Allt-a-Bhainne (pronounced ‘Alta-vane‘ – Scots Gaelic for burn of milk) is one of those whisky distilleries you never really hear of. Situated in Glenrinnes, which is 4 miles south west of Dufftown. This distillery was built in 1975 by Seagrams. It was designed for the whole operation to be ran by one person. The current owners are Pernod Ricard, and they use this whisky for blends. Almost 100% of this whisky is used for blending, with only a few independent bottlings, but only recently has its own single malt been released. There are no warehouses on site, but all the product is tankered by road to Keith for maturation. The water source comes from springs around the foot of Benrinnes, and the cooling water comes from Main Burn.
Allt-a-Bhainne is a non-age statement whisky.
Smokey, Malt, Toffee Apple, Pepper
Butterscotch, honey. Quite a bit of sweetness. Spicy too, perhaps cinnamon? Very light smoke / peat.
Quite spicy on the finish, with the smoke note continuing. Medium to long finish.
This sample was taken during a visit to the Pot Still in Glasgow. A bar that specialises in whiskies, there are over 700 on offer, yet I chose this one. Why? I do have a bottle myself, but as the first official release, I’m keeping it sealed and could not justify opening it. You see, Allt-a-Bhainne has a reputation as not a great whisky. You could call it blending fodder; the single malt equivalent of Bells. Not nasty at all, but it has a reputation of blandness, based on the few independent bottles available.
Pernod Ricard must have realised this, and in their marketing blurb, as stated on the bottle “Just enough smoke to start a fire”, have mixed it up a bit by including peated malt to a Speyside whisky. Speyside usually uses low or unpeated malt and Sherry casks for sweetness, so Allt-a-Bhainne is going against the grain of its regional traditions, but it has produced an interesting whisky. I’m not going to say that the smoke produced a roaring fire, but the sweet and smoke went well together in my opinion, with a fizzy spice note in the finish, which would intrigue me to try again.
Not enough to open my bottle though, but certainly enough that if I saw it again in a bar, I’d try another, and would definitely recommend others try it. Without a doubt, its no longer a boring whisky. It may have added colour, it may have been chill filtered, it may only be 40%. abv, but at around £35 a bottle, you won’t go wrong.
Having said that, during a wee bit of price research, at the moment Tesco have it on offer for £22 so perhaps I will maybe get a drinking bottle. If I decide it’s maybe not for me, it will make a good whisky cocktail or to quote Game Of Thrones – Winter Is Coming. It’ll make a change from Famous Grouse in my hot toddy. Mind you, it’s nearly always winter in the Highlands of Scotland!
“When things seem to be going horribly wrong for others, that may be the time to strike for yourself. It’s not as though you are literally kicking somebody when they are down. At least metaphors don’t hurt physically….”
One of the hardest things to predict when collecting whisky is to discern what bottles will see you make a profit if investment is one of your collecting goals. There is just so much variety, but it takes a little bit of research to find out what may be worth taking a chance on. It is worth repeating that “taking a chance” part of the last statement as nothing in investments is guaranteed, and certainly not in the case of Scotch Malt Whisky. You may recall my previous blog post about the St Magdalene 1979 Rare Malts; the chances are that is a good bet, but you constantly are having to wonder if it has reached its top price at auction. Seeing the movement that is currently happening, I would like to think it will continue to rise.
There are bottles that will appreciate, but at different paces. The closest you can get to a sure thing is anything by Macallan, and some of the rarer releases from the silent distilleries of Brora and Port Ellen. In the case of Macallan, some recent releases are seeing the purchasers placing them straight onto the auction market, and the flooding of this market I believe has affected the price. Now that the initial demand for some of their recent ballots has dropped, the prices have dropped significantly too, although still higher than the original purchase price (and only just in some cases).
In the examples of Port Ellen and Brora, both distilleries will be re-opening, and it remains to be seen what will happen to the prices of whisky currently on the market. It is my opinion that prices may stay stable, as it will be whisky from a different era; the original incarnation of that distillery, and therefore demand shouldn’t change. As for the new releases, I think the initial bottling will be a highly sought item, and you will do well to look out for any early limited editions of the new bottles.
My personal collection policy has been to concentrate on limited releases (not necessarily expensive ones), rarer bottles and bottles from silent distilleries. After all, they won’t be making any more. The holy grail is a limited bottle from a closed distillery, but some of these command large price tags.
