For those of you who don’t know, mariners can be superstitious. I know of fishermen in the North East of Scotland have plenty of little things in their mind they they consider to be unlucky – mentioning the word Rabbit or Salmon is meant to bring no good and neither are having a woman on your fishing boat. And don’t dare consider washing out your sugar bowl. Shooting an Albatross would be probably the final icing on the cake to guarantee a maritime disaster or perhaps an empty fish hold.
As a person who also has spent the majority of his working life at sea, I also have a few superstitions and practices. As an ROV pilot, me and many of my colleagues are a bit nervous about mentioning the word ‘reterm’ which is a shortening of the word ‘retermination’. A reterm is when you have to cut the yellow flying tether between the ROV and the deployment system, or the main lift umbilical between the launch system and the deployment system. Not technically complex, though a main lift umbilical is more intensive and takes around 12 hrs to complete. Usually mentioning the word reterm is seen as chancing fate and is frowned upon by many.
I have no whisky superstitions, but when a bottle of Jura Superstition turned up in a bulk buy of auction whisky miniatures, I did become a bit wary. I’m not a fan of Jura, especially the last NAS offering I tried, the insipid Jura Journey. Would this one be the same? I was sort of hoping it wouldn’t be, as Jura is owned by Whyte and Mackay who also own Dalmore distillery which do have a good range of decent malts and the lesser known Fettercairn distillery. Their master blender Richard Patterson is a well known personality in the industry and has overseen the creation of some great drams, yet sometimes appears to drop the ball when it has come to Jura Journey and Fettercairn’s Fior, though that’s just my opinion.
The distillery on Jura was established in 1810 by the Laird of Jura to create employment on the island, but had intermittent use, finally closing in 1901, possibly as a result of fallout from the Pattinson crash. The main issue with Jura was that an island distillery was always going to make it more expensive to produce from – everything has to arrive or depart via ferry from Islay via Port Askaig on Islay. It wasn’t until the late 50’s that work started in rebuilding the distillery. This included the installation of taller stills (over 7 metres tall!). First spirit started flowing in 1963 and by 1974 single malt whiskies were being released.
The single malt we will be sampling today was first released in 2002 and is very lightly peated. It was joined by the more heavily peated Prophecy in 2009. The range was revamped in 2018 and Superstition was discontinued. Let’s pay a visit to a whisky that has passed on.
Region – Highland;Age -NAS; Strength– 43%; Colour – Deep Copper; Nose – Cereal notes, straw slight hint of smoke. Honey. A bit of brine in the background; Palate– Slightly waxy mouthfeel- medium body. muesli, toffee, a hint of honey with more smoke. Now the light peat becomes apparent but not like an Islay. Finish – medium. The oak spices arrive now, with vanilla, smoke, slight dryness and a hint of brine at the end.
Well, surprise surprise. I actually liked this one. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but it had a lot more to offer than Jura Journey. I’m actually grateful that in my whisky journey that I’ve made the decision not to let one whisky I didn’t enjoy spoil my view of the distillery. I’ve sort of got a small bias against Whyte and Mackay brands, as I’ve not really enjoyed the few samples I’ve had from Fettercairn either, but that has also had a range upgrade recently as well.
I think the muesli notes perhaps come from the relatively short fermentation period of 54 hrs. There were also cereal notes that I detected in the nose. This spirit has been matured in Bourbon casks, has been chill filtered and also has added colour, thus scores 0/4 in the ABCD check list. However I ‘got’ this whisky. The brine influence along with a light peat gave a lovely smokey maritime feel.
If it was available, I’d give this a thumbs up and would recommend this as an easy introduction to peated whiskies, but alas it is no more. I’ve taken a look online and am struggling to see it available anywhere. It may be best to try auctions to try this whisky. It was RRP at £35-ish as a guide, so you should be able to pay less than this for a 70cl bottle.
I think my next Jura will have to be one of the age statement releases.
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.
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?
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.
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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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 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!
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.
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.
