Taste Review #104 – Glen Garioch 15 old style bottling.
They say that time waits for no man and for me that is so true. Events always pass me by, as life for me often seems to move at the speed of continental drift as everything speeds past. This can have some very positive effects. Due to being fashion unconscious, I’ve found that I can use my wardrobe of walking gear, Levis and 8 hole Dr. Martens to drift in and out of fashion as it ebbs and flows around me. And I have both the black and cherry red variants so can mix it up a bit. Being a canny Aberdonian, this also has the effect of not wasting money on frivolous pursuits such as clothes and leaves more cash for whisky. However, this review isn’t a new release at all, but a bottling from the middle part of the first decade of this century. It is from my former local distillery, Glen Garioch in Oldmeldrum.
You may be surprised (or not as the case may be) to find out that this is a sample that I have had sitting in my wee kitchen display cabinet for over two years. I received it from a work colleague as an exchange for a wee dram of Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine; after all, wee yellow submarines are our trade. I’ve bought a handful of these bottles on his recommendation but have yet to open one. I’ve been itching to try it, but told my colleague I’d do it when I had time to really concentrate on it. Well, as is the case with offshore workers that have a child, that moment doesn’t come around too often. This poor sample was sitting on the shelf for longer than it should have and now that I have completed my course of antibiotics for an infected knee joint, this is my first dram of 2021. Publishing the review has been postponed due to my old vs new series, so it’s had a little longer to wait, but after 2 years in a cabinet, it’s hardly a problem, right?
I used to live a little more than 15 minutes drive away from here, but it was only in March of last year that I managed a visit to the distillery. It was worth it, although I didn’t take to the Founders Reserve sample given out.You can read my review here. There was nothing wrong with it other than it not being to my taste, and had several things going for it, not least the 48% bottling strength. But you can’t like everything that a distillery releases, though I am hoping that my colleague’s recommendation is a sound one. Let’s find out.
Glen Garioch 15 Year Old (2007 bottling)
Just for clarity, Garioch is pronounced Gear-ie and rhymes with dreary.
Region – Highland Age – 15y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Chestnut Oloroso (1.2) Cask Type – Not known. Suspect Bourbon with a sherry finish Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated but likely. Nose – Honey, slightly nutty, heather, caramel, quite sweet. Slight whiff of smoke suggesting peat, but that’s all it is; a suggestion. Palate – Sweetness all the way, with a heathery honey with that whiff of smoke in the background. There is more citrus appears when water added. The sourness increases and there is a mild lemon note occurring. It’s oily, and the legs on the glass are absolutely fantastic. Finish – Long, warming, sweet, with a slight citrus sourness building and a hint of wood spice. A bit more spice builds as time goes on as more is drunk. Smoke still there but continues to be subtle.
It’s a pity I left it so long. It’s a great easy going sipper. There is little complexity to this dram, but that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes you just need something you can drink and isn’t challenging. To put it into the Doric language which is used all around the North East of Scotland, it’s a dram that gives you a ‘bosie’ (at’s a hug t’ aa iv youse ‘at cannae spik i Doric wye). Now I’m faced with the decision of what to do with the other dram, as I did say I might pass it on once I’ve done my review. Just not sure if being half full will rapidly change the dram due to dissipation, evaporation and oxidation.
And yet in that vein, I have no idea how long the bottle my sample was taken from was open, so it could be well ‘rested’ so to speak, but if it is, it has done the dram no harm.
You can pick one of these full sized bottles up at auction for a hammer price of between £55 – £70, plus fees. It’s not a bad price for an enjoyable whisky, but has been discontinued for some time now, so you may struggle to get it anywhere else than auction.
I’d recommend trying this if you see it going about. Maybe a bit on the expensive side for its age and abv, but a worthwhile experience.
What remains to be seen is if this standard of whisky returns to Glen Garioch. In mid March 2021, the owners of the distillery, Beam Suntory, announced a £6m refurbishment which would include a return to more traditional methods of distilling. The news that the malting floors were being reopened was a surprise, though a welcome one. Whether or not they will process their entire malt requirement is unclear though it can only be a good thing that this will be happening, whether it is a fraction or the entire amount. Exciting times are ahead and I’d mark this distillery as one to keep an eye on.
Yours In Spirits
Cheers to Ritchie Keith for the sample. Very enjoyable.
We’ve come to the last in my old vs. new reviews and I’ve saved what is one of the best known name in whisky until last. Macallan. This has been one of the hardest comparisons to be organised, as COVID got in the way of me reaching my old 1990’s bottle of 10 year old Macallan which was damaged in a flood. As I had consigned this to a drinking bottle it would have been perfect for this cause. Conveniently I had managed to pick up a 1990’s miniature at auction, as the 70cl Macallan 10 year olds are now reaching £400 at auction, and I am not paying that just to do a review.
