Munro, Dalwhinnie, Scotland, Square Bottle Whisky

Munro’s Square Bottle Whisky was blended and bottled at Scotland’s Dalwhinnie Distillery beginning sometime in the early 1920’s. It certainly made its way across the Atlantic during National Prohibition and also may have been available legally for a short time after its repeal.

Its story however begins  just before the turn of the century with the establishment of the Strathspey Distillery Company. The announcement of the company’s incorporation appeared in the January 27, 1897 edition of the “Aberdeen Weekly Journal and General Advertiser.”

JOINT STOCK COMPANIES IN SCOTLAND.- Seven new joint stock companies were registered in Scotland this week… The new companies include – The Strathspey Distillery Company , Limited, for the purpose of carrying out the business of distillers, maltsters and wine and spirits merchants with a capital of £12,000 in £5 shares.

Another story in the same newspaper described the site selected for the company’s  new distillery like this:

Further testimony to the continued briskness in the Highland whisky trade is found in the fact that another distillery is to be erected in the Badenach district of Upper Speyside, the first in that quarter having been opened only two or three weeks ago at Kinggussie. The one now contracted for is to be situated close to the Dalwhinnie Station, one of the highest points on the Highland Railway, and only a short distance from the summit-level. It will be the highest in Scotland, in point of elevation, and also the furthest inland, being almost equidistant from sea to sea. The water from which the whisky will be made rises at an elevation of about 3,000 feet above sea level, and after tumbling down various defiles will enter the mash tubs at a height of about 2,000 feet above sea level. The burn is called Allt-na-Slochd. There is no arable land within miles of it, nor a single inhabited house from its source to the junction with the river Truim, some miles above its confluence with the Spey. With ample stretches of peat moss all-round the works, and the railway siding close at hand, the site could hardly be excelled. The buildings are to be of a substantial character to stand the rigors of this high altitude.

In connection with the distillery are offices, and manager and workmen’s houses of a neat and attractive character. It is to be called the Strathspey Distillery, and the cost will amount to about £10,000.

In financial trouble from the start, less than two years later the October 26, 1898 “Aberdeen Weekly Journal and General Advertiser” announced the distillery had been sold.

Mr. A. P. Blyth, Craighall, Bonnington, managing director of Messrs John Somerville & Co., Limited, distillers, Leith, has purchased for his son the Strathspey Distillery, Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire. The name of the firm will be A. P. Blyth & Son…

Renamed “Dalwhinnie, the distillery’s financial woes apparently continued and in 1901 this March 21st “Liverpool Mercury” story announced that the business was in receivership.

The Great Scottish Distillery Failure – A meeting of the creditors of A. P. Blyth & Son, distillers, Dalwhinnie Distillery, Inverness-shire, was held at Edinburgh, yesterday, when it was stated that the liabilities amounted to about £80,000. The assets so far had not been definitely ascertained, but were understood to be large. The firm is stated to have been affected by the recent depression in the Scottish whisky trade, and the banks are creditors for large amounts. Mr. C. J. Munro, C. A., Edinburgh, was appointed trustee.

Later that year, the distillery was offered for sale as evidenced by this notice published in the June 15, 1901 edition of the “Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser.”

INVERNESS-SHIRE – HIGHLAND DISTILLERY FOR SALE

There will be sold by PUBLIC ROUP, at Dowell’s Rooms, No. 18 George Street, Edinborough, on Wednesday, 26th June, 1901, at half past two o’clock, afternoon:

DALWHINNIE DISTILLERY, situated in Glentruim, and near Dalwhinnie, in the County of Inverness, and WHOLE PLANT thereof, and also a right (practically exclusive) to take peats from the adjoining Peat Moss, extending  to 150 acres or thereby…

The Distillery has at present a working capacity of fully 120,000 gallons per annum, and has been so constructed that at a comparatively small cost this production could be nearly doubled…

The Ground consists of 10 acres held under perpetual fen, the small Fen-duty being £100. The extent of the ground is ample for the present or prospective requirements of the Distillery.  UPSET PRICE  £9,000

Apparently there were no takers and the distillery was “re-exposed for sale” several times with the price continually dropping until on May 21, 1904 the upset price listed in the “Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser” was £2,000. Four months later, the September 30, 1904 edition of the “Perthshire Advertiser.” announced  that the distillery ultimately sold for “some £1,500.”

The sale was referenced in this September 30, 1904 edition of “The (London) Guardian.”

A correspondent says a sensation has been caused in the Scott whisky trade by the announcement that the Dalwhinnie Distillery has been purchased by the Cook & Bernheimer Company of New York, one of the largest and most enterprising of the American Distilling companies… The object of the Cook and Bernheimer Company is apparently to secure the large and increasing trade in Scotch whisky which is being done in America.