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.
* after COVID-19 restrictions end. Visitor centre currently closed March 2020.
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.
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.
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!
At the present moment as I write this, I’m in the middle of auction fever. I currently have 5 lots at auction and by time I publish this it will be 6. Of these, 5 are miniatures and one is my Macallan Folio 5. Unfortunately when browsing the auctions something came up that is part of a collection that I have and is rare. So rare I’ve only seen one at auction in 6 years, and I doubted if it actually existed, but when it came up it was plainly obvious that I had to have it. The bottle in question was a Dailuaine Flora and Fauna bottle with the white cap.
For days it sat at just over £100. Then just before the end of the auction, it went up to £380. That was about the amount I thought it was worth despite the rarity, but even after the end timer for the auction started it continued to rise. And rise. And rise. And yours truly continued to chase it.
It was once it breached the £500 barrier that I questioned myself, how badly do I need this? I had convinced myself I did need this, but doubts crawled up into my mind. There is hardly any of these bottles around – anybody can replace a capsule on a bottle to make something look rarer. Whilst it looked like a genuine capsule, there were crinkles on it which made me doubt. Indeed, a look on the same auctioneers website from the previous auction revealed a Mortlach 16 Flora and Fauna with a completely incorrect capsule which means that bottle was definitely suspect.
Don’t believe fakes make it to auction? Well just last week I was speaking to somebody who worked at a very reputable online auctioneer who assured me they used to see tons of fakes being brought in to attempt to enter the auction. And it’s a sad fact that some of them sneak through – and that isn’t limited to online auctions either.
We come to the bitter truth. I have paid more than a Flora and Fauna bottle but that is because I was chasing it, and I ended up slightly overpaying. The trouble with online auctions is that you never see who you are bidding against. I’d worked out there was probably at least 2 other people interested in that bottle, and the price could have skyrocketed had I continued. I pulled out at £600, with my tail between my legs. The bottle eventually sold at £750, which confirmed my suspicion that there was at least 2 other bidders.
I was disappointed. Gutted. But remember my advice that I have given to you in the past – auction prices do not include fees. So at £750 hammer price, if the person was a UK buyer, the true cost was £840 before shipping costs. Even writing this the morning after, I still don’t feel I dodged a bullet. It has to be looked at in the cold light of day – that would be £840 I would never drink. It would sit in my locker and probably not make any money. And would I get joy out of it? Certainly not 840 quids worth.
So, I placed a cheeky bid on a 24 year old Invergordon and retreated upstairs leaving my phone downstairs so I couldn’t do any consolation buying. I did some ironing instead and watched some programmes about Scotland I had saved on my Sky box. Unfortunately I couldn’t have a dram as drink-ironing could have disastrous consequences, and having some shortbread to complete the Scottish feeling? My clothes need to be crease and crumb free so that was ruled out too.
No matter how much you want a bottle, you have to know its true worth. Even if it’s worth more to you than its actual value as a commodity, sometimes you just have to walk away and remember – if one has shown up then another one will. In both cases when I bought a rarer white cap Flora and Fauna, another one turned up at the next months auction as perhaps people see how much these are selling for and decide to cash in. So fingers crossed.
Being a bottle chaser is a blessing and a curse. You can achieve a fantastic collection, but at what cost? In the cold light of the day, if you are not drinking it but collecting as you hope it to be worth something, you have to keep the emotions in check. Out of the 17 white cap Flora and Fauna collection, I have 15. That’s better than probably 99.9% than others who have the same set.
By all means, if this is what you want to achieve, you have to hold your nerve, but be careful you don’t ridiculously overpay. There is no shame in losing your bottle at all if it prevents you being ripped off.
That leaves me with a closing thought. That do you think my wife would be more shocked at? The fact I was prepared to pay so much for a Dailuaine or that I actually did some ironing?
This week is going to be much better than last week. Because I am writing my Saturday article on Monday, this will mean that I have no confession on Friday that I have nothing prepared. In fact, the way I feel now, that confession would be much better. Indeed I’d rather just not give you all a Saturday article and admit failure than give up the source of my shame.
