The Spirits of Giving

The Story of the Robertson Trust

The Robertson Sisters of the Edrington Group

Like most folks, I drink whisky because I like the taste. And, there’s no fuss, no politics, nothing negative or complicated about a great dram. But every now and then, I come across a story that warms my heart and gives me a good feeling about the brand that I’ve chosen. And that’t where the Robertson sisters take center stage.

It all started in 1860, when William Robertson founded Robertson and Baxter, which went on to form the Islay Distilling Co (Bunnahabhain), and later the Highland Distillers when they merged with Glenrothes, in 1885. Over the next forty years or so, they bought and sold interest in several whisky companies, including Glen Scotia, Tamdhu, and a partnership with Berry Bros and Rudd to produce Cutty Sark.

In 1944, William’s three grand-daughters, Elspeth, Agnes, and Ethel (Babs), took control of the company. In 1947, as Babs, who was now in charge of the company, was learning the business, Sam Bronfman, a Canadian businessman and owner of Seagrams, made an offer to buy the company. Babs turned him down, determined to keep her grandfather’s business in the family. Eventually, in 1961, the sisters formed the Edrington Group (named after the family farm), which has remained a force in the whisky industry, including iconic brands as MaCallan, Glenrothes, Highland Park, and Famous Grouse in their current holdings.

But that’s not the whole story. Also in 1961, the Robertson sisters formed the Robertson Trust. As none of the sisters married or had children, they decided to devote themselves to charity, donating most of their capital interest in the Edrington Group to the formation of the Trust. The Trust, in turn, owned all of the voting shares in the Edrington Group, thereby keeping controlling interest within the family. To keep things growing, the Trust receives all dividends from the Edrington company shares.The primary goals of the Trust was, and still is, to maintain the independence of the family business, and to improve the lives of Scottish people experiencing poverty or trauma.

Ethel ‘Babs’ Robertson – Driving force of Edrington

So, how has it all worked out? Since 1961, the Trust has donated more than 300 million pounds ($400 Million USD) to charity. Currently, it donates about 20 million pounds/year. That’s a heap pf charity. In fact, it is Scotland’s largest independent charity. So the next time you are shopping for a Christmas present for a friend, or just for a tasty dram for yourself, remember that feeling good comes in two forms – the warmth of the whisky and the warm glow from helping others. It doesn’t hurt that buying some of the most iconic whisky in the world can make it happen.

Some of the Edrington Brands

Next time , we’ll follow up with a look at some of the other iconic women in the whisky industry. Cheers!

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