15th November 2017
The popularity of Japanese whiskies shows no signs of abating. Karuizawa continues to dominate the spotlight, but over time enthusiasts have sought out other lost delights from Hanyu and also sought to explore today’s remaining Japanese distilleries.
Arguably the biggest of them all today is Yamazaki. Situated at the foot of Mount Otoko and Mount Tennozan, in a narrow valley, it was here in 1923 where the founder of Japanese whisky, Shinjiro Torii, decided to establish its first distillery. Its location was not by chance but rather a sustained search to find a site that offered the perfect symmetry of natural resources and a suitable climate. Previously lavished within Japanese history, this region was widely known for the quality of its water and was chosen by tea masters for their ceremonies.
For Shinjiro, he was only interested in producing whisky, having already established a successful company in the form of Suntory in 1899, built upon Akadama Port Wine. He was more of an entrepreneur than say the other father of Japanese whisky in Masataka Taketsuru, who had visited and learned the craft in Scotland. Shinjiro as a businessman had begun to notice the demand locally for imported Scotch whisky. Sensing this as an opportunity for Suntory, the pair made a perfect combination with Masataka’s distilling knowledge and Shinjiro’s financial clout.
Yamazaki burst into life the following year, or 11th November 1924 to be precise. Thankfully the distillery survived a rather slow start to its existence as the local market still preferred the refined taste of imported Scotch. Sensing that the smokier and heavier style they were producing under the name of Shirofuda from 1929 was an acquired taste, the team with the enhancement of further maturation came up with a new blend called Kakubin in the late 1930’s. History shows us that this lighter and more delicate style of whisky was more suited to the local palate. This release which translated means simply square bottle, also set a benchmark for what a Japanese whisky should be and it remains available to this day. The arrival of the 2nd World War halted any momentum and thankfully the site was unscathed and the maturing stocks of whisky had been safely whisked away to a nearby tunnel.
The success of the distillery and its whisky is replicated by the continuous expansions and refurbishments that have taken plan across the site on the outskirts of Kyoto. The first of these in 1957 increased its size despite the confines of the town that had also grown prosperous. Much like its Scottish brethren, the site had become more urban than greenbelt and options have become more limited as the decades have passed. The traditional floor malting came to an end in 1969 and a short attempt at a more mechanical approach only lasted until 1972. Since this date it’s barley is imported from Scotland and remains a key component to the Yamazaki characteristics and is a cheaper option than locally grown malt. A new still house was added in 2013 boosting the number of stills to 16 and increasing production to a mere 6 million litres annually. This given the popularity of Japanese is unlikely to be enough to meet demand if it remains sustained however there is no more space to manoeuvre with.
In recent years there have been several famed releases from Yamazaki and the consistent factor is an age statement, which remains a rarity in the current climate. The classic expression is the 18-year-old single malt. Also sought after are the limited annual releases that in 2017 heralded the arrival of this 18-year-old Mizunara release that is just limited to 1500 bottles, which is the focus point for this article. Containing whiskies from various decades including some over 50 years old – yes, arguably a teaspoon at best – the youngest whisky in this prized bottle will be 18 years of age.
The most Japanese aspect of this release is the use of the traditional Japanese Mizunara oak to create the cask itself. This protected wood is therefore in limited supply and is often sold via raw lumber auctions where representatives from distilleries will bid inspect the trunks closely. The wood can feature knots and imperfections that can impact the cask itself or render it unusable. It’s also more porous than the traditional wood types we see in Scotland. All of this means the wood itself is more expensive to acquire – after frantic bidding - and the cost of maturation is also increased. After successfully winning an auction, the trunks are left to dry further before being cut into planks and then left to dry again for a couple of years before finally being assembled as casks at a cooperage.
All of this effort must be worth something mustn’t it? The final proof comes in the whisky itself that becomes laced with subtle Japanese characteristics that are very distinctive. Sandalwood, touches of spice and a hint of sweetness are often noticeable with this cask type that creates a whisky equivalent of the umami concept.
