How much did a Victorian whisky cost? (And what were they making?)

let’s begin

HOW MUCH did a freshly-made whisky cost in Victorian Britain? What types of whiskies were being made? And how do these prices compare with the present day?

For the first time, these questions can now be answered by using WhiskyInvestDirect‘s new interactive database, writes Leon Kuebler.

Between 1899 and 1970, the Wine & Spirit Trade Record published an annual chart of active distilleries in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the type of whisky produced and, up to 1939, their owners. In most cases, the price of each distillery’s new make whisky is also given.

The level of detail given by the Wine & Spirit Trade Record (WSTR) and the length of time over which they were published make these charts a rich source of historic information on the Scotch whisky industry.

Now, all seven decades-worth of information can be accessed in one place, thanks to our interactive database. [Those using mobile devices may need to rotate.]

This database  includes:

  • All distilleries listed as active in the United Kingdom in those years;
  • The type(s) of whisky they were making;
  • How much they were charging for new fillings (in shillings per proof gallon, which I’ve rebased to current £/LPA to remove inflation)
  • The owners of the distilleries (pre-WWII – post-1953 owners taken from other sources).

This database gives a vivid insight into the changing nature of the whisky industry in Scotland.

In big picture terms, whisky gradually became cheaper to produce during the 20th century. Over time, this was made possible by reductions in the cost of utilities, transportation and raw materials and rising economies of scale in major Scottish distilleries.

Our database ends in 1970 – but this trend has continued to the present day. In 1899, a Litre of Pure Alcohol (LPA, modern industry standard unit) of the cheapest Scottish new make grain whisky would have cost the equivalent of around £2.70 today; the cheapest new make malt, £5.02.

On today’s date (April 13, 2017), by contrast, one LPA of new make grain can currently be traded at around £1.12, while new make malt can be bought at £2.18.

The database also gives an insight into the impact of warfare on the whisky industry. Aside from 1937, which appears to be missing, the WSTR only did not publish this chart in the last two years of the First World War, the Second World War and the years of post-war rationing (1945-1952). In these years, distillation was either banned or severely restricted.

The impact of wartime grain and fuel shortages was keenly felt in Britain. In 1916, the last year that whisky distillation was allowed during wartime, the average price of new make malt whisky was twice that of 1914. Indeed, the all-time record price for new make whisky was set in this year, when a proof gallon of either Glenlivet or Lochindaal cost 10 shillings – the equivalent of £15.11 today!

Beyond the raw numbers, however, the database illuminates just how much the whisky map of the United Kingdom (not just Scotland, but England and Wales too) and Ireland has altered.

All in all, 232 different whisky distilleries were listed as active at some point between 1899 and 1970: 192 in Scotland, 29 in Ireland, 10 in England and 1 in Wales. Only 97 of these remain active today, with all but two of these located in Scotland.

In the current era of ‘world’ whisky it is easy to forget that, until the 1930s, there were many distilleries located outside of Scotland. Irish whiskey is, of course, justly famous in its own right, and the full range of Irish distilleries making malt, grain and Irish Pot Still whisky was included by the WSTR until 1939 (and intermittently thereafter). But England also had several active distilleries until the Second World War – and Wales also had one distillery, which made Pot Still whisky.

While many more distilleries survived in Scotland, there were big changes in the types of whisky which they made. Cameronbridge, for example, sent several years simultaneously producing three types of whisky – grain, Irish-style Pot Still, and an unspecified ‘malt’ whisky. Nearby Caledonian was also making both grain and Pot Still whisky in the years 1906-1913. Auchtertool produced both ‘peated’ and ‘unpeated’ Lowland malt for most of the pre-WWI years – an unusual distinction, given that most distilleries at this time used peat.

Some types of whisky were more esoteric still. Kirkliston produced Lowland whisky under the name of Glenforth, along with malt whisky distilled in a patent still (now banned by the Scotch Whisky Association, but revived by Nikka in Japan) and a mysterious ‘plain’ malt whisky. In Ireland, Phoenix Park (owned by The Distiller’s Company, Ltd., the forerunner of Diageo) spent 1906 producing two types of grain – one ‘Irish Style’, one ‘Scottish Style’. And in England, Bristol distillery made grain, Pot Still and ‘Blended’ whisky.

Unsurprisingly, as in many other aspects of life, the Great War was the great watershed in whisky production. While distilleries had closed in the depressed conditions of the 1900s, the pace quickened rapidly after 1918. Most Lowland and Campbeltown distilleries disappeared, along with the oddities of the Victorian whisky world – the multi-product distilleries, the malt distilleries using patent stills and the like.

At the same time, as ownership consolidated in the hands of an ever-smaller number of companies (particularly The Distiller’s Company, Ltd. and Scottish Malt Distillers, its malt-producing subsidiary), prices began to homogenize.

