It has always been my intention to keep this blog entirely non-political. I’ll try to keep it this way, however there is an elephant in the room. Usually when I hear this cliche I get up to leave but it isn’t me this time.
Brexit. The gift that keeps giving ‘Benefits’ that nobody wants, and that has fallen firmly on our lap as people are now discovering they have to pay extra fees to import whisky from the UK, although this is happening both ways for UK citizens using European auction sites.
What alerted me to this was a tweet, in which a bidder from the Irish Republic won goods at an auction to the tune of £79. Plus fees, that’s going to be around €105. He now has to pay €94.25 in taxes and shipping charges, almost as much as the cost of the produce he won.
Sadly this isn’t the only case. Another WhiskyTwitter user from France had a similar had a similar surprise in an event that will no doubt have been repeated several times over.
You don’t have to be a genius to realise that quite simply people within Europe are going to stop using UK auction sites. While I do not believe that this will cause a big problem for the bigger auction sites, it may certainly cause issues for the smaller ones. But there are a couple of greater implications for UK auction users.
Less people bidding in the auction could mean less demand for bottles. Less demand could mean falling prices. Ok for buyers, but poorer for sellers. Your little nest egg of bottles if they aren’t in demand may probably lose value.
Less EU people using UK auction sites will potentially mean less chance of seeing rarer bottles.
I use a European auction site, whiskyauction.com. I’ve been very happy with the service and to be honest I’ll still use them as there is one or two bottles I still seek. But what is in the back of my mind is that I cannot bid as high as I might for a UK auction as the spectre of shipping charges is going to be always present at the back of my mind.
Brexit has been proven to have been a self inflicted shotgun blast to both feet as the realist so called ‘Remoaners’ have been sadly proved right. With US tariffs of 25% still hanging over the UK whisky industry, now is not a happy time. If lockdowns continue and the economy stutters, people are not going to have the money to invest or buy luxury goods such as whisky, compounding the problem. If there is a rush to sell to realise cash but no buyers, then there is a problem. However this could be the reset the secondary market needs. There is a glass lake creaking on shelves throughout the UK; will Brexit be the dam-busting bomb that deluges the market?
You can’t be controversial all the time, or at least I’d like to think so. In the almost 2 years that I’ve been writing my blog I’ve attempted to put a metaphorical fox into a few chicken coops and am still living to tell the tale. Perhaps that is the benefit of being an under the radar blogger. My last article targeted a Malt-Official submission that fell short on journalistic standard, and to my pleasant surprise was received well by those who read it. Since then I’ve been musing about the existence of the ‘whisky community’ that seems to have been generated within social media, and whether or not we always act appropriately within it.
The whisky community we are in is a wide church, including everybody from occasional drinkers who have a few drams a week, to the whisky über-geek. There’s the bottle chasers, collectors or those standing on the sidelines just observing. Nestling in amongst us are those directly involved in whisky production which nicely completes the mix.
On the Scotty’s Drams Facebook page and Twitter Feed I asked the question ‘ What does ‘Whisky Community’ mean to you? I got a couple of responses on each page but received a few more private messages. It turns out that most answers were similar and to me they seemed more to focus towards the online aspect of the community. By a large margin, the main aspect was that people see it as a way to learn and share knowledge. In second place was friendship and sharing of drams. A couple of people said they use the whisky community as a source of entertainment. I can vouch for this, as I do too when working offshore. But there was a more worrying tone to two replies, which inferred that the respondents felt that some people needed to get off their pedestals, with one going as far to say that some need to practice what they preach.
One DM even went as far to question what it would be like if we were together physically when having our debates? I’d like to think there wouldn’t be a fight, but often I wonder. I’m probably as guilty on occasion on getting a bit overheated when something presses my buttons. Does the online experience make us braver or is it that we inadvertently feel freed of our social norms? With so many different levels of experience, like any community we live in there is bound to be the occasional clash from time to time. Certainly on Twitter where interaction is a lot easier than other social media (or so I find), we’ve seen one or two negative incidents which maybe made more traction than they should’ve. The ability of an instant response and the slipping of the clutch between brain and keyboard can often show a glimpse of what can be below the outer fabric of our community. Fortunately it is rare and I feel the general pulse is positive.
However, it doesn’t take much to start something off. From producers making incendiary tweets when responding to comments about their product, to the battlegrounds created when people take sides over the latest issue of the moment, it does seem as though our social media behaviour mimics that of a real life situation.
2020 has been a year in which behaviour and respect for others has perhaps been stirred within our consciousness. For me, as a newcomer to ‘WhiskyTwitter’, the first I saw questionable behaviour was the debacle over Terroir and the subsequent fall-out over differences of opinion, fuelled by an incendiary and unnecessary article attacking a bloggers opinion. It was certainly a very polarised experience with some people adding their opinions as though only they were right and nobody else was. People who contribute online using social media or their own websites have to remember the impact their writing can have within their readership. Even if they apologise after a lapse of judgement, the damage can already be done. I for one was put off of a certain Irish distillery’s products if that was what terroir supporters were going to be like. However in the interests of fairness, the instigator has posted an apology. I suppose in any community you’ve got to forgive and forget to be able to move on. We’ve all made mistakes I’m sure, with public ones often being the hardest to correct.
If we become a community, we need to ask if what we are contributing adds to the health of our clan. If it isn’t a positive change, then maybe consider not publishing it. Free speech is a right, but exercising our rights do not negate our responsibilities to others.
Can anybody fail to remember the next notable issue – the stance against some of the more lurid and often sexist comments in the 2020 Whisky Bible? This has been going on for a few years, but once Becky Paskin finally called the author out on it, it has been like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering size and pace. From there on in, the floodgates had been opened and many people within the whisky community have finally seemed to recognise that there is no place for sexism in the Whisky Community and it was time for things to change and not before time.
We’ll skip over the recent Malt article I blogged about a few weeks ago I previously mentioned. Click on the link if you want to be reminded. In more recent times I wish to draw upon two tweets to highlight the potential highs and lows of our community.
First was a tweet by @MaltMentalistwho asked people if there was a whisky or an experience that had put you off a brand. I was shocked by the amount of people who told stories of distillery representatives or brand ambassadors at whisky events who’s behaviour had put them off. It was also sadly unsurprising about the amount of ladies who had been disrespected, which does reinforce the point that the whisky world still has a sexism issue. I’ve since learned of other examples of how fellow enthusiasts can equally be dismissive of the fairer sex being involved in our hobby. Attitudes like this do not help shake of the image of whisky being an old man’s drink. A stuffy, sexist and insular old man at that.
