The one thing I am hope that you are beginning to notice with this blog is that I am not afraid to try blended whisky. While I am trying to pick the more interesting or at least vintage whiskies that I can, often they arrive as the result of a bulk auction purchase, with this release I am away to try being one such example.
The last blend I tried was the Collectivum XXVIII, a blend of 28 single malt whiskies from each of Diageo’s Scottish Malt Whisky Distilleries. Well, superlatives are meant to be broken, and this blend certainly does that with no less than 100 different malts in the mix.
The whiskies in bold italics are distilleries that are no longer with us. 20 Ghost Malts. Pretty much all of them have disappeared off the face of the planet, with no trace they were ever there. But does inclusion of such malts give this blend a better quality or not. I personally don’t agree with using such rare malts in blends nowadays, as I think it is the last vestiges of the distillery that can last way beyond the buildings; once the liquid is gone that is the last physical proof of the distillery was ever there.
I’ve tried to do a little research about this blend and the thoughts behind it, but there is precious little on the internet about it. I was quite intrigued by it, as the miniature has a very stylish looking bottle, but the temptation was too high for me to ignore so it got cracked open. Let’s dispense with the thoughts and start dealing in the dram facts.
Chivas Century Of Malts
Region – N/A – Blend Age – NAS Strength – 43% Colour -Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – N/A Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Not stated but assuming Yes Nose – Hazelnut, red apple, pear, a hint of peat, honey, vanilla, orange peel, grassy. Palate -Oily and smooth, restrained on spices, heather honey, covered in smoke but not that peaty although it is in the background. Hints of dried fruits upon swallowing Finish -medium long with heather, apple peel, wood spices. Warming with a touch of bitter sweet sensations. At the very end I got currants.
Initially it seems a feat that there are 100 malts in this blend, and some rare or discontinued malts at that. But don’t let that blind you, as with that amount in the mix, you are very unlikely to get a taste of any distillery or individual cask character. If you can, I bow my head to you.
One of the small issues I have with this blend is that in the miniature I had of 5cl, on average each distillery is only represented by 0.5ml of fluid. Even in a full size bottle, the average is going to be 7ml. Just over a quarter of a standard Scottish dram. I repeat, if you can taste individual distilleries, then fair play. For me, this is as much a novelty whisky as the Beinn Dubh black whisky.
But in my opinion it shares something else in common with the infamous Beinn Dubh – it doesn’t taste that bad. To be honest I actually could say that even though it wouldn’t be a flavour profile that would attract me to be a regular drinker of this blend, it was a very pleasant sipper. Once I quickly calculated that I wouldn’t be able to pick any flavours out, I made out my tasting notes and sat down to enjoy the rest.
This is still available to buy retail, however only on the secondary market. I’ve seen miniatures for sale at £18 and full size bottles at £160, but this is without any shipping taken into consideration. Is it good value? I would have to say no, I wouldn’t pay that for this whisky, but if you ever get a chance to try it, I would say that it is worthwhile as long as you haven’t over paid for a miniature or cracked open your own full size bottle.
Do you ever get hung up on something that you want but can’t get? One of the downsides of whisky blogging is that sometimes you taste a sample of something and it just drives you to want more of that thing. In this case it was That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Invergordon Single Grain whisky. Batch 15 at 42 years old was the oldest whisky that I’ve reviewed so far, although there are two older Invergordon samples waiting in the wings plus another 4 stretching between 9 and 25 years old, hopefully enough to slake my new found thirst for this distillery.
Try as I might, a bottle of aged Invergordon kept eluding me. At auction, each new sale seemed to see the prices going higher and higher, leaving me wondering if it was really worth the chasing. Common sense me said it wasn’t but the devil on my opposite shoulder told me the whisky-nomics were all ok and I should press on to achieve my aim. Of course, the devil on your back was never going to leave it like that and he also suggested I could look at other aged grain whisky.