For this, it grinds my insides even more than telling you that since my wee accident with the garage door, to this point not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips. It’s kind of ironic that a chap who writes a whisky blog and collects bottles has become temporarily tee-total. I have to confide that my whisky sin is worse than that.
It is an old proverb that says that confession is good for the soul, but this time I have my doubts, for the evidence of my shame will be on the internet, not just here but on another site for all to see, only you won’t know which one as there are some details that you just don’t need to know.
I’ve become a hypocrite.
Now that the truth is out, I can continue along the same theme as my article from last week in which my Macallan Folio 5 arrived. With the news so much more had been released than the 2000 per edition previously, it wasn’t going to meet my expectations. As I said last week, my intention had been to swap for a Folio 4, and maybe sell in the long run, but with Macallan reportedly releasing 18,000 more Folio 5 than Folio 4, the price of the former will never achieve the price of the latter.
Of course, I could always sell it on without a profit, but just cover my costs, but I do have a small amount of morality left, and I couldn’t sell my bottle to somebody knowing that even though they were just paying essentially what I paid, the price of the bottle is likely to fall below even that. That’s just taking advantage of people.
Lastly, I could always drink it. But I’m sorry, no Macallan NAS at £250 is worth that. Plus, when we take in consideration the excessive packaging, that alone must take up at least £20 from the RRP, and once drunk, what do I do with it? I’m not a Macallan collector in that way at all.
Even if I sell it to another punter who will drink it, I’m not sure my conscience will let me sleep at night knowing that I’ve met somebody face to face, or even a follower of my blog to sell them a whisky which in a couple of months will be a lot cheaper. That’s not how I roll.
So, with morals securely stored in a dark place, I made contact with an auctioneer to arrange pick up of my box. We had a nice chat about Macallan (Whisky Geek Scotty was in check this time!) which in my opinion could summarise the conversation by saying Macallan have definitely made an impact to the secondary prices of a few of their recent releases.
Indeed, the auctioneer made a very good point about how Macallan really should look into their application of the ballot system and how it really should be for known amount of limited bottles, something buyers of Edition 5 and Easter Elchies 2019 are probably thinking too. I’ve an article about that written, but will give it a break with the Macallan writing after today. Just to give your senses a rest if nothing else.
In all fairness, I should have seen the warning signs and not just blindly entered the ballot. No evidence of the likely age and no numbers of Folio 5 released. Plus there was a commitment to buy if you won the ballot, unlike the Easter Elchies 2018, which gladly at £750 they did give you a little breathing space.
The conclusion? I’m glad it’s going but I do hope that I recover most of my money from it, if not make a small profit. As from the comments from last weeks article, take the money and spend it on something you’d really enjoy drinking. That’s a great point, and already something has already popped up. Not telling you what it is, as you may outbid me.
As an aside to this article, my dealings with the auctioneer revealed that I could not set a reserve higher than the RRP. This is a great move as it helps limit the rip off profiteering that some online auctioneers facilitate. Of course, the price may go higher, but that is because of what people are willing to pay rather than people being taken advantage of through limited availability and the crazy prices some of the greedy, impatient or ill-informed are prepared to pay.
And these people all do exist. A quick look at an online auction reveals just under 120 bottles of Folio 5 available. Some ill-informed person has already bid £560, yet still hasn’t met the reserve, which means the auctioneer is essentially helping the greedy.
On the other side, there is bottles there still for sale under RRP but there is just over a day to go as I publish this and these may well make a profit yet. But seeing this gives me squeaky bum time, though it reinforces my belief that the price will plummet. Indeed, out of 118 bottles, 42 will still fail to make a profit going by current bids and not including the cost of getting them to the auction house.
