Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

The Distillers Company

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Former type  Public
Successor  Guinness
Headquarters  Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Defunct  1986
Fate  Acquired
Products  Scottish whisky
Founded  1877
Industry  Manufacture of distilled potable drinks

The Distillers Company Limited was a leading Scottish drinks and pharmaceutical company which at one time was a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It was taken over by Guinness & Co. (now part of Diageo) in 1986 in a transaction which was later found to have involved fraudulent activity, becoming known as the Guinness share-trading fraud.



The Company was formed in 1877 by a combination of six Scotch whisky distilleries: Macfarlane & Co., John Bald & Co., John Haig & Co, MacNab Bros & Co, Robert Mowbray and Stewart & Co. This company was born out of a trade association called the Scotch Distillers’ Association formed in 1865.

It combined with John Walker & Son and Buchanan-Dewar in 1925.

It was acquired by Guinness in 1986, forming United Distillers and the majority of its assets are now part of Diageo.


From 1942, Distillers Biochemicals (DCBL) operated an Agency Factory of the British Ministry of Supply manufacturing penicillin in Speke. The plant was one of the first two factories in Europe to produce penicillin. Following World War II, DCBL purchased the facility for approximately four million dollars.

Distillers was also responsible for the manufacture of the drug Thalidomide in the United Kingdom. Thalidomide had been developed by Grunenthal with whom, in July 1957, DCBL signed a sixteen-year contract to market the drug. DCBL ordered 6,000 tablets for clinical trial and 500 grammes of pure substance for animal experiments and formulation. Thalidomide was marketed in England under the name Distaval, beginning on April 14, 1958. Advertisements emphasized the drug's complete safety, using phrases such as non-toxic and no known toxicity. Later, Thalidomide was marketed under the names Asmaval, Tensival, Valgis, and Valgraine and found to cause nerve damage and malformations in births.

The Speke site, also known as Speke Operations, was eventually sold to Eli Lilly and Company in 1963.

Directors of Note

  • Leonard Alsager Elgood FRSE 1943 to 1960.
  • References

    The Distillers Company Wikipedia

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