Thankfully, the common sense took over and I began to look at other distilleries. It was while I was perusing the website of The Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour that a 30 year old bottling from the North British Distillery appeared, bottled by Dramfool, a company started by Bruce Farquhar in 2015. I’d seen Dramfool produce before but didn’t know much about them, though I’d been recommended their whiskies before by Matteo the shop manager.
I knew even less about the North British distillery, other than it was a grain distillery in Edinburgh. However a little research on the internet reveals that it is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland, according to its website it is capable of producing 70 million litres of grain alcohol a year. Now thats a lot of spirit! Lets not forget that the distillation of grain alcohol has a different process from malt whisky, the former not relying on the batch process of the latter, but utilising the continuous distillation method of a Coffey Still.
The distillery was founded in 1885 by Andrew Usher, a pioneer of blended whisky when it became legal for single malt and grain to be blended together. The distillery opened in 1887 and has been going ever since. Its grain product forms the backbone of many blends. The current owners of the distillery are Diageo and the Edrington Group, owners of The Macallan and Highland Park. There isn’t really a lot to say about the distillery apart from there are occasional original bottlings available, but mostly any output as single grain seems to be the forte of the independent bottlers.
North British 30 year Old (Dramfool Bottling 30th release)
Region – Lowland Age – 30 Years Strength – 48.2% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type -Refill Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose -Solvent; polished wood, candy floss, pineapple, vanilla Palate – the character of the nose carries over into the palate with the addition of chocolate sponge, walnuts. Slight lemon note. Finish – medium to long. Solvent continues with hints of coconut, wood spices.
This was my first ever go at a single grain from the North British distillery. Did I enjoy it? Yes. It had a lot of the notes that I remember from my TBWC Invergordon. The devil on my shoulder was right, it is right and proper to chase aged grain whisky. While this might not be of the same age as the Invergordon whisky, I don’t think that matters. The taste and ease that this whisky was able to be drunk, even neat made me very happy with my selection. Even happier as I bought two….
Furthermore, now I have another independent bottler to keep an eye on. This is exciting and I cannot wait to see further releases, in particular single grain.
This bottle cost me £90 from the Speyside Whisky Shop. It is now sold out and isn’t available on the Dramfool website either. Was it good value? Yes, I believe it was. It’s not a distillery you see a lot of releases from, it was cask strength and 30 years old. NC and NCF means that it has a perfect spirit presentation. If I had only bought one bottle I would have been watching the auctions for another but I have one in store just waiting for the day I crack it open or sell it.
I would say if you see this bottle for under £120 and you fancy trying aged grain whisky, this is a good start.
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 futureW. 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.
Being an Aberdonian comes with some hardships. It’s a grey city with often grey humoured people. Many of my work colleagues know Aberdeen as “Aberdoom”, perhaps because they have to hang around the city while waiting to go offshore. It’s not that bad really. Often it’s worse. Only joking, it’s a fantastic small city which is much misunderstood and is on the doorstep of some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery and attractions. Visit the castles, especially Dunnottar and you’ll soon get what I mean. Plus, going to Dunnottar puts you close to the Carron Chipper, birthplace of the legendary Deep Fried Mars Bar – two historical superlatives in one day! Aberdeen and Shire are rocking!
The local football team have been successful in the past with two European trophies in 1983, the most European Cup success of any Scottish football club so far. Take note Rangers and Celtic fans. Two stars on the breast. Things haven’t been so successful since the departure of Alex Ferguson, but as a local lad I have to say I keep an eye on their progress, despite leaving the city some years ago.
To be fair, I don’t follow football that closely. Once upon a time when I was a student with an obligatory long fringe in my eyes and walking through the St Nicholas Centre I was pounced upon by a local reporter asking my opinion on who would win the Scottish Cup. I didn’t care who was playing in the 1991 Scottish Cup as it was only Dundee United and Motherwell. Aberdeen had won it the previous year, so I brushed him off by saying I was a Clachnacuddin supporter, an Inverness based Highland league team that is probably the lowest professional level in Scottish football. Little did I realise my photo had already been snapped. Wished I had known as it had been raining, I was sodden in my student camouflage jacket and my hair was a mess. The next day I had my moment in infamy when my quote and photo appeared in the local newspaper. Since then I’ve followed Clachnacuddin out of sympathy after the extensive ribbing I received after the publication of my comment. They join Aberdeen as a team that often gives me cause to wince when I see the scores from their latest games, though I always wish them well.