If the Victorian whisky era seems quaint, then that of 1953 onwards is instantly recognisable, dominated as it is by Scottish malt and grain distilleries. It is only in recent years, with the rebirth of ‘world’ whisky, that the picture has altered once again.

Full table of distilleries featured:

CountryDistilleryWhisky producedActive today?
ScotlandAberfeldyHighland MaltYes
ScotlandAberlourSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandAdelphi (Loch Katrine)Grain | Malt (Type unspecified)No
ScotlandAlbynCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandAnnandaleLowland MaltNo
ScotlandArdbegIslay MaltYes
ScotlandArdlussaCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandArdmoreHighland MaltYes
ScotlandArgyllCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandAuchentoshanHighland Malt | Lowland MaltYes
ScotlandAuchinblaeHighland MaltNo
ScotlandAuchtermuchty (Stratheden)Lowland MaltNo
ScotlandAuchtertoolLowland MaltNo
ScotlandAultmoreSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandBalblairHighland MaltYes
ScotlandBallechinHighland MaltNo
ScotlandBalmenachSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandBalvenieSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandBanffSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandBankierLowland MaltNo
ScotlandBen Morven (Gerston)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandBen NevisGrain | Highland MaltYes
ScotlandBen Wyvis (Invergordon)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandBenachie (Jericho)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandBenmoreCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandBenriachSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandBenrinnesSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandBenromachSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandBladnochLowland MaltYes
ScotlandBlair AtholHighland MaltYes
ScotlandBowmoreIslay MaltYes
ScotlandBracklaHighland MaltYes
ScotlandBruichladdichIslay MaltYes
ScotlandBunnahabhainIslay MaltYes
ScotlandBurnsideCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandCaledonianGrain | Pot StillNo
ScotlandCameronbridgeGrain | Pot Still | Malt (Type unspecified)Yes
ScotlandCampbeltownCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandCaol IlaIslay MaltYes
ScotlandCaperdonichSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandCardhuSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandClydesdaleLowland MaltNo
ScotlandClynelishHighland MaltYes
ScotlandColeburnSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandConvalmoreSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandCragganmoreSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandCraigellachieSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandDailuaineSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandDalaruanCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandDalintoberCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandDallas DhuSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandDalmoreHighland MaltYes
ScotlandDalwhinnie (Strathspey)Highland MaltYes
ScotlandDeanLowland MaltNo
ScotlandDeanstonHighland MaltYes
ScotlandDevanhaHighland MaltNo
ScotlandDrumcaldieLowland MaltNo
ScotlandDufftownSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandDundashillGrain | Lowland MaltNo
ScotlandEdinburghLowland MaltNo
ScotlandEdradourHighland MaltYes
ScotlandEsk (Hillside, Montrose)Grain | Highland MaltNo
ScotlandFerintosh (Ben Wyvis)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandFettercairnHighland MaltYes
ScotlandForresHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlen AlbynHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlen CoullHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlen ElginSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlen GrantSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlen KeithSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlen MhorHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlen MoraySpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlen NevisCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandGlen RothesSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlen Scotia (Scotia)Campbeltown Malt | West Highland MaltYes
ScotlandGlen SpeySpeyside Malt | Highland MaltYes
ScotlandGlenadenSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandGlenallachieSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlenburgieSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlencadamHighland MaltYes
ScotlandGlencawdorSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandGlencraigHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlendronachHighland MaltYes
ScotlandGlendullanSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlenfarclasSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlenfiddichSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlenfoyleLowland MaltNo
ScotlandGlenfyne (Glendarroch)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandGlengariochHighland MaltYes
ScotlandGlenglassaughHighland MaltYes
ScotlandGlengoyneHighland Malt | Lowland MaltYes
ScotlandGlengyleCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandGlenkinchieLowland MaltYes
ScotlandGlenlivetSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlenlochyHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlenlossieSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlenmavisLowland MaltNo
