This week we are delighted about the return of one of the grand old names of Scotch whisky, Old Perth, with a beautiful sherry-aged blended malt and a mighty cask strength version.
If you walk around Perth today, you’ll see evidence of its proud whisky heritage. It’s there in the grandeur of the town’s architecture which seems quite out of scale for a city of 50,000 people and you’ll see ghost signs advertising Old Perth whisky. Well, these are ghost signs no longer as the family firm Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers has brought whisky back to the town and resurrected this great brand.
First, a bit of history
Known as the Gateway to the Highlands, the city of Perth was ideally placed for merchants to buy characterful malt whiskies from the north and blend them with the lighter spirits of the Lowlands to create a consistent product to sell in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and export around the world.
Scotch whisky as we know it was to a large extent a Perth creation and with the coming of the railways, Perth’s first station was built in 1848, the city boomed. Giants warehouses were built providing employment for thousands whilst the whisky barons spent their leisure time in the city’s fashionable gentlemen’s clubs.
The city was home to some of the biggest names in Scotch whisky including Matthew Gloag, Arthur Bell and John Dewar. There’s a fourth name that’s not so well known but deserves to be put alongside them: Peter Thomson.
Enter, Peter Thomson
The youngest of three brothers, Peter Thomson set up his business in 1908 at 202 High Street Perth but the family had been in the whisky trade for much longer. Peter’s father Alexander Thomson ran a grocery and whisky shop. Going further back, in 1837 John Thomson acquired the Grandtully distillery which remained in family hands until it closed in 1914. And further back still, according to family legend the Thomsons were too busy distilling and drinking whisky to take part in the Highland Rebellions of 1715 and 1745.
He was a canny businessman and the firm weathered the economic storms following the first world war. In the 1920s it launched Beneagles blended whisky containing a sizable proportion of Macallan single malt as well as high-quality grain whisky from the North British distillery in Edinburgh which the Thomson family had shares in. They also launched a premium whisky called Old Perth.
Peter Thomson died in 1939 and his son David Kinnear Thomson took over but the following year he was captured by the Germans at Dunkirk and saw out the war in a POW camp. Fortunately, the firm was in the more than capable hands of his secretary, Miss Cameron, who managed the firm until the war ended. In fact, it’s said she carried on the day to day running of the firm even after the war whilst David networked, socialised and promoted the business around the world. We’d probably use the term ‘Brand Ambassador’ today.
A pioneering firm
The firm became known for its innovative marketing including ceramic whisky miniatures in the shape of curling stones, the Loch Ness monster, a golden eagle and, most magnificent of all, a Thistle and the Rose chess set portraying Scotland’s great rivalry with England. The pieces are figures from British history including Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Robert the Bruce filled with Beneagles whisky. The empty vessels come up quite often on Ebay.
Peter Thomson was innovative in other ways. In the 1960s, the family took the bold decision to sell Macallan on its own. It’s hard to imagine now when Macallan is a globally-renowned luxury goods brand but most malt distilleries had no reputation amongst consumers. Peter Thomson obtained exclusive rights to sell Macallan and by 1985 they were selling 10,000 cases a year. So successful were they that Macallan eventually decided to handle sales themselves.
Decline and revival
By this time, however, the family no longer controlled the firm. It was sold to a Cypriot businessman and later became incorporated into Whyte & Mackay. One by one, the great names of Perth whisky left the town of their birth.
But some of that life returned in 2005 with the creation of Morrison & Mackay by Kenny MacKay, a former employee of Peter Thomson, Rob Starling, and Brian and Jamie Morrison, formerly of Morrison Bowmore. They opened a single malt distillery, Aberargie, outside the city in 2017. Last year, the company rebranded as Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers.
They also acquired the Old Perth brand name from Whyte & Mackay and relaunched it as a blended malt whisky inspired by the original. Just landed at Master of Malt, we have two new expressions: a 46% ABV sherry cask, and a 58.6% ABV cask strength version. Both are truly superior blends that pay tribute to Perth’s rich whisky heritage. If you like a luxurious sherry cask malt packed with dried fruit and spices, you’ll love Old Perth. Here’s the tasting note for the cask strength version:
Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt
Nose: Toffee penny, cherry jam, and bundles of dried fruit.
Palate: Earthy root ginger spice, cinnamon stick, and toasted barley.
Finish: Brandy-soaked raisins and burnt brown sugar on the finish.