13th October 2017
Re-opening of Brora, Port Ellen & Rosebank
The 9th and 10th of October 2017 will go down in history amongst malt enthusiasts as the dates when finally, their lofty dreams actually turned into reality. The first biblical announcement arrived on a calm Monday morning when word began to spread that Diageo were to revive the Brora and Port Ellen distilleries.
Immediately many readers would have double checked the date believing that this was an April Fool’s joke, especially as pranks tend to be along such lines in the whisky realm. Then bizarrely the realisation that it was actually true. For a few moments everything else just blended into the background and the hustle and bustle of work became almost numb. These iconic names would in the near future burst into life and start producing whisky once again.
The following day brought another tactically timed announcement from Ian Macleod Distillers that they had purchased the Rosebank distillery site and had also struck a deal to reunite it with the brand name. In doing so they had overcome the significant hurdle of bringing everything back together along with the bonus of Diageo’s remaining stock of Rosebank casks. This clearly was too much good news for some. Macleod Distillers has enjoyed success reviving Tamdhu and establishing it as a single malt today, but also working with companies such as Diageo and providing content for its blends. A working relationship no doubt helped seal the deal along with the desire to revive Rosebank.
There were some alleged comments online that Diageo had sold off Rosebank to help cover the resurrection costs of Brora and Port Ellen. Money isn’t really a problem for Diageo, arguably the appetite to try such an experiment across 3 sites rather than 2 was a stretch, but more likely Rosebank isn’t viewed in the same light and in the corridors of corporate power, risks are minimised and diluted as much as possible. It’s been several years since we’ve seen a Special Release from this distillery as part of Diageo’s annual release programme and for all its greatness in whisky terms, it doesn’t share the same plateau as Brora or Port Ellen, currently. That’s an error of judgement as Rosebank is a fine whisky and on its best form can match its more illustrious former stablemates. If Diageo had committed to an annual release of Rosebank then matters may well have been different. Adding to the complications was that in 2002 it had unceremoniously sold the site to British Waterways. Potentially the remaining Rosebank stock isn’t great? Yes, there’s a likelihood or the fact that it just hasn’t reached its zenith with the plant closing in 1993, which is a decade after the other 2 distilleries.
Let’s not overlook the fact that in the early 1980’s demand for whisky had fallen. Faced with a drop-in demand and overproduction along with several ageing distilleries that needed substantial investment. The corporate powers took the easy way out and closed several sites thereby cutting costs. There was no forward planning regarding the rise in prominence of the single malt or whisky tourism in general, no foresight only a kneejerk reaction. Many of these distilleries were demolished and made way for supermarkets and residential developments meaning they were gone forever. Others such as Port Ellen were partially demolished and adapted for other uses to help the remaining distilleries on Islay and a handful were mothballed such as Brora. Left to stand idle and ultimately decay, as any recent visit to Clynelish distillery with the Brora option included would have confirmed. Several of its buildings remain boarded up and the heart of the distillery – the still room – had a roof open to the elements and the stills had become little more than a dumping ground for local wildlife. Not the actions of a company that values history, heritage or its responsibilities. This is all water under the bridge now. Arguably if these sites were shown a little more tender loving care during their periods of slumber then their resurrection would be far easier and less costly.
The Rosebank site as it exists is an overgrown shell and missing some internal equipment thanks to a break in several years ago and the thieving of valuable and historical equipment. Ian Macleod Distillers will have to pump millions into the site to revive operations, but are making the right noises already sighting plans for the classic Lowland style of triple distillation and using worm tubs once again. Access to the site has always been an issue with Falkirk springing up around it and the canal dissecting it in half when it operated across both banks. The team seem confident and with an annual output of no more than 1 million litres predicted, Rosebank will be producing only for its a single malt. Owning the existing Diageo inventory and the brand itself means that they can now control the future as well as its legacy. Possibly it won’t be too long before we see the initial release from these casks and its pricing structure will be of great interest. Especially in the light of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society releasing their last cask of Rosebank, a 26-year-old priced at £875 a bottle. This final release (until new stocks are produced) was finished in a wine cask, which is hopefully a route Ian Macleod Distillers will seek to avoid.