Perhaps Macallan planned this mass release deliberately to ensure more whisky gets drunk, and I have to grudgingly doff my cap to them, but given the demand for the brand world wide, I am still sure if they were open about the amount produced it would sell out. Either way, do they care about the secondary market? They sell their product anyway, and surely that is all that matters? This is part of the Macallan article I am attempting to write, but my keyboard just defaults to ‘rant lock’ and I don’t fancy libelling anybody.
With that, it’s now time to go and think about what dram for later on. After all it’s Saturday night!
Now we are getting into the swing of things, those of you who have been reading my blog will realise that I have a collection of whisky. Before you decide to descend on my house for a party, let me save you the cost of travel; it’s in storage well away from the house. I just don’t want to be tempted to drink some of it.
This next article should be of importance to all of you who drink and enjoy a good whisky, and aren’t afraid to pay for it. It also should be essential reading for those of you thinking of expanding their collection, especially with high demand or high value bottles. I’ll keep it brief but you really need to be aware of the facts.
The ‘F-word’ we have to deal with is one that will fill anybody who has paid a pretty penny for a bottle with dread – FAKE.
This is a subject an old work colleague and I were discussing over a drink after bumping into each other at Aberdeen Airport this New Year’s Eve. I was aware of fakes and was pretty sure of the items I had were safe. However I decided to do a bit more research and was a bit horrified at what I found.
It is unfortunate that once something becomes popular, expensive or both that the unscrupulous amongst the human race will start to make fakes. This goes from anything from kids toys, clothes and fashion, tools and dutiable goods like tobacco and drink. And whisky falls into this category. Fake whisky can have dramatic negative effects to our bank balances and our health.
Before the mass demand of whisky we have now, products like this have always been faked. In Europe, quite a lot of whiskies were faked by the Mafia. But now that the demand is continuing to grow, and older whisky stocks are going down, prices are going up, and this fuels the fakes market.
YOU NEED TO PROTECT YOURSELF.
And here is how to do it.
1/ Know what your bottle should look like.
Research what the label should look like. Check the seal is intact. Confirm the capsule is the correct colour. Check the liquid inside is the correct colour. Is it even in the correct bottle? Be aware of the correct bottle shape and size, and any embossed patterns. Remember, that distilleries do occasionally change bottle shape. Bruichladdich used to be in tall bottles but now in more dumpy ones. Just be sure the bottle is appropriate for the age of the whisky.
2/ Check the label
Compare to a known original bottle or a bottle from the same distillery. Check for incorrect spelling and that the volume and abv are stated. Be aware that some older, cheaper whiskies don’t always state volume or strength – it may depend on export market. Proceed with caution. Another give away is does the bottle state the correct region? Knowledge is needed here as although it’s a Speyside Malt, Macallan state it’s a Highland Malt on the labels. Here’s a tip – all Speyside whiskies can also be classed as Highland, but not all Highland whiskies are Speysiders. Another whisky that calls itself a Highland malt but is also Speyside is Dalwhinnie.
Are the labels too clean for an aged bottle? Another giveaway. Check the paper type, and how it is attached to the bottle. Is there any gold or metallic coloured lettering – check it is a foil and not just printed on.
3/ Above all else, check the seal!
Give the seal a very close inspection. Check for tampering, check the capsule is the right colour, and isn’t loose. Some Ardbeg, including the collectible ones have very poor capsules, which can be removed. Check the capsule hasn’t been secured in a way that was not by the bottler.
4/ Check the fill level and colour of the liquid.
Already mentioned in step one, but give it more of a check. If the fill level is higher than normal, or higher than an average bottle of the same age, alarm bells should be ringing. This can be difficult in coloured glass or impossible in the case of ceramic decanters.
5/ If possible, buy directly from a retailer.
The chances of a fake whisky being sold by trusted retailer are small. If buying a bottle on the secondary market from a retailer, closely examine the bottle. Look for all the above and be satisfied before you part with the cash. If you want to be totally sure, research batch codes, and see if the bottle you want to buy has an appropriate code. For higher price items, the seller will probably be happy enough to let you check before you buy, as you may be buying a bottle worth hundreds or thousands of pounds.
