How the mighty have fallen or may fall. Certainly there is a large fall from grace in the case of whisky writer Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. This tome has been released on an annual basis since 2003 and many look to it as a guide to what’s good to drink in the wide world of whisky. The 2021 release has become a bit controversial, thanks to fellow whisky writer Becky Paskin calling out some of what can be considered lewd or sexual comments. Apparently comments like this have been made throughout the past 25 years, but according to Becky this edition she managed to count 34 questionable sexual statements. She made a post on social media saying how she felt it was unacceptable and now was the time to call time on it.
Indeed, it seems this is the time to call time on questionable behaviour. This summer has seen protests about Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality in the United States though in the UK this has mutated to also question the reverence paid to people who were involved in the slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was followed by protests and vandalism throughout the UK, with the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol Harbour.
Lets look at some of Jim’s quotes in the whisky bible by looking at this thread of Becky’s Twitter Feed. Click on this linkBecky Paskin’s Initial Tweet to see the full thread.
While none of this is particularly dirty, there seems to be a general sexualisation of whisky, which to be honest I have to say is becoming more and more unacceptable as time goes on. It is juvenile humour at best and venturing into creepy old man territory at the other end of the scale. As a male, even I find it a bit distasteful. I don’t want to have images of a man in his mid sixties speaking about sex come into my mind when I am having a dram.
Jim himself, from what I have read on social media feeds almost seems dismissive in his defence of his comments, going as far to accuse the subject being pushed by those jealous of his writing and talent. But in my mind, this dismissal could well be Jim’s downfall.
Becky Paskin is not just another run of the mill whiskyphile or blogger such as myself. She was the editor of a great website scotchwhisky.com, a great resource for those researching whisky and industry news. She’s also a whisky journalist, consultant, presenter and currently is a co-founder of OurWhisky which aims to provide education about the industry while recognising the modern face of the drink. Becky is also a Keeper of the Quaich, so you can safely say that she would seem to have an excellent grasp of the industry. You can almost feel that Jim Murray’s accusation of jealousy may have been founded by the fact the person calling him out is a woman. Would have been any different if the whistle blower was male?
I don’t know either person, but to read what has been said by both of them, it would seem that Jim has become a dinosaur from a previous age. I think the fact that 50% of potential readers of his books would be female should give enough motivation to be careful in what he may be saying; many women wouldn’t be particularly happy in reading the various smutty comments that are in his latest publication. It may also have passed him by that a growing proportion of talent in the industry have XX chromosomes, with many distillers, blenders, brand ambassadors, distillery guides being of the fairer sex. I learnt something from this debacle that Penderyn Welsh Whisky is made by an all female distilling team. Just goes to show that what is between your legs doesn’t and shouldn’t affect how you progress in the industry.
What is more enlightening is the amount of female responses to Becky’s post, applauding her stand and letting their own struggles being known. Jim’s response to saying in the previous 20 odd years that he had not received a single complaint. Dismissal like this does not excuse any ill considered comments. Most people will just read, move on and get on with their day, but when it is consistent and throughout a publication then one has to ask what is the mindset to the author, especially when it adds nothing to the primary content which in this case is whisky. Have we forgot that many people don’t report sexual crime because they don’t want the fuss but once others start, then they feel encouraged and enabled to speak about their experiences. It may be unfortunate that Jim might also be facing the wrath of people affected by the actions of others and not just what has been written in his publications. He isn’t the first person to make questionable comments offensive to women in the industry, but he’s certainly being made the poster boy for the whisky world equivalent of #MeToo.
It has been a challenging time trying to get Scotty’s drams restarted after the drama of my wee flooding. To be fair it’s pretty easy to get the blog back on keel, all I have to do is drink whisky and write about it, not exactly a hardship. However trying to find the time in doing so when looking after a four year old means this is more easily said than done. Once the wee one is in their bed, all I can think of is having a coffee and looking to see what is on TV. I just want to switch off and not have to review a whisky or write about it.
Looking over my boxes of miniatures, I can see that I have quite a few pairs of different whiskies, one older and one more recent. Back in the day when I started Scotty’s drams I thought about thinking about some preconceived ideas and challenging them, such as blends are inferior to single malts, and the best whisky is old whisky. Well, there is one idea that I have been thinking about for some time and that is whisky from a different era is better than the whisky we have now. This is relevant to me in some way, as one of the bottles that got damaged in my flood was an old bottle of Macallan from the 90’s I’ve tasted this 10 year old before and I have to say I feel having compared it to Double Oak, the 90’s Macallan trounces it.
Now there is several reasons for this to be, but is it the same across the whisky spectrum and can it be proved? With those several doubles of differing eras sitting in my study, this not only gives me the chance to perhaps try and determine if this theory is true, it also gives me the chance to clear out a few bottles relatively quickly.
I’m planning to do one of these comparisons a month minimum,with whisky from every Scottish region. I only lack a spirit of yesteryear from Campbeltown, with the mass majority being from Highlands and Speyside. Samples include Benromach, Glenfarclas, Clynelish, GlenDronach, Auchroisk, Glen Keith, Auchentoshan, Bruichladdich, Highland Park, Glengoyne, Glenrothes and Linkwood. As close as I can, I’ve managed to secure whisky of the same age statement or cask type. However the Benromach is an old style 12 year old with a new style 10 year old. That might not be comparing Apples and Oranges, but a bit like comparing a Ford Sierra with its replacement the Mondeo.
I’m not convinced I’ll get a definitive answer, but there is a definite direction of travel on the three pairs I’ve tasted so far. I’m not going to reveal what it is until I post the relevant reviews.
This week has seen a bottle kill in the collection, the infamous Beinn Dubh from the Speyside distillery. Despite what many may think about it, I quite like it. I’m not rushing out to buy a bottle in the near future as I’ve quite a few more on the go that need to be cracked open, but I’m glad I tried it and would buy another in time. The bottle definitely improved as it went down as oxidisation took effect. The other whisky that I have looked forward to killing is the Glen Keith distillery edition. My earlier review “Giving Keith a Kicking” was perhaps a wee bit unkind. I’ve tried it in the best of the worst single malts to include in a hot toddy and it still failed miserably. The winner in that wee experiment was Jura Journey believe it or not. Anyway, as part of an effort to move some bottles closer to being killed, I tried some Glen Keith again.
It was surprising. It still isn’t really my taste, but was a lot more palatable after being open for over 6 months. I have to say I enjoyed it. Therefore after finding an old style Glen Keith in my miniature pile, I’m quite happy to perhaps review this one once more. It goes to show you that sometimes you just need to be in the mood for second opinions, or some whiskies really need a bit of time to open up and to be given a second chance. However, unlike the Beinn Dubh, I will not be buying a second bottle. The Coop sold it for £20 for a reason!!
Ergo – always give something second chance. I have rarely disliked a whisky but always have gone back to make sure. I’m kind of pleased I did this time.
