Under The Hammer

Why you need to be careful with on-line auctions

For a few years now I have been a regular user of on-line whisky auctions to start boosting my collection, as well as selling some of my bottles that I have no further need to keep. Recently I have spent some time selling around 40 miniatures at auction and was very happy at the price that I received. I also was selling my Macallan Folio 5, which I needed to get rid of on account of the amount released – it didn’t have the rarity value that I desire to enable to keep it. Of course, I then had to contend with the flippers and those also offloading their Macallan purchases that didn’t meet their expectations.

Throughout this article, I am not going to mention any auctioneers by name, however I will give the websites of the auctioneers that I use for buying, selling or both.

While on-line auctions offer a relatively easy way of buying and selling there are a few things that you need to be aware of that can catch you out. This is in particularly true when you are trying to sell something at the same time as a lot of other people. Unfortunately this was the problem that I had when selling my Macallan, and it isn’t just the auction you are taking part in – there are often two or three on-line auctions running at the same time. Of course many of those in the market will often see the way prices are going between the auctions and will bid accordingly – if they get outbid on one auction site, it is no problem just to start bidding on another site.

In my case, I wanted to offload my Macallan as soon as possible, so I had to pick an auctioneer that was going to hold an auction soonest and that I was able to get the bottle submitted in time. One thing you have to consider is that some auctioneers have better exposure than others, but the flip side is that those auctioneers are also more likely to have more submissions of the same article when it comes to trying to offload a sought after release. One thing that counted against me was that one of the biggest auctions was taking place when my auction started, and it had 200 Macallan Folio 5 for sale. It goes without saying that the more there is of something available, this then suppresses the price somewhat, but the good thing is that for Macallan Folio Editions, the demand is there, so you shouldn’t suffer. Perhaps I should have put that in italics, as there are no guarantees.

If you are worried about the price that you may receive back for any sales, the important thing is to place a reserve on it. This usually costs an extra £4 – £7 depending on auctioneer. I cannot stress this enough – perhaps it is better not to sell something that doesn’t make it’s reserve, and gives you the chance to either re-submit it to another auction or perhaps keep to sell another day. It gives me no pleasure to report that one of my friends in the whisky community went to sell his Macallan Easter Elchies Black 2019 and the auctioneers recommended no reserve. To my friends dismay, there was 90 other bottles in the same auction and as a result lost around £100. So, if you need a return – set a reserve.


Don’t get hammered at auction. Stick to your price and don’t overpay

Setting a reserve is something I think is also being used by some to manipulate the market, especially in the case of new releases. Many auctioneers do not let you set a reserve above Recommended Retail Price (RRP) for 6 months after a new release in an attempt to help stop the flippers setting high reserves to guarantee them a return which in my view is greedy, immoral and detrimental to a whisky release where people see pound signs instead of the liquid in the bottle. Admittedly, the best this can do is just kick the can down the road in limiting the prices, and anybody is free to bid above the RRP, but at least limiting reserves helps others. One auctioneer that I deal with has said they use common sense and don’t limit any reserves but it’s on a case-by-case basis. If it’s not unreasonable, you’ll get a higher than RRP reserve.

Not all auctioneers are the same, and when thinking about the reserves I have seen on other auctions for Macallan Folio 5, one around the same time had a bid on it for £600 and still had not reached the reserve price. In my opinion, the auctioneer is assisting the flippers, and it’s a bit unfair to those who value the whisky over the profit. What was not understandable is that there were several others available in the same auction – so why would somebody bid on one bottle way over the price of others that were available in the same auction that were a lot cheaper. If there is a bottle I want in an auction, and there is more than one available, I bid one, then if I get outbid, I then bid on a cheaper one. I personally think there is more behind the bidding of a bottle that seems to have had more bidding action than others, but we will deal with it later.

Some auctioneers publish reserve prices, and I think that is a good idea, as you know straight away what is expected, and you can tell if somebody has overvalued the whisky. If the reserve is hidden, then you should only bid to a level that you are comfortable with and don’t be tempted to incrementally bid to find out what the reserve is as you may be stuck with a bottle you can’t afford or may be overpaying for.

And this is a really important point. Generally speaking in a conventional auction, you can see who you are bidding against, as there will be an assistant on a phone or at a computer terminal. With an on-line auction you don’t have that facility. Sniping a bid (bidding at the last moment) has been eliminated by on-line auction by any bidding automatically extending the auction, but shill bidding I think is also prevalent as well. While auctioneers say that they are on the lookout, sometimes the bidding patterns don’t make sense, when people are bidding on one item, when there is another one equally as good but a lot cheaper. My whisky auction insider says there is very little that can be done to detect this, as it will only really show up if using the same hub. If your friend or family relative is bidding from another location, there is pretty much no way of telling.

One other hazard of on-line auctions is that you are physically unable to check the merchandise. If you have any doubt at all, make sure that you contact the auctioneer – they will supply extra photos on request, and if it is practicable they may allow an in-person visit to inspect the item. Not so handy for those of us who live in the more remote areas. You need to be sure you understand what you are buying.

I cannot recommend this enough, and be aware of what you are buying. RESEARCH! Know the price for a given condition. I’ve seen many auctioneers optimistically list lots as rare, but they aren’t. A quick look through other auction sites will reveal how often these turn up. I was recently given a wee task to source a bottle with a specific distillation date as a birth date. This wasn’t the easiest to find, and certainly getting harder to source, but does this make it more expensive? No – it doesn’t. If one shows up at auction then you can bet your bottom dollar another one will eventually. Set your price as to what you want to pay and wait.

Deciding your price is crucial. By all means do not bid your maximum price straight away, as often people will keep bidding until they outbid you. Best put a lower maximum in, and as soon as you are outbid, bid again. That way you may be able to pay less than the maximum you were prepared to as some people give up when they see somebody consistently upbidding them.