The newer bottle was also procured at auction, and it is currently easy to purchase, despite being discontinued as an age statement. It is in a much different box, with the white Easter Elchies box being discontinued mid 2000’s. The range was rebranded slightly in 2004 with the introduction of a second 10 year old in the core selection with the addition of the Fine Oak edition, which introduced spirit also matured in American Bourbon casks. As to the Sherry Oak, sometimes when there is a rebrand, this is a chance to do a slight recipe tweak, so we’ll see if this is the case in this instance.
The 10 year old Sherry Oak was discontinued in 2013 and the 10 year old Fine Oak was discontinued in 2018. The youngest Sherry Oak is now the 12 year old.
With old and new bottles procured, it was then a case of finding time to taste them, Given I realised that this would be probably the closest comparison out of all the drams in this series, I wanted to give this time, so I could fully appreciate both drams. You can probably guess what happened next – at each attempt to get some adequate time to do any tasting, I never got my days chores finished in time or my daughter would decide that she didn’t want to settle in the evening. On one occasion I shot myself in the foot by having a strong curry, thus knocking my tastebuds out. This wasn’t boding well for getting the old versus new series completed.
But, as I am fond of quoting, John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” And indeed that is the case. It’s also quite appropriate to quote a member of the Beatles, as my feelings towards them are similar to Macallan – I feel both are overrated. I know that I will have lots of people shooting me down over this statement, either for the musical or whisky assumption or perhaps both, but I just don’t see the quality in Macallan when I can taste similar whisky (or better) for a lot less money. Glenallachie 15 is my preference to the Macallan 18 and it has the bonus of being much, much cheaper.
I’ve reviewed the Macallan old style before and have also visited the distillery. You can see my last review of the old style Macallan by clicking on this link. In this review, I had also the samples given by the distillery, the 12 year old double cask and the 15 year old triple cask which I didn’t review due to the small amounts, but the sherry cask 10 year old blasted both drams way out of the park. Since then it has been my intention to compare the old version of the 10 year old with a like for like modern equivalent, which has also been discontinued since 2013.
As a bit of a laugh, during my research for this review, I came across this on a website speaking about the history of Macallan. I am sure that you will spot the error straight away.
The miniature bottle I have was bottled in the 1990s and shows the Easter Elchies farmhouse. The 70cl bottle of the newer spirit was released around the mid 2000’s. This particular bottle was released pre 2010, before Macallan started using Hologram stickers to deter forgeries.
Macallan 10 (1990’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, raisins, dates, tobacco, butterscotch, apricot, slight funk from the bottle. Palate – All components in the nose were in the palate. Mouthfeel had a medium body, slightly oily. Finish – Medium – Toffee, dried fruits, slightly drying, gentle oak notes.
Macallan 10 (mid to late 2000’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, milk chocolate, marmalade, tobacco, raisins. Hint of acetone. Quite a light nose. Palate – thin mouthfeel, sweet on arrival, the raisins appear along with a bitter oak tannin Finish – medium / short The alcohol disappears quite quickly, leaving chocolate, raisins and a bitter note on departure.
Confession time – I seriously expected the old one to totally romp home on this one. So much so, I was worried that this preconception would affect my judgement. However, nothing could have prepared me for how close both these drams were. I have often poured scorn on Macallan in the past, which has to be said now was unfair and unjustified in this instance. The fact is that both drams tasted very similar is testament to their focus on quality. My surprise was compounded when I looked back to the review I wrote last year and found I nearly got exactly the same tasting notes.
So perhaps I should chastise myself a little bit and loosen the belt of cynicism that I have around brand promotion and give into the fact that 1990’s Macallan and 21st century Macallan of this bottling are not too much different. But before we give into back slapping and high fives, there were a few small details that need to be taken into account, as to my palate they were different.
The mouthfeel on the newer bottling was very slightly thinner. The overall experience was more bitter and sharp compared to the older expression. The older expression also had it’s issues, but the only one I could find that stood out was that there was a slight funk to the sample, which was definitely caused by the fact it was in a miniature bottle. Therefore I predict that this was caused by the seal. Had I been able to taste from my damaged 70cl bottle that is currently languishing in a store 70 miles away, the presence of a cork seal would have maybe improved the sample experience for the better.
I can definitely say the newer example has a slightly lighter mouthfeel as well as a shorter finish, but it isn’t a bad whisky in any sense of the word. I found it had more bitter oak in it, something I didn’t get in the miniature sample, nor the sample I had in my last review which had came from a 70cl bottle with a cork seal.
I spent a few minutes discussing this with one of my friends who is a bit of a Macallan fan. He correctly told me that the distillery will try as hard as possible to keep the same flavour profile, so there is unlikely to be a big difference in the recipe. What he did say is that he’d heard that the 10 year old age statement was retired due to it being so expensive to keep producing as there were more and more older barrels being needed to maintain the flavour profile, so it was axed and the 12 year old age statement continued from that point.
I’m going to enjoy the rest of this 10 yr old bottle; the miniature got finished in this review. The 70cl bottle was £120 at auction including fees. The miniature was £40 at auction so this hasn’t been the cheapest of reviews as well as not being the cheapest. But it needed to be done. Perhaps once I get access to my store, it will give me and my friends a chance to compare like for like with both drams having been sealed by a cork.