When we think of people perpetuating these sorts of behaviours, what are they really trying to achieve? It does nothing positive for anybody, least of all them. Surely a true whisky community builds each other up, regardless of gender, backgrounds or knowledge? The fact that people who consider themselves connected to the industry are sometimes responsible for this behaviour should start ringing alarm bells and be highlighted. That’s the only way to effect positive change.
Of course, there is the other side of the coin. My next tweet will remain anonymous as I don’t want to draw attention to anybody, but the people involved will recognise themselves. Somebody asked on Whisky Twitter “What is grist?”. I’ve become so accustomed to the high level of knowledge amongst the Twitterati that I was really surprised to see this question in public. I was half expecting a flurry of antagonistic replies, but this did not materialise. Instead a basic answer was given in which the replier asked for confirmation that he got the answer right. This is a complete contrast within the whisky community compared to the examples given in @MaltMentalist’s tweet. And to me, that is what our social media based whisky community should and must be about. Just because you drink a lot of whisky doesn’t mean you have to know how it’s made to offer an opinion, but it helps greatly. It was good to see someone reply and not talk somebody down in a way that I’ve seen many others do on different forums.
It is easy to forget when you live in Speyside, or even Scotland that not everybody has access to a whisky distillery to see the whole process. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in one. Sometimes I go as I’ve never been. Sometimes I want a particular photograph. Other times I want a bit of extra knowledge and sometimes I just want to be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the distillery to satisfy my senses. These are just my experiences. Many may have only been once to a distillery, some never. So let’s get three things straight –
1/ Lack of knowledge does not preclude you from being a valued member of the whisky community, as long as you have respect for others and are ready to learn. There’s a lot of knowledge and assistance out there. Just use it wisely.
2/ As a ‘community’ we have the responsibility to help along others who maybe don’t have the same experience and knowledge. If we fail to do so, then we have a dysfunctional community.
3/ Your idea of what is good content on social media may differ from others. A community is full of people happy doing their own thing.
Pointlessly antagonistic articles like the Masterclass one that was pulished serve no purpose in building a whisky community, and smack of elitism and isolate people. It just diminishes the effect of the article which did have some valid points. Nobody likes feeling a fool and shooting people down in public will only result in many people not wanting to ask for vital knowledge for fear of looking stupid. And in my industry, making people feel stupid by having a superior attitude is the quick way to get kissed in the Glasgow style.
Factions and cliques will always exist. That’s no different to any ‘real life’ community. But we can’t act as though we are only connected each other by Ethernet cable from our router. In my opinion, while the vast majority of people do, we need to be behaving better than we would within a physical community. All said and done, it isn’t whisky that should be the focus, but the people. We all do our own thing that makes us happy. If people like it, great. If not, then move on and let people do theirs as long as they aren’t hurting anybody.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be about how important ‘communities’ are, and we need to care about them more by being aware of how we and others act within them. I’ll hazard a guess that we’ve all relied on the social fabric the whisky fraternity provides more than we think over the past 9 months. It’s been a fantastic time where people have risen to the challenges of isolation with online tastings and the use of the internet to cement friendships built over the shared love of a spirit.
As we move into 2021, it is perhaps time that we take a moment to think about how we can continue to add something positive to the circle of whisky lovers around the world. We all have our part if we want to be true community members. There is so much positivity in our movement that we should be proud of and build on. Goodness knows we all need it.
Wishing you all a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year. Here’s hoping it never gets as bad as 2020.
I have to apologise from the very start of this article. Of course that is not like me at all, no Sir-ee! Mainly because the title of this article is from the a song on the Cypress Hill Album ‘Black Sunday’. Ok, wrong day I suppose for what I had in mind for this article. And while it is NOT like me, I actually own this album and listen to it on a rare occasion and enjoy it. You can’t listen to shoegaze all the time (apparently). What is at least accurate to some degree in my opinion is the topic today does have a slight whiff of insanity about it, although probably of a type we may not be aware of and suffer from in varying degrees. It’s about how we allow ourselves to become blind to the obvious.
Once again my conscience has been pricked to write an article in defence of a body of people that have been undera silent attack for quite some time and since March 2020 this has been intensified. Unfortunately it is whisky drinkers that seem to be the people who allow it to happen, albeit not doing the attacking themselves. Given how friendly the whisky community is, I’m surprised that there seems to be little promotion and concern to people that are vital to our hobby, passion, or more to the point – obsession.
Independent whisky shops have had a tough time of it for some time now. This is something I raised on my blog Facebook page back in March of this year, going as far to break my anonymity and release a couple of videos. Use the Facebook links below to navigate to the page if you want to see the videos. In most cases these smaller retailers cannot compete with online retailers such as Amazon and don’t have the collective buying power of chains like The Whisky Shop, Oddbins or Majestic to name one or two. And you can forget any hope of being able to complete with any of the supermarkets.
What triggered this was the amount of people who seemed to be upset that there seemed to be not very many Black Friday deals on Amazon this year. I’m not having a go – in full disclosure I’ve bought booze from Amazon when I’ve seen a bargain, but usually it is when I cannot get a bottle anywhere else at that time. An Old Pultney 17 was my first bottle that I did this with just after it was discontinued and latterly when Glengoyne 18 was slashed to £70, though that was just before the change of packaging and it was bought for stash. Maybe for later of course…
In a quick moment of research, certainly here in the UK are a myriad of places that do online only retailing. Drink Supermarket, Master Of Malt, Drinks Direct, 31 Dover, and Spirit Store are just a handful and I’d be sure that this would be replicated overseas where specialist whisky retailers may be thin on the ground. Even Whisky Exchange which does have a couple of shops probably makes the vast majority of its profits from online trading.
Look. I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad about seeking a bargain. It’s been a tough year for everybody with many people locked down for long periods of time; people losing their freedom, contact with family and friends, their jobs; people possibly losing a lot more. And I can hardly hold the moral high ground as I have made the occasional purchases from some of these retailers, especially Master Of Malt as the Drinks By The Dram give me a chance to taste older or more expensive whiskies without having to cough up for a full bottle. However let’s look at this from a slightly different perspective.