Anyway, hopefully I can get another few reviews done for you soon. I’ve 2 weeks of isolation coming up in the near future so I’ll have no excuse not to write something down before I go back offshore. There is a host of drams to have, some older, some recent and some newer distilleries. Amongst them are Highland Park, Glenury Royal, Kingsbarns, Tamdhu, Braeval and Allt-a-Bhanne. There may also be whisky that isn’t Scottish….. and as I type some other samples have arrived from a Scottish exile in Belfast. My friend Nick has sent me some Glenugie, Cask Strength Benrinnes and Edradour along with the chocolate malt from Fettercairn. These go into the sample pot as well and will be reviewed as soon as I can.
We’ve now reached the end of the insurance claim process and I’m at the point of payout. Now seems a good time to wrap up the procedure and the precautions and advice I have about my experience. There are links to the companies I mention in the article at the end. This is not a promotionalpiece but a summary of my experience of the whole process, and I feel it would be remiss of me not to share the details of the companies used and my feelings about the service provided. I’ve included some pictures of the damaged bottles and cartons.
With a quick email it was over just as quick as it started. My insurance underwriters are prepared to pay for the loss in value to my collection. 21 bottles worth just a shade under £6000 and now they assess there has been £1000 loss in value. Realistically this is the best situation I could be in as all the bottles are still drinkable and had they been written off by my insurer I would have maybe not got the chance to purchase the ones I wanted to taste. Now that decision is mine. I’m not so sure that the value now is worth what was determined it to be post flood, but that is the thing with auctions – it could well be more or I get the chance to crack open a bottle I otherwise might not have.
Looking back on the experience from the horror of the first call to inform me there has been a problem to where I am now, the experience has not been as bad as first feared and indeed has been a lot smoother than expected. Let’s look at the reasons for this, for if there is one thing I’ve discovered, planning ahead prevents or limits disasters.
Find a decent storage area or facility
I use a storage facility in Perth. It’s about 70 miles from my house but prevents wee accidents when I maybe fancy cracking into something that I have bought as an investment. Ask the facility about their flooding record, ask about flood prevention. Look at security and the condition of the building. Is it likely to suffer flooding from a watercourse? Is it in good repair – does the roof look likely to leak? It’s always better to get an internal storage unit as it is less impacted by the changes in temperature. Going for a first floor locker prevents accidents like mine. Be aware those close to a metal roof are more likely to suffer variations in temperature and could affect your seals.
Keeping the collection at home? Keep it in a darkened place so the whisky isn’t exposed to direct sunlight or variations in temperature.
If using a storage facility, make you are well insured. Out of around 130 storage units in my facility, only 27 had any sort of insurance. Close to 100 units were flooded (some of the external containers did not get affected), and many of the insured only took the basic level of insurance which was £1000. However, the value of the items damaged was a lot higher and people have been left out of pocket.
I knew my items have high value, so using the facility insurance provision was not economic. So I insured via a specialist broker, Bruce Stevenson insurance brokers. Not only was this a great product, the service provided by them has been exemplary. I felt really guilty having only started my policy in April to making a claim in August, but that’s what insurance is for. I’m impressed by the friendly and efficient service I received, especially from Alexandra Richards, the broker that dealt with my claim.
The process was easy – one phone call and e-mail started the ball rolling. All I had to do was access my locker, record the damage and provide the details to them. They sorted the rest. They arranged a loss adjuster to see the damage who assessed how much damage had been done. I already had an estimate by time my loss adjuster arrived, so was already ahead of the game. That is why it pays to know the value you paid for your bottles and an idea of what they are worth as time goes on.
The loss adjuster reports back to the insurance company about the damage, having taken advice from a valuation expert. Then it is just a case of waiting to see what the insurance company will do. Alistair Spence of Criterion Loss adjusters gave some good advice about my situation and was very reassuring about the whole process.
If you are storing at home, make sure your home insurance will cover you in the event of flood and fire. Just because you only paid £35 for a Speyburn Flora and Fauna in 1991, doesn’t mean that it is still worth that amount. It can be well into the £2000+. If that gets destroyed would your insurance cover you?
Indeed, those with large collections at home may find themselves seriously underinsured as most policies have a limit per item, and above that will require each individual high value item individually listed. Be aware, large collections in the home will be seen as a fire hazard, something pointed out to me by my home insurance company that uses a red telephone on wheels as its logo.
I now know a couple of whisky brokers, and was lucky enough to have one who valued my damaged items for a nominal figure acceptable to any tight Aberdonian. However it is important to have an idea of what your collection is worth. Companies like Rare Whisky 101 monitor the prices at auction of bottles, and will provide a valuation or you can use the Bottle Valuation Index service which you can use to track your high value bottles, but you need to buy credits to use this service. I believe other companies do valuations cheaper, but I’ve used RW101 for a few years now and find the service pretty good and accurate.
You cannot just keep your whisky collection in its carton and expect it to survive. Part of the reason my collection survived mostly intact was due to the fact I professionally packed it in Airsacs. The only bottles damaged were those not in Airsacs on the lower layer of boxes on the pallets. I’ve learnt a lesson from this and now will flat pack cartons and make sure any packing that could be damaged is now at a level that flooding can’t affect it. Of course; the roof could leak, but I’ve put PVC dust sheets over my boxes to limit the chance of damage.
I use silica gel in all Airsacs, as well as polystyrene nuggets. Don’t use the environmentally friendly ones, as they go to a nasty goo when wet. All my packing materials come from Macfarlane Packaging. Airsacs aren’t the cheapest solution, but the alternative isn’t worth thinking about. The Airsacs on the lower layer of the pallets gave rigidity to the sodden cardboard boxes, keeping more expensive whiskies high and dry. Had this not been the case, then we would have been looking at a high 5 figure loss. If you are collecting whisky and storing it, a £200 investment in storage solutions makes sense and preserves the condition and value of your bottles.
And Alexandra from Bruce Stevenson agrees with me. For any asset it is important that good risk management and protection is key, and hopefully my insurance company sees that I made the adequate provisions for the foreseen threats in choosing a unit with flood protection, not exposed to temperature variation and professionally packed. Nobody foreseen the flood coming up from the drains and overcoming the flood prevention measures. And that’s why we insure.
At home, most of us will want to display our bottles. They are our whisky babies, but we need to store them where light will not fade labels or liquid, away from sources of heat and cold, away from children’s hands that might not drink it but accidentally knock it over and break it. Just be careful. It is understandable that you want to display your pride and joys, but consider where carefully. I know many people who have a whisky cupboard in their homes. Consider one yourself.
I’ve considered all these things and still got caught out. Don’t think it can’t happen to you as it can. It’s not the events that you can forsee that catch you, but those you don’t. I’m just very grateful I have had a specialist insurance policy in place which has met each one of my expectations. For around £350 the piece of mind alone has been priceless. I may have been facing a loss over a hundred times the cost of my premium so it is a no-brainer.
And now with payment looming I now have the decision of what to do with the damaged bottles. Part of me says sell them and move on. Part of me says drink them. In the case of the 10 year old Macallan this will be happening as I know the value in that bottle, and it is a superb dram. I’m licking my lips already in anticipation and so should my friends as I will be sharing. Of course I am on the lookout for another one, but we will see what comes up. I think a new change of direction is needed. From every disaster comes new beginnings and that is the way the pragmatist in me is seeing it. There will always be new bottles to buy, perhaps with a new focus altogether. Keep an eye on the blog or my social media feeds to find out.