One thing my auction insider let me know is that they are presented with a large amount of fakes. OK, perhaps not masses, but the percentage is higher than you might expect. I have one bottle that I bought at auction for £35 that was part of my bargain basement hoovering towards the end of an auction to buy a whisky from the 50’s or 60’s. I had to query it, as the volume and strength were not printed on the bottle, and the label felt wrong. While the auctioneer assured me that this bottle was not a fake, I have my doubts, therefore will not be drinking it, but use it as a show piece. Do not assume that the auctioneer has spotted a fake, as it isn’t always apparent, and if they are handling hundreds or thousands of bottles for one auction, there is the chance one may slip through. It is also wrong to assume it is high value bottles that are the ones being faked – those are the ones that are checked more closely. It will be the cheaper ones that may suffer from counterfeiting more often than not.

The archive at Macallan distillery when it opened in 2018 was found to contain suspicious bottles. If they can’t tell, what chance have you got?


One is fake, the other is genuine

My last point is that beware of auction hype. One auctioneer had a superlative auction of a private collection that was to be broken up. Yes, there was some spectacular bottles there, but they were in the minority. A lot of bottles were missing boxes or had low fill levels. Just because it was part of an extensive collection does not make that worth any more. In all it was quite disappointing, Due to the Coronavirus, I am not sure if the second part will go ahead as planned in April 2020, but we will wait and see. Given the quality of the first half, I am a bit underwhelmed. If you have done your research, you will know what it’s worth, and bid accordingly – don’t get carried away and overpay, unless it’s a must-have for your collection, though even then exercise a wee bit of caution.

But for all the pros and cons of on-line auctions, I have bought older bottlings a lot cheaper than I would have got them retail. I have been able to complete collections that would otherwise be impossible, and I have been able to drink some unusual and rarer whiskies. You just have to keep your head when everybody around you in the auction seem to be losing theirs.

There is a list of on-line whisky auction sites I use or regularly browse below.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty


Whisky Auctioneer – http://www.whiskyauctioneer.com

Just Whisky – www.just-whisky.co.uk

Whisky Hammer – http://www.whiskyhammer.com

Whisky Online Auctions – https://www.whisky-online.com/auctions/

The Grand Whisky Auction – http://www.thegrandwhiskyauction.com

Speyside Whisky Auctions – http://speysidewhiskyauctions.co.uk

Royal Mile Whisky Auctions – http://royalmilewhisky.auction

Robert Graham / Global Whisky Auctions – http://www.globalwhiskyauctions.com

WhiskyAuction.com (Based in Germany) – http://www.whiskyauction.com


Index of tastings here

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This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Or join me on my other social media channels below. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link

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Spring Is Here!

Taste Review #53 – Springbank 15

It is not often I can tell you I have perfect timing. Usually it is only perfect to say the most inappropriate things to the most inappropriate people but this article is perfectly timed. Although the bulk of review was written in mid January, it turns out it has become the first review published in British Summer Time for 2020. Spring is here, even if we can’t wonder about to enjoy it.

This is a review from yet another one of my auction bargains. This one is a favourite distillery amongst many whisky drinkers, but one I don’t have a lot of experience of due to preferring Highland or Speyside malts. But this is exactly what my web blog was supposed to do – force me off of the usual produce and try something new.

The Springbank Distillery is in Campbeltown, on the Kintyre Peninsula, and is next door neighbours with the Glen Gyle Distillery which produces the Kilkerran Single Malt. There is another distillery in town, the Glen Scotia, but that’s it. Three distilleries for a place the size of Campeltown is not bad, but it is worth remembering that at one point there were over 30 distilleries on the Kintyre Peninsula at one point.


Springbank tube

Springbank was legally opened in 1828, but there had been a long tradition of illicit distilling in the area . The original owner, William Reid sold it to his brothers in law, John and William Mitchell. William eventually left the partnership, and John’s son Alexander joined him, and that was the start of the company known as J & A Mitchell. The family firm still own the distillery to this day, and also own the next door Glen Gyle distillery as well as Cadenheads, a whisky bottler that had originated in Aberdeen in 1842, and was taken over by Mitchells in 1972

The Springbank Distillery is unique in Scotland as it is the only whisky distillery at present (Jan 2020) to malt, distill, mature and bottle on the same site. The malting floor provides all the malted barley required for production, unlike other distilleries that use malting floors as a supplement to bought in malted barley. It also produces three brands of single malt, Springbank (Lightly peated, partial triple distillation), Longrow (Heavily peated, partial triple distillation), and Hazelburn (unpeated, full triple distillation). It also uses a shell and tube condenser on the wash still and No 2 Low Wines still, plus a worm tub on No 1 Low wines still.

The Springbank distillery has a visitors centre, so rather than me wittering on about it, how about you take a tour there?* I’m needing to get cracking on with this whisky!



Region

Campbeltown

Age

15 years

Strength

46% ABV

Colour

Amber

Nose

Sweet, very light wood smoke. Fresh cut grass, caramel, vanilla, pineapple

Palate

Good mouth feel. Slightly oily and fizzy, ginger,  sweet from the get-go, nutty, pepper, raisins, a bit of orange zest, as the sherry gets tempered by a small bit of citrus. Very slight sulphur note.

Finish

Long finish, slightly dry. the sherry notes drag out, but with a slight oaky bitterness in the end. Spiciness continues on from the palate chocolate, vanilla there too.Right at the end. 5 minutes after a sip, I got a briny note.


The dram

Conclusions

I have to say that I am pretty surprised that despite being a peated whisky, I just can’t taste it. I can say that I get the very light smoke in the nose, but when it came to the palate it was missing in action. Research online has revealed to me that the peating level for Springbank is only 8-10ppm, whereas I do prefer something at least double that. There is a hint for me that I need to maybe try some Longrow, as I have not had this or the Hazelburn before. As I said earlier in this review, I am mostly a Highland or Speyside fan myself.

