Haig Whisky & Jameson – History of the Whisky Cousins

Haig Whisky & Jameson – History of the Whisky Cousins
Old Kennetpans Whisky Distillery
Old Kennetpans Whisky Distillery

The Kennetpans are the lands along the tidal estuary of the Forth river near the town of Stirling in Eastern Scotland. From Stirling, the Forth River meanders through Shallows until it reaches the North Sea. In the 12th century, local monks established a monastery where they panned for salt and also distilled what is called Uisce Beatha in Gaelic or the water of life in English. The Steins were local farmers in the nearby village of Clackmannan who may have had their origins across the North Sea in the Modern Day Netherlands before taking root in Scotland.

John Jameson the founder of Jameson Irish Whiskey was actually born in Scotland in a small sea port called Alloa near the city of Stirling in 1740.

He was the developer of the famous Bow Street Distillery in Dublin where Jameson Whiskey was born . Check out the full Jameson and Haig family tree below.

John Stein was a grandson of Andrew Stein who was the patriarch of the famous Stein Whisky family. Andrew Stein had established a distillery in the Kennetpans in the early 1720’s and by 1733, it was the largest distillery in Scotland.
The Steins were reputed to have learnt the art of distillation from their Monastery neighbours and after the reformation of the 16th century, they took over the monastery lands along with the practice of distillation. By the early 1730’s the Steins were the leading Scottish industrialists of their time and the distillery in Kennetpans was the largest in the world.

The Haigs – History of the Whisky Cousins

Robert Haig - Haig Whisky
Robert Haig

At the same time, their neighbours from nearby Kilbagie the Haig Family were also developing a similar but smaller distillery empire. Robert Haig had been one of the earliest commercial distillers in Scotland in the early 1600’s. It was inevitable that these two locally powerful whisky families would socialise and intermarry in a small area of just 20 square miles and this came to pass when a great great grandson of Robert, John Haig married Margaret Stein in 1751. They went on to have 10 Children and it was this first Stein-Haig generation that formed the foundation of the Haig and Jameson whisk(e)y empires in Scotland and Ireland.

John Haig’s eldest daughter, also Margaret Haig, married John Jameson in 1788. Jameson hailed from the nearby village of Alloa and as the Sheriff of neighbouring Clackmannan village, moved in the same local social circles as the wealthy Steins and Haigs. After their marriage,  he and Margaret moved to Dublin where John Jameson worked with Margaret’s Stein cousins in further developing a  huge new Dublin Distillery in Bow Street which had originally opened in 1780. A few years later, in 1810, the Jameson Family bought out the Stein’s share of Bow Street distillery and this was the start of the Jameson Irish Whiskey company. You can view the full Haig family tree below showing the links between the Haigs, Steins and Jamesons.

Haig Whisky Family Tree
Haig Whisky Family Tree

The Irish Connection – History of the Whisky Cousins

In 1780 John Jameson’s business acumen had alerted him to the opportunities presented in that year by a change in the Excise regulations, which favoured the operation of larger stills. In the ensuing years a number of distilling premises in and around Smithfield and Bow Street were combined to become the famous Bow Street Distillery.
In 1805 John Jameson’s son, also John, took over the running of the business. Thus were laid the foundations for the iconic firm of John Jameson and Son.

Margaret’s younger brother Robert also moved to Dublin where he established the Dodderbank distillery in 1795 with one of the earliest Coffey Stills designed by Irish inventor Aeneas Coffey. But it was Margaret’s youngest brother William Haig who founded the latter day Haig Whisky labels that we recognise today. Robert had married his cousin Janet Stein and ended up buying out her brother Robert Stein when he ran into financial difficulties with Kincaple Distillery. It was Janet and Roberts’s son John Haig born in 1802 who then built the Cameronbridge Distillery in 1824 where all modern Haig Whisky such as Haig Gold, Haig Dimple, Haig Pinch and Haig Club is still made to this day.

Lest there be any illusions of happy families, it should be noted that the Steins and Haigs while intermarried, were quite ruthless in business and often targeted and took advantage of the other families financial difficulties to grab each other’s businesses over a period of 100 years.

The Steins were particularly ruthless and often sailed close to the wind with the customs and excise and revenue and taxation. They were also superb technical innovators who pioneered efficiency in whisky distillation by harnessing continuous column still and Coffey still distillation which is still used today in the production of single grain whisky such as Haig Club. In total, the number of distilleries built in Scotland and Ireland was ten by Steins, seven by Haigs and 2 by Jamesons. As the Haig family whisky empire grew stronger, the Steins let go of their whisky assets to focus on shipping and engineering interests which they had developed initially to support their distilleries international exports by the vast rail, canal and shipping infrastructures that they had developed themselves throughout Scotland and built up considerable expertise and business interests in.

The Jameson Irish Whiskey Link

Meanwhile, over in Dublin, John Jameson who you will remember had not been born into the whiskey world, brought innovation of a different kind to the distilling industry. John’s innovation was in quality. Quality in raw materials, production standards and in people management. John Jameson was known to pay more for better grain, to age his whiskey longer than his competitors and to invest in the welfare of his employees. Many thought that in these industrial revolutionary days of cheap labour and huge profits, that he would ruin himself by spending more and risking quick profits to achieve and ensure lasting quality. But he prevailed and the quality for which Jameson Irish Whiskey became known survives to this day, over 200 years later alongside their Scottish Haig Cousins.
Bow Street and Marrowbone Lane.

Four of John Jameson’s sons followed their father into distilling in Ireland.
With John Jameson II installed at Bow St., his younger brother William was distilling across the river Liffey at Marrowbone Lane. After William’s early death in 1802, a third son, James, took over William’s interest in the distillery although the firm still carried William’s name.

As you fly into Dublin Airport today via Dublin Bay and Howth, you may pass a large and quite visible country estate and golf course which is the Portmarnock Hotel. The hotel building was originally the Jameson family home, St. Marnock’s. I understand that the hotel have only recently become aware of their role in Irish whiskey history, so hopefully they will see fit to create a suitably fitting Irish Whiskey Bar to honour their previous owners.

King Edward VII often visited the Jamesons at their beachside home and on his last official visit to Ireland in 1907, he unveiled a plaque which was designed especially to mark the occasion of the marriage between members of two great distilling families, Jameson and Haig. The plaque can still be seen in the grounds of the hotel in what was then labelled ‘The Secret South Garden’.

Bow Street and Marrowbone Lane distilleries worked independently and were in fact business rivals.
A fourth son, Andrew who had a small distillery at Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, was the grandfather of Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless telegraphy and was also an ancestor of one time Irish politician Ivan Yates.

As Diageo are seen to offload some of their whiskey interests such as Bushmills, wouldn’t it be great if Jameson were to one day buy their Scottish cousin Haig and bring the journey back to full circle!


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