The one thing that bothers me about items like the Macallan 10 is that I paid £240 after fees for it. Auction prices are now £340 then fees on top of that. Although I’ve been compensated fairly, there is an emotional thing that won’t let go. I’d say that once you sell, write off or open a bottle, you need to detach yourself from it. You need to stop tracking it unless you plan to buy another. For me it’s almost like stalking an old lover to see what she’s up to, which is wrong and creepy. Move on to bigger and better things.
I have a couple of things I wish to say in conclusion. Firstly, to all those who wished me well after my disaster, thanks for your support. It could have been a lot worse, but it was very touching to have your support, even though I’ve never met most of the people on the www (world whisky web). I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through what I’ve just experienced. It’s a fact of life we never expect bad things to happen, something that could be summed up by the fact how few in the storage facility had adequate insurance or any insurance at all.
It’s also been good to have been helped and advised by others in the whisky industry, and a special shout out goes to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. The resultant whisky geek out gave me tons of food for thought.
Lastly, I’ve had great service from my insurance company, Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers. They’ve ensured what needed to happen did at the right time, good communication and always left me with the impression that my situation was important to them. Despite not being a customer of theirs for very long, I felt every bit as valued as a customer who has used them for years.
I apologise if it seems I’m over promoting this company, but it’s with good reason. Other insurance companies are available but I can only speak from my experience with Bruce Stevenson compared to the cost of others I’ve used in the past. Bruce Stevenson has been recommended to me by several people and that spoke volumes. It’s turned out to be a good call.
Insurance can seem like that unnecessary expense that could be dispensed of to buy another bottle, but don’t lose your kingdom for the want of a nail.
It’s a small world that the whisky community is. I found this out while making my insurance claim. A whisky broker that I contacted to help value my collections possible drop in value due to flood damage already knew about my wee misfortune due to him also dealing with my insurance broker. There had been no disclosure of information, just a mention that my broker was dealing with a whisky flood claim and then me contacting them allowed him to put two and two together to get four.
After dealing with the issues in hand, we continued a whisky geek-out over the phone, and when discussing our collections the discussion came across selling the collection. It had been my intention to sell piecemeal, but with such a large collection it was suggested that I need to be careful with tax. My broker informed me that the HMRC are starting to pay more attention to whisky auction sales, and in particular whether people are turning over more bottles in such a way that they can be classed as traders. While I am aware of the issues of Capital Gains Tax (CGT), it was suggested that I research the badges of trade, as piecemeal selling can be seen by HMRC as acting as a trader and therefore exposed to different tax liability. The same goes for casks – if you have more than a handful of casks, you may be also classed a trader depending on your potential situation.
While these are not exhaustive, this could be used against you where you are selling bottles at auction on a regular basis, in particular high value bottles. If you are seen as a trader, then you could be facing a tax bill of hundreds or even thousands, as this tax could be applied at up to 45% depending on your other income. At best, you will have to pay Capital Gains Tax, as bottled whisky is not seen as a wasting asset. If you are a higher rate tax payer, capital gains tax is 20% on the profit made. If you are a basic rate tax payer, this is 10% up to the limits of the basic tax rate, and 20% above it.
Example – you have an income of £25,000. Basic tax rate is £50,000. You sell a collection of rare Macallan for a profit of £40,000. Your tax liability for the sale is £2500 for the portion of profit below £50,000 and £3000 for the £15,000 above the £50,000 threshold. Total tax bill is £5,500.
The reason I mention a rare set of Macallan is that recently a Scottish man who bought a bottle of Macallan 18 every year on his son’s birthday since his birth is to sell it for a reported £40,000. This was published in the newspapers, (see here https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/food-drink/man-scoop-40k-whisky-bottles-22580659 ) and I’ll be sure that the HMRC are watching this. I know the person brokering the sale, who is Mark Littler, so I know that Mark will be conducting the sale with absolute integrity. I don’t know the full details and am reticent to ask as Mark will have client confidentiality to observe. In cases like this, tax liability can be variable depending on if the bottles are seen as individual items or a set. As the gentleman paid about £5000 for the whisky, that is a taxable income of at least £35000. It’s worth remembering that it doesn’t matter if you give the whisky or money to your offspring as the law also includes the disposal of assets. Capital Gains Tax can be reviewed here https://www.gov.uk/capital-gains-tax/rates.
It brings home to me that I have this headache to contend with when I eventually sell my collection. The almost perfect Flora and Fauna collection which will almost certainly be worth more than £6,000 may have to be broken up to sell, as the chances of me making more than that in profit are high. Plus, selling an entire whisky collection at auction not only risks flooding the market, you just don’t know what prices you will get. I guess you can’t predict auctions or what the demand will be when you come to sell.
Don’t assume that you can hide in the shadows. I’ve heard on the grapevine from a separate source to the broker valuing my collection that heavy users of auction houses that live in the Speyside area have been visited by HMRC, and this has been corroborated by one or two other sources. While this remains not 100% confirmed and the gossip remains circumstantial, there is enough smoke to guarantee a smouldering fire. Auction houses due to the nature of their businesses and the large amounts of money being traded are more likely to be audited, simply on the potential for money laundering. Should a particular client use them consistently for large amounts of money or many trades, this will not go unnoticed. Bear in mind the nine badges of trade – one of the badges refers to frequency of transactions. Be careful.
Lastly, if you are determined to be a supplier of alcohol or trader you may need to be registered as an alcohol wholesaler, and apply for AWRS, which is the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme. Failure not to comply is subject to penalties. Details of AWRS are here. AWRS guidance
So what else do us whisky geeks have to fear from the authorities? It isn’t just collectors that can fall foul of the law, us whisky bloggers can too, in particular those with YouTube channels. Now, I’m not up to speed with YouTube apart from wasting time on it watching other whisky geeks, but I gather that you can make money depending on your channel subscribers. Plus, many whisky vLoggers and bloggers use Patreon to fund their channel and whiskies for reviews. One vBlogger I am aware of due to the amount of Patreon subscribers they have easily has an income of around £16000 a year after the 5% fees are considered. Just let that sink in. I know people in full time work don’t earn that much. As long as this is declared on the tax return, there won’t be any problem, but further gives more justification to the HMRC classing the income as trader income, particularly if the channel also has merchandise.
The next thing that bloggers can fall foul of is receiving free samples from distillers or retailers. That is essentially being paid to review, therefore regardless if you give it a good review or not, do it often enough and you can be termed as a de facto business. If not that, then it can be termed as an income, in the same way as business gifts in the corporate world.
As a fellow blogger, yes I’ve got business cards made to direct those interested to my site. But I see many vBloggers with coins, Glencairn glasses, glass toppers and other merch. I’ve had a handful of coffee mugs I’ve made up with my blog logo, but there is no financial transaction – these are given solely as gifts. Again, charging for products and having logo emblazoned merch will also help persuade the authorities you are operating as a business, if taken in consideration with other factors.