And that is what is good about Springbank. For those of you who like peat, or don’t mind it, the taste will be there. If you don’t like peat that much, then no worries, as it really isn’t overpowering, if you can taste it at all. There is a really pleasant sherry note to this whisky, but with a slight hint of sulphur at the end, but not enough to make me think there was something wrong. Although my bottle was in excellent condition, it was a slightly older bottling from the late 90’s / early 2000’s by my estimates going on the packaging, so I am not too concerned that the time in a miniature bottle with its metal screw cap has tainted it. It was by no means as powerful as the Bowmore that I have recently reviewed.

This whisky is matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, although I am not at this point aware of at what proportions or what sherry, but am going to guess at Oloroso, as it didn’t have for me the outright sweetness that a PX cask often brings. Adding water to me increased the toffee and sherry notes – I only added a half a teaspoon, and it pretty much killed the sulphur note that I detected.

All in all, a very pleasant whisky, and one I can definitely recommend. I don’t think I will be buying a big bottle of this one, as I think I will prefer something either a little stronger, a little peatier or a little older. Maybe a combination of all three! However, I would not rule out buying a 70cl bottle if I saw it at a good price, as this is a good value, honest malt and scores 4/4 on our ABCD checklist – age statement, 46% bottling strength, Non Chill filtered and not coloured.

I can’t give you a price for this miniature, as it was part of a collection in an auction lot, but the standard 70cl bottle can be bought for around the £60 mark, which for a malt of this age and quality is not a bad deal. However, that is if you can get one. Springbank, due to the fact it makes 3 different malts, and also malts its own barley means that supply is an issue and it does run out from time to time. But be patient if you want to try it, or consider looking on auction sites. The internet is your friend for buying in this case.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

* after COVID-19 restrictions end. Visitor centre currently closed March 2020.

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This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Or join me on my other social media channels below. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.



Photo credits

All photos – Authors own.

The C-Word

I don’t know what one is worse!

Whisky enthusiasts (and anybody else for that matter) cannot fail to miss the fact that the C-word is now on the lips of nearly everybody. Coronavirus is here, and not the other C word that is used regularly as a quite colourful yet descriptive noun in Scotland. We cannot escape it, so we have to look beyond the times that we currently find ourselves. The new plague has inspired me to actually say a few words on video posted on the Scotty’s Drams Facebook page. This is something that I vowed I would never do on account of having a face that can sour cream instantly, but more to the point I try to keep the blog as ‘lo-fi’ as possible, so I can still write and publish while at work, and so less is spent concentrating on internet geekery and more on the whisky and opinions.

Getting back on track, the whisky industry has not escaped Corona Virus at all. As is sensible, distillery visitor centres have closed, whisky festivals have been cancelled. Even one or two distilleries have completely shut down – Glenfarclas and Teeling being the only ones I definitely know to have ended production. This may not have much of an effect on supply at all, as warehouses are creaking of maturing spirit, and still most distilleries are still producing for now. There is not likely to be a shortage in the longterm, but will there be consequences in the further down the line if the best part of a year’s production is missing? Who knows?


Closed for now: Glenfarclas Distillery Visitor Centre. Production also temporarily ceased

We also have to think of the impact this will have on specialist Whisky Retailers, most of whom rely a good part on footfall into their shops, which has all disappeared. That is why I started my little video infomercials, as I felt this is a very important resource we have to keep. Yes, you can buy your whisky from Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange or Amazon, but lets look at it this way – that isn’t personal service. It may be that some of the Whisky Shops use Amazon as a market place, but shop direct with them, so they get the maximum benefit.


Whisky Shops – physical shop closed, online shop alive and kicking

The bad thing about the Corona virus is that there is likely to be an economic slowdown across the world. Usually the first thing to go in an economic crisis are luxuries, and it could be argued that whisky is not a necessity but is indeed a luxury. Could this lead into a reduction in prices on the shelves? For instance, I remember not too long ago, you could pick up a GlenDronach 18 for under £80. Nowadays most places seem to have the price hitting off £100 in the space of less than a couple of years. I am having a wry smile to myself, as it was a dram that I used to evangelise to people about if asked for a recommendation. I doubt they bought it in enough numbers to increase demand. I’d wet myself laughing if I could be described as an industry ‘influencer’. I’m far more likely simply to be just under the influence……


It’s not just shops and distilleries that could be affected. Cooperages and other parts of the supply chain may suffer.

Carrying on from the thought of a global slowdown, this could mean mixed fortunes for us as consumers, but more to the good. I predict auction prices will be falling. I have seen certain bottles have definitely peaked and are on the way back down. Some of the 1993 Glenmorange cask finishes have seen a drop for instance. Mind you it could be that some people are also putting too high a reserve on it and they are not selling. I am getting more and more suspicious of the motives of some auctioneers to be honest, but that is an article I am writing with great caution, as the potential for libel and destroying of industry relationships is high.


Will auction prices be affected soon?

Moving on to the newer distilleries; tough times will definitely test the business model of many of these distilleries. Are they adequately insured against pandemic? If people do not have money to spend, then the demand falls. Those who have yet to produce spirit and are relying on also producing new make, gin or cask sales could especially be in trouble – they have nothing to sell to an international market as whisky has to be bottled in Scotland to be called Scottish, and if the domestic market collapses, there could be a cull of spirit producers in what seems to be a slowly saturating market place. Distilleries who don’t have a large global share or an effective overseas distribution may struggle, unless they are the type that have enough capital behind them to weather the storm.

Bear in mind my friends, I am only an amateur, and all of this is opinion of somebody who does not have a degree in economics, no whisky industry background and is certainly not a rocket scientist. However, the basic facts are there – the size of a market the industry has to sell to is finite. You can only sell so much, which becomes difficult if tastes change (imagine only filling sherry casks to find 8 years later public taste has swung in favour of bourbon cask whisky), or if people have no money.


Not just Scotland. Teeling distillery in Dublin also shut down.

