White Horse, a legendary name in the world of blended Scotch whiskies, defines perfection in balance, richness, and consistency. The honey and peaty tones with sumptuous hints of its malt and oak origins resonate its delicious complexity. With such full-bodied flavours, an impressive smoky finish and warm aftertaste, White Horse has won hearts of discerning drinkers and connoisseurs worldwide. One of them is Jim Murray, who awarded the sunlight-coloured liquor with the Blended Whisky of the Year award in his 2007 Whisky Bible. Today, White Horse boasts of multiple variants for both the wallet-watchers and antique spirit collectors.
In the Blend
Like most blended Scotch whiskies, White Horse liquors constitute spirits from as many as 40 different whisky barrels, heralding the legacy of Islay and other Scottish distilleries. The blend is renowned for harmonizing the famous Lagavulin and Glen Elgin’s single malts with high quality grain whiskies. White Horse is one of the few brands in the market that has over 40% malt mix, which diminishes any grainy flavour in the alcohol. At its inception, 75% of the blend was malt whisky.
According to an old literature by distillation historian, Alfred Barnard, one White Horse liquor was composed of five parts of three Glenlivets, three parts of two Islays, three parts of two lowland malts, one part Campbeltown and four parts of two grains.
In the Name
The white horse icon on the bottle signifies loyalty and virility of the brand. But where did the name come from? The then-famed coaching inn– White Horse Cellar Inn, beside the whisky’s pioneer, Peter Jeffrey Mackie’s ancestral home in Canongate, Edinburgh. It was famous for being the first stop for travellers on stagecoaches, journeying for eight days to reach London from Edinburgh. The inn, dating back to 1742, originally got its name from a white horse owned by Mary, Queen of Scots.
Origins – from the Beginning
The story of White Horse begins in the early 19th century when Captain John Crawford Graham acquired some bothies in Islay and set up a small distillery, naming it Lagavulin Distillery, in 1852. James Logan Mackie joined the Captain, nine years later, and both distilled and distributed malt whiskies in the country for a while.
With the dawn of the industrial revolution, the partners renovated, extended, and improved their operations to produce more whiskies. As James Mackie did not have children of his own, he introduced his nephew, Peter Mackie into the whisky business. Peter began training in 1878. After his uncle’s death, Peter took his place as co-owner in the distillery in 1889.
Under his management, the Lagavulin Distillery company changed its name to Mackie and Co. (Distillers) and launched its first White Horse blend, a year later in 1890. Initially the blended Scotch was sold internationally and gained popularity in countries like South Africa and Australia. It hit home market shelves in 1901 with a rather low reception.
Highlight and Lowlights of Peter Mackie
“One-third genius, one-third megalomaniac and one-third eccentric,” was how author and diplomat Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart described Peter Mackie. And rightfully so. When Peter found the reception to White Horse at home was low, he said that it was not because of its quality, but because people had no idea how good it was. His contemporaries nicknamed him, “Restless Peter”, and Peter proved them by working incessantly toward expanding his business and consistently delivering quality at home and abroad.
In 1895, he registered Mackie and Co. as a limited company and went on to acquire Craigellachie Distillery, taking complete control, 20 years later. His office in Glasgow showed his commitment to the business, with a large sign saying “Take nothing for granted.”
Evidence of his eccentricity is well-elucidated by his rivalry with Laphroaig Distillery, for which he was the sales agent. Owing to a water dispute, Peter went loggerheads with Laphroaig and decided to establish a similar distillery to imitate its whisky’s taste. He poached several workers from the spirit-making factory, and constructed the Malt Mill Distillery that reflected the same layout. Whiskies made out of the Malt Mill although never reached Laphroaig’s fame.
The Laphroaig episode was not a one off incident in Peter’s life. Renowned for never sitting idle, Restless Peter seemed to always have odd schemes up his sleeves. One of the notable ones was “Bran, Bone, and Muscle” (BBM) flour that he ordered his employees to use for baking.
Peter’s focus on whisky production efficiency and high quality propelled the sales of White Horse and Lagavulin single malts from 24,000 units in 1896 to 190,000 in 1914 when the World War broke out.
New Owners after Mackie
Peter Mackie had three daughters and a son, whom he intended would succeed him. This however never happened since his son was killed in action in Palestine. Peter deliberated selling his company stakes, but nothing materialized until his death in 1924. Mackie and Co. (Distillers) Ltd. subsequently became a public company under the name of White Horse Distillers Ltd. Three years later, Distillers Company Ltd. (DCL) purchased the company. Its successor, Diageo, still owns and continues investing, distributing, and marketing the White Horse brand.