“It's clear, the relationship is over, and don't even think about telling him, that you miss swigs of Buchanan’s, and that you're going to miss little swigs of Buchanan’s”.

 

So sings Edgar Quintero on his track ‘Tragos de Buchana’s (‘Swigs of Buchanan’s’), one of countless narcocorridos - controversial folk music drug ballads popular in Mexico.

‘Un cigarro y unos tragos de Buchanan's’ (‘A cigar and a few swigs of Buchanan’s’) by Stefano M, 'Puros Tragos de Buchanan's' (‘Neat swigs of Buchanan’s) by Alfredo Beltrán, and ‘Buchanas, Cerveza Y Banda’ (‘Buchanans, beer and the band’) by Alfredo Ríos are just a few more examples of this peculiar phenomenon. 

These narcocorridos, which date back to the 1930s, are accordion-heavy ballads that come under fire for their glorification of 'narcolifestyle' and the exploits of infamous drug lords and criminal organisations. 

 

HeraldScotland: YoutubeYoutube (Image: Youtube)

 

They form part of a subculture that's as far removed as you could get from the House of Commons, where Buchanan’s founder James Buchanan became exclusive Scotch whisky supplier to in 1885 a year after he founded the blend - a coup which helped to raise the brand's profile among Britain’s social elites over a century before it started being name-dropped by the likes of Edgar Quintero and other narcocantantes.

A Canadian-born whisky entrepreneur, James Buchanan cut his teeth as a 14-year-old working as an office boy for Glasgow firm William Sloan & Co., which operated a passenger and cargo service between Glasgow, Belfast and the Bristol Channel. 

After moving to London to work as a salesman for whisky distillers and blenders Charles Mackinlay & Co, Buchanan, he then went on to establish his own wholesale whisky operation, creating his own ‘Buchanan’ blend - one that was smoother, milder and more light-bodied to suit palates south of the border. 

Narcocorridos pioneer and ‘king of the ‘Corrido’ (ballad) Chalino Sanchez is credited with the popularisation of Buchanan’s in Mexico in the late 80s and early 90s, regularly appearing in videos posing in front of expensive cars, dressed in a Versace shirt, drinking from a bottle of Buchanan’s Deluxe and posing with weapons, giving rise to widespread emulation among his fanbase.

 

HeraldScotland: James Buchanan started his blending business in London in 1894. Picture - Diageo ArchiveJames Buchanan started his blending business in London in 1894. Picture - Diageo Archive (Image: Diageo Archive)

 

The subculture has led Buchanan’s to become one of the most consumed spirits in Mexico - and the most consumed whisky brand.

Such is its popularity among narcos that one critic jokingly complained that was that there wasn’t nearly enough screen time for Buchanan’s in Netflix drama series Narcos: Mexico ‘for the [actual] capos to feel convincing’. 

Commenting on the cult status that the whisky had developed in Mexico, Spanish nepaper El Mundo wrote that it was down to the Buchanan’s being a drink which “opens the doors to an illusion: being part of the drug trafficking universe…even if only in appearance”.

This is especially the case, they said, in the north of the country where locals are said to prefer “strong drinks with smoky aromas”. 

The popularity has even seeped its way into the realm of language in the form of the - controversial - cultural expression buchón, which denotes a lifestyle inspired by drug culture. 

A name derived from mispronouncing Buchanan’s, the origin of buchón can be traced to the northern state of Sinaloa, home to the Sinaloa Cartel - widely considered to be the most powerful drug trafficking organisation in the world

Buchón has been extended to refer to buchones, to refer to men and women who wear luxury brands, listen to narcocorridos and who consume Buchanan’s at their parties and get-togethers. 

Part of the attraction with Buchanan’s it seems, other than their 12-year-old Deluxe being one of the most expensive bottles in the market, is both the shape of the bottle itself and the seal which adorns it. 

The popular narcocorridos band Buknas De Culiacan not only one derived their name from Buchanan’s but used the red mark seal of the canteen-shaped bottle - complete with Scottish Highlands-evoking green colour - as their own emblem.

2019 paper ‘What to do when your brand gets kidnapped by Narcos: the case of Buchanan’s whisky’ by Nicolas Kervyn et al analysed the link between Mexican drug traffickers and the blended whisky.

They highlighted a conversation which was published in the media between notorious drug lord “El Chapo” Guzman - following his escape from a maximum security prison - and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who played the role of a drug smuggler in a hugely popular Mexican telenovela (soap opera). 

Detailing his preference for Buchanan’s and tequila over wine to the actress, Guzman’s invite for a clandestine date helped illustrate “ a small part of the adoption of Buchanan's whiskey as a favourite drink of the drug trafficker”, although “the preference for the brand's consumption extends to a much broader market linked to the Mexican narco-culture”.

Discarded bottles of 18-year-old Buchanan's were also reportedly found at each of the hideouts El Chapo used to evade capture. 

Then we have the Robin-Hood like figure of folklore hero Jesús Malverde, the patron saint of drug dealers from the state of the aforementioned state of Sinaloa. 

Every year on May 3, Malverde’s death - at the hands of the police - is commemorated by procession which involves his bust being placed on the hood of a car and several bottles of Buchanan’s being poured over it “as well as in the mouths of the devotees”, something which has seen the blend "become an integral part of a sacred ritual at the heart of narco cultura”.  

Buchanan’s surge popularity moved in tandem with a huge growth of Scotch whisky in Mexico, with sales rising by 75 per cent between 2013 and 2018. With nearly 50 million bottles exported in 2021, Mexico is now the seventh-largest export market for Scotch whisky by volume, from being the 23rd largest market by volume in 2006. 

Buchanan’s journey in Mexico reflects in many ways that of its founder, the self-made son of a Scottish farmer who would ultimately be buried a Baron and a multi-millionaire. 

Perhaps it should be the very creator of Buchanan’s that the buchon should be trying to emulate.

A Baron to Jesús Malverde’s bandit...although ‘Baron Woolavington’ doesn’t quite roll off a whisky-soaked Sinaloan tongue like Jesús Malverde does.