Whatever happens in the end, we have to remain positive in all circumstances. What may come to pass is anybodies guess and it is completely out of our hands. Let me advise you that the best thing you can do now is keep indoors as much as possible. Take time to enjoy the things you couldn’t before when things like work got in the way. If you are one of the ones that are providing essential services to keep the country going, I salute you – especially those on the front lines in the health services world wide, often working under difficult conditions. At the other side may we all be able to raise a glass to celebrate that we have survived. The whisky industry will too, but in what shape it will be is yet to be seen.


Lastly, while we think of staying inside to dodge the Corona Virus, one thing that went through my head now I’ve shown my face on screen (1400+ views) that if we are to celebrate together getting through these hard times, how would people feel about a Scotty’s Drams meet at some point in the quiet season next year? We need to look forward to something, and this could just be the ticket. Let me think on it. Perhaps I’ll do a poll later on…

Keep safe – Yours in Spirits

Scotty

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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Auction Gavel – Shutterstock

All other photos – Authors own

Kicking It Old Skool

Taste Review #52 – Macallan 10 (Old Style)

No. I am not trying to get down with the kids. I am definitely not a cool person. But today’s review will be a refreshing piece of nostalgia, and we are going to be looking at whisky that many being produced today need to learn from. There may be a bit of Macallan bashing, but this is purely incidental, certainly not intentional and could be equally aimed at many other distilleries.


1990’s Macallan

How many of us remember a time when whisky was good? Hasn’t it always been good? Can it get any better? With Single Malt Whisky having exploded over the past couple of decades, the choice has never been better. However with this taste review, I want to put a concept to you. I want each of you who reads this to think about it to yourselves. And if you can be bothered, I’d appreciate feed back, either in the form of a comment below the article, through facebook, instagram, e-mail or even twitter. If your only means of communicating with me is carrier pigeon, then by all means send it, however I can’t promise that my dog won’t eat it. So if you are General Melchitt and your pigeon is called Speckled George, definitely don’t send it. (Fans of Blackadder Goes Forth will get the reference!)

I’m going to put to you the concept that some whisky is not better than it used to be. I would say it is demonstrably not worse per se, but definitely not as good as it used to be. I would say this has happened and continues to happen due to the large amounts of different editions through different age statements, non-age statements, cask finishing and the lack of decent aged stock available. This is something that all distilleries will suffer from. Each one is trying to obtain, keep or improve its market share.

For a while, I have felt that this applied to Macallan. This is not because I want to rebel against Macallan, as everybody seems to like them and I don’t want to rebel like a stroppy teenager. It’sbecause I feel the focus has moved. While I still believe that they do still make quality whisky, I feel that quality is definitely subdued. This was highlighted to me during a visit to their distillery in October last year.

The building itself is a marvel. You will have never seen a distillery like it, and I doubt if we will ever see one again, certainly not in the near future. Outside it looks more like an extension of Tellytubby land, but inside you can see the architectural masterpiece it is. The tour is good value too, albeit it seems very corporate, although now thinking about it, this is not a mistake. This is deliberate.

The Macallan archive is a wonderful masterpiece, with hundreds of bottles on the soaring shelves. But it is here we start to make our comparisons. One of my bugbears with Macallan is the amount of NAS they are releasing. To look across the way, we see the shop, where many of the products there have no age statements. But as I said before, some of what I am saying about Macallan can be applied to many distilleries, as aged stocks run low.

Macallan has been known as a distillery that exclusively used sherry casks, and one of the six pillars of Macallan is the quality of their casks. However, since 2004, they have been releasing whisky that has been made not just in sherry casks, but now uses Bourbon casks. Not that I have a problem with this as such, as this doesn’t make a bad whisky. However, it just isn’t as good as what has gone before from Macallan in my opinion.


one of my old style Macallan bottles

The tour I took at Macallan also gave us a sample of 12 year old Double Cask which is matured in American and European Oak, and the 15 year old Triple Cask which is also matured in a Bourbon cask. This, as far as I know isn’t the result of re-racking but a mixture of casks in the vatting prior to bottling. I never got a chance to try them at the distillery, as I was driving – and of course we all know drinking and driving is definitely not cool. So I got them to take home.

This fact was something that excited me, as I had a sample of a 10 year old Macallan from the 80’s or 90’s which I had been given by Matteo at the Speyside Whisky Shop, and I really wanted to write a review that compared all three, but the samples from the whisky tour just didn’t give me enough to write an objective review. However, although both drams were quite pleasant there was something that was very obvious to my palate. The old style whisky blasted the other two into outer space. Just no comparison.

Here are my tasting notes for the older whisky.


12 Year old 1990’s Macallan

Region

Speyside

Age

10 years

Strength

40 % abv

Colour

Deep gold

Nose

Proper sherry nose. Dates, plums, raisins, tobacco note, hot chocolate powder. More of a toffee note appears when water added. 

Palate

Instant, intense sweet hit on the arrival, with pretty much every note in the nose also on the palate. 

Finish

Medium to long, gently fades away. Slightly drying in the finish, toffee, dried fruits and a hint of spicy wood.


The dram

Conclusions

What I write now may be paraphrased from another article that I have written elsewhere about Macallan, but I’ll try and keep to the appropriate portions here.

I am indebted to Sorren at ocdwhisky.com for an article he wrote about whisky blogging. One of the things he said was that no whisky manufacturer deliberately makes a bad whisky. I know I might have had a bit of a rant over Jura Journey and Glen Keith, but Sorren is right. It’s just tastes are different, and you can’t like everything. However, that doesn’t mean that distilleries can get away with reduced quality whisky.

Of course, with a shortage of aged stocks, plus a decline in sherry drinkers has probably meant that sourcing quality casks has become harder and certainly more expensive for Scotch whisky producers. I would contend that Macallan has safeguarded the premium casks for their more expensive whiskies, which can cost thousand of pounds. However, they aren’t going to be doing that exclusive for whisky that is in the sub £100 bracket if they can get away with it. Use of Bourbon casks reduces the demand for sherry casks. This is something Macallan has been releasing since 2004. So, my concept I am trying to get you to think about is that have Macallan (or other producers) slowly weaned us off the premium whisky and onto something that is still good, but not as good?

