The origins of Ballantine, voted Europe’s No 1 Scotch whisky and also World’s Best Blended Scotch 2020, traces back to the early 1800s.
It all began on a fine morning in 1822 when Archibald Ballantine, a Scottish farmer, took his son George in a horse-drawn cart to Edinburgh. The young boy was shaking nervously in his stiff collar, with a travel bag clutched tightly in his arm. The father and son had an important appointment. The lawyer they had to meet in the town would help them sign papers apprenticing the young boy to Andrew Hunter for the next five years.
Who was Andrew Hunter? No big fish you should want to know in detail, but he was an Edinburgh grocer and dealer in wines and spirits. Enough to set a talent in motion, history would say.
As the young boy signed the papers none could imagine they were witnessing the birth of one of the legends in the spirit industry. Meanwhile much more interesting things were happening in Scotland. The practice and long tradition of illicit whisky distilling in Scotland to evade the ever-escalating taxes imposed by the British were finally coming to an end with the introduction of a fairer system of licensing.
As a token of change Edinburgh witnessed the ceremonial visit of King George IV, with an intention to make peace with Scotland. Legal distilleries now began to mushroom everywhere across the Scottish landscape.
Working hard with his master Andrew Hunter, the young boy George grew, carrying sacks of flour, oats, and dried goods gradually acquiring expert knowledge on how a good whisky could be made. As the apprenticeship came to an end he emerged as an ambitious young man all set to become an efficient entrepreneur, as ‘certified’ by Hunter.
It was at the age of 19 George set up a new grocery store in Cowgate, a low-key area in Edinburgh. That was all his savings could afford. Meanwhile, the world of whisky distilling was undergoing some serious revolutions. Cutting-edge developments in stills resulted in finer whiskies that weaned in more people from gin and other liquors.
In 1831, George set up his second shop in nearby Candlemaker’s Row. By then, 23-year old George had already built a reputation in the field. Living in rented accommodation he focused all his energy on developing his company attracting more and more local customers to taste his wares. He moved to the more prestigious South Bridge (when he got to 28), where the demand for refined whiskies was more vocal. George stuck to his basics and his establishment began to witness eminent writers, scholars, medical men, academics pouring in. The town was now talking about George’s shop.
As his business prospered, George married Isabella Mann, the daughter of an Inverness grain merchant and moved into a large house in George Square.
Meanwhile, there were debates raging in the country on what whisky should really be. There was no legislation defining a Scotch whisky. It was around that time George’s friend Andrew Usher, a fellow Edinburgh spirit merchant succeeded in his experiments with blending whiskies. The idea was of course not new as spirit dealers and tavern owners had been crudely doing it for decades but George had the keen sense to understand that what his friend Usher had discovered through his experiments, would be the future of whisky.
The company, ‘The Ballantine’s never looked back after George turned his attention to blending and aging whiskies.In 2007 Ballantine’s won gold in all six categories at the Whisky Master Awards. Ballantine’s finest is Europe’s No 1 Scotch whisky and also was voted World’s Best Blended Scotch 2020