Brora and Port Ellen will also be revived with a similar low annual capacity. At least Brora and most of its internal equipment exists, although last time Just Whisky visited in 2016, the spirit safe was unceremoniously shoved in corner with little respect for its legacy. Port Ellen will require a rebuild from the ground upwards and whilst it might not an exact replica externally, detailed records and experience of these distilleries will be called upon. These will be prestige whiskies when they do make their debut at market however the prediction is they won’t be bottled until 10-12 years of age at the earliest. Meaning we won’t know the liquid form of their resurrections until the mid-2030’s at least. In the meantime, there is always the prospect that these projects may not come to fruition. Diageo has halted or cancelled expansion and renovation plans at several of its existing distilleries in recent times, driven by the rise and fall in demand for whisky and the failure of projects such as the premiumisation of Mortlach.
This was an attempt to take an existing distillery and create a new luxury brand that could justify the lofty pricing structure. The old Speyside beast of Dufftown was selected as the perfect distillery for such a transformation. By elevating Mortlach, Diageo sought to create a blue-chip luxurious whisky that could go head to head with the Macallan and the Dalmore – a distillery it has tried to acquire in recent years. Looking back now in hindsight, apart from sales in regions where buyers potentially have more money than sense, the new Mortlach brand has largely been ignored. Instead former fans of the distillery have sought to purchase independent bottlings and the enduring Flora & Fauna 16-year-old at auction.
Then somewhere in headquarters a penny dropped and another approach was utilised. All this effort trying to establish a distillery/brand to revival the aforementioned was proving very difficult. Rather than lifting an existing distillery what about these former distilleries that are proving so popular annually? It’s in essence recycling and making the most of what you have. Once stocks of Brora and Port Ellen are exhausted – arguably not too far off now unless placed into neutral containers – the value of these brands for Diageo has been lost. A sizeable investment across both sites would return production and keep the names alive, but more importantly their revenues.
What about future values of the existing Brora and Port Ellen releases? Some have suggested these may be hindered and devalued. It’s new territory as such, the secondary market has never been more buoyant and such bottles prized by collectors, investors and enthusiasts. Here at Just Whisky we would expect a greater level of interest in this trio of distilleries particularly in the long term. Brora, Port Ellen and Rosebank were in danger of slipping away into the history books and collections of the privileged, rarely seen or discussed. Now future generations may have the ability to visit and taste these new incarnations. Potentially this will lead to further interest and appreciation by discovering what their older incarnations tasted like. Arguably this is along the same lines as the Macallan when it switches to its new facility and over time, many will seek out whiskies from its existing double still house facility or even further back to the original single still room.
Distilleries as such evolve over time and throughout the decades are being enhanced, expanded or refurbished. Some existing distilleries were levelled in the 1960’s and totally rebuilt as new modern facilities such as Caol Ila on Islay. Did this affect the quality of their whisky and their legacy? Only time and investigation can reveal such truths and we expect that Brora, Port Ellen and Rosebank will see renewed interest in the coming years.
12th September 2017
Recently at Just Whisky we’ve seen an influx of new arrivals to the realm of whisky, whether it’s collecting, investing or discovering, we all have to start somewhere. What unites many is a thirst for knowledge and getting up to speed as soon as possible. Mistakes will be made and lessons learned but hopefully for those of you who are thinking, or have just started becoming interested in whisky then the following will be of use.
Is Latin for water of life and also known as Uisge beatha in Gaelic. It’s the first known record of distilled spirit in Scotland dating back to 1494 when it was more likely used for medical purposes before its other uses were discovered. Distilled at Lindores Abbey, which today plays host to a new Fife distillery, the order was placed by King James IV. Uisge beatha, pronounced oshkie bayha, was not a simple phrase and eventually oshkie morphed into whisky and then whiskey.