I certainly feel this way, as the old-skool sample that I had was absolutely fantastic, and I almost regret giving my brother-in-law a small sample of the small sample I received. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t have shared, but my brother in law is a good bloke and he very much appreciated his share. Is it a case of what we used to get as a standard 10 year old is now the quality standard for the 18 year old or above? I may have to take the plunge and buy a more expensive bottle to find out, or chum up my more generous Macallan drinking friends.

This is why I feel that with Scotty’s drams it is good to use the samples of older whisky, in particular my bargain basement miniature buying at auction is actually a valid exercise. The ten year old Macallan in the picture above is auctioning for around £300. The 12 year old I’ve seen as high as £450. A smaller sample is good for reminding us what has gone before and gives us a point of reference.

What is your take on this subject?

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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Sorry for the double publishing – there was an error generated that caused the link to display incorrect information. It won’t happen again. Actually it probably will, but I will still be sorry.


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Or join me on my other social media channels below. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.


Photo credits

All Photographs author’s own.

Speculate to Accumulate

Do not be afraid of the not perfect.

The more regular of my readers will appreciate that I do tend to use a lot of miniature bottles for my reviews. This is due to a certain amount of expediency because of my work away from home and being away for more than half the year gives me limited time to drink full bottles. I have to say that I end up giving a lot of it away to my friends (you know who you are!) in order to kill bottles so I can move on to open something different.

The problem with this is that I am an inveterate bottle chaser, and this week was no different. My final sales of miniatures happened this week, and I managed to get some more decorative cask ends for the Strathspey hotel my wife runs. However, for me an online whisky auction is pretty much like doing your shopping at Aldi’s in as much as you can go for milk and bread, yet walk out with a 4″ grinder and a car tool kit as well. I ended up perusing the other miniatures for sale and came across a set of 4 miniatures at a relatively cheap price. The bait was in the trap, and the bottle chaser was sniffing around.


The four drams. Only Coleburn is silent, having closed in 1985. Only one official bottling was released – the 1979 Rare Malts. Most production went into Ushers or Johnny Walker Red. The other distilleries are still producing.

The drams in question were older bottlings from the Gordon & Macphail ‘Connoisseurs Collection’. Gordon & Macphail have had some great bottlings in the past and I already have a few of their miniatures in my collection, though these are unicorn drams that I wish to taste and possibly review the experience for you in the future. The drams I won this time are.

  • Coleburn 1965
  • Dailuaine 1971
  • Speyburn 1971
  • Tomatin 1970

I was after the Coleburn and the Speyburn and in the end with auction fees I paid about £27 for all 4. However there was a big drawback – the fill levels were low. But does this mean I have been foolish or ripped off? I don’t think so, and I’ll spend the next few paragraphs explaining why I feel I haven’t been either of these and why perhaps you should take a chance.


The fill levels

Firstly, a rip off in an auction is not possible. In fact a rip off can only happen if you were sold something and you what you received was something that did not meet defined expectations. An auction house clearly shows the bottles on sale and will provide more on request. If you were prepared to pay the price with as much information as provided, then you have not been ripped off – you’ve just made a mistake.

Have I been foolish? Perhaps, but that is a matter of opinion. These drams could cost hundreds to buy as an individual full size bottles. I am going to be able to taste rarer drams for a fraction of that. If I was to find these drams in a whisky bar, I could imagine to pay £25+ for a dram for each one of these. It is worth saying that each of these drams have at least 25ml in them, some close to full. So potentially I have £100+ worth of drinking whisky.

Of course, with low fill levels, there are some drawbacks to this, and I have to acknowledge this. If the fluid level is low, then this means that whisky has evaporated out. I find that miniatures are particularly susceptible to this, and is one of the reasons I never recommend people collect miniatures unless they are aware of its risks and they are stored properly. Of course some people do collect these, but it’s not my thing. The risk of evaporation for me is too high and I personally feel I’d rather drink the miniatures.

One big problem with evaporation is that our largest concern should be that alcohol evaporates quicker than water, so there is a good chance that these drams which were bottled at 40% will not be at 40% when I try them. But that is a risk that I take, and while I am well aware that I will not get the full flavour that I would have got had it been fresh, I will still get an idea of what it would have been like.


A good way to taste long gone distilleries. Linkwood still going, Glenury Royal closed in 1985 and was demolished soon after. Imperial was silent more often than it was operational, falling silent in 1998 for the last time and was finally demolished in 2013 to be replaced by the Dalmunach distillery.

As with any proposition I put to you, this needs some sort of perspective. While I know that my bottles are compromised, what about that £30+ nip you buy in a whisky bar? Once the seal is popped, that bottle is on countdown as oxidisation and evaporation takes place. Certainly the whisky bars I see don’t gas their whiskies once they have been opened. That means in the case of the more premium but less popular whiskies, you’ll never be getting a fresh like new dram. You’ll never know how much of the fill level is due to evaporation. Let’s extrapolate that thought by remembering that the lower the fill level goes, the evaporation rate increases. My gamble with the miniatures doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, does it?

The above thought was one I have had for some time. I remember last year when I visited a bar that sold a 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip. Once opened, the evaporation and oxidisation processes have started. I wouldn’t imagine at that price it will be a quick seller, therefore is the person getting the last dram truly getting the value of such a whisky?

As I have said in my title, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. By taking a chance in spending some money, you can also taste rarer or older drams. By all means, you know they will not be perfect, but neither is that bottle of Macallan somebody has that’s been hiding at the back of the cabinet and was opened in 1983 to celebrate Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup. And has now been saved to drink only at special occasions. As an Aberdonian I can say that perhaps you’ll be waiting another decade to see silverware at Pittodrie….. There’s a good chance your whisky will have gone to the angels by that time.


