Page last updated at 13:46 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 14:46 UK

Chapter closes on whisky history

Port Dundas plant
Local politicians have described the 140 job losses as a real blow for the community

Next year, the Port Dundas Distillery in Glasgow would have been producing whisky for exactly 200 years.

Now, the plant will close its doors before that landmark has been reached, after owners Diageo announced that up to 900 jobs would be lost across Scotland, including 140 of 220 posts at Port Dundas.

The plant, located on a 21-acre site, supplies grain spirit for about 39 million litres of alcohol each year.

It has been rebuilt twice in its history after it was fire damaged in 1903 and 1913.

The site stopped production during WWII but restarted again in 1945, using only homegrown barley.

Its neighbouring Dundashill Cooperage - which makes 85,000 hogshead casks a year - dates back even further, founded in 1770 by John Harvey.

Bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky
Kilmarnock has a long association with Johnnie Walker whisky

Diageo, which employs more than 4,000 people in Scotland, said work from Port Dundas could be met through the expansion of its Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife.

The company also said it hoped about 80 office-based staff from Dundas House, adjacent to the plant, would relocate to another location in central Scotland.

But 140 jobs will be lost, a move local politicians described as a "real blow" for the community.

About 25 miles down the road, and Diageo's packaging plant in Kilmarnock is also feeling the effects of the firm's 7% sales slump in the three months to the end of March.

It too will shut, ending an association between the town and the famous Johnnie Walker whisky brand that has endured for nearly two centuries.

John Walker established his small grocery shop in the Ayrshire town in 1820.

'Star performer'

Soon afterwards he applied the principles of tea blending to malt whiskies, producing a blend that evolved into the world's most popular whisky.

Local MP Des Browne pointed out that every bottle of Johnnie Walker has a label which says that this whisky has been bottled in Kilmarnock since 1820.

The packaging plant opened in 1956 and currently produces 11 million cases each year from 17 bottling lines.

Last year, Diageo said the Scotch was the company's "star performer" in a portfolio which includes Smirnoff and Guinness, after it became the first spirit to surpass annual sales of £1bn.

The world's largest drinks manufacturer published annual results in 2008 showing a 7% increase in net sales, but sales fell by the same amount in just a three-month period this year.

However, the company said it was still on track to raise profits by 4% to 6% this year.

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