While online shopping may be very convenient and cheap (as an Aberdonian I can assure you this is very close to my heart!), let’s look at some very plain to see facts that often get ignored and I see no evidence to the contrary that we seem to be suffering selective blindness to these issues. Amazon does not need your money. Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s do not need your booze money. Let’s face it, despite the fun of #WhiskySanta, a company giving away £250,000 of drink does not need your booze money. However the hypocrite in me is very happy to promote the company by making my #WhiskySanta wishes. If they are generous enough to ‘pay’ quarter of a million quid for over a month of free social media advertising I’m taking my chance. You can bet your bottom dollar that an independent retailer of Whisk(e)y would probably wet themselves if they thought they could make £250,000 of profit, let alone be able to afford to give it away. And they certainly do need your custom.
Speaking of local experience here in the Highlands, I can think of at least 4 local-ish (50 miles away still counts as local!) independent whisky retailers that have suffered the double whammy COVID has delivered. Not only were they forced to close their businesses when COVID first took hold, the businesses concerned were also in tourist areas, so once they’ve been allowed to open, there’s a lack of the normal crowds to sell to. I’m thinking of shops in Aberlour, Dufftown, Tomintoul, Pitlochry, Tyndrum, Inverary and Skye to name a few. The cancellation of the Spirit Of Speyside festival this year hit our region hard and without the same footfall, the whisky retailers in the area have had to rely on online sales to generate income. It doesn’t mean independent whisky retailers in large towns and cities aren’t suffering too – at least they have more chance of local footfall than one in the middle of the Cairngorms.
The majority of independent retailers have not got the same profit margins to reduce stock prices and remain viable. Some are forced to deal with wholesalers as they cannot buy directly with the distilleries or bottlers, further reducing competitiveness with online only businesses. To be fair to Amazon, there is plenty of independent traders use Amazon market place, but this is still not perfect as this still involves selling fees that further reduce margins. And therein could be the reason that there wasn’t so many Black Friday deals – perhaps the majority of them in the past have been supplied not from Amazon but small traders. They certainly cannot afford to be giving massive discounts at the moment.
The greatest benefit to dealing directly with an independent trader is that you’ll receive something that you’ll never get online – by buying over the phone or in person you’ll receive a personal service. Think about this when you next shop with an independent whisky retailer. They can tell you what is new. They usually have a great knowledge of the whiskies they sell. If you can visit one, you may get to try before you buy; something that has often seen me buy more than expecting to. You can build a relationship where the retailer may be privy to information that maybe of interest to you and they may tell you first, or at least keep a hard to find bottle back for you. At least one Whisky Twitterer has said he enjoys this type of situation and I have also found myself in this pleasant position too.
This whole subject brings me back to a similar situation in a different retail environment; music. As I alluded to at the start of this article, I’m heavily into music, especially indie / shoegaze / post rock. There used to be a shop in Aberdeen called One-Up, of which I was a very regular customer. I always used them as the chances of finding something new, exciting and possibly undiscovered was high. But the ultimate draw was the service. The staff were excellent and one in particular, the well known shoegazer in local circles, Yogi Duncan used to recommend bands and albums to me so I could listen to it before making a decision. This was music I’d never have heard otherwise and would not be likely to see the suggestion on iTunes. You just don’t get that specialist service online and are at the mercy of an algorithm to suggest what you might like in the future. Just because some tracking cookie sees I’ve bought one album, doesn’t mean I’ll like the whole genre though it’s certainly cheaper to take a risk on a £10 CD than a £70 bottle of whisky.
It came to pass that CD buying fell out of fashion. People turned to downloads and with large overheads compared to online sales and a desire of one of the business partners to retire meant on the 18th of January 2013, One-Up closed for good. Since that store has gone, I’ve gradually fallen out of buying music. Perhaps it’s my age having an influence as well, but in the past 2 years I’ve found myself downloading more and more; my once proud music CD collection all but stagnated. For me nearly 8 years on, I and many others from the North East of Scotland still mourn the loss of One-Up
Regardless of my feeling, while digital retailing doesn’t mean we’ll fall out of love with whisky (goodness no!) it does mean we risk slowly falling out of touch with a more intimate way of connecting with the industry. If we only see what is advertised on line or by who we follow on social media, to me it just becomes a cacophony of marketing noise and other people’s opinion. The lack of personal contact within the whisky retail industry really means to me we are all perhaps following around on each other’s coat tails and are at the mercy of anonymous algorithms and advertising budgets which pigeon-hole us and see us getting targeted into purchasing blandness.
Let’s be clear however, as there is more we can do. It isn’t just spending our hard earned cash at independent whisky retailers that helps. Many of us on social media have our own blogs. Why not give one of the independent retailers a shout out on your blog? Review a bottle bought from them. Better still, if they bottle their own or have exclusive bottles to their shop, review one. I recently did, and the email that I received from the owner was one of pure gratitude. Not just because I genuinely enjoyed the whisky he had bottled, but because as an independent retailer in an area highly dependent on tourism it had been a tough year and he was over the moon to see his products promoted in such a way.
My blog is tiny and insignificant. However due to my review of his whisky, I know of 7 confirmed bottle sales as a direct result of what I said. Maybe only 1.13% of the bottling run, but that is sales that put money into a local business and a local economy; not into the bottomless pockets of CEO’s who don’t care a jot about whisky but just want your cash. If you don’t spend your whisky money at Amazon or get a Black Friday deal from an online only retailer, they aren’t that likely to go bust. Of course not everybody has the funds to avoid being frugal when it comes to whisky purchases, this year especially. The Mr Grumpy in me understands the situation and there is nothing wrong with that. Note: I’ve seen some whisky cheaper in an independent shop than on Amazon. Some retailers do promotions on free shipping if spending over a threshold amount. Shop wisely.
2020 has a lot of negative things to look back on. Don’t let it be the beginning of the end for a friendly independent whisky shop. Perhaps make an effort to reduce or let go of our building dependence on cheap online only sales. Once lockdown is finished, be sure to pop into one of the independent spirit retailers close to you. They’ll thank you for it.
Feedback is welcome on this subject. My aim isn’t to offend but highlight the smaller businesses that struggling on an already uneven playing field. What’s your opinion?
After One Up closed, Yogi Duncan was working in an Oddbins in Aberdeen. He could have become my shoegaze, wine and whisky guru, but sadly I left Aberdeen the same year as the lights went out at One Up forever. Then the nearest independent music shop was Imperial Records in Inverness, but sadly this closed the following year in 2014. Another store with a stunning customer service lost to the digital shopping paradigm, a service made more special due to the owner Mark and I having some great conversations based on initially realising a shared love of the music of Galaxie 500.
We come to the second round in the battle between old whisky and new whisky. In the first round we found out that I preferred the older whisky. But will it be the same on this occasion?