Banff – bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII didn’t survive the 1983 whisky loch and was closed that year. Convalmore fell two years later but is growing in popularity. Royal Brackla has changed hands since this distillation but is still going.

As usual, exercise some restraint when looking at bottles that are less than perfect. There will be a point when it will not be worth what the auction value is. Only pay what you can afford to drink, with an eye onto how much liquid is left in the bottle. Research what other similar bottles are selling for. And as usual, my best tip is to keep an eye on the assorted miniature collections in online auctions. Sometimes a unicorn whisky can be hiding in amongst others, as I found with my G&M Royal Brackla. You can always do what I did and sell the remainder of the miniatures again at auction and make enough money back to effectively make the unicorn you’ve hunted free. Fortune favours the brave!

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

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Crossing to the Dark Side

Taste Review #51 – Bowmore 15 Darkest

It’s been a while since we had a trip to Islay, and in my sample box, this week’s sample comes from Bowmore. This is a quite attractively packaged wee miniature. It’s been sitting on the shelf in my study for 6 months now, and it has always enticed me to drink it. I even remember when I bought this dram, sitting on the shelf with all its wee miniature buddies, all the Bowmore bottles looked really good. I wanted to do something a bit more than the 12 year old, but not as expensive as the 18 year old, so we plunked for the middle ground. The fact the edition said “Darkest” sold me. I didn’t even bother about the blurb on the back of the box. It turns out I should have. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and it went into the basket of miniatures I was buying so I could have some more up to date drams to review without buying a full size bottle.

Bowmore is a whisky that I have had before, but it has been a long time since I have last tasted it. I went through an Ardbeg phase, then moved onto Laphroaig for my peaty whisky hit from Islay, and I still haven’t moved on. But when you think of the legends of the Black Bowmore, White Bowmore and Gold Bowmore, you think that there should be nothing to fear.


The box that caught my attention

Bowmore was the first distillery on Islay, being operational by 1779, although a licence was not obtained until 1816. I suppose illegal distilling isn’t anything new in Scotland, and being on an island makes it easier to spot the gaugers arriving. The distillery sits on the south east shore of Loch Indaal, a sea loch. While the date of the distillery opening is up for debate, what isn’t up for debate is the fact that presently one of the dunnage warehouses is actually set below sea level and is also claimed to be the oldest dunnage warehouse in the UK.

One of the other things that make this distillery unusual is that it still currently operates a traditional floor maltings, although this is not enough to maintain production, so the vast majority of the barley is malted on the mainland. Where there is a break in the old traditions of whisky making is that the condenser used to cool the still vapours are of a shell and tube design rather than the old fashioned worm tub method.

It was under the ownership of Stanley P Morrison that the Bowmore were producing some really good whisky. The most famous of these would be the Black Bowmore from 1964. First released as a 29 year old in 1993, people scoffed when they were being sold for £100. If you have one hidden in your cupboard, or come across one clearing out a dead relatives house, don’t open it unless you can afford to – you could easily be looking at a five figure sum bottling. These whiskies came from the days when sherry casks were more extensively used, and nowadays at Bowmore, American Oak ex Bourbon Casks are used (86% versus 14% Sherry Casks).

Bowmore owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd, but that is ultimately owned by Beam Suntory. Suntory had become shareholders in 1989, but finally bought the distillery outright in 1994.

It was the ‘Darkest’ Title on the label and the fact sherry casks had been used on this sample that intrigued me to try it, so lets move onto the tasting


The bottle

Region

Islay

Age

15 Years

Strength

43% ABV

Colour

Sunset bronze

Nose

Wood Resin, Oak, wood smoke, slight phenolic smell. Quite complex. Needed a bit of water to open it up, then became softer, a smell of brown sugar, quite sweet. – more then light brown sugar than molasses. Dried fruits in there as well.

Palate

Wood smoke, dry, spicy, almost like a cough mixture when water added. Dried fruits, dates, raisins, slight peat taste, brown sugar, Sherry notes but there is a bit of rubber taste. With water the sulphury taste diminished considerably. This whisky has a disappointing mouthfeel, no strong body to it at all, a bit on the watery side.

Finish

Short, drying bitter notes in the finish. Smoke continues with a spicy, peppery taste, hint of dark chocolate and brine, but it’s back to that taste of sulphur.


The dram

Conclusion

Firstly, let me get the usual rants off my chest. 43% abv, chill filtered and colouring added. Only 1/4 from our buying ABCD. But remember that we have to take chances, and as you have seen in recent reviews, I have enjoyed some whiskies that score 0/4 on that front.

But why on God’s Great Earth would you name a whisky ‘Darkest’ when that colour has not come from the cask? Why did you really think you needed to colour it if it was supposed to be dark? Such a shame, and such a let down to be honest. It wouldn’t have affected my tasting had the colour been a bit lighter, but then I know I have been on the receiving end of some marketing spin. And it sucks.

And let us continue that thought, because not only does that thought pain me, the whisky isn’t that great either. I actually like a peaty or smokey whisky. I also like sherried whisky, but this was a complete let down. Water had to be added to get anything out of it, and at 43% I felt it had been watered down enough already. The only reason that I added water was to try and eliminate the burnt rubber taste at the end, which was quite overpowering to begin with. This reminded me of the 3rd taste review I did of Tomatin Oloroso 18 year old – a dram I so looked forward to but let me down badly with a big sulphur influence, or the result of a substandard cask. To be honest I would hate to think that this is actually the result of the distilling process. I did re-review the Tomatin, and found a funk in the cap of the miniature bottle, and perhaps wrote it off to that. But the 15 year old ‘Darkness’ isn’t fully matured in sherry casks – it is only finished in a sherry cask for 3 years, which is quite a long time for just a finish, I’d expect only 2 years at the most.


Funk in the cap. The source of burnt rubber?