Often created by a Master Blender, a blended Scotch is built upon a recipe featuring several whiskies with some blends requiring multiple contributions. A blended whisky will feature both malt and grain and generally today the ratio will be heavily in favour of the grain whisky, which is cheaper to produce and available in larger quantities. Older blends from the prior to the 1990’s may feature more malt whisky than today’s counterparts. You can also purchase more luxurious types of blends that will feature older whiskies within its recipe and a higher malt ratio.
Blended Grain Whisky
This is a blend i.e. recipe made entirely from grain whisky. This type of whisky is made on an industrial scale and forms the backbone of many blends. However, in this type all the whiskies come from grain as opposed to malt whiskies which are made from barley. As such, this type of whisky is more affordable and features more delicate and neutral flavours.
Blended Malt Whisky
This is much like a blended whisky except there is no grain whisky within its makeup. This blend consists entirely of malt whiskies and if it features an age statement on the label, then this will be the age of the youngest whisky within the recipe – this applies to all whiskies in the UK.
Bourbon is an American style of whiskey and the bulk of it is produced in the state of Kentucky and if it is, then Kentucky will be on the label. There are detailed rules for bourbons and more stricter laws for straight bourbons. Generally, it has to be made in the United States and unlike whisky it can be made from various types of grains with 51% corn to be called a straight bourbon. For maturation, it has to be matured in new oak charred barrels unlike Scotch, which relies on the American whiskey industry for many of its used casks. Maturation is a minimum of 2 years, whereas in Scotland it is 3 years. For a straight bourbon, no colouring or flavouring is allowed, whereas for whisky, artificial colouring known as E150 can be added.
Is made from a mash of at least 80% corn, during its distillation. This is often a colourless and ageless style of whiskey that harks back to the era of illegal distilling. If it is aged in casks, then these must be either new and uncharred or previously used.
See vatted malt.
Along with bourbons this is one of the styles of whiskey you will see consistently. It does follow the general outline of bourbon but the mash during distillation must made up of 51% rye grain which gives a spicy flavour to the whiskey and can be harder to work with during production. It is allowed to contain colouring and flavouring, but if it does then it won’t be called a straight rye whiskey.
Single Grain Whisky
This will feature only grain whisky from a single distillery. It must be aged for at least 3 years and bottled at a minimum 40% strength like other whiskies in Scotland. It does not require to be from a single cask or a single age, only the same distillery.
Single Malt Whisky
The most popular whisky realm and home to Scotland’s famous distilleries. A malt whisky must be made from 100% malted barley and matured in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years before being bottled at 40% strength or more. A single malt – like a single grain – can consist of whiskies from a single distillery.
American whiskies are more complex in their rules and divisions, none more so than the Tennessee whiskey style made popular by Jack Daniels. Generally, the Tennessee type follows all the requirements set out by the 1964 Bourbon Act, but this wasn’t enough and Jack Daniels added an extra step in the creation process. This involves a whiskey being additionally filtered through a charcoal layer. This they argue this produces a more mellow style of whiskey and today Tennessee whiskies are some of the biggest selling brands globally. Essentially, it’s a bourbon with an additional production step that is distilled and bottled in another state outside of Kentucky.
Whilst this is now more commonly known as a blended malt whisky, you may still see bottles at auction featuring this name. The vatting refers to when the blenders put all the components that make up the whisky recipe into a large container or series of, that allows the whiskies to marry together before being bottled. This type therefore only features malt whiskies following the Scottish laws.
Again, the term applies to the style of grain used within the mash recipe. For a wheat whiskey to apply, then at least 51% of wheat must feature and generally it’s one of the lesser genres of American whiskey.
17th August 2017
In the league of closed distilleries until recently, Caperdonich enjoyed a Z-list celebrity status.