Was the older dram better? I have to say yes, but I think it is due more to my preference. £120 is expensive for a ten year old whisky yet the 10 year old releases in the white boxes that show the Easter Elchies farmhouse painting now regularly sell at auction for over £400 including fees. There must be a reason for that, and perhaps it is that others also agree with me that the older one is better. However I think that eventually when supply of the older dram tightens due to them being drunk, the price of the more recent bottling will rise in value.
My final opinion is that if you aren’t really studying the drams, it would be hard to tell the difference. You will get a good experience regardless of what expression of the Sherry Oak you try. The Fine Oak reportedly is not as good, and I’m not opening my bottle to find that at out – not just now anyway.
This is my final review in my old versus new whiskies. It’s now time for me to mull over some conclusions and I look forward to publishing them. I hope that you have enjoyed this series, please consider looking at the index of my tastings using the link below to let you see my other reviews of this series.
Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown was built on seven stills.
When you are asked to think of where the powerhouse of the Speyside whisky industry, Dufftown is an obvious choice. There has been 9 distilleries founded in Dufftown. From the short lived Pittyvaich and Parkmore, through to Glenfiddich, Dufftown, Convalmore, Glendullan, Mortlach, Balvenie and Kininvie. What other village can be thought of as a centre of whisky production? While there is a pocket of distilleries to the south of Aberlour – Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhaine, Dailuaine and Dalmunach, but they aren’t in a village. You have to look further north to the Speyside village of Rothes, which once was home to 4 distilleries with one on the outskirts.
Rothes is a small village in Moray, some ten miles south of Elgin. It has a population of around 1400 people. It has 4 operational distilleries, three of which have the prefix ‘Glen’ – Glen Grant, Glen Spey and the distillery I will focus on today, Glenrothes. Of course, we can’t forget Speyburn on the north side of the village. There was another distillery, Caperdonich which closed in May 2002, and was demolished in 2011. The site was taken over by Forsyths, the company responsible for many a malt distillery still and equipment. Almost like a whisky circle of life.
The Glenrothes Distillery started operation in 1879 before the large boom that was to come around 15 years later. The initial investors, all of whom owned the Macallan distillery at the time. James Stewart had obtained the lease of Macallan and rebuilt the distillery in 1868, only selling it to Roderick Kemp in 1892. James Stewart eventually split from the group building Glenrothes, who continued with the plan to build the distillery.
In 1884 it changes its name to Glenrothes-Glenlivet, which was a cheeky way of riding on the coat tails of the original Glenlivet distillery, such was its renown. Rothes is nowhere near Glenlivet, but that didn’t stop them or others from this practice. By 1887 they merged with the owners of Bunnahabhain distillery to form Highland Distillers. This in turn became part of Edrington, the current owners of the distillery. However for 7 years the brand was owned by Berry Bros. (2010- 2017), and it is one of these vintages we will be trying today.
In fact, the distillery in the village with three ‘Glens’ has supplied us with three drams and a bit of drama. First up is an old style Glenrothes bottled by Gordon & Macphail. It is an 8 year old spirit at 70 Proof. This is 40% ABV. The requirement to have the strength in percent originated in 1980, but this bottle does not have the volume on it. I estimate this bottle to be from the 1970’s.
Whisky 2 is at the other end of the scale. It is an independent bottling from the Malt Whisky Co. also at 8 years old, distilled in 2007. This is the other end of the scale at 64.1%.
Lastly for a sense of balance, I’ve got a 1998 Glenrothes, bottled in 2012, so will be approximately 14 years old at 43%. I’m hoping that this will indicate if the newer whisky is any better, taking into account the maturation age difference.
While I am not directly comparing like for like, it is a good excuse to open an old bottle and a new bottle and thus experience a little whisky history.
Glenrothes 8 y.o est. 1970’s
Region – Speyside Age – 8y.o Strength – 70proof (40%) Colour -Mahogany (1.6) Cask Type –not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered– not known.Nose – Solventy. Malt, Citrus, dried fruit, red apple peel, weetabix, chocolate Palate – Oily mouthfeel. Highly doubt this has been chill filtered. Malty, honey, slightly floral, hint of lemon. Spicy, nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon Finish – medium long. Spicy notes continue, honey and light sulphur towards the end. 2ml of water accentuated the spice and shortened the finish with slightly less sulphur.
Glenrothes 8 y.o 2007
Region -Speyside Age – 8 y.o Strength – 64.1% Colour – chestnut Oloroso (Cask Type – not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Like a Sherry laden trifle. I’m no Sherry expert but that’s what it reminded me of. Chocolate, Coffee, Raisins, Butterscotch Angel Delight. Palate – Chocolate, cinnamon buns, raisins, a hint of tobacco, caramel. Very spirit forward, not a lot of wood influence at all. A bit of a bite from the spirit on the tongue. Water added a cereal note, like eating cornflakes dry from the packet. Finish – the chocolate butterscotch combo continues into a short and relatively disappointing finish. However adding water shortens the sweet portion and increases the spicy blast at the end. Chilli chocolate springs to mind. After falling asleep in my armchair and waking up with half a nip left, there was a more balanced and less fiery finish, with the flavours returning to coffee and chocolate.