Scoring may be important when it comes to sports competition, but what about for whisky? We often see reviews of whisky giving a score out of a hundred, but what does it mean or even matter to us whisky geeks?
What seems to be the most popular way of allocating a score is analysing the different stages of whisky tasting, namely nose (aroma), palate (taste), body (weight – is the whisky light and watery or thick and heavy), mouthfeel (Is it oily, waxy? How does it coat your mouth? For me this ties into body), finish (sensations after swallowing) and balance (do any of the flavours or sensations overpower the others?).
Unlike sport where scoring follows well defined criteria, tasting doesn’t and I’d propose that can’t ever do so because it depends on too many factors, some physiological and some subjective. As we are all unique, each one of us will have a different ability to taste due to our unique set of tastebuds, our experience of taste and smell sensations, our medical history and current state of health. A drinkers preference can be influenced by what they’ve recently consumed, altitude, their mood and their perceptions of the whisky that can subconsciously creep in from the appearance of the liquid, hence why many blind tastings are done with coloured glasses.
For instance, I like sherried and peaty whiskies, though not necessarily both at the same time. In theory I might not take to a more delicate Lowlander from a bourbon cask and mark it down accordingly. Or, I might sample a whisky after a curry earlier on in the day and thus miss the subtle notes.
There is a fact that you can’t identify a smell or taste if you haven’t experienced it before. By all means you will be able to explain what a sensation reminds you of, but you have to wonder what has gone into the mouths of whisky tasters that describe the tastes of the more weird and wonderful taste descriptors.
I’m a bit guilty of this – I do believe that I described the TBWC Invergordon 42 year old as reminding me of polished wood. I’ve got a memory of standing idle in the older part of my primary school with my head against a varnished and heavily polished old door frame. I can’t remember if the smell was so strong the vapours were also landing on the back of my tongue as I breathed in, or if I licked it – both are possible but in my defence I was no older than 9 years old at the time. However it is a taste / smell sensation that has stuck in my head for close to 40 years. I can still picture that part of my old school in my minds eye as I type, and this illustrates a way we build up our memory bank of taste profiles as we move through our lives and taste whisky.
Getting back to scoring, we can see that there is not really a fool proof method to decide a score for whisky. If you can’t determine flavours, it can be harder to accurately assess a whisky. And with each of us being biologically different and with different outlooks, it is potentially less possible to get a reliable score based on so many variables across so many opinions. Plus, how do we set each criteria? We’d need a point of calibration to decide what was bad and good in each situation. I guess most people will describe the level of pleasure in each stage of their experience of a dram and that is the most reliable yet still subjective point we have.
A National Geographic article that I read in the past while waiting in a doctor’s surgery suggested that if you can taste more than six flavours in your drink at any one time, then you are perhaps not being honest with yourself based on the ability of the human body to experience flavours. However a lot of reviews are given based on experience over several drams while the bottle lasts. Even in my reviews where I often use miniatures, I’ll drink it in two distinct sittings to get a better idea of the dram. Adding water changes the spirit again and can unlock hidden gems of taste explosions within a single sitting so we have to look at a dram over a period of time to get more accurate knowledge to be able to give a score.
In the journey towards a summary before I meander more than the River Spey, whatever score you give it, that is just your score and your opinion. The person that it will be most useful to is you. Using your scores over the life of a bottle, or each time you buy the same whisky again, you can track your experience. The trouble is that it is all relative. You need to establish a baseline of what you find a competent whisky of that style, as there is no point of comparing a heavily peated Islay against a delicate triple distilled Lowlander. By setting a baseline for each style, you can perhaps score relative to that. Problem is that your baseline preference could also change over the years.
