The Distillers Company

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The Distillers Company plc
IndustryManufacture of distilled potable drinks
HeadquartersEdinburgh, Scotland, UK
ProductsScotch whisky
ParentDiageo Edit this on Wikidata

The Distillers Company plc was a leading Scottish drinks and pharmaceutical company and, at one time, 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 be involved in fraudulent activity, becoming known as the Guinness share-trading fraud.


The company's origins lie in a trade association known as the Scotch Distillers' Association formed by Menzies, Barnard & Craig, John Bald & Co., John Haig & Co., MacNab Bros, Robert Mowbray and Macfarlane & Co. in 1865.[1]

It was incorporated in 1877 as The Distillers Company Ltd. (DCL) and combined with John Walker & Son and Buchanan-Dewar in 1925.[1]

It was acquired by Guinness in 1986[2] and was renamed as United Distillers in 1987.[3]

In 1998 United Distillers was merged with International Distillers & Vintners to create United Distillers & Vintners, forming the spirits division of Diageo plc. The company still exists today as Diageo Scotland Ltd.[4][5]


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.[6] 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.[7] 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 the United Kingdom under the name Distaval, beginning on 14 April 1958. Advertisements emphasised 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.[8]

The Speke site, also known as Speke Operations, was eventually sold to Eli Lilly and Company in 1963.[9] In February 2022 it was acquired by TriRX.[10]

Chemicals and plastics[edit]

Since 1915, during the World War I, Distillers supplied industrial alcohol for making explosives. In 1922, it started to manufacture Discol-branded motor fuel made from alcohol.[11] In 1928, it formed together with Turner and Newall the Carbon Dioxide Co Ltd to for sale of gas, a byproduct of their operations. In 1930, Distillers formed the British Industrial Solvents for production of acids and other solvents from industrial alcohol. In 1933, it formed Gyproc Products which was sold to British Plaster Board in 1944.[12] In 1937, Distillers acquired British Resin Products.[12][13] In 1939, it acquired a controlling stake in Commercial Solvents and 50% interest in BX Plastics, which full control was acquired in 1961. It followed by getting 48% shareholding in F. A. Hughes and Co. in 1941 and taking the full control in 1947.[12] In 1947, F. A. Hughes and Co. was merged into British Resin.[12][13]

In 1947, British Petroleum Chemicals was incorporated as a joint venture of AIOC and Distillers Company. In 1956, the company was renamed British Hydrocarbon Chemicals.[14]

In 1945, Distillers formed a joint venture British Geon with B. F. Goodrich to produce polyvinyl chloride and in 1954 it started a partnership named Distrene with Dow Chemicals to produce polystyrene.[13] In 1955, it took full control of Magnesium Elektron.[12] In 1967, BP acquired chemical and plastic assets of The Distillers Company which were merged with British Hydrocarbon Chemicals to form BP Chemicals.[15]

Directors of note[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Scotch Whisky Association: historical notes". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  2. ^ "Guinness directors showed 'contempt for truth'". BBC. 28 November 1997.
  3. ^ "The Guinness / Distillers Saga: The Aftermath". Scottish Whisky Magazine. Retrieved 15 July 2020.
  4. ^ Competition Commission Report 1983 Archived 21 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "DIAGEO SCOTLAND LIMITED overview - Find and update company information - GOV.UK".
  6. ^ "Professor who found a niche in drugs industry; Sophie Freeman meets Professor Mike Rubenstein, chief executive of Quay Pharmaceuticals". 17 August 2005. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
  7. ^ "Historic Agreement Secures Financial Future for Thalidomide Survivors" (Press release). 8 December 2005. Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  8. ^ Times; Potter, Elaine (1971). Suffer the Children: The Story of Thalidomide. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-68114-3. , pp. 42-46
  9. ^ "Drugs firm celebrates 40 years". Liverpool Daily Post. Trinity Mirror North West & North Wales Limited. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
  10. ^ "TriRx completes Elanco site buy". Speciality Chemicals Online. 10 February 2022. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  11. ^ "The Distillers Company: Alcohol as Motor Spirit". Times. London. 17 July 1922. p. 20.
  12. ^ a b c d e "Distillers Co". Grace's Guide to British Industrial History. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  13. ^ a b c Bamberg (2000), pp. 361–362
  14. ^ Bamberg (2000), pp. 350–352
  15. ^ Bamberg (2000), pp. 385–389


External links[edit]