Indie Bottler in the Spotlight: Cadenhead’s

Cadenhead’s is Scotland’s oldest indie bottler, having been founded in 1846. They have a long and successful history of bottling some of the finest wine, whisky and rum from around the country and overseas and, as you can imagine, an interesting story to go along with it.

While the company was initially founded in 1846, it wasn’t called Cadenhead’s at the time. In fact, no members of the Cadenhead family were directly involved in the business until some years later.

Wine and Spirits Merchants was founded by Mr George Duncan at 47 Netherkirkgate in Aberdeen.

Duncan quickly became known as a successful Vinter (one involved in the wine making process) and distillery agent. He established fantastic relationships with some of the most popular distilleries at the time, quite probably legal and illegal both, and his business showed early signs of potential.

Around 7 years later, Duncan was joined by his brother-in-law, William Cadenhead, who initially worked as a traveller for the business, making new connections in all corners of the United Kingdom and beyond.

At the time, the company was trading in mainly wine, whisky and rum, so we can safely presume that a fair amount of travelling was indeed involved.

In 1858, William Cadenhead took full ownership of Wine and Spirits Merchants and quickly set about changing the name of the company to match his own.

He ran the business very successfully and managed to make a bit of a name for himself as a ‘leading citizen’ in his local area at the time as well. He took part in many events around his town and, according to Cadenhead’s website, was also a pretty popular poet. A man of many talents indeed.

Sadly, he passed in 1904 at a very respectable 85 years old, at a time when the life expectancy in Aberdeen was significantly lower. He lived a long and prosperous life and had he been able to see what his beloved company would go on to become, he would surely be very proud.

Cadenhead’s was passed on to William’s nephew, Robert Duthie.

Duthie and The Depression

Duthie continued to build on his uncle’s successes. He introduced Cadenhead’s brand whiskies and started advertising their products extensively on everything from buses to billboards, and for some time, it worked.

Sadly, no amount of advertising would help in what was to come. As the Great Depression ran on and World War 2 approached, businesses all over Scotland started to suffer, particularly those in the spirits industry.

Simply put, Cadenhead’s stopped making any money.

In a rather unfortunate sequence of events, Duthie was on his way to the bank (in all likelihood to discuss the future of his company) when he was knocked over and killed by a tram.

He was survived by only two sisters. While they were extremely keen to keep the business operating in memory of their uncle and brother, they were also aware of the fact that they knew nothing of the industry.

The logical step was to pass the company on to a long-term employee, Miss Ann Oliver.

One Final Change of Hands

Oliver quickly established a reputation for herself as a stubborn owner, refusing to update practices to match the times. Instead, Cadenhead’s continued in the same vein as under all of the previous owners and once again, it worked for a short time.

Soon enough a bigger change was needed. The company had somewhat stagnated and this, combined with a couple of poor business decisions, forced those involved to talk Oliver into selling.

While Oliver was initially apprehensive, she soon realised that selling up was a necessary step if Cadenhead’s was to move forward and prosper.

First, a two day sale of all of their stockpiled whisky, wine and rum was held. At the time, Cadenhead’s stock list extended to 167 pages of products and this made it the largest ever sale of spirits in the UK at the time.

Then, the company was finally sold to J & A Mitchell, the owners of the successful Springbank distillery.

Modern Day Cadenhead’s

J & A Mitchell saw huge potential in Cadenhead’s, just as Duncan, Cadenhead himself, Duthie and Oliver had before them, and they set about using their extensive list of contacts to strengthen old bonds and create new ones with the distilleries of Scotland.

They bought hundreds of casks, something that has slowed down but never ceased, and started stockpiling them.

Today they have one of the largest collections of casked whisky in the country and this gives them a great many options when looking for the best expressions to bottle and release.

Since this latest takeover Cadenhead’s also implemented a strict cask selection process and a motto to go along with it – “it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts”.

It is this motto that they live by and the fact that they work to no sales targets (according to their website) and claim that whisky is “remarkable and not marketable” shows their progressive and productive attitude to whisky production, bottling and sales.

It’s made abundantly clear that only the best liquid makes it into Cadenhead’s bottles and it’s for that reason that the company has eventually started to fulfil the potential that William Cadenhead; leading citizen, Vinter, traveller and poet, saw all those years ago.

Today, they are an incredible source of some of the purest, rarest and most delicious drams on the market and a fine example of success through perseverance, hard work and attention to detail. A real gem of the Scotch whisky industry.

For our full range of Cadenhead’s whisky, click here.


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