Any baseline has to be middle of the road. If you pick one too high, then other whiskies may unfairly not compare favourably. Same goes for picking too low a benchmark. Most other whiskies will taste brilliant after that.
And this is why I personally don’t like scoring whiskies, as it’s one more thing to concentrate on when we should be just enjoying a drink. I prefer to comment on value for money, whether I liked the whisky or not, whether I’d buy it again or recommend it. This should be enough, though that is just my opinion.
If you want help picking a new and tasty dram, scores can be helpful if you look across a broad range of opinions. That will give you a general idea of whether it’s good or not. Consistently high scores are a good indicator that the whisky isn’t rubbish. Even then, I’ve bought and enjoyed a whisky that regularly scores in the low 70’s. The recent official release of Allt-a-Bhainne is the one that sticks in my mind. I’ve recommended it to others who have also enjoyed it, but also one or two that haven’t. It’s opinion, not fact. For further guidance then look at the cask type, the peat level, ABV, not to mention price when considering a purchase based on review scores.
Above all else, this is YOUR whisky journey and nobody else’s. If you want to score whiskies, please do. Just remember a highly scored whisky by others doesn’t mean that you’ll like it. In my opinion scoring doesn’t have to be that important in the bigger scheme of things. Unless it’s for Aberdeen or Clachnacuddin football team.
Since my impromptu declaration of support of Clachnacuddin, I’ve gone as far to buy a replica Clach football shirt. They’ve even managed to win the Highland League since my impromptu declaration of support. Ironically, they’ve won the Highland League more times than any other club – 18 times. Since I’ve moved to the Highlands they’ve seemed to have resumed their position at the lower ends of the league table. But I will still support them. C’mon the Lillywhites!
As an aside and still within a whisky relevance, prior to 1993 there used to be three football clubs in Inverness – Inverness Caledonian, Caledonian Thistle and Clachnacuddin. Caledonian Thistle played at Telford Street Park, which backed onto the Glen Mhor distillery. After a merger of Caledonian and Caledonian Thistle, the new team Inverness Caledonian Thistle moved to Caledonian Stadium, beside the Kessock Bridge. In 1996, Caledonian Stadium was demolished and joined Glen Mhor and the adjacent Glen Albyn distilleries in becoming a retail park.
Aberdeen are one of the most frustrating Scottish teams to follow. However you need to support the team from your city of birth. I still have my 7” single from the successful 1983 Cup Winners Cup campaign. You can relive the classic song and reminisce on YouTube by clicking here Plus like those who remember where they were when JFK was shot, I remember what I was doing on 11th of May 1983. Watching a victorious Aberdeen side beat Real Madrid on the television. For many Aberdonians this was probably a more important point in their life timeline.
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.
The very first review I published at the start of Scotty’s Drams was a Dalwhinnie. In fact it was two Dalwhinnie drams in one – the Winter’s Gold and Distillery Exclusive. By using the links at the bottom of this review you will be able to back track and see what I wrote. So much has changed since I wrote that review – I’ve smartened up the blog format a bit, attempted to take better photographs and have made many more friends in the whisky world, both in the industry and other enthusiasts. Things that haven’t changed are my lo-fi production values (necessary when attempting to upload a blog on the internet equivalent of a 56k dial up modem) and the fact my dog is still not any better behaved. I’ve come up with a term to describe him accurately. “Hyper-social” would adequately describe my friendly old Labrador who still acts like a puppy despite being 9 years old. I’m quite sure the local canines would more relevantly call him “dog nonce”. I guess there is always room for improvement, and we won’t quite give up on Maks for now.
Dalwhinnie is one of my local distilleries, certainly the closest owned by a global enterprise, the other being Tomatin. Tiny Speyside distillery which can be seen from my house if you know where to look when the leaves are off the trees doesn’t have a look in compared to the output of these two monsters.
