With the launch of International Scotch Day, Diageo have opened their doors to their whisky archive giving whisky fans an unique opportunity to learn about the history of Scotland's national drink.

Friday the 10th of February sees the launch of International Scotch Day, a brand new initiative that will invite people around the world to raise a glass of Scotch and celebrate Scotland’s national drink.

The brainchild of drinks giant Diageo, the brand will be leading the celebrations in Scotland by opening the doors to many of its distillery visitor centres for free tours on the day.

Perhaps most interestingly, they will be offering a section of the public a unique opportunity to visit their global drinks Archive in Menstrie near Alloa.

The biggest drinks industry archive in the world with a collection of over 10,000 bottles, this will be the first ever public open day at the centre, providing a rare opportunity to be immersed in the unparalleled heritage of the Scotch whisky industry.

“This Friday is the first International Scotch Day, we are taking to open the doors of the archive at Diageo a wee bit wider than usual.”

Christine McCafferty, who manages the archive, which opened in 1990, was part of the team who helped with the £1.5m expansion of the group’s original archive in 2014, to include over half a million items of drinks heritage from Diageo brands such as Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray, Baileys and Smirnoff.

At the time, David Gates, Diageo’s global head of premium core spirits, described the expansion as a “significant resource” to ensure the “legacy” of Diageo’s brands is safeguarded and expanded upon.

Now, Christine, who looks after items dating back over four centuries from 150 countries on a daily basis, is excited by the chance to allow the general public a glimpse behind the curtain of one of Scotland’s hidden treasure troves.

Christine is Diageo's Archive manager. Picture: Diageo

Christine is Diageo’s Archive manager. Picture: Diageo

“The archive isn’t generally open to the public, but we do answer inquiries from external sources.

“Everything from dating an old bottle that someone has found in an attic or someone doing family history research into someone who used to work at one of our distilleries, right through to more serious research into Scotch Whisky advertising.

“We do have a public presence but this is the first time we’ve opened up the doors to let a group of external people come and visit the archive.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet new people who work in the industry and share some of our wealth of material with them.

“International Scotch day is really focusing on Scotch and celebrating Scotch above all other whiskies. Scotch remains the most popular whisky in the world and we’ve got hundreds of years of tradition and craftsmanship in making Scotch so International Scotch day is all about celebrating Scotch in particular.

“We’re in Scotland, it is our national product. We have people who work in our distilleries, our coppersmiths, our cooperage who have generations of the same family who have worked in the same industry and you can’t help but feel the passion and the pride that they take in their work.

“We’re very fortunate that the results of their hard work is this amazing liquid that’s so versatile and people enjoy around the world in any way, shape or form.”

The collection, which is now made up of around 500,000 items, including about 10,000 bottles and has six qualified archivists and a team assistant looking after it all, has some truly intriguing items on display.

Picture: Diageo

Picture: Diageo

Perhaps the most interesting, as Christine explains, is the original bottle of Old Highland, forebear of Johnnie Walker Red Label, which resides in the Liquid Library, dating back to around the 1880s, it’s the oldest in the collection.

Interesting enough on its own but add to the fact it has a snake in the bottle and it becomes even more fascinating.

DiageoSnake

“It’s our oldest bottle of Johnnie Walker – in fact it’s our oldest bottle in the collection – it actually dates from the 1880s.

“It has a snake in it, though we we don’t really know why.

“We believe it left Scotland without a snake, and made it to the Far East where it’s not unusual for things to end up pickled in bottles of whisky, somehow it managed to make it’s way back to Scotland and we found it when we were clearing out one of our old packaging rooms about 14-15 years ago now.

“Apart from the snake, this is the first Walker Brand, created in 1867 by Alexander Walker who was John Walker’s son, it’s called Old Highland Whisky, and was originally created for the export market.”

The snake is secondary to what Christine really finds interesting about the bottle.

“It’s a round bottle and we very much associate Johnnie Walker with the square bottle. In the 1860s the bottles moved from this round shape to square to make it easier for transportation and exporting.

“For them, it was simply practical, but for us the shape really has become iconic.”

Christine also points out other interesting factors as to why the bottle is special, citing that the use of the slanted bottle gave Walkers the ability to display bigger or more text than a centralised label, allowing the bottles to really stand out.

“Even though it was the 1860s, they were really forward thinking, very innovative and quite consumer orientated.”

The Liquid Library also includes other fascinating curios such as the Johnnie Walker Swing, which was created in 1932, was designed to be drunk during transatlantic trips on luxury boats and it’s got a convex base so that when pushed it rocks to and fro, which Christine describes as the perfect product to “capture quite a unique drinking occasion”, and the full Flaura and Fauna collection.

“What I really love about the library is that you can see the evolution of our main brands with the packaging that’s come and gone over the years.”

Christine, who is a historian by trade, finds the bottles intriguing but its when discussing the documents in their collection that she really comes into her own.

“For me, the bottles are lovely and obviously Scotch is all about the product – enjoying it and its design – actually it’s the documents that are truly fascinating because they are very unique and irreplaceable and give us a real insight into the brand and how they’ve evolved over the years.

“Our earliest document for Johnnie Walker, dates back to 1819 and it’s an inventory from Todriggs farm, which is the farm that John Walker grew up on, I don’t think many people know that he started off life as farmer’s boy, and it tells us how much money they made when they decided to sell it, after John’s father died.

“He was only 14 years old when they used the money that they raised from the sale of the farm to buy the grocery shop in Kilmarnock and that’s where he started selling and blending his whiskies.”

Christine says that the document gives a unique insight into the humble beginnings of one the world’s most famous whisky companies and alongside the many inventories and stock books from the grocery shop gives an understanding of the global reach of such a small shop in Scotland.

“It’s amazing to see him selling whisky and other spirits, but also importing tea from China and pepper from Jamaica.”

“I believe that this would have effected how he perceived flavour and aromas, taking inspiration from these exotic products to create whiskies that he would have then sold back to these countries, it’s quite lovely really.”

The fifty spaces for the archive were snapped up quickly and though there are no plans to open the archive to the public again after the inaugural International Scotch Day Christine thinks it will be an exciting experience, allowing the brand to connect with whisky fans on a new level.

“If it proves to be a success, it’s something we would love to do again in the future.”

 

 

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things whisky-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over six years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink.

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