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Mon 6 July 2020
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The origins of Rutherford and Company go back to the middle of the 18th century when the family acquired a tavern just off the High Street in Edinburgh.

History tell us that ‘Kindly Mrs Rutherford’s tavern in Craig’s Close was favoured by the merchants who congregated at the Mercat Cross to discuss business’. Amongst her regulars was Robert Burns, with whom the family has some intriguing connections. Another noted literary connection is with Sir Walter Scott whose grandmother was a Rutherford.

The tavern prospered and before the end of the century the family had acquired another two. By the time that her grandson William came into the business they had a string of taverns across the city and were established as one of the leading wine and spirit merchants in the capital. William formally established the business of Rutherford & Company in 1834 and set up in cellars in Niddry Street, just a stone’s throw down the road from their original inn. Although William purchased the best of whiskies direct from the distilleries, the powerful single malts of the time were not to everyone’s taste and many of his clients preferred ale, brandy or claret. Soon he was shipping fine wines and cognacs from France and ports from Portugal and was supplying not only his own taverns but many others in the city. The cream of Edinburgh society purchased their wines from Rutherford’s and also the smoked hams, cheeses and other continental delicacies now being imported by the Company. A new, modern warehouse was built, across the road from the cellars in Niddry Street and the business flourished.

When the practice of blending malt with the new grain whiskies became established in the 1860’s, Rutherford’s were quick to develop a range of whiskies renowned for their smoothness. The resulting blends were to prove a popular and palatable drink for all classes and when the vineyards of France were devastated by disease and cognac was suddenly unobtainable, Blended Scotch Whisky soared in popularity. Soon it was being exported in huge quantities to every corner of the world and the Whisky Companies of Glasgow and Edinburgh rode the crest of a wave.

But while many of its competitors took advantage of the new demand for Scotch and developed substantial sales in London and overseas, Rutherford & Company was content to concentrate on its traditional market in Edinburgh. As a result, Rutherford’s was never to experience the surge in growth that turned many other companies into international brands. It remained a ‘local’ company, operating its own chain of inns and wholesaling wines and spirits to Edinburgh retailers. The company struggled during the 1920’s and 1930’s and the new generation of family members turned to the professions for their careers. By 1950 there were no Rutherfords left to operate the business and the family had to make a difficult decision.

The Rutherford and MacRae families were related as early as the beginning of the 18th Century, so closely in fact that the MacRaes unsuccessfully claimed the then vacant Lordship of Rutherford. However, the families went their separate ways with little contact until 1953. Then, the business of Rutherford & Company found itself in a difficult situation with the family members pursuing various professions and having little interest in the company.

An approach was made to the MacRae family, now active in the trade in Glasgow, and within a short time Rutherford & Company had been acquired by McRae Brothers (Distillers) Ltd. The cellars and warehouse in Niddry Street were retained but a number of Rutherford’s Public Houses were sold off, as were those owned by McRae Brothers in Glasgow. The two companies worked closely and concentrated their efforts on blending and bottling a range of whiskies for the export market.

From 1952 until 1963 the company maintained an Office in London and a Sales Office in Denver, USA. and substantial sales were made throughout North America and Australasia. Subsidiary companies included Northern Bonders, McRae Brothers Ltd and Glenelg Whiskies. They also operated the Rob Roy Highland Motel at Aberfoyle from 1957 until 1969 and the Imperial Hotel in Edinburgh from 1955 until 1971.

In 1952 McRae Brothers purchased a bonded warehouse in Montrose, on the north east coast, and set up a blending, bottling and storage operation there under the name of Bow Butts Bonding Company. By 1960 the premises were too small for their needs and Bow Butts leased one end of a large jute mill in Montrose. As the jute industry declined Bow Butts expanded, first purchasing the premises that they leased and then in 1968 the remainder of the mill. Rutherford’s sold off their Edinburgh premises, McRae’s their Glasgow premises and both companies relocated their businesses to Montrose, now trading under one name, Rutherford and Company Ltd. When the Bow Butts Bonding Company was sold to Dundee rum and whisky merchant George Morton Ltd in 1975, Rutherford’s retained the part of the buildings occupied by themselves and their new associate company, Montrose Potteries Ltd.

Times have changed. The Bow Butts Bonding Company has now gone, the warehouses converted into houses, but Rutherford’s and Montrose Pottery remain, though operating now on a more modest scale on a new site close to Montrose.

For more information, visit the Rutherford and Company web site at

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