Glenfarclas is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. Situated to the north of the tiny village of Marypark, Ballindalloch, the distillery was started by Robert Hay as a farm distillery. Although it was only granted a licence to distil in 1836, there is evidence that distilling was happening for some time before that. By 1865, the distillery had been bought by the Grant Family, who have held it ever since.
The water source for the distillery comes from springs on the slopes of Benrinnes, the tallest hill in the local region. Glenfarclas is known for putting its spirit into sherry casks for maturation, with a mixture of European Oak Oloroso Hogsheads and butts being used. Glenfarclas is one of the few distilleries to directly heat their stills from underneath. In the early 1980’s steam was tried, but this altered the quality of the new make spirit, so it was back to direct fire.
I’ve always enjoyed the whisky made at Glenfarclas. It’s a good, solid reliable performer. I didn’t really take to a 15 yr old sample I had at one point, but that has been very much the exception. It came to pass that I had a visit to the distillery in October 2019, but seeing that I was driving and a law abiding citizen, I couldn’t partake of a sample. The distillery give drivers a 5cl bottle of the 10 year old, so when a bottle of 10 year old of yesteryear came into my possession, then the stage was set for what would become this head to head. Without any further ado, let battle commence
Glenfarclas 10 (Old)
Region -Speyside Age -10 years Strength – 40% Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type -Oloroso Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -Not Stated, suspect yes Nose -Instant hit of sherry sweetness. Strong smell of raisins and sultanas, toffee, vanilla, chocolate, light oak. Palate – Instantly warming, sweet honeycomb, dried fruit, cinnamon spices with a light fizz on the tongue. The mouthfeel is like a big hug, covering the mouth in a syrupy blanket. Finish – Long and smooth with honey and spices warming the mouth and throat.
Glenfarclas 10 (New)
Region – Speyside Age – 10 years Strength – 40% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Oloroso Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Not stated, suspect yes Nose -Sweet, honey, toffee, malt, barley, grassy Palate – oily, same spicy note as the old version. I find this more malty and less honey and dried fruit impact. Finish – Medium. Spicy tones fade off quicker than previous. Honey continues and I’m left with a bit of burnt rubber at the end – sulphur.
Both very strong drams. The old version of the 10 yr old started off with a disadvantage, in that I didn’t realise that this bottle in the time I had it in my possession had a slightly loose cap, resulting in a wee bit of evaporation. However in the end, it was the older version of the 10 year old expression that won. In my opinion not by a little bit, but by a country mile. The sherry cask influences were much more apparent in the older expression and there was a much more mouthfeel, despite the evaporation.
I find it interesting that I get a small burst of sulphur at the end of the new expression, which is the same as the 15 year old I reviewed last year, but not in the older edition. I wonder if it is something to do with the evaporation? Perhaps the spirit has had (more than adequate) time to breathe and oxidise. Those greedy whisky angels have had more than their fair share.
Glenfarclas 10 is available in shops for around £35 to £40. The older style is only available on the secondary market, and the 1990’s edition has gained in value somewhat, with prices up to around £115 including auction fees.
Next head to head in around a month’s time will be from the Benromach distillery.
One of the great things in any journey is that while you may have a final destination, there is no stopping you falling down a wormhole, being sidetracked, a metaphorical stop to sniff flowers on a whisky journey. Certainly as I write this I’m still serving 14 day’s quarantine in Indonesia and I have fairly fallen down the YouTube wormhole. It’s funny how one video topic often leads to another, and whilst I started looking at whisky and historical videos, I’m now at the point of considering a cruise, buying a Volvo (just like the middle aged man I am) and possibly thinking how good it would be to own a caravan – all based on video suggestions.
Of course, none of this will be happening, certainly not in the near future, but whisky can be like that. When you taste one you really like, there is always the option of trying others similar. In this case, I’ll refer you to Robertsons of Pitlochry. It is run by Ewan McIlwraith, a man of considerable experience in the whisky industry. He is also a judge for the World Whisky Awards, so he obviously knows his carrots from his onions when it comes to whisky.
I happened to have to go down to Pitlochry to pick up some auction winnings. Pitlochry is a nice, Highland Perthshire village and is a tourist trap. There are a couple of whisky shops there and it made perfect sense to visit them all. Ewan was serving that day in the shop and invited me to have a sample of a Single Cask Benrinnes. Of course, with Benrinnes being one of my go-to Speysides, I obliged. Now, this one had a bite, and while I cannot remember the tasting notes, it was superb. I bought a bottle straight away.
And that was my mistake. I put that bottle into store, and I still wish that I’d bought two in order to taste one. Of course, I can always open up the one I have but, but, but, but ….. I want to save it. What a bummer. And so it came to pass that into a wormhole I fell, as I have now kept an eye on any Robertsons Of Pitlochry cask releases.
Fast forward to August 2020. Once again I was looking to see if anything had appeared on the Robertsons of Pitlochry website. And once again the hook was there. A single cask, cask strength Allt Dour at 8 years old. Wasn’t sure what distillery it was so did a wee bit of research. It turns out for this bottling, the distillery have not allowed Ewan to use the distillery name on the label. I’m going keep you in suspense for a bit longer, suffice to say I have reviewed the core release whisky from this distillery before.
For those of you who do not know about Pitlochry, it is a nice small town in Highland Perthshire. It sits in the shadow of the 841m high Ben Vrackie, and has the River Tummel flowing to the west side. Loch Faskally was created when a Hydro Electric Dam was placed across the river, construction being between 1947 and 1950. There is a salmon ladder to allow spawning fish up the river and is part of the tourist attraction at the dam. Of course these are currently closed due to Coronavirus but worth a visit when they reopen.
There are also two whisky distilleries, one slightly outside town, Blair Athol and Edradour are both located at Pitlochry. Both have visitor centres, but as usual it is worth checking they are open before going.
The local area is quite beautiful and worth looking into, but this whisky cannot wait any longer so it is time to move on.
Allt Dour 8 Year Old (Robertsons Of Pitlochry)
Region – HighlandAge – 8 years old Strength – 59.2% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – 1st Fill Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Rich sweetness – creamy caramel, dried fruit raisins, prune. Very more-ish. Adding water, I got a small note of mint toffos. That’s showing my age somewhat. Palate Quite a hit of spirit. Oily mouth feel. Rich dark fruits, toffee and blackcurrant for me dominate. Water tempers the arrival somewhat with a tantalising sweet hit as the whisky goes over the taste buds. The blackcurrant is somewhat reduced and there is an increase to the toffee note. Plum and blackberry are also present in this party on the tongue. Finish – Long. quite a bit of heat when taken neat. A quick burst of blackcurrant, wood spice, ginger. Even with water, there is still a lovely oily coating, leaving with a fruity sourness and a hint of sulphur. Very pleasant.