ScotlandGlenmorangieHighland MaltYes
ScotlandGlensideCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandGlenskiachHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlentarrasLowland MaltNo
ScotlandGlentauchersSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandGlenturretHighland MaltYes
ScotlandGlenugieHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGlenuryHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGrandtullyHighland MaltNo
ScotlandGrangeLowland MaltNo
ScotlandGreenockHighland MaltNo
ScotlandHazelburnCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandHighland ParkHighland MaltYes
ScotlandImperialSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandInchgowerHighland MaltYes
ScotlandInverlevenLowland Malt | Malt (Type unspecified)No
ScotlandIsla (Tay)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandJura (Isle of Jura)Highland MaltYes
ScotlandKinclaithHighland Malt | Lowland MaltNo
ScotlandKinlochCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandKintyreCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandKirkliston (Glenforth)Lowland Malt | Malt (Plain) | Malt (Patent Still)No
ScotlandKnockandoSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandKnockdhuHighland MaltYes
ScotlandLadyburnLowland MaltNo
ScotlandLagavulinIslay MaltYes
ScotlandLangholmLowland MaltNo
ScotlandLaphroaigIslay MaltYes
ScotlandLinkwoodSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandLittlemillLowland MaltNo
ScotlandLoch Katrine (Camlachie)Lowland MaltNo
ScotlandLoch LomondHighland MaltYes
ScotlandLochheadCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandLochindaalIslay MaltNo
ScotlandLochnagarHighland MaltYes
ScotlandLochruanCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandLochsideGrain | Highland MaltYes
ScotlandLomondHighland MaltNo
ScotlandLongmornSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandMacallanSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandMacduffHighland MaltYes
ScotlandMalt MillIslay MaltNo
ScotlandMillburnHighland MaltYes
ScotlandMilton DuffSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandMortlachSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandMosstowieHighland MaltNo
ScotlandNorth BritishGrainYes
ScotlandNorth of Scotland (Bon Accord)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandNorth of Scotland (Strathmore)Grain | Lowland MaltNo
ScotlandNorth Port (Brechin)Highland MaltNo
ScotlandObanHighland MaltYes
ScotlandOrdHighland MaltYes
ScotlandParkmoreSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandPolloHighland MaltNo
ScotlandPort DundasGrainNo
ScotlandPort EllenIslay MaltNo
ScotlandProvanmillLowland MaltNo
ScotlandPulteneyHighland MaltYes
ScotlandRieclachanCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandRosebankLowland MaltYes
ScotlandSaucelGrain | Lowland MaltNo
ScotlandScapaHighland MaltYes
ScotlandSpeyburnSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandSpeysideSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandSpringbankCampbeltown Malt | West Highland MaltYes
ScotlandSpringsideCampbeltown MaltNo
ScotlandSt. Magdalene (Linlithgow)Lowland MaltNo
ScotlandStrathdeeHighland MaltNo
ScotlandStrathisla (Milton)Speyside MaltYes
ScotlandStrathmillSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandStromnessHighland MaltNo
ScotlandStronachieHighland MaltNo
ScotlandTaliskerHighland MaltYes
ScotlandTambowieLowland MaltNo
ScotlandTamdhuSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandTamnavulinSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandTeaninichHighland MaltYes
ScotlandTobermoryHighland MaltYes
ScotlandTomatinHighland MaltYes
ScotlandTomintoulSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandTormoreSpeyside MaltYes
ScotlandTowiemoreSpeyside MaltNo
ScotlandTullibardineHighland MaltYes
ScotlandTullymetHighland MaltNo
ScotlandYokerGrain | Silent Malt | Malt (Type unspecified)No
IrelandAbbey Street (Londonderry)GrainNo
IrelandAvonielGrain | Pot StillNo
IrelandBandonPot StillNo
IrelandBishopswaterPot StillNo
IrelandBow StreetMalt | Pot StillNo
IrelandColeraineGrain | MaltNo
IrelandComber (2)Pot StillNo
IrelandConnswaterGrain | Pot StillNo
IrelandCromacPot StillNo
IrelandD.W.D. [Jones Road]Pot StillNo
IrelandDublin City DistilleryGrain | Pot StillNo
IrelandDundalkGrain | Pot StillNo
IrelandGlen DistilleryPot StillNo
IrelandJohn’s LaneMalt | Pot StillNo
IrelandKilbeggan (Brusna)Pot StillNo
IrelandKillowen (Springmount)Grain | Malt | Pot StillNo
IrelandLimavadyPot StillNo
IrelandLimerickPot StillNo
IrelandMarrowbone LaneGrain | Pot StillNo
IrelandMidleton (Cork Distilleries (2))Pot StillYes
IrelandMonasterevanGrain | Pot StillNo
IrelandNun’s IslandPot StillNo
IrelandPhoenix ParkGrain | Grain (Irish Style) | Grain (Scottish style) | Pot StillNo
IrelandRoyal IrishGrain | Pot StillNo
IrelandThomas St. (Geo. Roe & Co)Pot StillNo
IrelandTullamorePot StillNo
IrelandWatersidePot StillNo
IrelandWest of Ireland (Banagher)MaltNo
EnglandBankhall (Bankhill)GrainNo
EnglandBristolBlended | Grain | Pot StillNo
EnglandLea ValleyGrainNo
EnglandThames BankGrainNo
EnglandThree MillsGrainNo
EnglandWest HamGrainNo
WalesWelsh Whisky DistilleryPot StillNo
Tags: distilleriesinteractive databaseScotlandUnited KingdomVictorian whisky


My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

You might be interested in

More from the blog

Leave a comment

Login / register