6/ Exercise care using auctions
Auctions are the place where you need to be most wary, especially if buying expensive bottles. If it’s an online auction, feel free to go to the auction house and request to see it if it is a massively expensive bottle. All online auction houses I deal with are happy enough to send extra photos to you by email or to discuss the bottle in question.
While buying from an auction means that somebody has had an experienced eye over look it, they might miss some of the fakes. Once you receive your bottle, give it a good check over and notify the auction house immediately if you have reasonable doubt as to authenticity. The auction house will not want a reputation for selling improper goods. You may also have a form of come-back and retrieve your money.
If you keep your bottles in the free storage often offered by the auctioneers, this may limit your comeback if it is a fake. By time you collect, the seller of the fake has their money, and it will be almost impossible to retrieve. You may well get money back from the auction house, but don’t expect it to be easy.
7/ Private sales.
Unless you fully trust the person you are dealing with, I recommend to avoid this method of purchase. Once you have bought your bottle and found out it is fake, your cash is long gone.
If you are considering purchasing this way, insist on being able to check on the bottle and packaging. Ask for receipts. Anybody with high value bottles will keep the receipts, or genuine bills of sale / orders. If they cannot supply this, walk away.
Do not purchase on eBay. You have no comeback. Buying alcohol on eBay in the UK is forbidden anyway – HMRC cracked down on that years ago.
If the price being asked is too low, ask why. It could be that
⁃ they are desperate for money
⁃ It’s fake
⁃ It’s stolen
⁃ It’s damaged
⁃ They don’t know what it’s worth
⁃ They’re not greedy. This is possible but as many people think old or rare whisky has the value of a brand new Porsche 911, this isn’t that common unless you are in a genuine whisky circle.
I’ve been offered a bottle of Macallan Genesis for £250. This was at the time they were being auctioned for £4000+. As it was a workmate, I couldn’t do it to him, knowing they were released for £495. I also had my suspicions over the bottle. While I have no doubt about my work colleagues story about him buying it off a guy in Peterhead, it was obvious the bottle had a dodgy past or the guy was desperate.
Needless to say when I told my colleague of the real value, I made his day.
8/ Not all fakes are high value spirits
Don’t assume it’s only collectible or expensive bottles that get faked. I’ve learnt of cheaper Glenmorangie (£50-£70) being faked. While this may not be that worthwhile, as profits will be low; if demand is higher, it will be more worthwhile.
And I leave the most important point to last.
If you have purchased a bottle that is fake, you are taking a big gamble with your health. You do not know what is in that bottle. There may be something as harmless as cold tea or food colouring. There may also be a lower quality whisky in there. Mind you, even if it is Bells, that’s maybe not going to kill you. But there could also be industrial alcohol such as methanol in the bottle. This will blind you, in as little as twelve hours and cause massive damage to your central nervous system. Once ingested, Methanol forms Formaldehyde and Formic acid. You do not want this inside you.
I can testify to the horrible experience of Formaldehyde. It is used as a preservative in beer, most notably in Africa. As I have to work there on a regular basis, I try only to drink imported beer and never drink any spirits. You don’t know what you are getting. Plus, Formaldehyde gives you a cracker of a hangover.
What can we do to help to stem the spread of fakes?
Firstly, use the knowledge I have given you to buy smart. If there is no demand, the faking rate will drop. Remember, if it is too good to be true, it is.
Secondly, do not sell your empty bottles. Keep them if you wish, but otherwise smash them and recycle. Forgers often refill bottles and these are harder to spot, as the bottle and label are genuine. Same goes for your stoppers. Keep a selection of sizes in case you have a broken cork, but otherwise destroy these too.
People often buy these bottles to make cool lamps out of, but this is not hard to do yourself. You never know if you are selling your bottle to a forger.
