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The Original Mackinlay - a Jura Connection

Creating ale from fermented malted barley, the first stage in the distillation of Scotch whisky, was known in Britain at least as early as the 6th century. However, the earliest record of malted barley vice wine being used to make aqua vitae appear in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls in 1494. Furthermore, it was as late as 1618 before records of a Highland chieftain’s funeral refer to drinking Uisge beatha (Gaelic=Water of Life), the equivalent of aqua vitae (European = strong waters). It is only a little stretch to imagine the drink being shortened to simply, “uisge” and subsequently corrupted to the English, “whisky”. (1)

The beginnings of this particular story are typically enshrouded in a bit of mist, as there was a Johnny Blue, cousin to the daughter of the great-grandfather of Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America. Johnny Blue and his family lived in Kintyre in the 19th century, plied the nearby waters for lobster and was a reportedly well-known character on the west coast of Scotland. He was also a distiller who had a business partnership with a blacksmith and cooper named Donald Mackinlay. Johnny Blue rapidly became famous for his two grades of distillation - moonlight and daylight. The difference between the two grades was that the former had twice the strength as did the latter.

Donald Mackinlay had rather ingeniously devised specialized barrels for slated butter that had an inner compartment for the whisky. Such deception permitted the evasion of the watchful eye of the exciseman. Cargo was shipped in this manner regularly through Grogport on the Mull of Kintyre to Saltcoats in Ayrshire where the local miners readily consumed it. (2)

In 1809, Charles Mackinlay was born in Ayrshire. In 1815, John Hunter, a tea, wine and spirit merchant was trading at 109 High Street, Edinburgh. In 1824, at age 15, Charles Mackinlay became indentured to John Hunter. The document attesting to this relationship is in the possession of Charles’ great-great-grandson, Donald, and was witnessed by two merchants, a writer and a surgeon. After some lack of success in the original venture as well as in normal trading, John Hunter joined Walker Johnston & Co., Cassell’s Place, Leith. Somewhere between 1825-1826, Walker Johnston & Co. relocated to 4 Great Junction Street, Leith. At the same time, Charles Mackinlay was accepted as a staff member. In 1830, Walker Johnston & Co. moved again to 104 Constitution Street, Leith and, much later (1960), to Salamander (then, it was Bath) Street. (3)

Charles Mackinlay married Isabella Caverhill in 1834, and following the deaths of both George Walker and Robert Johnston, Charles assumed as partner in 1839. In late 1842, Walker Johnston & Co. was dissolved by mutual consent, partnership was established with William Deans, and the business was renamed, Mackinlay & Deans. This partnership was dissolved in July 1847.

Thus, in 1847, Charles Mackinlay & Co. was born. It is said that young Mr. Charles used to enjoy a round of golf on the nearby course at Leith, and it was to match this sporting spirit that he conceived The Original Mackinlay. (4) Charles was appointed a Baillie of the Leith town council in 1849. He was later offered a provostship but declined owing to ill health. Having built a highly successful distilling company, Charles died, aged 58, at 14 Pilrig Street, Leith in 1867.

Charles son, James, who had apprenticed to Buchan & Johnston, Chandlers, Leith as well as to Lawrie Son & Nephew, London, assumed responsibility for running the Company. He took in his brother, Charles W. Mackinlay, as a partner, with James handling sales and Charles W., the financial duties. During the same year, the Edinburgh & Leith Wholesale Wine & Spirit Association was formed, with James Mackinlay as Secretary.

In 1875, the brand Mackinlays Vatted Old Benvorlich Scotch whisky is registered. In the late 1870’s, London offices were opened, first on Queen Victoria Street then to Crutched Friars. Thus, Mackinlays Vatted Old Benvorlich, probably one of the first blended Scotch whiskies to be marketed, was introduced to London. An early account was established with the Refreshment Department at the House of Commons. Whisky was still being provided there as late as 22 December 1885, according to a letter from Alexander Gordon & Co., Ltd, Pro & Es.

Charles Mackinlay & Co. purchased Corbett Borthwicks Warehouse, East Old Dock, Leith, in 1875. Notable Mackinlay & Co. employees included James Buchanan (1879), Thomas Dewar (cashier, 1881) and James Watson (1891). In 1885, James Buchanan left the Company to found Black & White Scotch Whisky and became Lord Woolavington. James Mackinlay and John Birnie built the Glen Mohr Distillery, Inverness, trading as Mackinlays & Birnie, Ltd. Working with a Frenchman named Saladin, this distillery became the first to install a Saladin box (during the 1950’s), which was to revolutionize the malting process.

In 1894, Charles Mackinlay & Co., Ltd, acquired several important agencies:

Sadly, Charles W. Mackinlay died in Inverness in 1896. The same year, James Mackinlay took into partnership both his eldest son, Charles, and Thomas Dewar.

Charles Mackinlay marries Edith Crabbie, daughter of John Crabbie of John Crabbie & Co. Ltd, Great Junction Street, Leith, in 1898. In the same year, James Thomson leaves Mackinlays for a wholesale firm in London but returns to Mackinlays as their London manager in 1903.

