It was introduced in 1978 to occupy the position previously held by Johnnie Walker Red Label. The brand was put together by the same Johnnie Walker team but licensed to George Cowie & Sons Ltd, which is associated most closely with Speyside’s Mortlach distillery. Sales never came close to the levels of Red Label and the brand was considered more of a curiosity than a serious player in the market. In the early ‘80s, it was popular in the Midlands and north-west England but never featured among the top players nationally.
When Guinness took over the DCL in 1986, competition law meant the group was forced to divest some brands, one of which was John Barr. Invergordon Distillers picked it up, along with Claymore and Usher’s, and when Invergordon was taken over by Whyte & Mackay in 1993, it’s master blender, Richard Paterson, became the man behind its make-up, improving it significantly.
The John Barr range was relaunched in early 2017 with new contemporary packaging embossed with the words ‘Since 1881’, in reference to Whyte & Mackay’s heritage.