If you haven’t already worked it out, the distillery in question then I’ll let you know it’s Blair Athol. The distillery takes water from the Allt Dour Burn, and was a good choice of name for when the distillery name could not be used in this case.
This is the 2nd youngest dram I have reviewed, the youngest being the Octomore 9.1 at 5 years old. Younger whisky doesn’t mean bad whisky necessarily. If done correctly it can mean lively, exciting whisky and this certainly meets that benchmark. I had wondered if this would have tasted better at 10 or 12 years old but at first fill Sherry, the cask may have demolished the spirit character. It’s an engaging dram with a good level of complexity which the water will help you tease out. I feel I need more time with this dram to get the full benefit, but on first taste, wow!
This is a great dram that marks all the presentation boxes. Age Statement, Cask Strength, Non Chill Filtered, No added colour. What’s more, it’s only £55 on theRobertsons of Pitlochry website (click on link). That’s a lot of whisky for small money. I gather one of my page followers has already bought three for export to England. Good choice Sir!
It turns out I’m not the only one that thinks it’s great. Well done Ewan!
So, I didn’t learn my lesson from the Benrinnes. I only bought one. However 618 bottles were made so hopefully by time I am ready I can get another…..
…..or it’s back down the wormhole.
Yours In Spirits
To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact this is a limited release, it would easily be my whisky if the year 2020. Since I’ve been away from home, the memory of the dram is so powerful I cannot wait to get back for another one.
Do you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated? Or when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon? Mmmm bad examples as I wasn’t even thought of then. Perhaps maybe 9-11, as everybody who remembers that should be of legal drinking age. I was on the Tog Mor, the vessel that lifted the Mary Rose from the Solent, only when the Twin Towers were collapsing we were in Tunisia building an oilfield.
The whisky I’m away to review for you today is special as I remember where I was when I bought it. Can’t remember specific month though November 2019 rings a bell. It was on the happy occasion when shopping in Inverness that when my ‘Better Half’ wanted to clothes shop that I was told to amuse myself while she pointed in the general direction of The Whisky Shop.
For once I had no problems complying with her wishes.
However, the Whisky Shop in Inverness is an massively overpriced tourist trap shop and the real excitement is in WoodWinters on Church Street. By time I got the text message to tell me my fun time was over, I’d bought two bottles of whisky and bored the pants off a shop assistant with whisky blether. The two bottles bought were GlenAllachie 12 and an independent bottling of Benrinnes from James Eadie, finished in a Madeira cask. It’s the latter whisky that I bring forward today.
I’ve mentioned Benrinnes many times on this site, mainly because it is my favourite Speyside distillery. I have other Speyside distilleries in my virtual hand of Top Trump distillery cards that produce better whisky, but this one is my choice. Benrinnes is generally only released as a 15 year old in the Flora and Fauna range, but I’m discovering it flourishes very well as an independent bottle.
As I’ve reviewed Benrinnes more than once on the blog, I’m not going to run through its history, especially as I have another 2 or three to review. Suffice to say that the distillery sits on the lower slopes of Benrinnes, to the south of Aberlour in Speyside.
So, instead of retelling the story of Benrinnes, let’s look at the background to James Eadie. Whilst maybe not the most prominent whisky bottler, it is one of the older names in whisky.
Information from the James Eadie website tells us this – James Eadie (1827 – 1904) was a Scottish Brewer, born near Gleneagles, he was one of fourteen children. He was a self made man who eventually became a brewer and an owner of a portfolio of pubs. Eadie has acquired from his father a recipe for blending whisky, which was eventually widely dispensed in over 300 Eadie pubs. The brewery and pubs were eventually taken over by Bass and the whisky lived on but by the 1960’s were fading out. Robert Patrick, the great-great-grandson of James Eadie has revitalised the brand name. Robert has worked for Diageo, Beam Suntory and Ian Macleod Distillers, and is a Liveryman of the order of Worshipful Distillers as well as a Keeper of the Quaich.
With the company in good hands then let’s hope that the whisky lives up to promise.
Benrinnes 13 Madeira Finish
Region – Speyside Age -13 years old Strength – 56.1% Colour – Tawny Cask Type – Finished in Bual Madeira Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Stroopwaffels, vanilla, cappuccino, raisins.Palate – Malt loaf, nutmeg, apricot jam, slight orange peel hint too. Cinnamon appears with water. Finish – Medium long. Dark Chocolate bitterness, ginger nut spiciness. Citrus peel appears with water. Bitterness lasts right until the end
Of course, I am going to be biased as a fan of Benrinnes. I’m trying to be as impartial as possible though it is hard to be when this whisky is so tasty. It has the oily, meaty character of Benrinnes in there, in part thanks to the worm tubs, yet the Madeira cask has added dark, sweet notes. I have to say it that I liked this a lot.
I do like the overall presentation of this whisky. Cask Strength, Age Statement, Natural Colour and Non Chill Filtered. The packaging is neat, impressive and in my mind suits the colour of the whisky within.
Speaking of colour, I often thought I could see hint of Rosè wine in the glass but could never catch it in my photos, so I may have imagined that. As I have distributed this whisky to a few of my friends it would be interesting as to what they think.
Unfortunately this whisky is no longer available at retailers as it has sold out. Only 313 bottles were released and it was a good dram. You may see it on auction sites but the main purpose of me sharing this review was to let you know what independent bottlers can do, and I thoroughly recommend looking at the James Eadie website (click here) to see what sort of produce they make. I am sure they will make a whisky that will appeal to you.
The cost of this bottle was around £67 if I recall correctly but if you see it at auction expect to pay about £100. I’ve seen similar James Eadie bottles go for the same, but while pricey, I’d still say the value is there for drinking but maybe not so much for collecting.
Whether or not you want to, it is pretty hard to escape the fact that the world of whisky is expanding beyond all expectations. We don’t even need to stop at whisky, for there is still a lot of expansion in other distilled spirits such as premium rums and craft gins and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. More and more people are getting in on the concept of collecting. I’ve been asked by quite a few people recently about collecting and its enough to make it worthwhile to write another article on it. I’ve already written extensively on this in the past, but I feel now it is appropriate to bring you a more up to date article which encompasses some of the experiences that I have had as well as conversations I have had with various people within the whisky industry.