In 1905, the Mackinlay Company builds a new bonded warehouse, Charlotte Street, Leith, for bottling. In 1907, Sir Earnest Schackleton, explorer, asked the Company to supply the official Scotch whisky for his Antarctic expedition to the South Pole. This momentous trip began aboard the S.S. ENDURANCE. Empty bottles of The Original Mackinlay were discovered by a later expedition, still standing on Schackleton’s base-camp desk. (5)

In 1908, James Mackinlay was called to present evidence to the Royal Commission constituted to report on Scotch whisky and other potable spirits. Also this year, the London office of Mackinlays moved to Mark Lane. The Port of London Authority bought the Crutched Friars property.

In 1910, Sir Robert Usher resigns as Chairman of the Edinburgh & Leith Wholesale Wine & Spirit Association. James Mackinlay was appointed Chairman, Thomas Hutchinson became Secretary. (Thomas Hutchinson, then a Director, J. C. Thomson & Co., later was Knighted, and eventually Sir Thomas Hutchinson became Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh.) At a function in the Queens Hotel, Leith, James Mackinlay was congratulated on his 43 years of service as Secretary - an event reported in the Leith Observer of that week.

In 1915, Thomas Dewar retired, owing to ill health, Thomas Hutchinson resigned as Secretary of the Edinburgh & Leith Wholesale Wine & Spirit Association but James Mackinlay remained as Chairman. James Watson, of Mackinlays, took the office of Secretary, which continued until the liquidation of the Association. After the 1914-1918 War, the Whisky Association was formed. During 1915, the Mackinlay Company purchased two bonds - Timber Bush, Leith (Nos. 32 and 72) for bulk storage. Thomas Dewar died, aged 61, in 1917 and James Watson and James Thomson became partners - Watson in Leith and Thomson in London.

At the commencement of the 1914-1918 War, the Mackinlay Company owned 4 bonded warehouses in Leith. After the 1914-1918 War, the Mackinlay Company acquired the Glen Albyn Distillery, Inverness and became partners with J. G. Thompson & Co. Ltd to rent the Littlemill Distillery from COL Ferguson Buchanan of Auchen Torlie. Mackinlays also purchased A. Alexander & Co. Ltd, Henderson Turnbull Ltd, Mackintosh & Co, Inverness and Robert Brown & Co., Glasgow.

In 1922, John Russell joined Charles Mackinlay & Co., followed in 1924 by Ian James Mackinlay, the only son of Charles Mackinlay. Ian had received training at other companies. It was also in 1924 that the London office removed to Trafalgar House, 11 Waterloo Place, SW1.

James Mackinlay, senior Mackinlay at Charles Mackinlay & Co., died, aged 83 in May 1926, at 18 Eglington Crescent, Edinburgh.

In 1927, Bottling Bond, Charlotte Street, Leith, was unable to cope, so No. 1 Bond, Mitchell Street, Leith, was purchased and the Charlotte Street premises were altered to become a duty paid warehouse and cooperage.

James Watson, after 2 years of indifferent health, died, aged 59, in May 1930. He had been a very prominent Freemason holding the office of Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the first commoner ever to hold the position.

In August 1930, Donald Mackinlay was born and in 1932, Ian James Mackinlay became a partner.

In 1933, the United States of America repealed prohibition and Mackinlays sub-stantially increased their filling programme. The premises at Constitution Street, Leith, were purchased for enlarged cooperage activities. (This site included the Masonic Lodge used by Robert Burns on his visits to Leith.)

Charles Mackinlay sadly died, aged 63, at 4 Belford Park from a serious heart attack.

In 1928, Archibald Watson and James Currie Thomson (elder son of previously noted James Thomson) were made partners.

Ian James Mackinlay and James Currie Thomson, T. A. officers, received immediate call up on the commencement of the Second World War, 1939. Ian James Mackinlay was captured by the Japanese at Singapore and remained a prisoner of war until 1945. James C. Thomson - Cameron Highlanders -served in the Middle East, in the western desert and in Italy. Wounded during the advance in Italy, he was to be decorated in the field.

In 1952, William H. Thomson (cadet son of James, above) joined the Company.

In October 1953, Donald Mackinlay joined the Company, becoming a Director in 1958. In the intervening years, William H. Thomson and John Russell also became Directors.

In 1960, Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd was purchased by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. Scottish & Newcastle joined Charles Mackinlay & Co. with John E. McPherson & Sons, Ltd to trade in the home market as Mackinlay-McPherson, Ltd. Ian James Mackinlay continued to head up the Mackinlay Company.

New premises for Charles Mackinlay & Co. were relocated to 9/21 Salamander Place, Leith, in 1962.

In 1974, by popular demand, Charles Mackinlay & Co., then a part of Newcastle Breweries, decided to reintroduce the Isle of Jura ‘s only single malt Scotch whisky.

