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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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