Neither do I accept free samples or invitations from distilleries (yup, I’ve had them), as unlike some others, I’m not into whoring myself out to corporate interests, regardless of size of distillery. That’s not where my whisky journey was to take me and I was never seeking that kind of attention. That’s because expectations and commitments can grow and I’m busy enough with my day job. I’ll accept tasters from various retailers or friends but I’m not expected to review. It’s genuinely just for me to taste. If I do review its because I don’t want to open a full bottle.
And that brings me nearly to the last way we can fall foul of the authorities. This one will not make me popular I fear, but is hard fact and I’d hate not to say something only for a fellow whisky geek to get caught out.
Sample swapping. Especially if you have a blog or YouTube channel you actively use. The long and short of it is that it is breaking the law. “Ya boo sucks!” I can hear, but I’ll explain the law in Scotland. It is broadly similar in England and Wales. The following is paraphrased from the Personal Licensing Hand Book 2nd Edition – this is the guide book for people that covers the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 for people training to obtain a personal license.
1/ it is illegal to sell or give away for free any alcohol from a premises without a Premises Licence or an Occasional licence. A person has to be a personal licence holder to apply for an Occasional licence.
2/ It is also illegal to sell or give away alcohol without a personal licence or a personal licence holder present.
3/ It is illegal to sell alcohol or provide alcohol without an age verification policy (Check 25).
In Scotland alcohol is strictly controlled (believe it or not!) and traders not carrying out the required procedures for the sale or provision of alcohol can face a fine of up to £20,000. If you have a blog, are supplying samples even if they are free, then you could be potentially in a lot of trouble should the authorities become aware of it. They usually come down hard on the offender.
You don’t just need to say you are following the procedures, you need to have it written down in an operating plan which you’d only have if you were a business, as the chances of you being able to run under an Occasional Licence are nil; these are designed for events that take place on non-licensed premises and are temporary. That is the catch that could see you in trouble on 2 fronts.
Potentially only way around this is to demonstrate you know anybody you’ve supplied samples to personally, and not just an online ‘friendship’. For instance, I only give samples to work colleagues who I can demonstrate quite easily that I know personally. And as a personal licence holder I’m not wanting to jeopardise it.
Whisky clubs that meet on licensed premises still need to meet licensing regulations. If you meet in your own homes and no charge is being made for attendance then licensing obligations do not apply. This can be termed as a personal gathering.
Just think about how you could be opening yourself up to prosecution online using social media by advertising the fact that you are swapping samples, especially those with your blog logos on them. It could be argued you meet a badge of trade if you also have merchandise, and you will almost certainly be falling foul of licensing law if not properly licensed. To have a logo on illegally supplied alcohol would be the final nail in the coffin.
I hate to be a killjoy, but with the HMRC starting to take more of an interest in online auctions, it may just be a matter of time before social media falls victim to the attention of the authorities. Returning to my opening sentence of the article, it is a small world within the whisky community, especially online social media community, and should one fall, the potential for others to go like dominoes is always there. And trust me; I have to deal quite a lot with the HMRC due tax issues regarding my work overseas and involvement with differing tax jurisdictions. They are like Pitbull Terriers when they want money and I’ve heard of colleagues being bankrupted by them.
Worse still, if you are caught sending out alcohol without a license, then that is dealt with by the local licensing board and that will involve the police and a potential criminal record. Quite a sobering thought.
Whisky has been regulated for centuries. From the days of the illicit stills, people trying to get one past the authorities has always happened. But in these days of internet communication the chances of getting caught could be a lot higher. And crucially easier for them – the burden of proof is on you.
Just remember the Clash song. They fought the law, and the law won.
It’s not often that I write an emotional piece when I think about my whisky journey, but if there ever was a time, this is probably the best time now that I’ve suffered a small whisky disaster. I more often think about this journey in where it has taken me, where it is yet to go and how long it may take. I guess that I never planned it and it will be hard to put an end to it, so really all that can be done is look to where you’ve been. The blog was a way of me moving away from the negativity surrounding the politics of the UK that had been dominating social media, a tidal wave that I had been getting caught up in and it was time to change direction. I’d been collecting whisky on an incremental basis since 2006, and it was time to make bigger inroads to the journey.
Writing the blog hasn’t always been easy. I work away from home for long periods of time and believe it or not the last thing on my mind when I get back is devouring large amounts of alcohol. I have a pre-school daughter which takes up a lot of my time. That’s why I may not be as up to date about whisky happenings, but I never intended to be. I’m just sharing my journey and knowledge, hoping that others can relate. And if this is a journey, then up until last week, the ride was smooth and getting smoother. The metaphorical road was a perfect piece of tarmacadam ridden over by a Rolls Royce with suspension so fine nothing was going to interrupt the partaking of a sneaky dram in the back seat while your chauffeur takes care of the driving. Then the journey changes, I run out of reviews, my storage locker gets flooded and before you know it, that smooth ride hides the fact that you are aquaplaning sideways across the carriageway to smash into a tree and erupt into a ball of flames.
Thats what my journey has felt like this past fortnight.
Aquaplaning is actually an effective metaphor, as mid August saw me return from a 16 week trip offshore to find Scotland being hit by extreme weather. I was parked up in Aberlour having a sandwich when I thought I saw the first bolt of lightning, only to be subjected to a deluge and lots of surface water on the roads. Can’t beat that experience when you haven’t driven in so long, in a strange car and the windscreen wipers are just smearing the remains of flies across the windscreen rather than moving any water. Little did I know that some parts of Scotland were going to be hit a lot worse and that included my storage unit in Perthshire.
It was a completely different climate the next day – a sunny day in upper Speyside with little memory of the thunder the day before. I was spending the afternoon constructing the behemoth of a trampoline my wife had bought for our daughter when I received a call on my phone informing me that my locker had been flooded. While the skies remained blue, there was dark clouds on my horizon.
I don’t know if you have ever suffered the loss of a treasured possession, but I had literally felt as though I’d been punched hard in the stomach. I knew that I had some of my bottles on shelving but the majority of the collection was in cardboard boxes sitting in pallets. I had no idea what to expect. My mind was racing through the list of bottles I may have lost and this is where the emotion kicks in. While I never intended drinking much of the bottles I had collected, I was running through bottles that I would hate to have lost, not just based on their value, but on their emotional value. Each bottle had a story. I remember the first bottles I bought that started my collection – 2 Glenmorangie Truffle Oak Reserve, purchased in 2006 during a visit to the distillery. I paid £150 each. They now auction about 3-4 times that value. Or even special bottles like my GlenDronach handfills – one of which was distilled on my 19th birthday and which I managed to handfill on my 46th birthday. My Flora and Fauna collections – even though not the greatest or the most expensive whisky, I’ve spent the time getting all the wooden boxes, nearly all the 1st editions (only 2 short now) and even have two Speyburn to complete the two sets. I’d have been horrified to lose these. As would my insurer I’d guess. Recent Flora and Fauna Speyburn auctions have seen a spike up to £2900 a bottle.
And this is the question it comes to; is whisky not just a commodity that requires monetary investment but also emotional investment? i think if you are solely buying it to drink, then perhaps not, but if you are collecting it for whatever reason then I suspect there has to be an emotional attachment. I knew this to be the case when I eventually was able to access the site to see for myself. The financial burden was covered, as I was insured, but how would the emotional burden be?
