Accounting for Alcohol – part 10 “Spirited accountants – The rise of the Distillers Company”
This is a brief summary of chapter 10 in our book, written by William Jackson, Audrey Paterson and Darren Jubb. The chapter examines some of the roles that accounting has played in the transformation of the whisky industry from its simple roots to its current complexity, with particular reference to the development of the Distillers Company Limited (DCL). It covers a period from 1850-1925. The scale of the whisky industry around 1885 was quite large, yielding about one-sixth of all revenue of the United Kingdom. As the authors note “given the scale and importance of this to the British government, it is easy to understand why excise/revenue men were swarming around the distilleries. Under these conditions it can be no surprise that the quality and completeness of accounting data would be of the very highest standard”.
The volume of whisky produced increased dramatically in the middle of the 19th century and some producers made initial attempts to cooperate in 1856 and 1865. Although the first attempt was short-lived, the second had more duration, and six of the larger grain whisky producers formally combined into the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1877. In the 1890s, whisky boomed which ultimately led to the Pattisons crash in 1898. As noted by the authors “what followed was a period of lost confidence, retrenchment, falling sales, a recognition of overvalued stocks throughout the industry and a need to reduce the production of spirit. It was at this time that DCL began to adopt a pattern of activity that would see them attempt to rescue the industry from its woes. Recognising the overcapacity in the industry and the weakness of many of its players, DCL began to acquire distilleries, often at very low prices, and take them out of production in order to protect the future values of existing whisky stocks”. The came the First World War, which affected all business., but DCL became the UK’s sixth-largest manufacturing company by 1930. As the authors suggest “there can be little doubt as to the importance of accounting practices to this development”