William Sanderson & Son Profile

Less than 20 years after he started his own blended whisky and cordials business in Quality Street, Leith, William Sanderson had created the Scotch blend that would cement his name among the most successful Edinburgh blenders for centuries to come. To this day, William Sanderson & Co’s Vat 69 is one of the most popular in the world; a testament to the quality sought by the company’s founder, as well as his son and grandson.

The company now continues under the guidance of Diageo.

William Sanderson & Son History

After serving an apprenticeship with wine and spirit merchant and cordial maker Matthew Buchan, William Sanderson formed his own whisky and cordial business in Quality Street (now Maritime Street), Leith in 1863. The first entry in his records is a blend of Glenlivet, Pitlochry and grain whiskies.

In the company’s early years Sanderson continued to create bespoke blends for his customers until his son, William Mark, joined the company in 1880. Sanderson folklore tells of how, in 1882, William Snr. created around 100 separate blends in small casks and enlisted the help of a panel of whisky experts to select their favourite blend. The story goes that every panel member selected the same sample: number 69. So the 69th cask, or vat, formed the basis of the house William Sanderson & Son blended whisky. Vat 69, as it became known, proved to be as popular with the public as it was with those experts.

However a good blend needs to rely on a consistent source of whiskies and in 1885, fearing the power that the Distillers Company Ltd. (DCL) had over the grain whisky industry, William Sanderson and Son helped to found the North British grain distillery in Gorgie, Edinburgh. When it opened in 1887, William Snr was its managing director.

To secure malt whisky, William Sanderson & Son helped form the consortium behind the construction and operation of Tamdhu distillery in 1896. This was followed in 1908 with the outright purchase of Glen Garioch distillery, the same year William Snr passed away.

The company continued on under the direction of William Mark, and in 1917 formed Bonding & Transport Co. Ltd, a joint venture with wine merchant Macdonald & Muir Ltd., to control the warehousing and transport of whisky stocks.

The aftermath of the First World War saw William Sanderson & Son purchase fellow Leith blender Robertson & Sanderson Ltd., after three of William Jnr’s brothers (who were partners in that business) and two of his nephews had died. William Jnr’s eldest son, Kenneth, also joined the company after he was discharged from the Black Watch regiment. By 1922 he was managing director of Glen Garioch and was leading the export drive for Vat 69.

William Mark’s control of the company was short-lived. He died in 1929, leaving Kenneth in charge, although his son’s focus on Vat 69 never faltered. In 1935, the company merged with Booth’s Distilleries, aligning with its Millburn and Stromness distilleries.

The merger could not save the company’s independence and in 1937, with war looming, the enlarged company was taken over by DCL, with Kenneth remaining a member of the board. Ironically, the purchase helped DCL (now Diageo) claim a 50% share in North British, the Edinburgh distillery founded with the aim of breaking DCL’s power grip on the grain whisky industry.

William Sanderson’s Vat 69 blended whisky is still popular today under Diageo’s stewardship.


William Sanderson & Son Limited
Edinburgh Park
5 Lochside Way
EH12 9DT
United Kingdom
+44 20 8978 6000

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