The Rise and Fall of Pattisons Whisky of Leith

The Rise and Fall of Pattisons Whisky of Leith

$40 AUD

Jim Brown & Louis Reps

REPSpect AB, Stockholm

2020

Anyone interested in this particularly dismal aspect of Scotch whisky history needs to move fast as the print run was modest.

The Pattison Crash, as it become known, reverberated around the industry in Scotland and beyond for many years. As the liquidator of Pattison Ltd put it in his report of October 1900, it was “……. the most discreditable chapter in the history of the whisky trade”. That was over 120 years ago and, thank goodness, is probably still valid today for although there have been other scandals, nothing has approached the scale or the outrageousness of the Pattison saga.

What is surprising is that no one has previously written a book on this fascinating subject. There is a full chapter entitled “The Pattison Scandal” in RB Weir’s “The History of the Distillers Company 1877-1939” and some good detail in Ian Buxton’s book about Glenfarclas Distillery, reflecting the degree of exposure which the Grants had to Pattison’s which at the time owned 50% of the shares in the Speyside distillery. And then there is Alfred Barnard’s 50-page booklet on Pattison, Elder & Co and Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Distillery, as it was, published, it is believed, in 1891, but that was something of a puff piece and gave no hint of impending doom. Only two copies of the original publication are known to exist. It was reprinted in a run of merely 100 copies in 2013 with a new introduction by Ian Buxton. And then Louis Reps did deal with the Pattison’s crash as one of the three themes in his earlier book “The Whisky GPS”, which is reviewed elsewhere in “Biblioteca”. This latest publication, however, takes the story to another level of detail and insight with lots of original material and relevant contemporary quotes. I love the story, apocryphal or not, of the flock of tropical parrots brought to Leith by a returning sea captain which one of the brothers offered to buy as a lot, providing he could teach them within a certain period to say “Buy Pattison’s Whisky. Buy Pattison’s Whisky”. The owner did so, and the sale proceeded, each parrot being placed in a gilded cage and the lot transported to Liverpool for distribution to public houses there as part of a sales campaign in that city. No matter how wicked the brothers might have been in their mercantile behaviour, there was certainly a high degree of imagination, no doubt often misplaced, in much of their activity which did produce, for instance, some endearing brands such as The Enchantress and Morning Gallop. If one could discover a bottle of either or any of the other Pattison whiskies today, one can only guess at the price they would fetch at auction.

The authors painstakingly take us through the multitude of misdeeds, charges and court proceedings that engulfed the Pattisons and although they did not come out of it at all well and rightly spent time in prison, I detect a sympathetic tinge to their account of how it all came apart whereby they conclude that if it hadn’t been the Pattison Crash it could well have been someone else’s crash, perhaps a little later on, such was the state of the industry at the time.

This is a valuable, well-constructed addition to the annals of the Scotch whisky industry for which the authors are to be warmly commended.   

The frenzy surrounding the whisky industry in the UK in the 1890’s is being repeated today but on a much larger scale and in many more countries, including Australia. The new breed of whisky entrepreneurs could learn much from the errant ways of the Pattison’s, hence the importance of this publication.

 

This product is located in Australia.