Region – Speyside Age – vintage, approx 8 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type -not known Colouring – No.Chill Filtered – Not known Nose – Milky Tea, slightly sweet, butterscotch, vanilla, apricot. Palate – honey, fudge, the cinnamon, nutmeg, peppery spices dominate, slightly oily mouthfeel which turns dry. Water allowed a cereal note followed by caramel to show through Finish – medium. Spices carry over and fade into honey again with a hint of liquorice. A hint of plantain too. Sweetness increases and spices decreased when water added
It’s impossible to directly compare all these drams directly and I’m not going to try. However there can be a slight comparison between the 1998 vintage and the 1970’s bottle, despite the difference in age. With a massive difference in abv, there is no way I can use the 2007 sample as a comparison, other than a taste of a spirit from the same distillery.
Initially I didn’t expect much from the older dram. There was considerable contamination on the seal, some evaporation and a tell tale old bottle smell. Once poured into the glass, there was a sign of sediment. Now, this is likely to have been from the cap, so I went through the procedure I use if cork has accidentally gone into the spirit. I filter the spirit using a coffee filter paper, funnel and clean glass. I meant to put the glass into the wash but absent-mindedly put the 2007 dram into the dirty glass. Repeat of process and a clean glass required.
I’d read somewhere that Glenrothes can take an while to open up in the glass, so I gave the 8 year old 30 mins, there was a reduction in old bottle aroma, and I was genuinely surprised by how tasty it was. Nothing spectacular by any means, but it has a bit of bite.
The closest competitor in this line up was the 1998 / 14 year old. It however didn’t have the same bite, and while it had more complexity, I felt it a little bit insipid in comparison. However it’s a 10cl bottle and I have more opportunity to get to know this bottle.
The 8 year old from 2007 was fantastic. It had an instantly impressive nose, an equally impressive palate, although I felt the finish a little bit disappointing. However if this was available, I’d easily buy a bottle. In fact in a conversation with a fellow WhiskyTwitterite, I asked if it was better to have loved and lost or never loved at all, as if I’d never tasted this, I wouldn’t have the regret of not being able to buy more.
To be honest, despite old bottle effect, the older dram wins, as it was the one I felt more comfortable with, but if we allowed the 2007 to be considered, it would be the winner.
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.
As has been mentioned in the past when I’ve been writing about whisky, especially those I collect, I tend to steer away from Independent bottlings. These are because I feel that these may not be as worth as much when I come to sell. In the past I’ve even seen them as inferior, which is not the case at all. This meant that I mistakenly did not give them much attention but recent experiences in my whisky journey over the past year have come to educate me that this is a gross error on my part.
One of the great things about this whisky community is that you are often able to experience different whiskies thanks to sample swapping or a generous gift from a fellow enthusiast. In this case for this weeks double review we have to thank Tobi of Barleymania.com (another great blog – perhaps even better than mine hahahah!). After a conversation with him online about how much I enjoy Benrinnes, Tobi sent me a sample of the Douglas Laing’s Old Particular 16 year old Benrinnes. It didn’t end there. Tobi also sent the Dailuaine which has been bottled by Grindlays that I am also writing about today. This was sent as an apology for not sending the Benrinnes quicker! If you are reading this Tobi, I am very grateful and I will return the generosity with another independent Benrinnes soon but be assured I move with the speed approaching that of continental drift.
Both today’s whiskies are from Speyside, and are relatively close to each other, just to the south of Aberlour. Benrinnes sits on the lower slopes of the hill that holds the same name, whereas Dailuaine is closer to the Spey and the village of Carron. Benrinnes is the older of the two distilleries with the original being built in 1826, and rebuilt in 1829 after being destroyed in a flood. Going through a handful of owners, by 1925 it came into the possession of DCL who later morphed into the current owner Diageo.
Opened in 1851, close neighbour Dailuaine had the privilege of being connected to the Speyside Railway, even having its own railway halt and small locomotive (known as a puggie) for shuttling its freight to the goods yard at Carron Railway station and Imperial Distillery. The locomotive still survives at the Aberfeldy distillery, and the engine shed still survives at Dailuaine, although the Speyside line closed in 1968, and all other traces of the puggie branch line have gone.
Dailuaine was also the first distillery to have a pagoda style roof over the kiln, more correctly known as a Doig Ventilator, which was designed by the architect of many distilleries Charles Doig. It was installed in 1884 but sadly was lost when the distillery burnt down in 1917.
Dailuaine has one or two things in common to Benrinnes. In 1925 it was also bought by DCL, later to become part of Diageo. Both distilleries were part of the Flora and Fauna releases in 1991, and continue to be so. How long this will continue is anybody’s guess. Benrinnes is quite common as an independent bottle but Dailuaine not so common, mostly being used to provide filler for blends.