What is collectible?
This is all down to personal preference. We all have different things that excite us in the whisky world. Some people only collect from one distillery, some people may only collect certain vintages, certain age statements. We’ve all heard of the generous father who gave his son a bottle of 18 year old Macallan for his birthday, allowing his son to sell it and use the profit to help him move onto the property ladder, there really is no limit on what is and isn’t collectable, but you have to look at why you are collecting and this will determine what will be suitable for you to collect.
This is a question I put to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. Andy has been a whisky collector as long as he has been legally allowed to be, as well as being a collector, he is a broker, valuer and consultant to the Scotch Whisky Industry. Andy and I had some very interesting conversations over our joy of whisky collecting and seeing as I was going to have to rebuild my collection slightly, I thought it made sense to ask Andy what would be appropriate to collect in the future.
“There are three properties to collectible whiskies” Andy explained to me over the phone. “which are desirability, collectability and investability.” He went onto explain how every bottle will have different amounts of each property, and where it has good levels of all three, then that is where you have a suitable bottle.
Desirability. Does the bottle have a physical property that makes people want to own it? Is it a whisky with an in demand flavour profile? Does it have attractive packaging?
Collectability Is it a rare release? Is it from an in demand distillery or bottler? Is it part of a set that you already own? Is it discontinued or from a silent distillery?
Investability This can be a product of the desirability and collectability. This is because if a whisky is rare and in demand, then the chances of it being investment grade are high. However, true investment grade whisky is likely to beyond the means of most people reading my blog. We are looking at items like Macallan where some bottles easily reach into five figures. Investability (which isn’t really a word in the English dictionary) is not likely to occur from a bottle that can be bought in your local supermarket. You are looking to source bottles at specialist whisky shops, distilleries or auctions to get a better chance of making a profit.
If you are considering whisky that has all of these attributes then you have a bottle that is likely to be in demand.
What sort of collector am I?
I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of collectors are people who perhaps just collected a bottle here and there, perhaps to drink, perhaps to save for a rainy day. Few might go down the investment route from the beginning. Has it been that people have got the idea that is often fuelled by the media and the producers themselves that whisky is a premium investment option? Just because something appeared on the Knight Frank index does not mean it will continue to do so.
The types of collector fall into a handful of very easy categories. 1/ Drinkers – Those who want to collect to have a good stash of a favourite dram on standby. 2/ Hobbyists. Those who take pride in owning bottles. 3/ Investors. Those who are buying whisky in order to realise profit, expecting their whisky to go up in value. 4/ Flippers. Those who take advantage of new releases to sell quickly after release to those who either can’t wait for a bottle or aren’t able to get a bottle.
Of course there can be blurring of the borders between the four types of collector. I don’t know if a flipper actually counts as a collector as some don’t even touch the bottle they buy, often getting retailers to send straight to the auctioneers. Personally, I’m a bit of the first three types. I have whisky in store that I know I plan to drink, whisky I’ve wanted to own because I like the presentation and whisky I have bought deliberately as an investment.
For those who drink or those who collect just to own bottles they admire, then what they choose to collect is entirely personal and dependent on their own tastes. However if you want to collect to realise a profit, no matter how small, there are guidelines that you would be well advised to stick to.
1. Have a collection policy or an aim.
This might not be particularly obvious, but if you want to maximise profits, then you have to target what you want to collect. In the start of my collecting journey, I initially started collecting bottles from distilleries that could be seen on my journey between home and Aberdeen. As this passes through Speyside, that encompassed many distilleries. I didn’t just collect any bottles, I collected those that were limited edition. Let’s face it, a standard 12 year old Glenfiddich unless its ancient is never going to realise much value.
I moved onto collecting Flora and Fauna bottlings. It’s advisable if you are going to collect a certain type of bottle, then attempt to get the whole collection. When the time comes to sell, you will be able to attract two types of buyers; those who want the whole collection or those who wish to a bottle at a time. Make sure however you are aware of the likely cost of all the collection before you start. For instance, many Flora and Fauna bottles cost around under £200. However, rarer bottles like the white cap first editions often go for over £400. The holy grail of the collection is the Speyburn, which was only made for one batch according to legend. This bottle has started regularly achieving hammer prices of over £2000.
2. Buy bottles that are likely to realise an increase in value
There is absolutely no sense in buying bottles for investment just because they are available. They have to be able to realise an increase in value and realistically you need to be buying bottles that will be in demand in the future. Bottles that would come under this criteria are most normally limited editions with low numbers released. There is a problem with the title ‘Limited Edition’ as in a lot of cases it isn’t really rare at all.
Realistically speaking, if you can buy it off the shelves of your supermarket, then it is generally not going to be a bottle that will be collectable. There are some exceptions, but you will have to generally keep hold of the bottle for many decades to realise a decent increase in value.
Unfortunately, many bottles increase in value not due to the whisky inside of them, but due to the brand. The whisky inside them may not be the best example of what that distillery can produce, but the demand is there. Distilleries such as Macallan, Ardbeg, Highland Park and Glenmorangie spring to mind. It is pretty hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, but you have to buy the right one. The quality of the whisky in a 1980’s distilled 10 year old is far superior to some of the Double Oak and Triple Oak expressions available now in my opinion so it pays to do your research. Not that any are bad whiskies, it’s all a matter of relativity and personal opinion. And while I did say it was hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, it is possible and I personally know of one person who has lost £100 on a higher value release. It’s not me I hasten to add, although the person in question is quite open about it.
Bottles that are likely to go up in value are those from silent distilleries, bottles that were popular and discontinued, single cask bottles from an in demand distillery. Cask strength editions are quite worthy as well, but you have to keep an eye on how many are produced. Something like Glenfarclas 105 will not go up in value, as it is a core range and many thousands have been produced, however a limited run of a cask strength bottle such as a Glenfarclas family cask will most likely increase in value, or a bottle such as a festival release with limited numbers.
Also popular are the bottles from first releases from new distilleries. However buying these on the secondary market soon after release usually means the price has been distorted by flippers, so it is always better to buy straight from the initial point of sale.