Caperdonich itself started out life as a support vessel to the nearby Glen Grant distillery. Established in 1897, this was a boom period on Speyside and throughout Scotland. Consumers were falling in love with whisky, the gentle delights of the region and a series of excellent blends. Caperdonich was originally called Glen Grant #2 and was one several distilleries established alongside an existing producer for convenience, such as BenRiach that snuggled up to Longmorn. This bountiful period soon came to a sudden halt with the Pattison crisis, which blighted consumer confidence and destroyed many a distillery entrepreneur.
The fall in demand prompted to Caperdonich to shut its doors in 1902 and then endure one of the longest periods of inactivity in the Scotch whisky industry. Activity didn’t recommence the 1960’s when internal parts were used to assist Glen Grant with its needs. However, when the focus did return to Glen Grant #2 it was substantial, as Glenlivet Distilleries Limited sought to revive this mothballed distillery amidst another whisky boom. It was around this time that the name had to change due to legal reasons preventing a second distillery operating with the same title as an existing distillery. Caperdonich was chosen to reflect its water source which translates as the secret well and without out it the distillery would cease to function.
What Glenlivet Distillers reimagined was for its time a very efficient distillery with a doubling of stills and less employees required to run the operation. Such a transformation meant that for the first time in its existence it was very much full steam ahead. And thus, Caperdonich began to sparkle and develop a reputation amongst whisky drinkers.
Sold off to neighbours Forsyth’s in 2010 – yes, those coppersmiths – it’s a fairly new addition to the closed distillery league table. Production may have come to an end in 2002 making it the last single malt distillery to shut its doors in Scotland but the prospect of its revival was terminated 8 years later. Yes, there’s Bladnoch in the Borders that endured a stop start period before being revived by an Australian entrepreneur so this doesn’t count. 2002 also saw off the rather excellent grain distillery in Glasgow known as Port Dundas, but Caperdonich was the last entry in the single malt brigade.
Needless to speculate with today’s current whisky boom attracting more activity than a swarm of bees around the only ripe pollen bush for miles, there will come a time when we can add more entries to the list. For now, anything closed attracts a premium and a certain celebrity status. To collect closed distilleries is a challenge especially with prices rising and demand spiralling out of control. The attraction is very clear whether it’s for a completest aspect or to try a drop from these lost producers, every month Just Whisky has a bountiful closed assortment.
Getting back to Caperdonich, given its recent closure in closed terminology, casks were reasonably available and independent bottlings well priced. Unlike distilleries such as Banff, Glen Mhor and their ilk, we’re certainly not at a point yet where there is no Caperdonich patiently maturing. For the cluster of distilleries closed during the 1980’s cull, their time in wood is slowly coming to an end. The rate of evaporation and wood activity means that eventually you do have to bottle. Much like Cadenhead’s releasing the oldest Littlemill in July 2017, bottled at an impressive 40 years, you have to decant when it’s just right, or use a new host or neutral cask. Caperdonich was very active until its demise with production occurring throughout 2001, when owners Pernod Ricard decided a change was in order.
Official bottlings of Caperdonich are rather scarce. The majority of its production was destined for blends and very little made it out into the market as a single malt with the last official bottling being a 16-year-old from around 2005 by Chivas. Therefore, it came as a surprise that an official release debuted last month without too much fanfare. As part of its Distillery Reserve Collection, Chivas bottled a single cask Caperdonich distilled on 21st January 1994. This was bottled at an impressive 23 years and a cask strength of 55.9% volume. The range is designed to showcase the variety of distilleries that make up the Chivas contributors, whether past or present. Just over 200 bottles were taken from the cask and its availability was exclusive to Strathisla distillery that quite rightly imposed a limit of how many a person could purchase.
The whisky only lasted a couple of days and is rather delicious. It’s most interesting aspect is the fact that it’s actually heavily peated, which we have seen in some independent bottlings of Caperdonich but not really within the last decade or so.
