The founder of Scotch society the Keepers of the Quaich and creator of brands including Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Malibu is to receive an OBE for services to the whisky industry.

James Espey, who started his career 43 years ago with Grand Metropolitan's Gilbey's Gin in South Africa and would later lead United Distillers in the US and chair Seagrams, will collect the honour before the end of the year. “It was a very pleasant surprise,” he told just-drinks yesterday (19 June).

“I've spent my life building brands and hopefully creating quite a few billion pounds of export for Scotland and the UK.”

Espey said his proudest achievement was setting up Keepers of the Quaich in 1988 after a visit to France. “I was made a chevalier of Burgundy (an exclusive club for Burgundy wine enthusiasts).” he said. “So I got the idea to create something that genuinely honours someone who has made a contribution to the Scotch whisky industry.”

He admits not all of his projects have been successful. In 1980, he launched German wine Night Music, but the launch bottles were not cleaned properly. “Some of the customers got added protein in the shape of dead flies,” he said.

Espey retired from his last UK directorship at AG Barr in 2011, but still heads up his own high-end spirits company The Last Drop Distillers and is a senior international consultant for Mongolian vodka maker APU. “We are launching a number of bottles on the world stage within a few months,” he said.

He is also chairman of Sainov Ltd, a Delhi-based Indian liquor marketer and producer.

To read a just-drinks interview with Espey from 2010, click here.