Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone

Collecting tips #1 – St Magdalene 1979

I haven’t written anything much about collecting whisky yet, but I am starting to notice trends on one particular bottle which may be worth a second look. This won’t be one for the drinking cabinet unless you have deep pockets, but is widely regarded as one of the finest whiskies out there to drink with ratings of around 95-97 out of 100 from professional whisky journalists and 90+ from other reviews I’ve seen.

You might argue about the whiskies that sell for £100k price would be more exquisite, although that will be probably because you are thinking it is better because of the price you’d have to pay per dram. But stick a £100k whisky in amongst others of a similar age and lower price bracket, and I contend the vast majority of us will not be able pick the massively priced drink.

And we come to the bottle in question which thankfully doesn’t command a 6 figure price tag, the Rare Malts 19 year old St Magdalene 1979 from Diageo. The Rare Malts series was released between 1995 and 2005 and included bottles from all of the Diageo Scottish distilleries, including some that had already closed. Many distilleries had more than one Rare Malt release, and St Magdalene had 3, in 1970, 1971 and 1979. As the distillery was also known as Linlithgow, there was a 30 year old Diageo special bottling from 1973. However It is the 1979 that has turned heads and is fast becoming a trophy in anybody’s cabinet, with prices now starting to rival some of the cheaper Brora bottlings.

While I don’t know how many of the 1979 were released, I’ve never seen a bottle with a number above 9999, which would mean there was a comparatively low outrun. And it’s worth bearing in mind these were originally sold for sub-£50, so I’d imagine quite a few have been drunk. In fact, given it’s age and its cask strength of 63.8%, it would have sold for £62 in today’s money. Try getting a cracking 19 year old whisky for that money now is nigh on impossible.

When I first bought my St Magdalene, (which is safely under lock and key in a storage facility I hasten to add), prices were under £600, but recent auctions have seen them reach £800+. Whether this is a spike of dedicated collectors trying to get a bottle as supplies run down, or Investment funds buying up available supplies and thus demand raising the price will remain to be seen, but there is one thing surer than sure; they aren’t making it any more.

St Magdalene was closed in 1983, and effectively demolished – the maltings are now apartments, although they retain the pagoda roofs, distilling here will never return. New releases of St Magdalene remain rare, as it has to be wondered how many independent bottlers still have barrels in stock, or even if Diageo retain some. As stocks dwindle, there won’t be a lot left to add into any blends. Therefore prices will only go one way while there is still a demand.

Thinking back to a conversation I had with Roy from the Aquavitae YouTube channel about the price I paid for one of the less common Flora & Fauna bottlings (White Capped Glendullan 14 y.o). We agreed that the price meant the whisky could never live up to the price I paid, as it was bottled as a sub £60 price point whisky, and therefore the price I paid meant the whisky taste had lost relevance; the value was in the rarity and thus effectively the bottle becomes an ornament. It is true – I paid more because of its rarity, and have no intention of cracking it open. Does the St Magdalene 1979 RM get covered under the same blanket?

No. Definitely not. It has been tasted, and is a stunning example of a fine whisky. For an entertaining review, please click on the link here to see the Ralfy.com review.

Want to try a St Magdalene? You’d better have deep pockets, but independent bottlings are a lot cheaper, and will rise in price also as the RM series increases. Old Malt Cask, Berry Brothers, Cadenhead, Gordon and Macphail, Douglas Laing and SWMS all had releases, many of which included miniatures. This may be the affordable way to try it.

While it will never command the prices of the rarer Macallan and Dalmore, it certainly is an appreciating classic. If you see a bottle that you can afford to collect or drink, grab it. Expect to pay around the £650 – £750 mark, but some have auctioned at over £1000.

You can buy this on the secondary market at some retailers; the cheapest I have seen online was £1200. That would only be worth paying if you are convinced the growth in the collectors market will see the price exceed this level, or if you are desperate to try this very expression.

The maxim of “Once it’s gone, it’s gone” has never so true.