I’ll cut to the chase – most of my treasured bottles were safe. Thankfully everything on a shelf was high enough, and those bottles on a pallet were mostly in AirSacs, which not only provided water resistance and saving most of my bottles, but also gave rigidity that prevented the boxes on the top layers hitting the water too as the cardboard box on the bottom disintegrated. Then the truth dawns – what about the bottles I kept in their cardboard cartons and not AirSacs? What if they were on the pallets? Sadly, because I well mark boxes with their contents, I realised I had some pretty expensive bottles or pretty irreplaceable bottles on the bottom layer.
It’s easy to get caught up in gloom. The best thing to do is celebrate what has survived. The aforementioned Glenmorangie and GlenDronach were safe. The rarest of my Diageo Rare Malts had also survived. But then I was seeing the Glen Albyn 1975, Brora 1982, Cardhu 1973 come out of boxes that had been devastated. My Strathearn bottles from the inaugural bottling of the first cask – both had their presentation box and certificate destroyed. My small Macallan collection took a big hit. My 80’s/90’s Macallan bottle, along with the 1824 series Amber, Gold, Sienna and Ruby – gone, although the 1824 series is largely still obtainable at reasonable prices. Glenmorangie Swamp Oak – gone. In fact, most stuff with a carton that was on the bottom layer of boxes on the pallet – gone.
It’s definitely an emotional time when you consider that most of the collectable value is gone. All the hard work gone. It’s not even as though you can claim on insurance for the hard work put in sourcing these bottles. That is when you may feel the most low. This is when we know what our connection with our drams is. Whilst mine started out being financial, as it is intended to pass this collection over to my daughter or use it to fund her place at university, I am now well aware it has gone beyond this. Perhaps you will feel the same if you have a decent collection, a sense of pride.
What I can’t lose sight of are two facts – I could have lost the whole lot, and others lost more treasured possessions than me. It all comes down with a bump when during the same bad weather people had homes, businesses and cars flooded. Other people in the storage units beside me lost personal possession such as furniture, photos, books, clothing. mementoes; it may seem like clutter to others, but they cared so much about it that they paid to have it stored. All very sad. And while my own tale is sad enough, at least it is easier for me to move on.
And I need to point out that my recent article on insurance was not only well timed, but has been reinforced by what I have witnessed over the past couple of days. People throwing out possessions, some of which looked antique had no insurance. I’ve been informed that out of 130 ground floor units, only 27 had any sort of insurance, and most of them was only the very basic £1000 offered by the storage facility. This reinforces the need to make sure you and your whisky collection are adequately covered. It’s bad enough losing memories, but don’t let yourself be out of pocket.
The bottom line is don’t think it won’t happen to you. I did but had insurance anyway. You have to remember that while whisky isn’t life or death, it’s more important than that.
I’ve an appointment with the loss adjuster next week. We’ll soon see what will be written off and what will be salvageable. Hopefully, fingers crossed that the soaked labels have dried out. I’ll keep you informed.
It’s Wednesday and you may be wondering where this week’s whisky review has gone. Well, I’m amazed to tell you that I’ve run out of whisky to review. I’ve been at work since 24th April (that is not a typo!) and while I’d built a considerable backlog of whisky reviews, this has now run out. I guess I didn’t realise that I’d still be offshore in August. By time I got off this vessel, I’ve done 110 days away from home and 105 without touching dry land.
I think this gives me a good excuse for running out of reviews.
And now, I realise after such an abstinence that probably drinking one dram will leave me in a state that will leave me unable to write a review. So there may be a small hiatus before the reviews start again. Don’t worry, they will start again as soon as possible.
Just because I’ve been at sea doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to advance my whisky journey. I’ve been keeping an eye on the whisky world and have thought through a couple of articles that should be of interest. I have also been continuing to gather more whisky for tasting and sharing, including my first Scotch Malt Whisky Society full size bottlings which were purchased at auction for reasonable money.
I’ve also bought a couple of historical drams from Cheaper By The Dram, which includes the first Highland Park edition that was released as a single malt and a dram from the long deceased Glenury Royal distillery. This has led me on to thinking about the theory of older whisky being superior than contemporary whiskies. This I think needs investigating and I may require some volunteers to either prove or disprove this concept.
As you may have seen on my Facebook page, Scotty’s drams has also been listed in whisky broker Mark Littler’s blog as one of the Whisky Blogs to keep track of, as well as my Instagram page. I’m grateful to Mark for his recognition, so I must be doing something right. You can see the entries by clicking on these links –Scotty’s Drams Instagram Page Reviewand Scotty’s Drams Page Review
All in all, despite being a busy summer for me work wise, it still has been successful in several ways.
Lastly, I cannot end this article without hoping that all of you had a good summer under the current circumstances the global community finds itself. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused great disruption to life as we know it and I hope you have all kept safe. It was my intention to have a Scotty’s Drams meet up at the tail end of the year but I do not think that this will be possible but keep 3 days free for sometime in the next year.
As you may have seen on my other social media channels, the storage locker that I keep the majority of my collection in suffered flooding to knee level on 11/08/2020. Unfortunately the facility flood prevention barrier was overcome. I have not been able to get access to the site but needless to say it is not looking good for some of my rarer drams. While I did have shelving, some of my boxes were on pallets.
It may be some time before I am able to review again, but will try and keep things going on Scotty’s Drams.
As one door closes, another opens and this may give me the opportunity to start with a new focus.
For those of us lucky enough to be born Scottish and or live in Scotland, you need to have a sense of humour about the weather. It seems that we only have two seasons a year – summer and winter. Only summer seems to last for two weeks and those two weeks may not coincide with actual summer months. There’s been a few occasions when I’ve been walking around in March in short sleeves. Mind you in Aberdeen there are a few people who dress with barely enough clothes to stave off hypothermia then remove a couple of layers for a night out. The Norwegians have a saying that goes along the lines of that there is no such thing as bad weather, only a poor choice of clothing. Appropriate enough, as I type, I am actually in Norwegian waters on a Norwegian crewed vessel within sight of the Norwegian mainland.
Weather here has been changeable and we’ve had some spectacular weather, but now we’ve got misty gloom and have had for a couple of days. Guess the Norwegians have similar seasons to the Scottish, including the season that seems to be getting year long in the whisky world – silly season. This is not the sole preserve of the whisky world and can be widespread in many situations, but once again I see the usual stupidity over prices being paid for bottles. Interestingly enough it is for a Norwegian whisky.
The whisky in question is the first release of Bivrost Niflheim, a single malt whisky from the Aurora Spirit distillery in Lyngen, Northern Norway. It is the world’s most northerly distillery at present although with whisky superlatives there is always a chance that could be surpassed. The first 20 bottles are available for sale in the current Whisky Auctioneer auction. This isn’t the first time that Whisky Auctioneer have exclusively sold first produce from a distillery – they have also had similar auctions for the Israeli Milk and Honey Distillery and also the Strathearn Distillery in Perthshire.
