The Rise of The Distillers Company Limited

As Scotland’s whisky industry has evolved over the last few centuries, it has seen its fair share of partnerships, takeovers, mergers and alliances.



While many of these have fizzled out or imploded spectacularly, others have laid the foundations of the whisky world we know today. Perhaps the most pivotal moment in whisky history was the formation of the Distillers Company Limited, or DCL for short. Formed in 1877 by a group of six Lowland grain distilleries, the primary aim of DCL was to set prices for the grain whisky that was used for blending. The benefits of this arrangement were clear, and it wasn’t long until other distillers joined the fold; each increasing DCL’s power and influence, while essentially still operating as separate entities in competition with one another.

In 1898 the Pattinson Crash sent ripples through the industry. The Pattinson brothers had quickly amassed their own whisky business, with shares in several distilleries. However, when it transpired that they had been embezzling money, artificially inflating their stock value and passing off an inferior product as “Fine Old Glenlivet” whisky, their empire came tumbling down. But the Pattinson’s loss was DCL’s gain, as they were able to cheaply pick the bones of disgraced company.

Throughout the 20th Century DCL continued their relentless growth, acquiring many famous brands, including Johnnie Walker, White Horse and Haig. But, by the 1970s demand for Scotch (particularly in the UK) was dwindling, and as the largest single entity in the business this hit DCL particularly hard. In 1983 they made the decision to close nine distilleries, followed by a further four in 1985. Just one year later the ailing company was bought over by Guinness. Gradually, demand for whisky began to build again, and over the course of the next decade a series of mergers and takeovers gave birth to the multinational conglomerate, Diageo! 

While DCL no longer exists as a distinct company, its influence is undeniable. It’s biggest successes still dominate the landscape, and even some of its casualties have become icons, with collectors clamouring to get their hands on a piece of liquid history. Happily, this month’s whisky auction features a few of these cult classics in the form of a St Magdalene celebrating DCLs home office on Glasgow’s Waterloo Street, and a wonderful 1969 vintage Glenlochy from their celebrated Rare Malts series. Not to mention the host of great drinkers from Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Johnnie Walker and White Horse.



McTear’s is the longest-established auctioneer of whisky in the world. Entries are invited for this international auction. For a complimentary, no-obligation valuation, visit our Glasgow Galleries or contact our specialist on 0141 810 2880 or

Ewan Thomson

Ewan Thomson

Ewan Thomson

Whisky & Wine

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