Dalwhinnie has this thing about being the highest distillery, which having checked with a hand held GPS I can confirm is not true; Braeval (Braes Of Glenlivet) was a metre higher, but Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland with a visitors centre and a damned fine one at that. Standing just on the northern outskirts of the village of the same name, Dalwhinnie is a also few miles north of the Drumochter Pass, the place where the A9 trunk Road and Highland Mainline Railway squeeze between a narrow mountain pass which can be treacherous in winter time.
Funnily enough while Dalwhinnie proclaims itself to be a Highland Malt, it actually does belong in the Speyside Whisky Region, being the most southerly of all the Speysides. It is actually closer to the River Spey than its height rival with Dalwhinnie being as close as 8.1km from the Spey opposed to Braeval’s effort at 17.5km. Remember that every Speyside whisky is a Highlander, but not every Highlander is a Speyside. For the record, Macallan still show themselves as a Highland whisky too.
The location of the distillery gives a welcome sight when heading home, and looks picturesque whether you see it from the road, or while passing behind it when you travel by train. It’s hard to believe you are over 350m above sea level.
Dalwhinnie was founded in 1897 and was originally called the Strathspey distillery, and was owned by the same people who owned the original Speyside distillery in the village of Kingussie some 14 miles further north. The Strathspey Distillery Company went bust in 1898 with both distilleries sold. Eventually Dalwhinnie went on to be the first Scottish distillery to be sold to foreign company in 1905. By 1911 the Kingussie distillery fell silent and was demolished in 1920’s. Only one building still remains between the Duke Of Gordon Hotel and the Ardvonie Road car park. Rumour has it a lot of the local houses constructed soon after used stone from the demolished distillery, which was a similar size to Dalwhinnie. In 1926 after a couple of changes in ownership, the Dalwhinnie distillery eventually was bought by DCL, which went on to become Diageo.
Dalwhinnie distillery only has 2 stills, so is not a major producer compared to some. However it does still use worm tubs to condense the spirit coming out from the stills. Due to the average temperature of Dalwhinnie being quite low throughout the year (I’ve read somewhere it averages 6C, but as a local I think that’s a little too high!) the worm tubs ensure a rapid condensation of the spirit vapor from the stills. In 1986, whilst the distillery was getting an upgrade, the worm tubs were replaced by more modern shell and tube condensers but this changed the character of the spirit too much, and the more expensive to run worm tubs were reinstalled.
In 2018 the distillery experienced a shut down of production during an extended period of hot weather. Not due to the lack of water from the Allt an t-Sluic burn, but because the temperature of the water in the cooling system was too high and the worm tubs were not able to condense the spirit effectively changing the property of the spirit.
Diageo announced in 2018 that the Dalwhinnie visitors centre would be undergoing an upgrade. I haven’t been there since 2018, so I’m not sure if it has been carried out, but even if it hasn’t, the visitor centre is excellent as are the staff. But let’s see if the whisky is….
Region -Speyside Age – 15 years Strength – 43% Colour -Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Mostly Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Strong green apples, wallpaper paste, lemon peel, sawdust. Oily. Palate – Sweet on arrival with oak spices. Caramel, vanilla, chocolate, unripe pears, lemon zest. Finish – medium long, fruity, warming hint of sulphur.
Quite a decent dram, and certainly one worth having in your drinks cabinet. There is good reason why this formed the original Classic Malts selection in 1988 as I found it to be such an easy drinker. Nothing too complex but enough to keep it interesting. The sulphur was well controlled. Funny that, as the out of favour whisky writer (who one fellow blogger made an anagram of the writers name to be ‘Jura My Rim’)* is often banging on about sulphur, yet awarded it 95 out of 100.
I’ve seen online many people complain about this dram being too light, too delicate and possibly being a victim of poor quality casks but I disagree. Nobody knowingly makes a poor whisky, especially when it concerns a single malt that has had quite a long lifespan. Perhaps like my attitude with Maksimus, a bit of perseverance is needed if you think this is a poor malt.