I’d like to draw your attention to the price currently being bid for the bottle one of the Norwegian whisky. It’s currently at the time of writing £6400 plus auction fees. Out of the 20 bottles at auction, 7 of them have broken the £1000 barrier, and the cheapest bid is currently £500. Forgive me for perhaps stating the obvious, but have people lost their marbles?
Lets look at the whisky in question – No Age Statement, only 50cl. The cheapest this whisky will be is £1 per millilitre. Thats a lot of money for a whisky of only 3 years old. I suppose that is fine for a collectors item, but very expensive for a drinking whisky and I’d wonder how much the price will mature in the secondary market. It all depends on the success of the distillery I would bet. I can tell you I paid £800 for two bottles of the first release of Strathearn’s spirit in the auction that Whisky Auctioneer ran in 2016. Strathearn has gone on to be quietly successful, being sold to Douglas Laing in 2019. Where it goes from there and whether or not my bottles go up in value remains to be seen, but I only pay at auction what I can afford to lose. The good news is that following their sale, Strathearn is likely only to go up in value. But will Bivrost Niflheim do the same?
Now let me suggest something to you. There is a certain kudos to having the first bottle from a release and a greater kudos to having the first bottle from the first release. But £6400 worth? The jury might be out on that one though I’d imagine it’s not. I know that for that money I’d much rather pay that for a decent Macallan knowing full well that I would get more enjoyment out of that than a whisky that few will know the actual taste and quality of.
And here is my kicker – will further releases taste any different to these 20 bottles in such a way that would make the £6400 taste like a bargain? I’d proffer not. I’m going to suggest that people are paying over the odds for a bottle that may cost £100 realistically, and for a three year old whisky I’d also suggest even that is an overpayment.
Fear Of Missing Out or showing who has the largest testicles in the collecting world is what is driving these prices. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to disrespect both Aurora Spirit or Whisky Auctioneer. Their whisky is one I would be very happy to try and I do plan to buy a bottle from this distillery on account that I spend a lot of time in Norway. Plus it’s about time I looked to whisky outside Scotland I think. For the past 5 years I’ve done a lot of business from Whisky Auctioneer and find them a very decent company to deal with. For both companies, this auction is a great way to generate business and publicity – WA definitely needs positive support given their recent drama with the Perfect Collection Auction being disrupted by cyber attack.
With a certain amount of hindsight bearing in mind I have bought bottles at these sorts of auctions, these events only generate a little bit of price blindness which must please both the distilleries and auctioneers. However, what may be impulse bidding with the heart and not the head can be bad for the buyer and the subsequent secondary market price. I doubt the prices will go on to match the current level of bidding.
Let’s look on the other side. Small distilleries with a great product will generate hype. Daftmill being a great case in point. As much as it is a good dram, is it worth the prices now being seen on the secondary market? I don’t personally think so. The Cuthberts want it to be drunk and enjoyed, but often those paying silly prices on the auction sites are forcing reasonably priced first releases out of the hands of drinkers.
In my closing opinion for this article, I believe there is a bubble that is waiting to be burst and some people will be affected. The hype in the market will fuel a monster that will one day implode. As silly season seems to be a year round thing, this may come sooner than some people think.
I’ll begin this article with a very large apology. I am sorry that there has been no weekend article for a couple of weeks, but I’m back at work, and I haven’t been able to arrange anything. Fear not, at least I have enough taste reviews to post, as long as this trip doesn’t extend beyond 12 weeks. Not having adequate cover of articles is a risk I have to take given that I can have an unpredictable work pattern, which will only get worse as the recession in the oil industry continues.
Turning our mind to our whisky collections, a lack of cover is a pitfall that we shouldn’t let ourselves fall into. Buying a bottle here and a bottle there is an easy way to building a modest collection but it easily builds into a monster that we can have no control over. Suddenly you can be faced with a collection that may not be covered under your home insurance. Even if you fully intend to eventually drink the bottles that you have bought, I’m well aware that this may not happen and with the increase in value of some bottles on the secondary market you might have a considerably higher value of collection than you expect.
Now, what would be the case if the worst was to happen and there was an accident that destroyed your collection? It could very well be that you have a small, inexpensive collection and your home insurance will cover it. But what if you go through your list of what you lost to find it worth a lot more than you realised and you aren’t fully covered? What if you have a Speyburn Flora and Fauna you bought for £35 in 1991 and you find that it is now auctioning for £2000 and is not covered by your house insurance?
The answer is simple – you may need to consider specialist insurance. This is something I have to consider as I have a remote storage unit. My home insurer was not keen about covering my modest collection, most of which is well above 40% abv. The fact I have well over 200 bottles would mean they would not insure me for a reasonable cost given the simple fact of fire risk and value so a remote storage unit made sense. This option may not be appropriate for those with a smaller collection that they intend to drink.
Due to most home insurers insisting that expensive items are insured separately, this can add quite a lot to your premium and may not take into account of increase in market value. It then makes sense that a specialist insurer is needed. I already had one for my storage unit, but went through a broker that recommended me an insurance that was in the end not a specialist whisky insurance and was considerably more expensive and less flexible than a specialist insurer. Thus meant the search was on.
The problem with most storage insurances is that they are quite particular about what can be insured. My initial storage location would only insure me for £10,000 for my whisky, meaning that I could not store my whole collection there, which kind of defeated the purpose of having a storage unit in the first place. In my current storage location, I found the optional site supplied insurance being quite expensive which would have resulted in a £50 a month charge. Having done a little shopping online, I came across a site that would insure me, but wasn’t too much cheaper at £550 a year for £30,000 of insurance. Still pretty expensive, and not that flexible.
The good news is that as I do my social butterfly bit around the various whisky people in the area, I came to be recommended a company called Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers, based in Edinburgh. This was much more flexible. As long as I had proof that I owned the bottles I was insuring, then I would be able to claim market value should the worst happen, or to the value of an independent valuation provided by a whisky specialist such as Rare Whisky 101. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the policy, as each situation could be different, but as an Aberdonian where cheapness matters, I was getting better cover for £200 less a year. What I also found was that I was able to phone the company with my initial enquiry and deal with person when buying my policy. I feel the personal touch is so important, especially when the joy of whisky is sharing not just liquid, but experiences. From speaking to my broker I was able to pick up hints and tips that would be missed in a completely online transaction.
So, in conclusion my whisky collection is now more adequately protected for less money. Winner winner chicken dinner. Except with the saving of more coin, I’ll be eating steak instead of chicken – once I get off this floating prison. Mind you, being offshore means I can always shop online for more whisky with the savings made. Scratch that – I already have almost wiped out the savings by buying Edition 3 of the Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram. Ooops.*
I’ve provided a link below for you to look at should you wish to insure your collection separately, but it is worth thinking whether or not your existing home insurance will cover the whisky you have.
Please be aware that I am only recommending this company based on my personal experience, coupled with being recommended my many people I have spoken to in the whisky retail and fellow collectors. This recommendation is completely independent and I am not receiving any payment or gratuity for this article.
Yours In Spirits
* considerably more whisky than 2 bottles have been purchased.
Why you still need to challenge your whisky favourites to avoid taste blindness.
