 1891 at the age of 83. George Jr took control of the business.

The Creation of A Brand 

Queen Victoria awarded Ballantine’s a Royal Warrant.

Under George Jr’s management, Ballantine’s continued to thrive – the company was awarded a Royal Warrant when Queen Victoria visited Glasgow in 1895. In 1910, the brand’s future flagship blend, Ballantine’s Finest was launched. A blend of 50 malt and four-grain whiskies from across Scotland, the Finest expression delivers soft sweet vanilla and cocoa notes. 

In 1919, George Jr sold the company to Barclay and McKinlay, with the new owners seeking to build upon the reputation of the Ballantine’s name to create a brand of blended whiskies. Barclay and McKinlay continued to expand global exports – the iconic square bottle was allegedly introduced to enable the brand’s American salesmen to conceal bottles in their briefcases during prohibition from 1920.

In 1935, Canadian distilling group Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts acquired Ballantine’s, setting out to secure whiskies to supply the blend. Hiram Walker purchased the Miltonduff and Glenburgie distilleries in 1936, which supply the brand’s ‘fingerprint malts’ – the malts that provide the flavor base for the blended whisky. The company also built the Dumbarton grain distillery complex, housing the largest grain distillery in Europe in 1936.  

The Ballantine’s brand was bestowed with a Grant of Heraldic Arms by the Lord Lyon in 1938. Ballantine’s heraldic crest features the Scottish flag and the four essential elements of whisky making – Earth (represented by Scottish barley), Water (from fresh streams), Fire (which heats the mash in a copper pot still), and Air (allowing the whisky to breathe in an oak cask). 

The crest also bears the Latin phrase, ‘Amicus Humani Generis’, meaning a friend to all humankind. This heraldic crest is a badge of honor, adorning every bottle of Ballantine’s to this day.      

Ballantine’s Continuing Expansion 

By the 1950s, a 17-Year-Old expression was being exported to Japan and Asian markets and later joined the brand’s core range. In 1959, Ballantine’s gained a new security force at the Dumbarton distillery, when the company’s warehouse engineer suggested a gaggle of geese would provide a viable alternative and less expensive option than guard dogs – the geese quickly became known as the ‘Scotch Watch’.

A Ballantine’s 12-Year-Old expression was launched in the early 1960s, as Hiram Walker began to focus on increasing exports to Europe. By 1986, the brand was the largest-selling blended whisky label in Europe and the third best-selling in the world. 

In 1987, Hiram Walker sold the brand to Allied Domecq. In 1993, Ballantine’s 21-Year-Old expression was launched – at the time the brand’s oldest whisky bottling.

In 2002, the Dumbarton distillery was mothballed, with production shifting to the Strathclyde grain distillery, although the brand’s bonded warehouse and bottling facility at Dumbarton continued to operate. French drinks group, Pernod Ricard, acquired Ballantine’s in 2005, with the brand falling within its Chivas Brothers whisky portfolio.

Since 2007, Ballantine’s has been the world’s second best-selling whisky brand – the ‘Finest’ expression accounts for approximately 89% of the brand’s worldwide sales, amounting to 5.3 million cases annually.

Ballantine’s Recent Innovations 

Ballantine’s 40 Year Old expression.

In 2012, the oldest expression Ballantine’s 40-Year-Old named the ‘pinnacle’ of the range was launched in Asia, later becoming available worldwide. The brand ventured into the flavored Scotch category, with the release of the lime-flavored ‘Brasil’ bottling in 2013. Ensuring the brand’s future supplies, Pernod Ricard built and began operating the Dalmunach distillery in 2015 – which now supplies malt whisky for the brand.

From 2014, Ballantine’s has partnered with online music broadcaster and nightclub promoter, Boiler Room, to create the True Music scheme. The scheme supports pioneering and emerging artists around the world through a combination of live events and music streaming. The brand has launched the True Music Fund, a £100,000 scheme to support local organizations actively working to achieve diversity and inclusion in music culture.

In promotion, the brand has released the limited-edition, Ballantine’s True Music Icons, celebrating iconic and timeless artists and bands. For 2023, two limited-edition variation bottlings of Ballantine’s Finest were released celebrating the bands AC/DC and Queen. The ‘Finest’ True Music bottlings respectively feature AC/DC’s band logo, and Queen’s band crest designed by singer Freddie Mercury.       

Mark Bostock

Since joining Mark Littler LTD as a freelance article contributor in 2019, Mark Bostock has become an integral part of our UK content writing team. His enthusiasm for whisky, particularly independent bottlings, drives him to deepen his knowledge through frequent attendance at tasting events and the thoughtful expansion of his own whisky collection. This dedication not only fuels his passion but also enriches his contributions to our platform, blending expertise with a genuine love for the subject.

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