I like sherried whiskies, and I particularly like Oloroso finishes, but this one just wasn’t good. I am really hoping this could be a one off, but it seems that it isn’t as lo and behold, I find that there are similarities between the duff Tomatin and this Bowmore. Not only are they owned by Japanese companies, that is the fact that there seems to be something going on with the seal on the bottle. I’ve also a suspicion that Ben Nevis sometimes suffers from similar problems and I have heard Nikka haven’t been the best at cask management. Perhaps these companies could shell out a bit more for decent sherry casks.

I don’t know if I am just sensitive to sulphur; some people are, but I’ve had whiskies with sulphur notes before, but this one was like a melted Michelin tyre thats been on the wheels of an ASBO-toting delinquent’s Vauxhall Nova after a period of doing donuts in an empty shopping centre car park. Really that bad.

To be fair, the sulphur note died back a fair bit with the addition of water, but I really shouldn’t have to dilute a 43% whisky. And the bad news doesn’t stop there. The finish was pretty non-descript as well. And we will have the chill filtration to thank for that.

You may still be able to track down bottles of 15 year old Darkness on the shelves, but it was re-labelled by removing the Darkness title, and now just goes under the 15 year old age statement. This is a sensible move, as how can you have faith in a statement of its colour when you have added caramel? Seems a bit bonkers.

I paid £7.05 for this whisky miniature (5cl) in the Whisky Shop Dufftown. You can find full size bottles for between £50 and £65 online, but remember to add shipping costs. Bowmore often crops up in supermarkets too so keep an eye out. I personally think the price is in the right bracket for a 15 year old whisky, based on this taste test and the 1/4 ABCD evaluation, I just do not think this malt represents good value for money, and while I will still try other Bowmore whiskies, this will not be one of them. Not for a good while yet anyway.

Update

It’s sometimes nice to be wrong. I did a bit of digging around to see if anybody else had the same issues with this malt, and my first port of call was YouTube. The esteemed vBlogger ralfy.com had reviewed this malt and had said that he initially wasn’t impressed but left the 70cl bottle he had of it open overnight. Since every day is a school day, I thought I’d try the same. Despite only having a miniature, I could only manage the one nip, so I left what was remaining in the open bottle overnight.

The next day it was sampled and it had definitely improved to the point I was able to drink it neat and only a slight hint of sulphur was detectable, but this did not put me off drinking it.

The lesson is my friends that sometimes we need to decant whisky or let it breathe. I’ve never come across this before but now I have finished this blog entry, I come away a little bit wiser from listening to somebody else with more experience.

It doesn’t change my assessment about value for the this whisky, but I’m much more likely to try it again just in case I did have a duff bottle. Perhaps I should kick it up a notch and go for the 18 year old next time.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty


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Profits and Losses

FOMO should not rule your whisky journey.

It has been a nailbiting and momentous week here at Scotty’s Drams HQ. I lost my job as the premier hypocrite of the Strathspey and Badenoch area, when my Macallan Folio 5 did sell at auction and I made the grand total of £37.20 after taking auction fees into account. I don’t even have the title of the worst flipper in the world, as at the same auction, some people were taking losses over £230 on their Macallan Easter Elchies Black 2019 release – one of the many Macallan releases that did not have numbers confirmed and turned out to be a lot more than people anticipated.

In other auction action, I submitted a bundle of whisky miniatures to a couple of auctioneers, and the items at Whisky Auctioneer in Perth did a lot better than anticipated. I had the opportunity to buy around 50 nips from a guy locally who was selling them on behalf of his mother, as they belonged to his late father’s estate. I paid £50 for them, as I didn’t really have time to inspect them properly and I had no idea of what they were worth. Imagine my surprise when the total hammer price was £211! With me being me, (and the local area as well as the whisky world being very small), I had told him that if it made much more than £50, I’d give him the profits, so nobody could think I was taking the mickey or taking advantage of people. Believe it or not, I do want Scotty’s Drams to be known to have a smidge of integrity! It has been a great result for myself, but especially to the recipient of the extra cash and I am glad it is going to a good cause.

The final thing that I want to point out for this week was the news that retailers were slashing the prices of the Game of Thrones editions as released by Diageo in collaboration with the HBO series. The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt were offering around 30% discount on the 9 bottles, and I had seen on line that another retailer were said to be offering 40%. You can imagine the response on the social media channels about people who feel conned that they paid significantly more to collect the series. I will remind you that I warned about this in my article I wrote about the Game of Thrones whisky set back in November 2019. Click on the link if you want to be reminded of what I said.

I’ll not go over old ground, as this will make the article unnecessarily long. However, I can understand the angst of people who feel conned, but why did they pay so much in the first place? They believed the hype of a limited release that was never really going to become rare – not in the next 40 years or so anyway……. I bet the person who paid £1400+ for his set at auction feels especially aggrieved, especially for one of two things – a lowering of the retail price will crash the auction price. This is definite for the short term and most likely for the medium to long term. Why do I think this? It is only the truly gullible or those who cannot get it any other way will pay more on an auction site than it costs at retail. Secondly, now the retail price has dropped, potentially many are going be offloading it ASAP if they don’t want to drink it, thus probably ensuring a very easy supply to secondary market at auctions. Additionally, because of such a large price drop, the perception of quality has been damaged and any last vestiges of thought about the range being a collectable commodity that will make healthy profits have been blown away.

We have to also remember that people thinking it was a limited edition were conned into thinking this, or what is much more likely that they chose not to look at the facts. This whisky was released in massive numbers, probably tens of thousands of bottles per each edition. Coronavirus is still rarer than GoT whisky. The only way it was limited was that Diageo has probably set a limit in the time for these products to be marketed. I doubt they consciously limited the production over that period, given the amounts in circulation.