Diageo for some years now have been releasing a range of Special Releases, which had its origins in the Rare Malts series which ended in 2005. The special releases generally are a range of around 10 different bottlings from their distillery profile. Some start at the affordable end of the range up to the eye-watering £2000 mark. You would think with this in mind, and all the special releases being a limited edition in their own right that prices should keep growing.
This is not always the case.
One of the special release brands that I had taken a shine to was from the silent distillery of Convalmore. It was the period style text and presentation of the box and labels that attracted me to it, and the fact prices generally seemed to be rising slowly and consistently. Furthermore, as it had closed in 1985, no more was being made. Therefore it meets my criteria for collection.
The first special release was a 28 year old from 1977, and was released in 2005. Expect to pay between £400 and £600 at auction for one now. The second special release was the 36 year old also from 1977. This was released at £600, and in 2017 I managed to get one of the last bottles on sale in Blair Athol distillery. Prices have now started to rise rapidly at auction. Is this now the result of supply not meeting demand? Excitement seems to be building for this bottle, and prices seem to be above £700 in general, with a high last year of £1100 for one sale.
Fast forward to the 2017 Diageo special releases. There was a surprise release of a blend being included for the first time which consisted of all 27 Diageo Scotch Malts, and their single grain whisky. Also there was another Convalmore release of the 32 year old 1984 release. It certainly raised my eye, but was rapidly shut again with a retail price of £1200, double the price of the previous release. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to be paying that price, and would be waiting to see what the auction market threw up, but given the success for the 27 and 36 year olds, I wasn’t holding my breath.
What happened next was totally surprising. I wasn’t expecting such a drop in price. Over the past year, prices have been hovering around the £600 mark, but have sometimes been struggling to reach even that. This could be your opportunity to grab a bargain! I purchased a bottle at around the £600, which makes me glad I didn’t pay retail price, but even then, I’ve seen the same bottle at Aberdeen Airport in Scotland sell for £999, a whole £200 cheaper than the original price.
Did Diageo get their price wrong, and why is this now a bargain to be had now?
Firstly, I would like to think Diageo got it right. While I haven’t tasted this dram yet, I’m on the lookout for a bargain bottle to do so. Perhaps a cheaper one with a damaged box or label, which may crop up. I think we have to use our knowledge of how Single Malt is made up of multiple casks to realise there may be a mix of rarer casks from 1984 there. Plus it was made in the year before Convalmore shut down for the last time. Perhaps it’s the last casks available, and this could be the last original release from Diageo. It would be fairly silly of Diageo to price it excessively just out of greed, when other bottles in that years special releases where much cheaper.
Take a look at The Whisky Exchange Website by clicking here to see what Convalmore is retailing at now. While this is not indicitive of how prices may go, I think we will see prices head that way.
It is definitely an auction bargain to be sought out now, as I believe the price will not sink any significantly lower. People may have bought this speculatively to make a fast buck based on the last release and have been burnt at auction. What will make the difference is that we need more and more people to taste and review this whisky, as once it builds a reputation, prices will rise again in the longer term. As long as it beats inflation, you have a winner of an investment.
And I’m not alone in thinking this. This particular bottling won the 2019 whisky bible malt of the year for whiskies 28 – 34 year old.
I’ve tasted a couple of different independently bottled Convalmore expressions before, and while it is too long ago to give a review. I do remember it as a cracking, little known Speysider. If your investment doesn’t go to plan on this bottle, you will have a whisky which for the large part will not disappoint. At the current price point it is auctioning at, I would guess it will hold its value at least in the mid to long term. So, if you want one, get in there and bid low. Only spend what you can afford, and if you choose not to drink the whisky but wait, you should then at least maintain your investment. However I feel in years to come, this will go up in value, prehaps to the original purchase price. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of a low auction price. When things seem to be going horribly wrong for others, that may be the time to strike for yourself. It’s not as though you are literally kicking somebody when they are down. At least metaphors don’t hurt physically…..but perhaps it might sting them knowing what they may have paid for it!
The Convalmore distillery still exists. Diageo sold it to its neighbour who own the Balvenie / Kininvie / Glenfiddich complex next door in Dufftown. It is used for storage, but I have seen another whisky writer (albeit a professional one, unlike my amateur self!) mention Convalmore should be one of the distilleries to reopen in their opinion.