One of the inaugural releases from Finn Thomson Whisky. Credit: Finn Thomson Whisky
It is not often that a whisky bottler arrives on the scene with almost 300 years of history and a 50-year-old Glenlivet as a first release, but the generations before Finn Thomson, the founder of Finn Thomson Whisky, provided him with some excellent tools to launch his brand.
The tale of the Thomson family is one of illicit distilling, innovative ideas, and reigniting a legacy. During a launch event earlier in 2022, we visited locations around the Grandtully area of Perthshire which have been the backdrop to the Thomsons’ story for generations.
Our tour starts at Grandtully Loch, where Finn, along with his sister Socha and father Andrew, recounts the tale of James Thomson, his six times great-grandfather, who would unknowingly kickstart the Thomsons’ whisky legacy when he began distilling aqua vitae on his farm during the 1700s. Rumour has it that a pair of illicit stills once had to disappear quickly, and now reside in the loch. As we look out over the water, wondering where these stills might be now, we have the opportunity to sip a nine-year-old Blair Athol from 2013. The distillery was chosen as the family wanted to include a whisky from Perthshire in their initial release, to honour their connection to the region. It pairs brilliantly with a fruit and nut chocolate bar, which complements the whisky’s creamy, fresh and fruity notes.
The bottlings released by Finn Thomson Whisky are sorted into three ranges: Core (into which the Blair Athol expression falls), showcasing hand-selected whiskies from the private cask collection; Rare, where each whisky has been matured for at least 30 years; and Crown, reserved for the oldest and most treasured whiskies from sought-after Scotch distilleries. The glass bottles are elegantly designed with nine sides – one for each generation of the family that has helped craft the collection.
Shedding light on rare liquids at Finn Thomson Whisky
The next tasting on our tour is a 34-year-old North British from 1988, which has a complex sweetness of toffee popcorn alongside a rich character of ripe fruits. To sample this whisky, we have travelled to the site where Grandtully Distillery once stood. Built two years after the Excise Act of 1823, the distillery came into the hands of Donald and James Thomson, cousins of Finn’s three times great-grandfather Alexander Thomson, in 1838. Alexander also set up a licensed grocer on Perth’s old high street, tapping into the area’s taste for blended whisky. His marks can still be seen on the walls nearly 200 years later. He traded closely with Donald and James at the distillery, and the first Thomson whiskies would be released in this era under the Old Grandtully Whisky label.
Alexander’s son Peter inherited the grocery store along with his brothers but eventually struck out on his own, opening a shop and whisky merchant in Perth in 1908. At this time, the town was becoming an epicentre for blended whiskies with now-famous names such as Dewar’s, Bell’s and The Famous Grouse, so Peter decided to lay down casks for his own house blend. After hearing about the opening of a new luxury hotel and golf resort, he renamed his blend Golden Beneagles Scotch Whisky in 1922, positioning it to become synonymous with the essence of what The Gleneagles Hotel grew to be.
Marrying the old and new at Finn Thomson Whisky
Peter Thomson’s business was left to his son (and Finn’s great-grand uncle) David Kinnear Thomson in 1939, when the country was on the cusp of war. Within weeks, David had joined the 51st Highland Division and departed for France to fight the German invasion, but he was one of 10,000 troops to be taken prisoner. In his absence, company secretary Jean Cameron took the lead, and she remained a company director following her retirement.
Finn’s grandfather Michael Thomson recounted to us the family’s story in the second half of the 20th century. Michael joined the family business and became managing director. He has an eye for building relationships; particularly good relations with The Macallan meant that its spirit came to form part of the Beneagles blend, and the whisky grew through clever marketing (some whisky enthusiasts might remember the Beneagles “The Thistle & The Rose” chess set). The company was bought by Stakis in 1983, but Michael kept hold of its stock of aging casks – a decision that would eventually enable Finn Thomson Whisky to come to fruition.
The day’s main event is saved for last: a tasting of the company’s 1970s Glenlivet at St Mary’s Church in Grandtully, where the gravestone of James Thomson stands. The 50-year-old whisky, matured in first-fill sherry hogsheads, has notes of eucalyptus, tobacco and soft red fruits.
A ceremonial quaich toast among the family members symbolically marks the start of Finn Thomson Whisky. Perhaps this will be a historic moment for future Thomson generations.