For those of you who read this weeks taste review of Monkey Shoulder this article will make more sense, but it isn’t really that necessary to have done so. This is going to be a short piece on how we should always look back on what we have drunk in the past and consistently re-evaluate our experiences.
For a couple of years, Monkey Shoulder was the blend I used to recommend and when travelling was what I often drunk when other options were limited. I never really thought to question it much as I enjoyed drinking it and others did to. Then my travel patterns changed and I wasn’t travelling the same routes, so my opportunity to drink Monkey Shoulder was limited which gave me a break from it for a little while.
It was the tail end of last year when I was asked to do a whisky tasting that I used Monkey Shoulder as a blended whisky. A fair enough assumption as it is a good enough value blended malt and given there were at least three decent malts in recipe, I wasn’t expecting much problems. Only I was wrong. A couple of people said they didn’t like it, pointed out its flaws and said they wouldn’t drink it again. I felt a little bit embarrassed as this was totally opposite to what I had been expecting, though we know that everybody has different taste buds and what is steak for one guy might be mince for the next. One thing was for certain – a review of the whisky and my thoughts about it had to be done.
Fortunately this tied in with the chance to also taste the Smokey Monkey and thus provide a decent comparison between the two. The results are in my article in which I found the smokey version definitely not to my taste and was also able to see the flaws in the original version. My excitement in it was slightly jaded almost to the point I could say that I felt let down by the beverage that I placed so much faith in. So what has happened?
Let’s make the bottler the scapegoat as that would absolve me of saying or doing anything wrong. Batches can vary in taste and recipes can be slightly tweaked depending on availability of casks for vatting. That’s the easy, lazy and possibly incorrect way of thinking which although possibly true, the case may not be the root of the problem. For that we have to look into ourselves and think about how we have changed as whisky drinkers, not just in our palates but also our expectations.
A drop in the ocean
The first thing we have to acknowledge is that one brand of whisky in the spirits world is like a drop in the ocean – so easily lost when compared to other brands. Many of us don’t have the chance to taste many different whiskies either through opportunity or lack of financial means. For people in this situation it means that they will tend to stick to the same brands for whatever reason. It goes without saying whatever your circumstances as a whisky lover that you will try to go for the best you can afford or obtain. However we may become blind to its faults. There is no shame in this as it is human nature to defend things we like or are special to us. For instance, my dog. Lovely, gentle Labrador but can be a bit of a poo eater, constantly casting hair, hungry and is definitely a shagger. I tend to ignore these flaws as I love my dog and his flaws are often written off as character.
Thinking back to the whisky world there may eventually be a special offer which gives the opportunity to try something else to which takes your fancy and it becomes your new favourite, though your former favourite still holds a place in your estimations. You may still recommend your whisky you used to love as It could be that it is good value, but you may be oblivious to the things that make it out not as good as you think. Eventually you get brought back down to earth with a bump and it hurts when it’s pointed out.
With so many bottles out there, many of us are trying different things, but are we really forming a relationship with that whisky so that we know all of its highs and lows, or are we completing a bottle and moving onto the next new thing? Within this blog, it is something that I struggle with, as I am constantly tasting different whisky and don’t often get the chance to really get to know some of the drams. In the past year I’ve reviewed 74 whiskies (that includes the backlog yet to publish) but there is no way on earth that somebody could drink 74 full bottles in that time.
The one thing that also works against us as whisky enthusiasts is those who are always trying the next new thing. There is nothing wrong with this as whisky will require to be innovative to move on, but part of me also feels that this creates a new problem. How can we say that a new whisky is entirely different from one that we have tasted in the past? With millions of permutations there has to be some similarities between bottlings surely? Even in my limited reviews I can tell you I’ve tasted two drams that had I known no better I would have said was Ardbeg because of the main characteristics of the spirit.
Don’t feel disappointed with this – I never said that I was an expert, I don’t pretend to be and I certainly don’t intend to be. This is about a journey to try different whiskies and there will be some I like and some I find that are not to my taste. I wrote about them to get your opinions too and to share my thoughts, not to get plaudits.
There is a defence for all of us. Currently there are about 130 distilleries in Scotland alone. If each distillery had 5 core expressions and released a new one every year, how long do you think it would take you to taste them all and do you think you’d be able to compare them to each other? Not to mention all the whisky that has been made in the past nor single cask releases…. see where I’m going with this? And I haven’t touched on Irish, Japanese, American or Indian whisky yet…..
If you want the proof, watch an online blind tasting and see how many people are able to identify random whiskies. You’d probably not be surprised at the failure rate. I feel it is only those with a super educated palate and a great memory would be capable of such a feat. These people do exist, but seem to be few and far between.
Back To The Monkey Shoulder.
Going back to my original point, with so many whiskies available, it probably isn’t easy to compare each one with every other, and after a while the taste scoring means little. I bet that I could return to Monkey Shoulder again in a couple of months and enjoy it again. Perhaps the bottle I used for the tasting had been open too long and was oxidised? Our palates evolve and what is good at one time may not be so good in the future or become even better.
There is another danger of constantly tasting new things that are popular and that is the law of diminishing returns. Once you taste something great, you will not be so impressed with the more mediocre drams. The availability of such great drams mean you may be in the trap that previously enjoyable whisky isn’t so good, and what is great is in limited supply. That’s a thought for another article though.
In conclusion, will I stop drinking Monkey Shoulder or recommending it? No. I still think the original Monkey Shoulder is an easy to drink, good value blended malt. I will perhaps change why I recommend it though. And of course, I’m going to challenge you to every now and again challenge the whiskies you like to see how they stack up against the new whiskies being released. Being loyal to a brand is great, but can blind you to its drawbacks.
We all know that whisky is an excellent drink to use for a celebration and in Scotland it is very commonly used as such. Events such as the birth of a child have a social celebration known as a ‘Head Wetting’ which is where the birth is celebrated by the father going out with friends for a night out to commemorate the new born. I wonder how many heads are sore the next day when a crying baby may be the last thing that you’d appreciate with a hangover!
An alternative route to celebrate an occasion is to perhaps seek out a special whisky and open the bottle and have a more restrained night (in or out). This was the route I initially took when my daughter was born. 10 years prior I had paid a visit to Glenmorangie distillery and bought two of the Truffle Oak finishes for £150 each. The partner I had at the time and myself were considering the possibility of a child and I thought one of the bottles would be appropriate for a head wetting. However, it was not to be, and the bottles went into the back of my drinks cabinet waiting for that special occasion.
Fast forward 10 years, and my wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby daughter and the subject of a head wetting came up. I thought about the Truffle Oak Glenmorangie bottles, and how I would love to try one. This was also about the time I had decided to start collecting bottles more seriously so I could perhaps have a little nest egg for the little one when she was older. A quick look on the internet for retail and auction prices for these bottles showed that I was not going to be opening the Glenmorangie, but instead picked a Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine instead. These were the days when you could pick up a retail one for under £200 and auction prices were even lower. It was my first time tasting this bottling, and I suppose the fact that I used it as my head wetting whisky makes it that little bit more special, and not just the fact that it has a tie in with my day job.