Both whiskies have a meaty, heavy style similar to Mortlach, especially those releases that have been matured in a Sherry cask. But what will these independent releases be like?
Dailuaine 19 (Grindlays)
Region – Speyside Strength – 57% . Colour – Ripe Corn Nose – Malt, sawdust, nuts, honey, vanilla. Palate – waxy mouthfeel, slightly drying. Not such a big hit when considering it is cask strength. Honey, orange. Water intensified the spice and made the honey more apparent Finish – Medium. Spice notes, honey and a slight tannic dryness of tea. The addition of water intensified the spiciness
Ex Bourbon Cask, Natural Colour, Non-Chillfiltered.
Benrinnes 16 (Douglas Laing Old Particular)
Region – Speyside Strength – 56% Colour – Deep Gold Nose – Deep Creamy fudge, vanilla. Ginger nuts, caramelised sugar, apple crumble Palate – Oily mouthfeel, but not overly heavy. Gives a nice coating. As with any sherry casked whisky there are an abundance of fruity flavours, but also nuts in there too. Raisins, Blackberries, Hazlenut, Cocoa, leather, figs. Cinnamon, Finish – Whoaaa There – wasn’t expecting this. Oak spices, I get a tobacco note / dry wood. Dark chocolate. Warm, medium – long and more-ish.
Ex SherryButt, Natural Colour, non chill filtered.
Both drams were fantastic. I spent a whole evening with these whiskies, allowing a respectable amount of time between them. I have to say that on an initial blind tasting that I preferred the Benrinnes, but this is not a surprise. For me it had a pleasant smoothness coupled with the rich fruit flavours.
Both are still available online if you look, despite being limited edition. The Grindlays Dailuaine can be found at Tyndrum Whisky for £94. The Benrinnes is a bit harder to get as I could not find any source online other than auctions – quite a feat considering it was only bottled last year. Keep an eye open for it – you will not regret buying this.
Lastly, thanks go again to Tobi. You can visit his blog by clicking on this linkBarleymania.com
Taste Review #66 – SMWS 38.24 Princess Street Gardens in Summer (Caperdonich 26 year old)
I’m not a big fan of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I guess it’s because the tight Aberdonian in me sees no point in joining a society just to get independent bottles. Every pound wasted in membership fees is money that could have gone on bottles. Add in the fact that I’d rarely be able to take advantage of the facilities then it’s almost a no-brainer that I’m never likely to be a member. There is another issue. Any out-turns are limited and usually snapped up straightaway so availability isn’t great either. You can see that there isn’t a lot to attract me to membership.
But…. (and there is always a but) the SMWS has always reliably released decent bottlings. The few that I have tried have been really good, and I’d never write off buying one at auction should the price be right. Unfortunately due to lack of availability, it is rarely right.
Those who have been reading my reviews know that I have a predilection towards unicorn drams will not be surprised that this week is another one that has been bottled by the SMWS. While Caperdonich isn’t rare by any standard, it is a distillery that has been consigned to the history books as it was demolished in 2011, making remaining supply finite which means at some point it will get rarer.
Caperdonich was built at the wrong time; 1898 wasn’t a good year for the Scottish Whisky Industry thanks to those Pattison rogues whose forgery pretty much collapsed the industry. The distillery was built as a sister plant to the Glen Grant distillery in the Speyside village of Rothes, yet closed in 1902. The malting floor, kilns and. warehouses were kept in use and it wasn’t until 1965 that the stills started to wake from their slumber. A whisky boom started that saw Glen Grant rise in popularity in Italy and Caperdonich was activated to help provide spirit, but times had moved on and so had U.K. law which forbade two separate distilleries sharing a name. Caperdonich is named after its water supply.
In 1977, the distillery was sold to Seagrams and by 2001 it was then sold to Pernod Ricard. Sadly by 2002 the distillery had been mothballed and demolition started in 2010. It’s not all bad news, as Forsyths expanded their company on the site of the old distillery. If that name isn’t familiar to you, then I can tell you that they are the company responsible for the manufacture of a good deal of the stills currently used in the Scotch Whisky industry.
Caperdonich is slowly starting to gain a premium on prices and it now is the time to try it before the price gets out of reach of the enthusiast drinker. I was lucky and spotted this cheeky little sample at auction and snapped it up pronto. Let’s see what I thought.
Region – Speyside Age – 26 y.o Strength – 51.2% Colour – Yellow Gold
Light malt, creamy, pineapple, dried out lawn, caramel, puff pastries. Almonds. A smell that reminds me of a dusty dunnage warehouse.
Sweet. vanilla custard slices, tropical fruit salad with apricot, apple, warming spices after the arrival. Still getting the impression of that warehouse. Adding water gave a bit more of a citrus prominence
Spicy polished wood, black currants, hints of cocoa with a pleasant slightly tart taste in the mouth with a medium length finish.