A common mistake is that many international onlookers believe that peat is an Islay invention and the mainland distilleries lack such substance. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth as when distilleries were more locally focused and by this we mean using local resource for their ingredients and fuel sources. Their whiskies would have offered a peated dimension. One could argue that the greatest exponent of peated whisky is actually Brora, which found itself in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s, having to make a heavily peated spirit. The reason being was purely coincidental as a summer drought hampered production on Islay, in particular Port Ellen, where most of its content was destined for blends such as Johnnie Walker. A replacement was sought elsewhere and an aging distillery on the coast of Sutherland was selected as a substitute. The rest as they say is history.
Peat is decaying plant material and given its abundance throughout Scotland, it was used by many distilleries as their main fuel source. Whether it was firing the kiln to dry the malt or maintain the stills during distillation, the usage of peat would have seeped into the whisky itself. What is noticeable as you explore peated whiskies are the differences in peat across Scotland. This decaying grasses and vegetation on Islay help deliver a salty coarse assortment of flavours, whereas on Orkney and at Highland Park, the presence is more subtle and floral. For Brora, the peat helped deliver a rich earthy farmyard-like concoction of hidden delights. In the case of Caperdonich, the recent release offers a sweet burst of flavours that marry extremely well with the approachability and fruity nature of a Speyside malt.
In retrospect, whilst the distillery is no more, we do at least have several decades of its revival to experience via a widespread assortment of independent and the occasional official release. Caperdonich’s spirit lives on in maturing casks, released bottles and its stills that were sold off to the incoming Falkirk distillery and the Belgium Owl that today produces a very drinkable dram.
17th May 2017
Tobermory hit the headlines early this year when it was confirmed that the distillery is to close for 2 years. The decision was taken by its new owner Distell to allow for extensive refurbishment of the distillery that was established in 1798. It’s never been a massive producer of whisky, with only a minor single malt presence and much of its output going to the company blends such as Black Bottle and Scotch Leader.
On the Isle of Mull, Tobermory is one of the biggest tourist attractions and the renovations will allow for a more fluid and interactive visitor experience. During the refit, tours will still be available as a new vision for this tiny producer is pieced together. Those whisky jungle drums have even suggested that Tobermory may not reopen as a going concern instead migrating into a time capsule distillery along the lines of Dallas Dhu on Speyside that remains in the 1980’s. Only time will tell what the final outcome for this island distillery will be.
In terms of presence and following, it’s reasonably fair to suggest that Tobermory lacks much of a profile or support from whisky fans. The distillery has always been a producer often beset with periods of closure and water source issues that have hampered production. Its single malt range has shown some signs of improvement in recent times with particular positivity surrounding the peated spirit that is produced and known as Ledaig. It’s an excellent peated whisky that accounts for around 50% of output, with the remaining unpeated spirit being known as Tobermory.
This is what we have here in the form of the latest Dramfool release following the excellent Lagavulin single cask release reviewed last month. Distilled on 18th March 1996, this was bottled on 3rd April 2017 from a single bourbon hogshead (cask number 127/1996), resulting in an outturn of 247 bottles at 56.7% strength. It’s been dubbed the Amsterdam Dram by the team behind Dramfool and this concept was explained over a dram in the Highlander Inn during the recent Spirit of Speyside Festival during a chance encounter.
This is the fourth Dramfool release and the first to take us off Islay but veering away from the mainland. The standard so far has been impressive and selecting a Tobermory cask to release shows ambition and a certain confidence. The mere mention of the distillery is enough to prompt groans from some quarters however all distilleries thanks to the sheer variance of the single cask format are able to produce unexpected moments of delight. It’s always best to put aside any preconceptions or past experiences as these will only distort your senses and ability to gauge a whisky.
