Most distillers are owned by massive multinationals, and that holds true for Scotch, the focus of this site. Some are part of smaller groups. Very few independent distilleries remain. If you’re interested in who controls your whisky, and how close the distillers are to their business practices, this guide is intended to help. Note: it is a work in progress.
If you have a choice between one of these guys and one of the brands below, give the independents the nod. Some of them are pricey, as they aim for niche markets and high quality.
Arran – a new-built distillery, which cooperates with Springbank.
Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Company – An independent bottler, are owners of Edradour, one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland.
J&G Grant – about 150 years in the same family, the Glenfarclas distillery produces a range of fine Speyside whiskies with a sherry finish. Their website is a gold mine of technical information. Also, their quality is excellent, output fairly high and prices reasonable.
Ian MacLeod Distillers: Producers of Glengoyne, Tamdhu, Isle of Skye and Smokehead Scotch. They say they are the 10th largest Whisky distiller; independent for 80 years.
Kilchoman – a fairly new artisinal distiller, producing a heavily-charactered single malts. One of the two distilleries in Scotland which perform all the steps to produce whisky on same premises. And they grow their own barley.
Springbank – Family-owned. Another artisinal distiller who produces kickass malts. Unlike Kilchoman, Springbank is an older distiller resuscitated. This is the other distillery with control over all steps of their whisky-making process, onsite.
Smaller Holding Companies (privately held)
Edrington Group – these chaps run Highland Park (Orkney), monster-selling Macallan (Speyside), and blends the Famous (and Black) Grouse and (gulp) Cutty Sark. Don’t judge them by Cutty – Highland Park is an excellent all-rounder and The Macallan is well-deserved in its place in sales.
William Grant & Sons – still a family business, they produce Grant’s reserve, the Speyside single malts from Balvenie and Glenfiddich, Tullamore Dew (Irish) and a bunch of other smaller spirit brands.
Multinationals (Revenues > $1 B)
Alliance Global Group – $2.5Bn, owner of Emperador, Inc which itself owns Whyte and Mackay, makers of the Whyte and Mackay blend as well as Dalmore, Jura, and Fettercairn single malts.
Bacardi – $4.6Bn, owners of Dewars (Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, Macduff, Royal Brackla)
Diageo – $15.7Bn, own Johnny Walker, Caol Isla, Cardhu, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glen Elgin, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban Talisker, Bells, Dimple Pinch and a few others besides.
Distell Group Limited – $1.6Bn, owner of Burn Stewart Distillers – Bunnahabhain, Tobermory, Ledaig and Deanston.
LVMH – $53.8Bn (you thought Suntory was big?) owns Glenmorangie (Highland), Ardbeg (Islay), and a ton of other wines and spirits worldwide. Like Moet and Henessy.
Pernod Ricard – $9.9Bn, Aberlour, Ballantine’s, (along with Irish whiskies Jameson, Green Spot, Yellow Spot, Powers, Redbreast) and a few others.
Rémy Cointreau – $1.2Bn, owners (since 2012) of small, craft-oriented Bruichladdich. They focus on liqueurs and liquors (cognac, brandy, gin, rum, Metaxa, whisky). So far, they have not spoiled Bruichladdich with obnoxious corporate culture. The distillery is a great place to visit.
Suntory – $23Bn, owns Ardmore, Auchentoshan, Bowmore, Glen Garioch, Laphroaig, McClelland’s, Teacher’s (along with many other global spirit brands). Although huge, Suntory is privately held.
Thai Bev – $4Bn, food, beer and spirits conglomerate with operations in Thailand, China and Scotland. Thery own Scottish distilleries Knockdhu (anCnoc), Speyburn, Old Pulteney and Balblair. They also sell a number of blends from various distilleries such as Balmenach Distillery.