Let us put that into some sort of perspective – in December last year Bruichladdich released 3000 bottles of their Octomore X4 series. This is the quadruple distilled single malt, that is part of a series that has been released as spirit and at 3 years old. When it was placed in their online shop, the website crashed as people tried to get hold of a bottle. I was lucky, and after 4 hours trying I managed to get 2 bottles. Still, when you look around, you can still get hold of it at auction, albeit at substantially more than the £150 release price. I bought 2 as I intend to drink one and put the other alongside my other X4’s as a collection. Even at 3000 bottles, which is only around 10 casks worth of whisky, this is not especially rare. How much less rare is the GoT whisky? I do hope that you have got my point here, as we now have to expand on what probably drove the demand.

I came to this thought based on another article I had read online. Another blog / review site I like reading during my online wondering is The Dramble. Indeed I recommend it. It has a collection of writers, although most of the content is written by its co-founder Matt Mckay. He recently wrote an article about the Talisker Distillery Exclusives, and he raised an interesting point about these distillery exclusives, and how some people feel this is unfair as they are missing out if they can’t get to the distillery. I had to laugh as they certainly missed the point of exclusives. Matt touched briefly on the FOMO fanbase. For those of you who aren’t as hip and down with the kids and street language, I can tell you that FOMO stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’.

Let us face it, some of us do have moments of fear that we are going to miss out on something. I am no different. Back in those dark, dark days when I was on the Macallan mailing list, I entered the ballots and crossed my fingers. I never wanted to flip any bottles – I wanted to own something that would be worth a bit of money in the long term. Of course I was trying to avoid paying the money the secondary market would eventually command. So it comes to pass that I guess in the case of the Folio 5, I have to be honest with you and I took my eye off the ball. The unforced error of not really noticing there was no commitment to limit the numbers to the same level as usual was a mistake many had made. After all, no numbers were officially confirmed for Folio 4, and it was accepted around 2000 bottles were released. Surely Macallan wouldn’t do the dirty and release 20,000 bottles, ensuring 18,000 could not collect the full set? That’s exactly what they did.

The problem I feel with limited releases (and I speak only as an enthusiast with no part in the whisky industry) is that too many people have seen the profits that some people have made and are now only too keen to buy a whisky and hopefully make the same profit. Those with little experience also misunderstand the meaning of limited release. A limited release can still have hundreds of thousands of bottle released as long as it’s only sold for a fixed time. Releases such as Ardbeg’s annual release, coupled with pretty much anything Macallan releases on a limited basis normally initially makes money and drives the flippers and those determined to obtain a bottle to buy and sell in a frenzy similar to that when a lamb is dropped in a pool of piranhas. This has perhaps provoked people who do not normally buy whisky as an investment to perhaps want a piece of the action. It is a very dangerous game to play with no knowledge and people have, and do get financially burnt by it. I’ve been buying and selling whisky for 6 years now at auction, and I know – even I get caught out sometimes, but I accept the swings and roundabouts of what I collect.

The only way such a release of whisky could ever hope to become rare and expensive is if people drink it. And while with GoT this is still theoretically possible, the whisky released was never the best products the distilleries were capable as of and there was just so many bottles released. I’ve tasted a couple of the GoT editions, and they are pretty so-so. Not bad but not good either.

So why have the prices dropped so far? I would guess that now Game of Thrones is completed and no new episodes are to come, the series has dropped out of immediate public consciousness and now they are not buying it in the same amounts. My limited experience with retail in other areas would suggest this creates excess inventory to get rid of and to do this then the easiest way is to drop the price.

Fear Of Missing Out – not having the whisky from your favourite TV show, or not being able to collect it in order to make a profit at a later date is probably what has driven this release. Possibly a bit of intrigue to see how each edition ties into each family in the story. But to be fair, it isn’t just limited to the gimmicky release that GoT obviously was. It is the same with every release from Macallan, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich amongst others. Our admiration for the brand, our desperate desire to have something no other collector has, or at least have it first, or to even just get a couple to flip so those desperate enough can get their hands on it blinds us to some harsh economic realities if we don’t take into consideration the realistic supply an demand in the future.

And here is the crux – FOMO often takes our attention from the most important thing – the whisky itself. Consider that in the whisky world that fully missing out is a rare thing – what’s on the market will eventually come around again, at least in the secondary market, and when it reappears, it may come back cheaper. FOMO is driving a monster in the whisky market which has the risk of eating itself, something those who have felt cheated over Game of Thrones are now realising, but it can be applied to those who overpay for anything. I’ve seen Macallan Folio 5 auction for a hammer price of £900. If that person failed to win the original Macallan ballot, how silly do they feel now when they could have bought mine at auction for £320 rather than overpaying the first flipper that came along? The signs of the greatly increased out-turn were all there when they were appearing on auction sites before the Macallan Ballot was complete, so why would you pay nearly 4 times the RRP?

Marketing is something that we as whisky geeks that we all have to be aware of, as it so often promises something and very often does not meet our full expectations. Fair play to Diageo – they shifted shed loads of non-premium whisky at non-premium prices and those who know very little about whisky or have duller palates are suddenly exposed to nine distilleries in the Diageo stable. Where they will not get people continuing to buy GoT bottles as it is limited, they will then most likely start buying the more profitible (for Diageo) releases from these distilleries after they made GoT fans more aware of their offerings. Diageo really couldn’t lose from this venture.

The important thing to bear in mind is that if we are true whisky geeks, FOMO should never really guide us – our palate should in the first instance, but I have to admit that I can miss this myself, and often become a bottle chaser, which is an unhealthy habit. FOMO and bottle chasing can and does lead to missing out on other things, though you often miss that point as well. How ironic.

For those amongst you reading this who have more experience than me, I hope that you are nodding your head in agreement, for you know the truth that things will eventually come back around. You may have to wait somewhat. I have that feeling with the Dailuaine I lost out on in the week previous to last. We have to move on….

In summary –

  • Don’t always believe the hype on new releases.
  • Never plan on making money, and only spend what you can afford to drink. That is what you might be doing if the price crashes
  • Make sure you know how many are being released
  • Don’t be afraid to miss out. There are thousands of fantastic whisky expressions out there, and because you don’t have one, this means you have money for another.

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.