Ainslie & Heilbron (Distillers) Limited

Company Number: SC001739
Date of Incorporation: 8 May 1888
Contact Details: Edinburgh Park, 5 Lochside Way, Edinburgh, EH12 9DT
Operating Details: Dissolved 26 January 1993
Other names (if known): James Ainslie & Co. (1888-1912?)
Function of Company*: Manufacture distilled potable drinks (1591)
Headquarters/Base of Operations Location: Glasgow (though distilleries operated in the Highlands)
Area of Operation:

*Taken from Standard Industrial Classification 2003, as used by Companies House in 2010


Held By: Diageo Archive GB 1877- Glenochil House, Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, FK11 7ES or email

Scope/type: Contact Diageo Archive for details-many of the records relating to the company are tied into those of United Distillers (see below)

Conditions governing access/use: Contact Diageo Archive

Related records: Exports file held in National Archives of Scotland under SEP2/614 running from 1956-1987

Company History

This company appears to be related to James Ainslie & Co, which was founded by Ainslie & co. (brewers of Burton-on-Trent Moss & Hume p141) as whisky merchants who principally operated out of Leith, In 1896 they acquired the Brora Highland Distillery and rebuilt it. The distillery was later sold on in the 1930s to Scottish Malts, though the
company appears to have become its principal operators after the Second World War.

James Ainslie & Co went bankrupt in 1912. It appears that this company survived as the asset managers of the Brora distillery- half its stake was sold to The Distillery Company Limited, and the other half was owned by a Mr James Risk (Wilson p144). Although it is unclear when Heilbron was added to James Ainslie & Co, there is a note of Mr AN Heilbron attending a meeting of the Whisky Association in 1921, so it is not unreasonable to assume that this might be same Heilbron who added his name to the company (it does not seem to have been a common name in Scotland in this part of the century) (Wilson p357).

Around 1920 the company (as Ainslie & Heilbron) acquired the Argyll distillery founded in 1844 by Greenlees & Colvill (though this appears to have ceased production in 1923- Moss & Hume p274). Their most well-known brand was ‘Kings Liqueur’ Old Special, which dates at least as far back as the 1930s. In 1934 the company’s King William IV brand was the first Scotch to be landed in New York after the repeal of prohibition (Wilson p.315). In 1969 the company took over operations at the second Clynelish distillery (Moss & Hume pp 252-3)

By 1980 they were listed as an active part of the Distillers Company, and in turn became part of United Distillers when Guinness bought the company in 1986. This company was dissolved in 1993 as part of a general rationalisation of Guinness holdings, and its surviving assets are now part of the Diageo company following the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan.


Ross Wilson, Scotch; the formative years (Constable, London 1970)

Michael Moss and John Hume, The Making of Scotch Whisky (James & James, Edinburgh 1981)

With thanks to the Diageo Group Archives for their help and assistance with the project, and their permission to use this information.