I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed and thankfully I got exactly what I expected. A very easy to drink cask strength whisky that gave a pleasant experience of a light, old style malt from a different era. From the experience I’ve had just now I’d definitely look forward to trying other Caperdonich drams and for a moment I wondered if my position on the SMWS should change.
Don’t worry, the tight Aberdonian in me will ensure I keep my money in my pocket considering how many other independent bottlings of Caperdonich are available. Original bottles are also available occasionally at the Aberlour, Glenlivet, Scapa and Strathisla distilleries, as I’m sure that Pernod Ricard still have a sizeable stock remaining. You can find it bottled as part of the distillery reserve collection and should my memory serve me correctly I paid around £75 for a 500ml bottle.
My 25ml nip was not cheap. It was almost £44 after auction fees etc were added. Let’s face it though, you may pay more in a bar to drink the same dram. The price certainly brings tears to a glass eye, but the experience made it more than worthwhile.
Keep an eye on the internet for cheaper Caperdonich whisky – they can vary in price at auction for £100 – £300 per bottle but often more. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Of course, your local friendly specialist whisky retailer may be able to advise you of the retail availability of bottles.
For those of you who don’t know, mariners can be superstitious. I know of fishermen in the North East of Scotland have plenty of little things in their mind they they consider to be unlucky – mentioning the word Rabbit or Salmon is meant to bring no good and neither are having a woman on your fishing boat. And don’t dare consider washing out your sugar bowl. Shooting an Albatross would be probably the final icing on the cake to guarantee a maritime disaster or perhaps an empty fish hold.
As a person who also has spent the majority of his working life at sea, I also have a few superstitions and practices. As an ROV pilot, me and many of my colleagues are a bit nervous about mentioning the word ‘reterm’ which is a shortening of the word ‘retermination’. A reterm is when you have to cut the yellow flying tether between the ROV and the deployment system, or the main lift umbilical between the launch system and the deployment system. Not technically complex, though a main lift umbilical is more intensive and takes around 12 hrs to complete. Usually mentioning the word reterm is seen as chancing fate and is frowned upon by many.
I have no whisky superstitions, but when a bottle of Jura Superstition turned up in a bulk buy of auction whisky miniatures, I did become a bit wary. I’m not a fan of Jura, especially the last NAS offering I tried, the insipid Jura Journey. Would this one be the same? I was sort of hoping it wouldn’t be, as Jura is owned by Whyte and Mackay who also own Dalmore distillery which do have a good range of decent malts and the lesser known Fettercairn distillery. Their master blender Richard Patterson is a well known personality in the industry and has overseen the creation of some great drams, yet sometimes appears to drop the ball when it has come to Jura Journey and Fettercairn’s Fior, though that’s just my opinion.
The distillery on Jura was established in 1810 by the Laird of Jura to create employment on the island, but had intermittent use, finally closing in 1901, possibly as a result of fallout from the Pattinson crash. The main issue with Jura was that an island distillery was always going to make it more expensive to produce from – everything has to arrive or depart via ferry from Islay via Port Askaig on Islay. It wasn’t until the late 50’s that work started in rebuilding the distillery. This included the installation of taller stills (over 7 metres tall!). First spirit started flowing in 1963 and by 1974 single malt whiskies were being released.
The single malt we will be sampling today was first released in 2002 and is very lightly peated. It was joined by the more heavily peated Prophecy in 2009. The range was revamped in 2018 and Superstition was discontinued. Let’s pay a visit to a whisky that has passed on.
Region – Highland;Age -NAS; Strength– 43%; Colour – Deep Copper; Nose – Cereal notes, straw slight hint of smoke. Honey. A bit of brine in the background; Palate– Slightly waxy mouthfeel- medium body. muesli, toffee, a hint of honey with more smoke. Now the light peat becomes apparent but not like an Islay. Finish – medium. The oak spices arrive now, with vanilla, smoke, slight dryness and a hint of brine at the end.
Well, surprise surprise. I actually liked this one. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but it had a lot more to offer than Jura Journey. I’m actually grateful that in my whisky journey that I’ve made the decision not to let one whisky I didn’t enjoy spoil my view of the distillery. I’ve sort of got a small bias against Whyte and Mackay brands, as I’ve not really enjoyed the few samples I’ve had from Fettercairn either, but that has also had a range upgrade recently as well.
I think the muesli notes perhaps come from the relatively short fermentation period of 54 hrs. There were also cereal notes that I detected in the nose. This spirit has been matured in Bourbon casks, has been chill filtered and also has added colour, thus scores 0/4 in the ABCD check list. However I ‘got’ this whisky. The brine influence along with a light peat gave a lovely smokey maritime feel.
If it was available, I’d give this a thumbs up and would recommend this as an easy introduction to peated whiskies, but alas it is no more. I’ve taken a look online and am struggling to see it available anywhere. It may be best to try auctions to try this whisky. It was RRP at £35-ish as a guide, so you should be able to pay less than this for a 70cl bottle.
I think my next Jura will have to be one of the age statement releases.
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.