If you are ever selling, consider using an auction house to sell. You might have to pay 10% of the hammer price in auction fees, but if your bottle sells, it’s an no hassle sale. Or go through a broker. Companies like Rare Whisky 101 are highly reputable and have a list of clients looking to buy collections or certain bottles.
Whenever you buy a bottle, keep a copy of the receipt. Photocopy it if it’s a till receipt as many thermal print receipts fade after time rendering them useless. Other buyers will be wary of fakes too, and will be seeking provenance on high value bottles. I have to admit, I don’t have every receipt, but the ones I don’t have were low value gifts or bought from a reputable seller and I do have every confidence in the bottles.
Have I bought a fake? I’d like to think not, but I have one bottle in my collection I bought at auction I have my suspicions over. It’s a Gilbeys Spey Royal from the 1950s. It was purchased at auction when I went to hoover up something that had a low price on it. I was thinking of drinking it but had second thoughts.
Seeing as I only paid £35 I’m not that worried, and it will be a good ornament. It has no volume or ABV stated, but having researched online, this seems to be almost normal for a bottle of this age, and I have seen similar bottles with the same. Further research with the auctioneer gave me some knowledge I previously didn’t know, and it turns out that the bottle is different as it is a Portuguese import, and that is the type of bottle that was stipulated which differs from the original bottle. This isn’t a unique issue – in the past the iconic square bottles of Johnnie Walker were rejected by Portugal in a similar period, so a different (round) bottle was used. As for the abv and volume missing from the label, this wasn’t required on UK bottles until the 70’s, so would only be added if the country importing it requested it. But still, I’m not going to take a chance and it will remain unopened.
So I’ll keep my health and drink to yours with something a bit more classy!
If you feel this info was useful, please share with others to help stop the scourge of counterfeit whisky.
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There is no doubt at all that there has been a massive surge in the popularity of whisky, and no more so can this be seen in the proliferation of on-line auctions. This can be a good way of building a collection for drinking, for investment or for finding that unusual gift. So how do these sites work, and what are the advantages and the pitfalls of using these sites?
A quick search on Google will reveal several websites that offer specialist whisky auctions. I’ll supply links at the end of this blog post for these, so if you are interested, you will be able to see for yourself and decide if the whisky auction scene is for you. The sites I am registered with are Whisky Auctioneer (in Perth), Scotch Whisky Auctions (Glasgow), Global Whisky Auctions (Glasgow) , Just Whisky (Dumfermline), Whisky Online Auctions (Blackpool), Grand Whisky Auctions (Invergordon), Whisky Hammer (Ellon, Aberdeenshire), and Whisky Auction.com (Germany). Of course there will be many more sites world wide, but these are the ones which I use due to them being close to where I live, or have reasonable shipping charges.
Usually all of these sites require a small, non-refundable payment to register, typically £5 / €7 to try and discourage spam accounts, and also to ensure the person registered with the site is over 18. It’s as simple as that. And now the whisky world is your oyster.I
And now it is time to scan through the site to see what interests you. Once you find something that you wish to purchase, then its time to place a bid. Before you place any bid, there are a couple of things that you need to take into account in order to keep yourself financially safe, and perhaps bag yourself a bargain.
1. Know the how much you are willing to spend. This is this most important thing you need to take account of. By not sticking to this, you are at risk of spending more than you can afford, or perhaps more than the item is worth. It is also worth remembering that the hammer price is not the final price that you will pay. The final cost will be the hammer price, plus somewhere around 10-15% commission. You will also have to pay VAT on the commission, which in the case of businesses is not VAT recoverable. If you are getting the item delivered you will also have the courier costs and the optional insurance which is typically 3%. An example would be a hammer price of £50. 10% commission +VAT = £6. Delivery costs typically £10 for a single bottle. 3% bottle insurance £1.50. Total cost £67.50. Although this may be a small increase, the effect of the commission etc increases greatly as the price of the bottle goes up.