Colour: a sandy beach
Nose: an interesting arrival with some honey and syrup sweetness however there’s a robust herbal influence. It’s almost a coarse Tweed with woven fibres and a little liquorice. With water and a little patience apples appear alongside icing sugar, limes and a pastry dough.
Taste: this is a gentle whisky and lacking those layers of complexity some may expect from such an extended period of maturation. A buttery pastry, a hint of fenugreek seeds and more of that liquorice. Water brings through more apples and syrup.
Overall: I’d categorise this as a divisive whisky as it rewards patience and effort. It’s not going to change your perception of Tobermory but what it offers is difference and I respect it for that.
21st April 2017
Dram Fool - Avian Gull 8 Years Old
Here we’re faced with a wee mystery from the youthful and entertaining independent bottler Dram Fool. Distilleries tend to like to keep their names under lock and key, citing the brand and how they’ve worked extremely hard to establish an iconic image. Fair enough. Glenfarclas is well known for being protective of its identity and I’m sure Diageo is as well; neither should be messed with.
So take the words Avian Gull that adorn this mysterious release and rearrange these into the name of a distillery. Then join us on the next paragraph for chat about the distillery itself and the tasting notes for this rarely independently bottled whisky.
The Countdown clock has come to an end. Did you solve the riddle of Avian Gull? Yes, it’s only Lagavulin. That distillery from Islay that has many enthusiasts and collectors queuing for hours on end to obtain the latest expression. You’ll rarely see it released by an independent bottler simply because the distillery can only produce so much and it’s in great demand. Plus, Diageo can charge a pretty penny for any bottling bearing the name Lagavulin, which is exactly what they did during 2016 with their 200th Anniversary 8-year-old bottling that was around £55.
Yes, I know that was limited but in Diageo terms limited means time limited and they’ll produce as many as they want during a set period. So there’s more chance of me stumbling across a bottling of the Lagavulin 200th Anniversary 8-year-old locally than say a the Lagavulin 16-year-old, which is quite ironic. The latter being the better whisky, older and yet slightly cheaper. In essence it isn’t limited by the realistic outlook we all associate with the phrase.
Ah yes, you’ll say that this independent bottling has a retail price in excess of £55 which I happily acknowledge. Let’s consider at the scarcity of this release. A single cask Lagavulin is a rare thing indeed almost as rare as an unfinished bottle of Tormore. Wasn’t there a pricey older single cask official bottling recently? There’s a couple of these in this month’s auction by the way. This Dram Fool is devoid of Diageo engineering which means no colouring and no tampering with added water or a concoction of casks to ensure consistency. A single cask bottling gives you nothing of this. It’s far more random and natural, thereby showing the true distillery character good or bad.
This Avian Gull is bottled at a polite 59.2% strength from an ex-bourbon cask and resulting in an outturn of 202 bottles.
Colour: light amber
Nose: reaching out is Skye Sea Salt that has a real intense aroma, damp kindling crackling on an open fire. A waft of smoke, a twist of lime, mint leaves and beneath this forceful exterior is some noticeable sweetness. Syrup with heather, honey and ultimately what the 8th Anniversary bottling should have been.
Taste: the salt doesn’t come through as evidently as the nose, more streamlined amongst the decaying peat foliage seasoned with smoke. An intoxicating mix of liquorice, vanilla pod and black tea unfolds. The salt does revive for the long finish.
Overall: this is not as richly layered as the recent Feis Ile bottlings from Lagavulin, but this young gun delivers plenty of bravado, peat and coastal influence to be a winner. Excellent stuff.
19th April 2017
This month’s auction has an incredible array of bottles from past and present; plenty of great lots to accommodate every whisky enthusiast. For now, we’ve going to focus on a stunning whisky released by Benromach as part of their ongoing discovery of great casks hidden away in their warehouses that hark back to a bygone era.