Taste Review #55 – The Lost Distilleries Blend, Batch 10
Welcome to this week’s whisky review, and we continue to work through my rather large stash of miniatures to bring you tastes throughout Scottish Whisky (and beyond – but not just yet!). This one is a superlative whisky, and I will almost have to call it a unicorn whisky though it is a lot more than that. For this review, the blend I will be reviewing is a blend of several unicorns!
When thinking of the lost distilleries, my mind cast back to one of the more famous, or infamous signs in Aberdeenshire, that of Lost. This road sign has been stolen countless times, to the point that the sign arm is now welded to the pole, and more substantial concrete put around the base. For you that do not know, Lost is actually a farm close to Strathdon, and you could be forgiven for feeling lost when you don’t find anything substantial. There are certainly no distilleries here, although the A944 through Strathdon takes you through the Cairngorms and joins onto the A939 Cockbridge to Tomintoul Road. Essentially the back door to Speyside going over the ski route to the Lecht resort. With a change of direction at Corgaff towards Braemar opens up the opportunity to visit some of the Perthshire Highland distilleries over another ski-route through Glenshee, officially the highest main road in the U.K.
So, now it is time to refocus on whisky. Why did I pick this dram? As per usual, I was doing my usual troll through the auction sites to see if there was anything worth buying in the bargain basement, and two small samples of this came up, and I got them for an absolute steal given the normal price for the drams.
Let me just list the distilleries that are in this blend.
Port Ellen (Islay / to be reopened)
Brora (Highland / to be reopened)
Glen Mhor (Highland / demolished)
Rosebank (Lowland / to be reopened)
Caperdonich (Speyside / demolished)
Imperial (Speyside / demolished)
Mosstowie (Speyside – distilled in now decommissioned Lomond Stills at Miltonduff)
Glenisla (Speyside – experimental peated whisky reportedly made at Glen Keith Distillery)
Glenlochy (Highland – demolished)
Craigduff (Speyside – experimental peated whisky reported to be either Strathisla or Glen Keith)
Port Dundas (Lowland – Single Grain Whisky / demolished)
That is some roll call of whisky, so let’s get cracking on it!
Slightly solvent to begin with – wood polish moving quickly onto vanilla, chocolate, cafe latte, almonds. A hint of smoke
Oily mouth feel. No large kick considering its strength. Sweet to start with, with raisin and vanilla notes, Toffee building into some spicy oak notes. Light smoke
Quite long. The spicy oak continues, almost like curry spices. Warm and tempered with a creamy feel. A slightly bitter note at the end.
This dram confuses me a bit. There is an impressive roll call of spirit in this dram that is never going to be seen again. Lets face it, even with some of the distilleries being rebuilt will not result in an identical spirit of the past. Given this fact, one has to wonder why they have done this, as the individual character of each malt has been lost. I have to say though, the oily mouth feel made me think of Clynelish, so I am wondering if this is a remnant of the Brora component in this mix.
The solvent and polished oak are clearly from the grain whisky, and given my experience previously with the Invergordon 42 year old excited me a bit, but most of it got lost until the end when a spicy oak built up.
There is an elephant in the room. A 70cl bottle of this dram costs around £350. I hate to say it, but this is not worth that at all. I do realise that you cannot get any of the component parts cheaply at the moment, and in any case, a 70cl bottle of any of them would probably cost as much as this blend. So I’m left feeling kind of lost. I think if I had a chance to buy a blend with lost distilleries in it, I’d more likely be buying a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label Ghost.
But my friends, let us find an upbeat note. Master of Malt charge £26.65 for a 3cl nip of this. To me that is still not good value. However, I was lucky enough to pick up 2 of these samples at Whisky Auctioneer for £16.80. Now that is a bargain. Sadly, this blend wasn’t really to my taste, so I may be looking for a new home for the second sample.
This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Or join me on my other social media channels below. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.
Whisky Photographs – author’s own.
Roadsign to Lost Farm – Stanley Howe / Creative Commons licenceCC BY-SA 2.0
The latest review crosses over to the island of Mull. It’s been a while since I’ve done a west coast island that isn’t Islay, and seeing as there is only one distillery on Mull, it is an easy one to cross off the list.
I have a small confession, and this is one that shouldn’t affect things too much. Actually it’s two confessions, but still that shouldn’t matter. Getting the first confession out of the way, Tobermory is a distillery that I have absolutely no experience of at all, but for me that is not a bad thing as my Scotty’s Drams project was all about getting into things I wouldn’t normally drink. I’ll come to the other confession in a wee while.
What did excite me about this review more than anything else was this was one of the easiest titles to come up with. I do try to make it a little bit witty or to reference something else, or even be a bit risque, though for some reason I had the Oasis song ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory?’ in my head for this entry. However, those of us with young kids should remember the Children’s BBC programme ‘Balamory’ which was based around a fictional island community set in Tobermory. The catchphrase was “What’s the story in Balamory?”. I didn’t want people to think that was my favourite watching. I still prefer Danger Mouse, The Magic Roundabout and Rhubarb and Custard. Damn! I’m showing my age…..
