Orcadian distillery owned by Edrington.
Robertson & Baxter Group Profile
Part of the Robertson family’s extensive holdings in the Scotch whisky industry, Robertson & Baxter was a wholesale whisky blender with close ties to Highland Distillers and the Clyde Bonding Co. Both of these companies were either partially or wholly owned by the family and gave Robertson & Baxter access to large amounts of whisky, warehousing and bottling facilities. Three of founder William Robertson’s descendants were responsible for ensuring the on-going independence of the company, and creating the only whisky business to be wholly owned by a charitable trust.
Robertson & Baxter Group History
Robertson & Thompson was founded by Fife-born William Alexander Robertson as a wholesale whisky blender and agent in Glasgow in 1855. When co-founder Robert Thompson left to open his own business in 1860 John Baxter – a clerk within the company – became partner. And so, Robertson & Baxter was formed. When Baxter retired in 1872, Northumbrian Thomas Wightman stepped in to take his place, but Baxter’s legacy continued in the company name.
As the R&B business grew, the partners looked into the possibility of building a distillery on Islay and in 1881 – in partnership with William Ford & Sons and McMurchy & Ralston – they founded the Islay Distilling Co. Ltd. to build Bunnahabhain distillery. A shortage of barrels led to the founding of the Clyde Cooperage Co. Ltd. in 1884 to support the needs of the company and its distillery.
The company became part of a group that founded Highland Distillers in 1887, following the merger of the Islay Distilling Co. with the Glenrothes distillery. William Robertson served as first chairman of the new business and R&B was appointed sole agent for Highland Distillers whiskies.
In 1892 R&B purchased the Glenglassaugh distillery near Portsoy for £10,000 and promptly re-sold it to Highland Distillers for £15,000. Four years later R&B – along with 14 other partners including William Grant – built the Tamdhu distillery in Speyside. The following year founder William Robertson died leaving a trust fund in his will for his 10 children, which was to run until his youngest daughter turned 21. His oldest son, James, became chairman of the company.
The early part of the 20th century saw a string of new acquisitions and investments for the group, including the purchase of Haig & Haig in 1907, and later Glenfyne distillery in Argyll, and Strathdee near Aberdeen. In 1919 R&B provided the majority share capital to form West Highland Malt Distillers Ltd., with the aim of sharing costs and preventing the closure of six Campbeltown distilleries: Glen Nevis, (Glen) Scotia, Glengyle, Dalintober, Kinloch, Ardlussa. However, it wasn’t long before WHMD was liquidated in 1924, Scotia being the only distillery to survive the company’s bankruptcy.
By 1922 the children of the company’s partners who were not working in the industry wished to release the assets tied up in R&B. As such, Haig & Haig was passed to DCL and all the whisky stocks sold equally to a consortium consisting of DCL, John Walker & Sons and the newly merged Buchanan-Dewar group before the company was placed in voluntary liquidation. Two sons, James and Alexander, formed a new company, Robertson & Co., with the aim of purchasing the remaining assets and the original company name. Unfortunately, so complex was the liquidation that this took over 10 years to complete and it was 1937 before all the assets were transferred. At this point, James Robertson’s three daughters received 3,000 shares each in the new company.
During this period R&B had agreed a contract with wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd in London to blend and supply BBR’s Cutty Sark blended Scotch whisky – a brand that would grow to become one of the first million-case spirits in the US. From this point onwards, R&B focused its efforts on supplying and bottling whisky blends under contract to trade suppliers.
To reinforce the relationship between R&B and Highland Distillers, Alexander Robertson’s death in the 1940s gave Highland Distillers the opportunity to purchase his shareholding. This locked the two companies together and helped them both withstand future takeover attempts.
The company purchased whisky blender Hepburn & Ross in 1959, including its popular Red Hackle brand, and in 1965 it also acquired Lang Brothers Ltd. including the Glengoyne distillery.
In 1961, the three daughters of James Robertson, who wished to preserve the independence of the group, placed all of the family interests into one holding company, which they called Edrington. The sisters – Miss Agnes, Miss Ethel and Miss Elspeth – requested the dividends from Edrington be passed to a new charitable trust, The Robertson Trust, which is now one of Scotland’s largest having donated more than £150 million to Scottish charities.
Already a major shareholder in Edinburgh grain distillery North British, R&B collaborated with Grand Metropolitan in 1993 to purchase the business. The two companies created Lothian Distillers as a joint venture to oversee the operation of the distillery.
Eventually, in 1996, Edrington began a major restructuring of its businesses and brought R&B, along with Clyde Bonding Co. and the Clyde Cooperage Company under the Edrington Group name. Highland Distillers followed shortly after.