All in all this is an inexpensive, good value easy drinker at a price of £43-£46 in shops. If you are looking for something a little more challenging to drink, this isn’t it. Definitely recommended, especially for those starting out on a whisky journey.
One of the things I’ve never done yet on my whisky journey is open up a Diageo Special Release. I’m lucky enough to have 4 in my remote store, three Convalmore (27, 32 and 36 year olds) and the whisky I am about to review today, Collectivum XXVIII. Not exactly a whisky title that trips off the tongue, although a little bit easier than some of the Gaelic names used. This release is the first time that Diageo has released a blend as part of the Special Releases, so hopefully it is a whisky that deserves to have its place in the range.
So why the strange name? Well this isn’t a blend like any other, it’s a blend of all 28 of Diageo’s Scottish Malt Whisky distilleries. Yup, can you believe there are 28? Well there are and for the record here are their names….
Boy! That was quite a challenge! I spent 10 minutes by my hotel poolside whilst in isolation to get them all, but forgot Cardhu. Most of these malts have featured in at least one series of whiskies featured by Diageo or its predecessors, covering the Classic Malts, The Singleton whiskies or the Flora and Fauna range. The main exception is Roseisle, which is a distillery that produces malt for blending and has never had an official release yet.
The box is well presented with the details of all the distilleries. The bottle is well presented being crisp, clear and free of any excess decoration – the sort of things that appeal to me. But what is this behemoth of a blend going to reveal to us? It’s time to crack on and find out.
Region – Blend Age – n/a Strength – 57.3% Colour -Amber (0.7) Cask Type – n/a Colouring – not stated Chill Filtered –NoNose – waxy, ginger, leather, smoke, honey Palate – Quite hot neat. Need to add water. Coats mouth and reveals a creamy sweetness. Aniseed, leather, stewed apples, black pepper corns, spicy wood. Slight astringency. Balanced well with peat and smoke in the background.- Finish – medium to long. Wood spices, nutmeg, apple peel, smoke
With so many things going on in this glass it is impossible to identify each individual distillery. The waxy quality makes me think of Clynelish, the smokey and peat make me think of Lagavulin and Talisker. I think to truly enjoy this malt you need to switch off and not analyse it, but just accept it as it is.
The one thing I’ll have to highlight straight away is don’t dismiss this as ‘just a blend’. I kind of made that schoolboy error and attempted to drink this dram undiluted. It wasn’t so much as a contempt for the dram, but I figured I’ve managed Clearic in the past, plus Polish Bimber and lived to tell the tale. Big mistake. There is quite a strong bite to this dram and water will only enhance your experience. Using a pipette, add a few drops of water to break through the complexity layer by layer and you will be rewarded.
Can you taste any of the distilleries in here? No. You can taste elements and hazard a guess but for me when I was attempting to do so spoilt the experience so I gave up. It had been a hectic week when I tasted it so perhaps I was just a bit overloaded. But this is a wonderfully complex dram, with a gentle and gradual application of a few drops of water opening up the whisky like a budding flower. Overall, well balanced and a good sipper.
Being a Special Release there will be limited amounts of this in circulation. Although I have not seen anything confirmed, Special Releases tend not to have much more than 7500 units or less. It cost £150 on release and can be found online at Amazon.co.uk for £124.70 at the time of writing. Specialist retailers may have some available or you can find it on auction sites at the moment around £100-£120. Of course, I didn’t open my stored one, but picked up one at auction for £118 all in.
If you can afford it, it is a worthwhile one to have and while I don’t want to comment on its collectibility, it certainly is a talking point for any collection. The fuss free box and bottle presentation seal the deal for me. While I recommend you try this, the numbers available will be on the steady decline. I suspect a lot of these have been opened out of curiosity, so if you know a friend that has one, perhaps see if they would be benevolent enough to let you try.
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.