So what is the story in Tobermory? Well, it’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, having been founded in 1798, a date proudly proclaimed on it’s bottle and on the side of the distillery. It was formerly known as Ledaig (pronounced as LetchAIG) and was formally licenced in 1823. It went through a couple of other owners before coming into the hands of Distillers Company Ltd, a fore-runner of Diageo, who closed the distillery in 1930 due to the fall out from prohibition in the USA. The distillery was silent for another 42 years until reopening under the Ledaig Distillery (Tobermory) name in 1972. However, production had to be halted by May 1975, as storage space had run out at the distillery due to delays in a bonded warehouse being built. This eventually caused the loss of 14 jobs, and the distillery went into receivership.
However, all was not lost, and the distillery did reopen in 1979 (which is the year one of my favourite ever songs was released – Are Friends Electric?) but this time under the name of Tobermory Distillers Ltd. This sadly did not last long, and after three years the distillery fell silent again. Some of the bonded warehouses were sold off for conversion into apartments and other storage uses, which made it look as though the days of Tobermory having a distillery where probably slipping away. The early to mid 1980’s were a dark time for Scottish distilleries, and many other more notable sites closed, especially if they were too small or limited in space to modernise, or had higher costs.
Of course, we all know this story has a happy ending, and the distillery opened in 1989, and by the 1993 it was taken over by current owner Burn Stewart, who themselves got taken over in 2013 by the South African company Distell, who also own the Bunnahabhain distillery on Islay and the Deanston distillery in the Highland region.
This isn’t a big distillery, and in 2017 it closed for two years for upgrading, but the capacity of the distillery was not altered, and remains at 1,000,000 litres a year. That isn’t a lot, especially when you consider that the distillery also produces two runs – There is the unpeated whisky which is marketed as Tobermory, and the heavily peated whisky known as Ledaig, which is peated to around 30-40ppm. This leads me to my second confession – for a long time, I was under the impression that Ledaig was a separate distillery. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago I realised, even though I’d been collecting whisky on and off since 2006. Well, there you go. Drinking Famous Grouse isn’t my only shame!
It seems going by the distillery web page that there are only currently 4 core bottlings, and the 10 year old that I have to taste for you today seems to have been discontinued. however this has been replaced by a 12 year old. There is also a 42 year old bottling, and on for Ledaig there is a 10 year old and an 18 year old available.
Anyway, writing all this info before I have a sip has given me a mouth as dry as Mother Theresa’s sandals, so let’s move onto the process of getting some whisky down my neck. My wee dram has been airing while I typed this up, so should be fully ready for a tasting.
10 Years Old
Quite a fruity hit at first with a very active green apple there, followed by malty notes and some creamy vanilla and caramel. Light oak.
Quite assertive but not overpowering in the arrival. Noted a slight astringency in the development, but all very polite and pleasurable. Fruity, in that there are apples and pears there, perhaps stewed as there is a bit of sweet leading to bitter in the development. The astringency fades and a nutty gingerbread appears, and the start of a maritime note. This is drying on the mouth which leads onto the finish
Medium to long finish. Very pleasant. I got quite a bit of salt in the start of the finish, with the continuing gingerbread spiciness. Perhaps a bit of star anise as well. Right at the end, a chocolate note develops.
This wouldn’t normally be a go to malt for me, which is a shame, as this was really pleasurable, and I liked the notes I got from this whisky. The main points in my round up would be the fruity aroma, the gingerbread spice which has quite a constant spicy feeling in the mouth, though in a really nice way. It is important to know that I sampled this dram neat, and with being 46.3%, it didn’t seem to be. It was just right and well balanced between spirit and cask. Best news is that I found another sample in my hoard.
I don’t know where this whisky matures, but the maritime notes are there, and although not that strong to begin with, build up quite nicely, but don’t become overpowering. The one thing that concerns me is after I made my notes up for the taste test, I had a look at other notes to see how mine compared. I was surprised to see that people were recording a peat and smoke there. I never got that at all, especially because this is supposed to be an unpeated whisky. However, I wonder if they are experiencing something left over from the production schedule of Ledaig?
I can’t tell you how much this sample cost me, as I bought it at Inverness airport, but I don’t think it was much above £6. However a full bottle will set you back around £50. This in my opinion is a bit much for a 10 year old whisky, but given the enjoyment I got, not unreasonable. However it is discontinued so price may rise. If price is not a concern, then it is a good malt, and scores 4/4 on our ABCD scale – Age statement, Bottling strength of 46.3%, No Chill Filtering, and although it doesn’t mention on the bottle or box that it is not coloured, a bit of research on sites selling it in Germany reveal it is not coloured. This must be a Burn Stewart thing, as the Deanston bottles are similar. Not being subjected to artificial colourings is something that should be shouted out.
If you want something a bit more available and cheaper, I would suggest the Old Pulteney 12, but this has a stronger maritime note.
This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Or join me on my other social media channels below. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.