Diageo Archive Visit Part 2- Like a Kid in a Candy Store!

graeme-on-his-travelsGraeme again folks! Well last time I left you I had tried some fairly old whisky that had been kicking around for the last century or so, and we were well on our way to making a night of it with some other exquisite drams! (Check that post out here) I will not bore you with the details of the night but will instead skip to the next morning and the visit to the Diageo Archives in Menstrie!

So we all awoke nice and early, fresh faced and in time to enjoy a hearty breakfast…. well most of us did, some may have slept in and missed breakfast… that some of us being me, but the most important thing is that we were all on the bus in time and set off to the Archives. Now I don’t know how many of you have been or what your ideas are about the place, but I was expecting a large modern building kind of dull, industrial aesthetics with large Diageo signs everywhere the eye could see. I thought inside would be quite boring, mostly hidden cabinets and random documents mixed in with a couple of bottles to show some of the brands… it is good to be wrong sometimes! The building itself is nothing more than a house with an attached warehouse on the side of it. Nothing grand or show-offy just a simple building and warehouse. However inside they were housing some real treasures!

The house was our first stop and generally inside it was what you would expect from the outside appearance, a normal house with a couple of bottles dotted around for ornamentation. We went into the first room and immediately you could see just what this place was here for. It was basically Johnnie Walker room, shelves upon shelves off memorabilia of the striding man, brilliant whisky based pictures and paintings around the walls and desks covered in fascinating documents pertaining to the creation, distribution and evolution of the Johnnie Walker brand.

In here we were giving a briefing about the place and I shall do my best to sum up their purpose as best as I can. So, the archives were established in 1990 and have been steadily collecting details throughout the last 20 years about over 1500 brands. They hold over 400 years of history with brands such as Bushmills going back to 1608. In other whisky terms there are records that relate to over 200 distillery sites spanning a period of over 200 years. Some of the more fascinating documents that they have include an 1819 inventory of Todrigg farm, which one John Walker sold to start up a grocery shop in Kilmarnock and the blending notebook of Alexander Walker from between 1913 and 1918. There are loads of documents relating to sales, export, advertising and marketing from around the globe. They use these archives to build and develop their current brands, keep brand integrity, to record the history and also to provide legal evidence to protect their intellectual property. All in all they do a pretty decent job of keeping the passion and soul of the brands alive and kicking, while giving us the chance to see some truly brilliant pieces of whisky history.

After the Johnnie Walker room we were taken downstairs to the warehouse and this is where the real magic was. The term Aladdin’s cave was thrown about and to be fair in the whisky industry this is probably the equivalent to it! Rows and rows of documents, bottles, memorabilia, PR, advertising and much, much more. It is safe to say I was more than a little bit excited! I could go on for hours, telling of the gems down there but I shall reign in my excitement and tell you some of my personal favourites. First of all was a fairly impressive collection of Dimple bottles gold, silver, pewter, porcelain you name it they had one. Bottles to commemorate star signs, animals and the Commonwealth games made for very interesting viewing. At the other end three iconic pieces of advertising; a life-sized striding man (awesome), the Guinness fish riding a bike (awesomer), and a real size model white horse from the blend…you guessed it White Horse!! Sadly, despite incessant pleading, I was not allowed to mount the horse, but it was still pretty darn cool. Dotted around the room in amongst the bottles were various trophies of sporting events that Diageo had sponsored over the years and these are probably what excited me the most! I ran around looking at trophies such as the Monte Carlo open held by legends like Sam Torrance and the Dryburgh cup. My favourite, and possibly the best moment of the day for me was the very large manager of the year trophy for the English top division up until 1987. I pleaded a little and our guide finally gave in and let me hold the trophy up! Names such as Bill Shankly, Jack Charlton, Brian Clough, Howard Kendall and Kenny Dalglish all graced the side! I think it would have been to cheeky to ask for my name to be engraved beside them!


Warehouse over we got taken on a tour of the rest of the house through rooms filled with various bottles from multiple industries. We saw a whole collection of multi-coloured J&B’s, a Johnnie Walker with a snake in the bottle, the whole collection of Pimms’cups, years of single malt heritage and a bottle of Cock’n Bull ginger beer which I am desperate to find. Eventually they managed to peel us away from the marvellous displays and bundled us in a bus back to the modern world. It had been a wondrous visit filled with ancient samples, historical documents and reminiscing about brands and advertising gone by. The job they do there is brilliant, a vital part of both recording history and providing data to build the brands on. Well done Diageo! As for me, excitement over it was back to Edinburgh where my lovely dissertation was awaiting with open arms to provide one more night of soul destruction before the hand in.



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