We love history here at Drinkmonger, particularly drinks history. To focus on whisky, there have been some pretty interesting things that have happened in whisky history for example: Al Capone wasn’t making a reported 60 million dollars a year selling flowers during prohibition, he was selling Scotch, American Whiskey, Rum and more.
In this blog we are going to look at someone who is a fair bit less famous than Big Al; John Duff (we may write about Al Capone at some other point).
John Duff (born 1842) kept coming up in our research, to the point where we thought we have to write about this legendary Scotch whisky character. To set the scene, from the 1860’s onwards, there was a bit of a Scotch whisky boom. Blended Scotch Whisky became popular in the 1860’s/70’s, and demand for Usher’s Blended Whisky, John Walker & Sons Blended Whiskey and many other blended whiskies, meant the demand for single malt whisky sky rocketed.
A blend is a mixture of several single malt whiskies and grain whisky. Grain whisky production was developed in the 1830’s, and blending was then developed. Although Grain whisky is very quick and cheap to produce, it is lighter in flavour than single malt whisky, so adding single malts adds flavours.
The likes of John Duff, William Grant (of Glenfiddich & Balvenie fame) and a few other entrepreneurial types started building Single Malt distilleries in the 1870’s, 80’s and 90’s to satisfy this sudden demand for malt for blends.
John Duff began running a hotel in Aberdeenshire. He also at one point managed Glendronach distillery (we reckon late 1860’s). This is when whisky got into his blood so to speak. In 1876, he founded Glenlossie distillery with 2 business partners. After 10 years managing that distillery, he decided to take his family and head to South Africa, where he spent several years attempting to set up a distillery there. When that didn’t work out, he travelled to Kentucky, and spent several years trying to set up a distillery there.
At this point, we have to admire his ambition and his obsession with whisky. After the attempts in foreign lands to set up distilleries, he came back to Scotland in the early 1890’s, managed the Bon Accord distillery near Aberdeen in 1892 and set up Longmorn distillery in 1894, followed by BenRiach distillery in 1898.
So that’s managed a hotel, managed several distilleries, built 3 distilleries and attempted to build 2 distilleries overseas. He did in one lifetime what seems like several lifetimes’ worth of work. It came to a halt when the whisky bubble burst in the late 1800’s. Booms are unfortunately followed by busts, and John had to sell all of his assets to pay for all the debts he had accrued while building the last two distilleries.
But what a life!