For hundreds of years, the great and the good have been partial to a tipple or two of fine single malt. Famous whisky drinkers are dotted throughout history, from kings, queens, and the occasional Scottish rebel, through to the glitterati of Hollywood and modern politics. So who are the most renowned whisky drinkers? Here’s a quick run-down, including some you may be surprised to see on a list of whisky connoisseurs.
This famous bad boy, leader of the Rat Pack and hardcore party animal loved whisky. He’s credited with the immortal saying, “Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.” He was even buried with a bottle of his favourite whisky in 1998.
Poet, writer, raconteur, and author of some of the most savagely funny one-liners, Dorothy Parker, had a life-long love affair with whisky. That love started at the end of Prohibition and continued through the many subsequent parties where whisky was the main feature. Her writing featured whisky (and its effects), including a line in her short story Just a Little One where she talks about a New York Speakeasy ‘where they have real Scotch that can’t do you any harm,’.
She may have won four Oscars and been the doyenne of the golden age of Hollywood, but Katherine Hepburn was always her own woman. Controversial, outspoken and fiercely independent, she made it quite clear that she didn’t care about the opinions of others. She was also rather fond of a glass of single malt. Katherine was a dedicated whisky drinker, and she embodied the true whisky drinker’s character – bold, unafraid, and unconventional.
“Katherine [Hepburn] was a dedicated whisky drinker, and she embodied the true whisky drinker’s character – bold, unafraid, and unconventional.”
King James IV
Perhaps one of the most famous whisky drinkers of all time, this royal patron of ‘aqua vitae’ was not just a king, he was an all-around Renaissance man with a love of science, strategy, and naturally, the distillation process. In fact, James IV is credited with starting the Scottish love affair with whisky. He even allegedly used it in the manufacture of gunpowder, although that may be more of a romantic supposition than actual fact. Despite his prowess on the battlefield, things didn’t end well for James. But even today, he is still regarded as the first famous whisky drinker.
She may have been famously able to function on just four hours sleep a night, but the Iron Lady was also fond of whisky to give her a little boost. So much so that she claimed that ‘You must have whisky to give you energy’ – not a sentiment that went down particularly well with her doctors. Her personal assistant, Cynthia Crawford, noted that the PM often relaxed with a late-night glass of whisky and soda, especially when she’d had a particularly stressful day.
Sir Winston Churchill
There’s no doubt that one of the most famous whisky drinkers of all time is Sir Winston Churchill. His affinity for whisky made it part of his everyday routine, and while initially he wasn’t keen on the taste, he soon learnt to love it while fighting in India in the late 1800s. As his reputation grew, so did his appetite for alcohol, and in later years, a glass of whisky was his constant companion. It even made an appearance at Churchill’s breakfast table – something we wouldn’t recommend today!
‘Rabbie’ wasn’t just the voice of Scotland, he was the voice of the dedicated whisky drinker, too. His love of whisky filled his poems and songs, including in one of his most famous works, Tam O’Shanter, where he declared:
‘Inspiring bold John Barleycorn [whisky]!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny [tuppenny ale], we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae [whisky], we’ll face the devil!’
He associated the whisky drinker with bravery, national pride, and defiance – sentiments still shared today.
One of many monarchs who have enjoyed a drink or two, Queen Victoria was a keen whisky drinker and even encouraged it in others. She regularly ordered a good Highland single malt to be a part of her wine cellar at St James’ Palace. When she and Albert started spending time at Balmoral in Scotland in the 1840s, her passion for whisky grew. She endorsed numerous distilleries and continued to enjoy drinking whisky, adding a drop or two to her afternoon tea. She may have even invented one of the first whisky cocktails, as it’s alleged that she once enjoyed a glass of claret topped up with whisky!
Not all famous whisky drinkers are historic – there are plenty of celebrities today who enjoy a single malt too. Christina Hendricks, who plays sassy Joan in the TV drama Mad Men, is a big fan of whisky and drinks it regularly.
America’s former first lady and a powerful politician in her own right, Hilary Clinton, has a reputation for being feisty, confrontational, and unconventional. You may spot a pattern here with our list of famous whisky drinkers – they’re all unique individuals with strong characters, just like a bottle of 12-year-old single malt. Hilary is known to be a keen whisky drinker and has even carried out a couple of publicity shoots at distilleries in the past.
Iconic Whisky Drinkers
So there you have it, some of the most famous whisky drinkers throughout time. There’s a myriad of ways to enjoy whisky – whether that be neat, in cocktails or through whisky food pairings. With the different types of whisky available, whisky is likely to be enjoyed by many for years to come.