John Walker & Sons 26th June 1917 Glen Mhor


John Walker & Sons of Kilmarnock is a strong candidate in the most fanciful document stakes. Their legacy is firmly established in history as Johnnie Walker and this official invoice remains as striking and impressive as it did in June 1917 when it arrived at Glen Mhor distillery.

Based on our thorough research of the Highland Railway Company invoices from 1916, it is clear that Mackinlay & Birnie had a robust and prosperous business relationship with John Walker & Sons. The records we've uncovered demonstrate that John Walker & Sons were the primary and most significant customer of Mackinlay & Birnie during that period. With the incoming arrival of a new batch of train invoices from a similar time period, I'm confident that this will only serve to further confirm our findings. 

Since 1906, there had been a formal relationship between all parties via Glen Albyn. The incorporation of Mackinlay & Birnie Limited resulted in the Walker's acquiring a 40% stake in the nearby distillery.

The Walkers retained their original form to some extent at this time, as they were not acquired by the Distillers Company until 1925. However, by 1917, they required increased amounts of whisky for blending, as the Red Label, White Label, and Black Label brands had firmly established themselves in the marketplace. 

These enduring brands could be distinguished not only by taste but also by age. The White Label has been available for 6 years, while the Red Label has been on the market for 10 years. The Black Label is the most premium offering, having been aged for 12 years. Potentially, if vintages were provided on any invoices, this might be suggestive of which blend the cask was intended for. 

By November 1917, the first group of US Navy personnel arrived at Glen Albyn and Glen Mhor distilleries, establishing the inaugural American base on UK soil. This momentous occasion marked a significant milestone in the longstanding relationship between these two nations. Significant planning was required from both governments and distillers. It is worth noting that this topic can be explored further through a dedicated section that is already available

During this summer period, I am interested if Glen Mhor remained open for distilling, to ensure an adequate supply during the upcoming hibernation? Furthermore, 3000 casks were successfully relocated from Glen Albyn to Glen Mhor for maturation commencing in June 1917, as a result of the repurposing of their warehouses for mine building. So, there may have been an increased movement of casks out of both sites prior to their closure and blenders 'stocking up' while they could. This is hopefully something that may appear on further invoices. 

It is important to note that the Glen Albyn warehouses were being emptied at the time of this invoice, making it impractical to arrange for housing newly filled casks on site. Therefore, John Walker & Sons may have had to take their fillings immediately for the upcoming season, as there was no room at either distillery. Furthermore, it is worth considering the potential temptation that several thousand casks of whisky may pose to several hundred stationed sailors. 

In accordance with the 1917 invoice, John Walker and Sons were sending casks to Glen Mhor for filling, which would then be returned for blending and possible maturation. For the season, they required a total of 238 cask fillings. The shipment comprises mainly of hogsheads, totalling 213, and includes a request for 24 butts. Notably, a solitary untreated hogshead is also present, perhaps for comparative analysis? 

Alan Winchester was equally impressed by the appearance of this invoice:

'The Walker invoice is a beaut, I note Annandale Distillery is featured on the invoice. The filling of the one plain hogshead is interesting, no clue if it was a new cask.

Of course, all malt distilleries will close in 1917 through to 1919, also its interesting as Glen Mhor had room for the casks from Glen Albyn, also the introduction of the 2 then 3 year maturation age introduced in 1915 and 1916, meant maturation space was tight, Glenfarclas had a kiln fire, and the malt floor was then used as a Duty Free Warehouse, that's why a lot of silent distilleries were retained for their maturation spaces.'

It is important to note that the invoice provided does not seem to be relevant to this transaction and appears to be a general form used by John Walker & Sons, with the conditions of sale not being applicable. Furthermore, the statement that these casks have 'not been invoiced (as per arrangement)' raises questions about the details of this arrangement and why invoicing was not required at that time?

The reverse side of the invoice is equally detailed as the front, emphasising the status and quality of John Walker & Sons. It also includes pencil comments, which suggest an office filing system at the distillery. 

Detailed records of Glen Mhor's consumption of barley during this period are available in our Document section, allowing us to track its production. This is because distillation is impossible without barley.

Between 1915-16, 61% of the barley was sourced from foreign countries. This percentage decreased to 48% in 1916-17, possibly due to the war, and production during this year slightly decreased compared to the previous year. 

It is worth noting that during the Pattison crisis, which began towards the end of 1898 and lasted for several years, the levels were more than half of what was produced during 1915-1917. Despite the impending closure and ongoing war, the distillery had continued to produce at high levels. 

According to 'Northern Barrage', a publication by the Inverness Local History Forum, the implementation of the idea to create mines was a swift process. This was initiated on February 1st, 1917, when Germany directed its U-boat fleet to attack all vessels bound for the UK.

By April 1917, the United States had joined the war after experiencing shipping losses. The Northern Barrage was a strategically sound American initiative that was approved during the summer of 1917. The proposed base sites were meticulously surveyed and evaluated by the esteemed Captain Lockhart Leith Committee in October of the same year.

It is certain that the distillery ceased production sometime between the arrival of servicemen in 1917 and the end of summer or October. The conversion of two distilleries into a secure naval base was an extensive, with Glen Albyn being the centre of attention. The whole process seems to have been accelerated. So, with the loss of the later half of 1917, or a severe impact, there does seem to be an emphasis on producing when possible and as much as possible during the remaining months of the year. Leading us back to this invoice and filling orders while the distillery could. 

This John Walker invoice emphasises the importance of the order, especially when compared to the regular monthly shipments to Kilmarnock, which have been the traditional method of supply, as seen in the prior 1917 train invoices. Mackinlay & Birnie were undoubtedly aware of the plans surrounding their distillery by the time of this invoice. As a result of the ongoing changes, casks are currently being removed from Albyn and regular customers must have been informed of the potential for closure i.e. we strongly advise placing your seasonal orders in advance to ensure timely delivery. 

Literally, the Americans were coming to Muirtown.