3. Know of the potential value of the bottle before you buy.
Yes, it is nice to get your hands on a rare Glenugie, the Peterhead distillery that was the first distillery to close as part of the 1983 mass cull of distilleries due to a surplus of production. However when buying such a bottle, it is always better to get it straight from a retailer on the primary market. If you buy such bottles on the secondary market, such as from an online auction or whisky broker, then you have to be aware of the going price for the bottles. While you may be happy in paying £400 for the bottle at auction, it’s not really a good investment if the ceiling for that bottle is £450. A closed distillery may not be the best example, as eventually supply will run out at some point, but the same goes for any bottle. Look at those people paying over £2000 for a Macallan Genesis – the market price has seen a lot of these bottles sell now for around £1400 at auction. Yes, given time the price will probably go back up again, but that depends on how demand continues for them. If you overpay, then you have to hold onto the bottle for longer to realise a profit, or stand to make a loss.
It’s worth pointing out that in some cases, original bottlings often are more profitable than independent bottlers, but this is not always the case. Buying a whisky bottled by Signatory, Gordon & Macphail, Cadenhead, Adelphi, James Eadie, That Boutique-y Whisky Company amongst others can realise good prices. Certainly an Invergordon 42 year old whisky from TBWC I’ve been chasing has certainly increased in value, and I know from the bidding action it is very much in demand. I think the original release price for Batch 15 was in the region of £115. I had to pay close to £200 once auction fees were considered. However, I have tasted it in the past and it is a great dram, making a good explanation for why the price has gone up.
4. Know your potential buyer
When buying, think about who is likely to buy what you are selling. This is why gimmicks like the Game Of Thrones whisky wasn’t really a good investment. Apart from those complete sets flipped just after release, it is rare to see a complete set break even. It is unlikely to ever make much of a profit if any at all. Limited editions tied to a TV show are unlikely to make money as they are normally manufactured in large amounts.
‘Limited Edition’ is often a misnomer, as something produced in its hundreds of thousands, but only made available for a 6 months or so is still technically a limited edition. You need to see my article on Game Of Thrones whisky to understand that the only people likely to buy this are fans of the show. And they’ll already have a set or two. With no real auction demand, unfortunately you are stuck with it or will not be able to sell for any profit. Remember most auctioneers take between 5 and 10% on the hammer price which when Game of Thrones has already got a hammer price well under the original RRP makes the blow a little bit harder.
This is why I always advise do not buy anything you are not prepared to drink. Buying bottles like Macallan, Ardbeg and Highland Park may have higher prices, but there is a healthy secondary market for these bottles, as people buy them to drink, especially whisky bars in Asia who’s clientele are demanding rare whisky and are prepared to pay for it.
This is also the risk in single cask bottlings. You need somebody to want the single cask whisky you have as there can be duds going about that haven’t been well received, but this can be mitigated by buying from an in-demand distillery. It’s hard for me to suggest individual distilleries, but I myself have usually restricted myself to single cask bottlings from GlenAllachie, GlenDronach, Invergordon, Glentauchers, Dailuaine, Benrinnes and Tamdhu. I have other single casks, but these for me are the brands I like.
5. Don’t overstretch.
It goes without saying that you should not overstretch. If you are a low grade investor, the best advice I can give you is set a budget for what you are prepared to spend to collect. Perhaps a monthly budget – you don’t have to spend it all in one go, but perhaps roll it over to another month. What ever you do, it is important not to spend more than you are prepared to drink, as there is a possibility that the situation may happen. With that in mind, it is also helpful if you collect stuff that you would enjoy drinking – if you don’t like peaty whisky, then there is no sense in collecting Ardbeg for example. Just in case, you understand! It all depends whether or not you are prepared to take the risk.
6. Speculate to accumulate.
As with any investment, you have to consider what bottles give most value. I’ll put it here that if you are only going to collect bottles at £30ish then the chances of any sort of profit are minimal. They are not extinguished, but from my experience the more you can spend on a bottle, the more it is likely to have a chance in going up in value. I can give three examples to show relative profits.
Aberlour 10 – decent enough whisky. Can be bought for £35-45. I am aware that it is getting discontinued in favour of a 12 year old expression. This whisky is mass produced, and while a decent whisky there will be a lot of this hanging around in people’s drink cabinets. It’s a simple yet pretty good value Speyside whisky. However, it is highly unlikely in the period of 10 years to double in value.
Old Pulteney 17 – Another mass produced whisky, but perhaps not as much as the Aberlour above. This was discontinued in 2018. It was reviewed by American YouTube vBloggers Scotch 4 Dummies as potentially the best Old Pulteney ever. Cost used to be £74ish. I’ve just had a look on Amazon, and the cheapest new one they are advertising is £203. It can be had a lot cheaper elsewhere, but the thing is that editon was a very popular whisky. Just looking at one auction site, the price has peaked at £110, yet averages at £85. It has only been discontinued for two years, so many of the people buying it are likely still to be drinking it. Once supply narrows down, this will be a good whisky from an old era. The price is likely only to do one thing.
Bruichladdich Octomore X4+10 – Now we look at a whisky that was a limited release. £150 on release and only 3000 produced. Sold out instantly. This is a quadruple distilled whisky at 70% and ten years old. However it was only in a 50cl bottle. However just looking at one auction site, this peaked at £281 some three months after release and now sells for anywhere between £210 and £250. Even at the lower value, thats £60 in less than a year on an initial investment of £150. As these get drunk, the value will only go up, but will reach a ceiling value of which I estimate to be in the £300 – £350 range maximum. I own two, and I can guarantee one will be getting cracked open.
Can you see the pattern? The more that gets spent on a whisky, the potential to realise an in value increases also. In my experience if you spend below £100 a bottle as an investment, you are unlikely to see great profits and it may only hold its value. Factor in selling costs and you may only break even. However, if you are collecting as a hobby because owning certain whiskies or brands gives you an amount of pleasure and pride, then profit is not your main motive so you should not expect to make any. Harsh, but fair as you’ve received value in the pride factor and not the monetary factor.
7. Be aware what is getting relabelled.
For those who want to collect a specific whisky, they are more likely to be looking for all variants of it. So when a distillery is rebranding, people will want the new style in their collection. Doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive whisky. Example – GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh were all sold by Billy Walker to Brown Foreman. While there has not been a rebranding of all the whisky (BenRiach recently has undergone a rebrand), there has been subtle changes to the bottles, such as the new Master Blender signature changing to Rachael Barrie instead of Billy Walker. This gives the bottling a distinct ‘marker’ of when it was produced, therefore collectors in the future will easily be able to tell the era the bottle was from.
Another distillery that has rebranded, Glengoyne, recently had it’s 18 yr old expression for sale on Amazon for £20 less than normal retail, possibly in an effort to sell old stock. That is good for drinkers (cheap drink!) but is also good for collectors who have more margin to realise a profit should they ever sell.
