Fond affection

Gavin D. Smith looks at the fortunes of the Black and White blend
By Gavin D. Smith
Just as more mature whisky drinkers have the slogan ‘Don’t be vague, ask for Haig,’ indelibly imprinted on their minds, so they recall with affection the distinctive label of Black & White blended Scotch whisky, featuring a Scottish terrier (black) and a West Highland terrier (white).

For many years, the Black & White blend was as familiar a sight on British off-licence shelves and bar gantries as the aforementioned Haig, and like Haig it virtually disappeared from the UK overnight. It was one of a number of popular blended brands within the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) portfolio which were withdrawn as a result of a late 1970s EEC ruling which banned the distilling giant’s practice of selling its whiskies at lower wholesale prices in the UK than in other EEC markets.

The Black & White blend was established in 1884 by James Buchanan, a Canadian-born, Northern Ireland-educated individual of Scottish parentage. He took up employment as an office boy in Glasgow at the age of 15, before working for 10 years in his brother’s grain business.
However, 1879 saw Buchanan take his first steps into the Scotch whisky industry, on which he would leave such a significant mark, when he moved to London as an agent for the Leith blenders Charles Mackinlay & Co. Five years later he was in business creating blended whisky designed to appeal to the discerning palates of English drinkers.

Blended whisky was in the process of taking the world by storm, and Buchanan wanted his share of the spoils. A natural salesman, Buchanan secured high-profile contracts to supply his blend to the House of Commons and to the influential United Music Halls Company.

After being known as House of Commons whisky and Buchanan’s Special, the brand was finally christened Black & White, due to the eye-catching white label on a dark bottle.

By the turn of the century, Black & White was selling in countries all around the globe, and in order to secure supplies of malt whisky for the ever more popular blend, James Buchanan & Co Ltd combined with the Glasgow whisky merchants WP Lowrie & Co Ltd in 1897 to form the Glentauchers-Glenlivet Distillery Company. A distillery was constructed at Mulben, close to the Speyside distilling centre of Keith, coming on stream in June of the following year.

"The Buchanan Blend and its variants are strong performers in South American markets"

Buchanan’s blends were notable for their quality, boasting a high malt content and mature whiskies. In addition to Glentauchers, the blender owned the now lost distilleries of Bankier, Stirlingshire; Convalmore at Duffftown and Lochruan in Campbeltown.

In 1915 James Buchanan & Co Ltd merged with John Dewar & Sons Ltd, creating a company ultimately known as Buchanan-Dewar Ltd, which became part of the DCL empire in 1925.

Despite suffering ill-health for much of his life, James Buchanan lived to the age of 85, and like his fellow blended whisky entrepreneur Tommy Dewar, devoted his later years to living the life of an English country gentleman and racehorse owner and breeder.

Both Buchanan and Dewar were also noted philanthropists, and while Tommy Dewar was knighted in 1902 and elevated to the peerage as Baron Dewar of Homestall in 1919, James Buchanan had to wait until 1920 for his knighthood, becoming Baron Woolavington two years later in the New Year’s honours list.

Although Buchanan’s elevation to the peerage was ostensibly for his charitable activities, it is claimed that he paid £50,000 for his baronetcy, a not unreasonable supposition considering the government of David Lloyd George undoubtedly used the sale of peerages for revenue-raising.

While the names of Black & White and Buchanan may not be familiar to the current younger generation of British whisky drinkers, they retain a significant presence on the international stage. The Buchanan Blend and its variants are strong performers for current owners Diageo in South American markets, where they have sold well for many years.

A Diageo spokesperson commented: “The brand now stands for prestige and tradition that suits the taste and values of the Latin community.” W