Donald Mackinlay assumed the post of Chairman in 1983 and during his tenure as Company leader, single malt whisky continued to be brewed from the Isle of Jura. Craighouse, on Small Isles Bay, is the capital of Jura. It is here that the Isle of Jura Distillery is located, drawing water from the spring of Bhaille Mharghadh, which runs through a cave once used by smugglers on to quartzite and over peat and heather. A distillery on this spot was part of island life as early as 1810 but was closed during WW I. (6)

Invergordon Distillers acquired Charles Mackinlay, Ltd in 1985 and, thus, control of Jura and Glenallachie distilleries from Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. (7)

In 1989, Donald Mackinlay paid a visit to Australia on the occasion of a major shift in bottling policy of The Original Mackinlay Finest Old Scotch Whisky. Following a pattern set by Long John and Teachers the previous year, the BIA (Bottled in Australia) practice was to change to BIS (Bottled In Scotland) in order to keep control of bottle contents. Apparently, even with manufacturing under license, the costs were too great to supervise from Scotland.

MacKinlay WhiskyBottling entailed receiving the spirit and adding water to dilute the whisky to bottling strength (37 percent alcohol). BIS whisky was more expensive because the freight component to ship bottle-strength whisky rather than concentrated spirit had to be added. Peter Scudamore-Smith, of The Brisbane Sun, commented that he “would rather add to the image of Mackinlay by seeing it diluted with soft and mellow Scottish stream water, rather than the chlorinated waters we know. Many cities of the world have terrible tap water which makes life difficult for the purist whisky drinker who takes water with a dram.”

Mackinlay standard whisky is at least five years old (all three brands - 5, 12 and 21-year old - all must exceed age three years), with portions drawn from both grain distillation and malt whisky. Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd - in 1989 part of the Invergordon Distillers Group - operated from five distilleries. The grain distillery churns out clear spirit that is the price reducer for all standard whisky. These whiskies are regarded by their spirit proportions - Mr. Scudamore-Smith’s taste suggesting 85 percent grain and 15 percent malt in the Mackinlay. He indicated that the percentage of malt rather than average age is the major determinant of the whisky’s regard. In all fairness, during a recent communication with Mr. Donald Mackinlay, after his having an opportunity to review Mr. Scudamore-Smith comments, Mr. Mackinlay assured me that even the 5 year-old Mackinlay had a malt content that never was less than 34%. (8) Apparently Mr. Scudamore-Smith’s sensitivity for estimating malt content was somewhat inaccurate!

Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd, at least in 1989, had malt whisky distilleries on the Isle of Jura, in Speyside at Glenallachie and one in the Highlands, Tullibardine at Blackford. The focus of malt whisky content in blended whisky becomes much more apparent with Mackinlay’s two older deluxe whiskies - Legacy 12 year-old and 21-year old. Malt whisky continued to create interest worldwide, with sales globally at three percent of the whisky market in 1988, while only 1.5 percent in 1985. The Original Mackinlay is described as “sweet, mellow, full-bodied, lingering taste, malty, rich amber colour.” (9)

Almost as an epilogue, the acquisition of Charles Mackinlay Ltd by Invergordon gave way to further acquisition of Invergordon Distillers by Whyte & Mackay Group for American Brands, Inc., in 1995. (10) Jim Beam Brands World-Wide, Inc., in turn, subsequently acquired Whyte & Mackay Group.

In summary, the story of conceiving, distilling and bottling The Original Mackinlay by Charles Mackinlay during the 19th century is a fascinating one. During the last decade, Donald Mackinlay has retired as Chairman of the Company. However, this splendid, blended Scotch whisky, with its Jura connection, can still be purchased throughout the world from its Invergordon offices in Leith. The manager of the firm is Mr. Norman Mathison, a most cordial gentleman, who is delighted to entertain inquiries regarding The Original Mackinlay and other Invergordon products that are the heritage of the Charles Mackinlay & Co. Ltd. It is curious, indeed, that one has come full circle from the original Donald Mackinlay of Jura to his “namesake,” who is the last of a long line of Mackinlays to shepherd the fine product originally conceived by Charles Mackinlay, his great-great-grandfather.

© 2000 by Robert T. McKinlay, MD, FACS, FSA Scot


  1. Brander, Michael: Brander’s Guide to Scotch Whisky, Lyons & Burford, New York, 1997, pp 2-3
  2. Martine, Roddy: Scotland: The Land and the Whisky, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd. London, 1994, p. 108
  3. Mackinlay & Co, Ltd, Charles: Outline document of Company history (courtesy, Naill, Peter and Leo Mackinlay), 2000
  4. Skipworth, Mark: The Scotch Whisky Book, Reed Consumer Books Ltd (Lomond Books), London, 1992, p. 135
  5. Ibid. p. 135
  6. Op cit. Martine, Roddy: p. 190
  7. Op. cit. Brander, Michael: p. 165
  8. Mackinlay, Donald: chairman (retired), Charles Mackinlay & Co., Ltd, personal communication, 4 Nov 2000
  9. Op cit. Skipworth, Mark: p. 135
  10. Op cit. Brander, Michael: p. 167

Last Update: April 2005