This is why with intelligent buying, you don’t have to go for the expensive whisky. It can be enough to buy an affordable bottle and just wait for a rebrand or a recipe change. An example is GlenDronach 15 Revival. The original recipe had to be discontinued for three years due to lack of sufficient stock to make up the malt. Three years later, it reappeared and has since undergone another recipe change according to my sources. The original bottles have increased
8. Be aware what is getting released or discontinued.
First bottlings from any distillery are usually a safe bet, especially if in limited numbers. Be careful if you are buying them on the secondary market as you may be overpaying, Similarly be aware of what is getting discontinued.
It can help being on the mailing lists of distilleries to see when new releases are coming. Often that gives you access to any ballots for limited releases or first chances to purchase. I used to be on the mailing list for a few distilleries, such as Macallan and Ardbeg, but have now decided to cut back as I am no longer really interested in these brands enough to be on their marketing lists.
9.Make sure you have a place to keep your collection
It’s all well and good collecting whisky. But if you are not drinking it, or not drinking it quick enough, then you will have to ensure that you have somewhere to keep it. If you are collecting for investment, then you need to make sure that it is in a place that keeps your bottles in prime condition. I’ve written on this extensively here and here (click on links) but to quickly summarise it needs to be somewhere not exposed to constant light and the temperature has to remain stable and not at extremes – lofts, attics and garages are not good places. I personally have a storage locker, but that comes with its own risks – see here
10.Make sure it is covered.
Again, I have gone into this in detail before here and here, but regardless of where you keep your collection, make sure that it is covered under insurance. Keep an eye on the values of any high value bottles as they may go up and exceed the single item limit on your house insurance. Having large amounts of bottles in your house may also compromise your house insurance too if there was a fire. Best look into specialist insurance. This is a given if you are using a storage facility – get professional whisky insurance and don’t rely on the insurance offered. There are normally limits on alcohol pay outs -my first storage location limited me to £10K.
11.Keep an eye on the value of your collection.
You need to keep an eye on the value of your collection for a few reasons. Firstly and most importantly is for insurance purposes. This will make sure you have adequate cover for your collection.
Keep a regular check on what the more expensive bottles in your collection are doing at auction. These are the bottles that you stand to make the most profit on if bought at the right price, but equally could be the bottles you lose most on. You may find that the price is dropping as a bottle is going out of favour and it may be a good time to sell. However, don’t let one or two auctions be the decider – use a service like Rare Whisky 101 to check every so often to see the average prices. Investment in whisky bottles is best played out over the long term, similar to any investment, so it is sometimes better to hold your nerve.
If collecting to realise profit, then you have to keep an eye on how to sell it. There are limited options as it is illegal to sell alcohol without a licence, therefore you have to use an auctioneer or a broker. These often come with charges or commission, so you have to factor this into your final profit or loss.
Auctions are a risk as you need somebody to want to buy your bottle for it to sell. Ideally you want two or three people to want to buy it, as a bidding war often results in a better price for you. But here’s the hint why you don’t really collect stuff off the supermarket shelves – its been made in its thousands, supply is likely plentiful on the secondary market, therefore people don’t have to have bidding wars.
The other risk in selling is that you have to ensure that you are not selling in quantities regularly enough that could attract the attentions of the authorities. You may be selling in such a way the tax authorities may deem you as a trader. This could have legal as well as tax implications. Advice I have been given in the past is that if not selling everything at once is sell in larger tranches.
You have to be aware that selling bottles of whisky, this can expose you to tax liablity, especially Capital Gains tax if you reside in the UK. This is because unlike casks of whisky, bottles are not seen as a depreciating asset and therefore can be used in any tax liability. Of course, this depends on how you sell it as you will also need to avoid being seen as a trader too if conducting frequent sales. A reputable whisky broker will be able to advise you.
l would like to point out that this is not an exhaustive list. If you decide to collect for profit, then all I can really say is do not spend more money than you can afford to lose or drink. It’s a hobby, do not let it be your downfall. If you want to make bigger levels of profit for less work, I’d consider cask purchase ONLY THROUGH A REPUTABLE DEALER and not through any of these advertised investment schemes. Cask investment also potentially comes with some large tax costs and you need to have a plan on what to do once the cask reaches maturity. Essentially the only way to make profits is to sell in bond.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that collecting in whisky is becoming more and more popular. However I feel in the UK that we are potentially in the path of a perfect storm that may crash bottle auction prices and also affect the industry as a whole. Back in the 1980’s the whisky industry severely constricted due to oversupply. Whisky distilleries were shut wholesale, some never to reopen. The term coined for the period I’ve often seen as the ‘Whisky Loch’. Well, I feel we are reaching a point that we now have a Glass Loch building in the cupboards across the UK. Supply has never been so good, and with many new distilleries coming online, people are seeing bottle collecting as an easy way to make money.
However, I feel the dam holding back the Glass Loch is on shaky foundations. While auction prices are healthy at the moment, the global economy may not be. Without taking the political view but based on fact, the UK economy is in a very precarious position, caused by the Coronavirus and the potential effects of Brexit. Should the economy fail and there is mass unemployment or raised taxes, there will be a pinch on the pockets of the public. People will then see their whisky for what it is – a luxury. Faced with having to make mortgage payments, I predict that a good many people will be selling parts of their collections or even in their entirety. This will have the result of potentially lowering secondary prices.
This has two outcomes for us as collectors and investors. Falling auction prices mean availability of bottles at reasonable prices goes up. Any investment in whisky should always be seen as a long term strategy. Buying cheap now at auction could realise great benefits in the future. But in the second outcome it also potentially means that our collections go down in value too. Hold your nerve as long as possible. Those people who do will benefit, as the lowering of prices will also potentially mean more of those collected bottles get drunk or end up in the hands of those who will drink them. A shortening of supply means when the market swings back the other way, our bottles will be that little bit rarer. And worth more.
Please realise that I am not a professional and am only writing this based on my experience as a collector myself and what I have seen in market performance within the secondary market. I cannot reiterate enough that you must only purchase what you can afford to drink or are comfortable to lose.
Last bits of advice? Collecting for personal enjoyment or profit can give immense levels of satisfaction. You can learn lots about the whisky industry as you research your bottles. Have fun but remember that when the fun stops, stop.
And don’t forget to open a bottle in the stash every now and again. Collecting without tasting is a bit soulless.
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.
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.