Cook & Bernheimer operated the Dalwhinnie Distillery under the name of their U.K. subsidiary, James Munro & Son. Less than three months after the purchase, a Munro blend named “Long & Short” had reached the United States as evidenced by this December 15, 1904 advertisement in the “New York Sun.” The ad named Cook & Bernheimer as the brand’s sole agent in the U. S.

Around the same time Cook & Bernheimer was also marketing a domestic rye called “Mount Vernon.” It was put up in a square bottle with a bulging neck that appears to match exactly our subject  bottle.

That being said,  the square bottle was a unique means of distinguishing “Mount Vernon” Rye from other brands of rye so as far as I can tell Cook & Bernheimer did not market “Long & Short” in the same shaped bottle. This is further supported by a a 1907 advertisement in “Osborn’s Annual Guide to Agencies, Hand Book of Useful Information and Club List” that specifically shows “Long & Short” in a cylindrical bottle.

In the late teens, on the eve of National Prohibition, the Dalwhinnie Distillery was sold to Macdonald, Greenlees & Williams of Leith, who maintained the James Murno & Son name.

It was apparently under MacDonald Greenlees & Williams that Cook & Bernheimer’s square bottle was resurrected, this time for a blend of the Munro scotch and, in 1921, patents  for “Munro’s Square Bottle Scotch Whisky” we’re applied for in both New Zealand (August 1921)

and Canada (September 1921)

Legally available in other parts of the world, a December 20,1926 “New York Daily News” story, published under the headline “RUM DELUGE 100,000 CASES A WEEK FLOWS INTO CITY TO BRIGHTEN YULE,  made it clear that the Scotch was also making its way into the United States, albeit illegally. A photo accompanying the story showed an array of smuggled brands that included a “Munro’s Square Bottle Scotch Whisky.” It’s right up front in the middle.

The caption under the photo read:

“White Horse,” “Hennessy,” “Munro’s” – O boy! Don’t even the names make you thirsty?  Here’s a prime exhibit of the kind of stuff that is being  landed in New York, despite the efforts of our enforcement machinery to keep it out.

In case you’re interested the story also included this table listing the cost of a bootlegged  bottle of “Munro’s Square Scotch” at $8.00.

At the end of Prohibition a newly formed U. S. corporation called the Epicure Wine $ Spirits Company named themselves as Munro & Sons’ distributor in the United States. This December 30, 1933 Epicure advertisement in the Buffalo News touted “Square Bottle” along with another Munro blend, “King of Kings.” The ad reads in part:

Orders will be accepted from the trade for shipment of the above to States where and when the sale of liquor is legal, subject to import quotas.

Shortly afterwards the brands disappear from U S newspaper advertisements, certainly the result of a fire that, according to scotlandwhisky.com, closed the distillery for several years. The fire was reported in the February 3, 1934 edition of the “Perthshire Advertiser.”

Perth Fire Brigade made a thrilling dash across the Grampians on Thursday morning to an outbreak at Dalwhinnie Distillery, which is situated five miles north of the Perthshire-Inverness boundary.

Apparently the fire originated in the boiler room and spread so quickly that soon the whisky in the still-room was ablaze. A full granary separated the fire from the bond room, and there was a danger that the flames might reach the £1,500,000 worth of whisky casks.

Inverness Fire Guard refused to answer the call on account of the distance and at seven o’clock a request for aid was made to Perth. Firemaster W. J. Paterson summoned his men, and one and three quarters hours later they were at the scene of the fire 58 miles from Perth. They soon had the flames in subjection, but the total damage to buildings and whisky amounts to about £12,000. The boiler-house, mill-room, malt deposit, still-house, malt mill and wash-house were all destroyed and about 3,000 gallons of whisky were lost.

Whether any “Square Bottle Scotch” made it legally to the United States prior to the fire is not clear, but if it did it certainly wasn’t in large quantities.

According to scotlandwhisky.com  the distillery reopened in 1938 after a four year closure, then, shortly afterwards was closed again as a result of war time restrictions.

Now part of Diageo, the distillery is still active to this day. More on the history of the Dalwhinnie Distillery can be found at:      http://scotlandwhisky.com/distilleries/dalwhinnie

The bottle I found is square with a bulbous neck, a shape that dates back to the Cook & Bernheimer days. Machine made its embossing includes the embossed Munro blend called “Square Bottle Whisky,” dating it between 1921 and 1934. It likely  arrived in the U. S. illegally during prohibition.