Now that we are thinking of picking a whisky to celebrate a pivotal moment in our lives such as a childbirth or a similar occasion, I have been looking for a decent bottle that marked my date or year of birth. I do have a couple from my year of birth, but the vintage bottlings for me just aren’t the same, so I am constantly on the look out for a whisky that was distilled or bottled on my actual day of birth, but this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. So, I have to make do with bottles that were either distilled or bottled on one of my birthdays, and I have been a little more successful in this endeavour.
It was a visit to the GlenDronach distillery in early summer last year that achieved my first bottle – I was driving and couldn’t drink, so had to sit out the end of the tour tasting, but the guide then pointed out that their hand filled bottle was distilled on what I quickly worked out to be my 19th Birthday. This 26 year old bottle was quickly snapped up and I even got a wee sample to try. Driving away from the distillery I had calculated that I had shot my bolt a bit early. My birthday was in 4 days time, the date the whisky turned 27 years old. I managed to sneak away to get another bottle which was bottled and distilled on my birthday. I would imagine there are very few bottles like that available and it joins the Glenmorangie Truffle Oaks in my remote storage where I can’t be tempted to open it.
It was a Facebook messenger conversation a couple of months ago that made me think of this once more. One of my former work colleagues had asked me about the possibility of getting a bottle of whisky that had the date of his son’s birthday on it. Now, I made him aware that the chances of me being able to find one were as likely as trying to find a drop of wine in the North Sea (not quite what I said, but a lot more acceptable for public consumption!) but I’d have a go. An initial search on the internet was unsuccessful, but I told him to leave it with me and I’d have a go. Challenge accepted!
I’m now going to be writing this article so you can see what I tried and how I was eventually successful. Just to warn you, it took a month and while I did achieve my aim, it was not without it’s frustrations.
A simple Google search will just throw up too many random results. You will easily find the vintage year, and you might even be lucky enough to get the correct month, but if this is going to be a momento of a birth, it isn’t close enough. The vast majority of vintage whisky just has a year on it, so to achieve the correct date we will have to look at three main types of bottlings to secure a victory – Hand Fills, Single Casks and Special Editions. Because most bottles are filled with whisky that is the result of a marriage of casks, you will never be able to achieve a date of distillation. I think that this is important, as the date of the birth will coincide with the date of the whisky creation, which for me gives a more powerful symbolism to the bottle.
To find hand fill bottles with a specific date, the easiest way to achieve this if you ever want to have a bottle of whisky bottled on the date of your offspring’s birth is to get a friend to visit a distillery and purchase a handfilled bottle on the day that your child is born. I would suggest it may not be polite for you to do this when your significant other is going through labour and may create considerable friction in your relationship. There is no way that I would try that, although I was close enough to a distillery on the date of my daughter’s birth!
With hand filled bottles, I would suggest that there is a slight drawback to know that somebody else bottled it, so loses it’s personal touch to the special event that you are trying to commemorate, but that all depends on how special you want this to be. By far the easiest bottles to find are those from single casks, where it is easier to find a larger availability of dates, and certainly easier to search for.
If you think a single cask bottle would be appropriate, then you have to ask yourself will it be drunk? Of course, it depends on whether or not you are giving it to somebody or keeping it for yourself. But to help you search I found it is easier to look at distilleries that are consistently producing good single cask produce. What you may find that if you can get a date that is within a couple of days of your requirements, it is a case of being patient. Sometimes distilleries go through a run of bottling single casks. I found this to be true of GlenAllachie as one of my early targets to source a bottle for my colleague, but could only get within 2 or three days and not the actual date – close but no cigar.
Since these bottles were unlikely to be found at retail, I decided to hit the auctions. The simplest way to search was to look for a particular vintage year. If there was too many results, I found I got mixed returns by using different date formats in the search boxes of the auctioneers. You have to be persistent in trying everything. You also need to be smart about filtering your search results – being Aberdonian I always search for the low prices first as why would you want to pay more than you had to?
To cut a long story short, eventually I got a hit on a bottle from the Arran Distillery. This took me about 3 weeks searching every now and again when I had a spare moment. Initially I found a bottling from the day before the required date, but when I realised the date I needed was a Friday, then I found other bottles of the same whisky from the following week so then I was certain there would likely be similar bottling on the date required. Some further persistence paid off and within a couple of hours found the bottle I needed.
Let’s just say I hadn’t found THE bottle, but only had identified the edition I needed to find in the auctions or rare whisky shops. But if you have been paying attention to what I write, you will know that if something has been in an auction once, then it will turn up eventually in the future. You hope that it is not an in-demand bottle or that you don’t get somebody else bidding against you which will possibly force the price up. And it is here you have to make a difficult decision – how much do you pay for the bottle you are searching for? How important is the significance of the date?
Well, I took the common sense approach – I looked closely at the bottle – it had condition warnings about the state of the outer packaging, and what wasn’t noted was slight damage to the front label. The next thing you have to consider is how many of them were produced?.l Because this was a wine cask finish in a single cask, just over three hundred were available on the date I required. Researching the prices of other auctions revealed a hammer price between £85 and £150, but I didn’t do a thorough search, as it was only to give me an idea. Using my usual auction strategies, I obtained the bottle for a hammer price of £65 which adding the usual fees and P&P came to £85.
Whilst this is not a whisky that was distilled on the date required, given that this was over 14 years ago and the amount of releases since then, it was going to be like searching the world for a specific grain of sand. We can choose to look at it from the sense that the bottled product was created on the same day, and hopefully that has enough significance for the recipient whether it gets opened or kept in a cupboard for a wee while longer.
Of course, when thinking of celebrating significant birthdays, if you are close enough to a distillery that does hand fill, I would suggest taking a trip there with the intended recipient to commemorate not only the day, but a proper day out making memories. In the case of my colleague, this is what I suggested happens for his child’s 18th and 21st birthdays. Will these bottles be worth anything financially? Only if somebody else wants the same date, Indeed my GlenDronach handfill is making about £60-£70 more than I paid for it at auction, but then factor in the fees, then no, it’s not making a lot more, but time will tell. There will be a demand for vintage whisky in the future, but whether or not sherried whiskies are popular in the future remains to be seen. Vintage GlenDronach frequently does well at auction so not too worried.
I haven’t mentioned much about the third type of bottle – special editions. These will be rarer and therefore harder to find, especially for a specific date. And we know what this is likely to do for prices but regardless we have to know what the prices are so we aren’t overpaying.
Lastly, sometimes it is just down to luck. You just need to keep your eyes open when looking around distilleries, especially for single cask releases. Independent bottlers are also often good for detailing dates such as Signatory vintage. It is just a case of looking around.
Of course, you could always have a cask filled on that very date, but that’s an entirely different kettle of fish, and I’d advise you to look at my articles on cask purchase before proceeding down a very expensive route if you hope to taste it.
I hope this has given you a few pointers. Funnily enough as I was writing this article, somebody contacted me about this very issue, although they were looking for vintage Macallan. Talk about good timing! Cone time I will be looking for a vintage whisky for my daughters birth date, but as she’s not even four yet, there may be some time to go yet before anything is released.