2. Know the value of what you are buying. This may not be the most obvious, but is very easy to get caught out on. To be honest, I have been caught out badly with this once, but thankfully got away with it. The thing is that auctions can be fun, and it is very easy to get carried away, hence why the most important rule is the first one above. However if you don’t know the value of what you are bidding on, you can easily be overpaying. This can be avoided by doing your research prior to bidding. Search other auction sites, or google the bottle to see if there is a trend in the price, and to see what they generally go for. It is then you decide whether or not what you want to spend is sufficient, or if you need to adjust your limits upwards or downwards. Don’t just go on the last sale price or only from one site. You might find that one site does manage to get slightly better prices than others.
3.Google Google Google. While this post is concentrating on auction sites, don’t limit your research to just whisky auction sites. It could be that the bottle you are bidding on is still available in the shops for less than the typical auction price. One great success I have had recently was when I was recommended the 2017 Bunnahabhain Moine Oloroso. This was out of production, and the video blog I was watching was saying how if you see one on a shelf, buy it! Well, I did a thorough Google search, and as had been advised, every site was saying sold out. I was just away to give up, but scrolled through one last page and lo! and behold – a retailer with 2 in stock. A split second later, I had both bought for £157 including delivery. I then looked up auction prices and found typical price is £120-£180 for a bottle! And remember the additional costs underlined in point 1. This has made my bottles a very worthwhile investment. The only explaination why the price in auction may be higher is that perhaps the bidders are in a country where particular bottles are not available or they are desperate to obtain a bottle.
4. Don’t be tempted to up your maximum bid. As the auction draws to an end, you may find yourself outbid. In many auction sites, as the price goes beyond certain thresholds, the minimum bid increase goes up. For instance, below £100, some sites only allow bid increases at a minimum of £5, but above £100 it may rise as high as £10. Beyond £500, some sites have a minimum increase of £50. You can see how it will get expensive very quickly. Only increase your maximum bid if you are fully comfortable in doing so. Remember that it is ok to walk away, as most bottles I have walked away from have appeared in another auction within a year, and I’ve often got them cheaper.
5. At the end. At the end of the auction, if you have the highest bid, then you win the bottles. If an auction ends at 7pm, the auction extends by between 5-10 mins if there is a bid within a set time before the auction ends. This is to defeat sniping software and gives people the chance to up their bids. Depending on the site, some extend the whole auction until there is no new bids for 5 mins, and others only extend the auction for each individual bottle. So you may win a bottle, but other bottles are still availble for bidding. TOP TIP If you are desperate to win a bottle, sometimes it is better to bid, but keep your maximum bid right to the end – as people are usually only informed that they have been outbid by e-mail. Given the delays in the system, you can always put in a last minute bid, and hope that the person you are bidding against doesn’t have their email program running. This is a bit sneaky but is entirely within the rules of every auction site. However this may start a bidding war, so be careful!
6. Pay your bill. Not long after the auction ends, you will get a bill for your purchases. These often require payment within a week, but some of them require payment within 3 days.
Purchase Cheap Whisky
One of my favourite ways of getting new whisky to try, is to search the entire auction, but set the search results to display low to high prices. At the bottom end of the auction are usually the mass produced blends such as Famous Grouse or various blends used for export, and also miniatures. I’m a big fan of this method of bargain hunting, and usually go for the miniatures. This can work out a lot cheaper than buying the same whisky in a bar, and you can still get aged whisky as well – a recent purchase of Benrinnes Connoisseurs Choice miniatures included a 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1978. One caveat is that whisky sold in Scotland is subject to the minimum price laws, which dictate a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol. This has meant some auctioneers placing minimum initial bids to cover this.
I have to say that I enjoy the excitement of an online auction, and if you follow this guide, you should remain safe. Of course, what you bid on is solely a matter of taste, but be sure not to exceed your limits. The time I got caught out, I bid over £1400 for a Glenfiddich only worth £500. I only got away with it as somebody else bid £1500. They didn’t pay, and claimed that their computer had been hacked. This was probably not the case, and it is more likely drunk bidding. So stay sober and just wait for your newly acquired drink to arrive!