This particular cask was laid down in 1973 as a refill American Hogshead with the number 4606 and left to mature. Over 42 years later, Benromach selected this special cask for bottling making it the oldest whisky from this classic Speyside distillery to be released to date. Bottled at 48.1% ABV it’s an ideal strength after 4 decades of maturation and the final outturn was a ridiculous 53 bottles being harvested from the cask itself. With only just over 40 bottles destined for retail, these promptly sold out particularly when word of the quality of the whisky within was revealed.
Any such bottle deserves an elegant package and the lavish wooden box replicates the dark grained wood of the original Benromach washbacks. The copper trim on the bottle itself harking back to the stills themselves and then there’s a detailed book inside that documents the history of the distillery itself. A lovely package with the devil in the detail.
Today the distillery is owned by Gordon & MacPhail, having been purchased by the independent bottlers in 1993 and then extensive renovations undertaken that resulted in the distillery coming back to production in 1998. Since then, Benromach has been pursuing an old style Speyside whisky that was distilled in the 1960’s and early 1970’s by adopting a hands on approach and using a medium peated barley. It’s certainly working at the distillery continues to receive numerous awards and has added more warehouses on site to accommodate increased demand.
Benromach itself harks back to 1898 and a whisky boom that prompted the construction of several distilleries across Speyside due to the rising sales of blended whiskies. The Speyside style of whisky was gaining favour with a wider audience for its approachability and flavours, compared to the more rugged and forceful whiskies produced in the Highlands and Islay. Master blenders needed more Speyside distilleries to sustain their complex blend recipes and Benromach was established on the outskirts of the town of Forres.
Designed by the famous Charles Doig who is responsible for so many distilleries across Scotland and the iconic pagoda design. Benromach did not enjoy a promising start falling into a series of closures and owners, partially due to the effects of the Pattison Crisis at the end of the century, the first world war and then the Great Depression and Prohibition. Short periods of operation endured and it wasn’t until 1937 that the distillery truly came to life before the arrival of another world war, before returning to production shortly afterwards.
Prior to the purchasing of Benromach, it had sat idle since 1983, when it was one of the numerous distilleries selected for closure. Prior to this most of the Benromach produced on site was destined for the blends such as the popular Antiquary bottling, but when Gordon & MacPhail acquired the distillery from United Distillers, it did include what existing stock of Benromach was left. This is where this 1973 cask heralds from and it’s an evocative journey back to a style of whisky rarely seen nowadays with a complex aroma of fruits, hints of ginger and vanilla from the cask. The palate itself heralds more juicy fruits, dark chocolate and a waft of tobacco smoke. It’s a stunning dram and unfortunately there wasn’t much of it to go around. We’re delighted to bring you this stunning 1973 Benromach as part of our extensive April auction.
13th January 2017
In this month’s auction we have a marvellous array of Port Ellen’s mainly consisting of the official Special Releases. In fact, it’s a complete set with the exception being the 2015 bottling where the retail price reached £2450 for a 37-year-old bottling and that for many it seems was a price too far.
The distillery holds a grip of many enthusiasts as it does to any visitor arriving on Islay via ferry. Today it might exist as a maltings but its warehouses dominate the final approach to the island and confirm that you’re in peated whisky country. Since the inception of the Special Releases at the turn of the millennium, 2 distilleries have formed the cornerstone of the annual outturn. These if you don’t know are a duo of closed distilleries that still today captivate whisky drinkers and collectors, or specifically Brora and Port Ellen.
Both distilleries are premium priced nowadays and whilst every year the price has steadily increased there is a noticeable extra premium for anything Port Ellen. It’s an interesting comparison as I tend to find whiskies from Brora more consistent and ultimately better overall, but when Port Ellen hits a high its very impressive. It’s all about fashion in whisky and currently closed is in high demand alongside anything peated and the fascination for anything stemming from Islay. Port Ellen is the perfect storm and the Special Releases from Diageo form the centrepiece of this monster.
Kicking off the series was the first release (obviously) bottled at 22 years of age having been distilled in 1979. The outturn was an impressive 6000 bottles whilst the latest 16th release numbered just 2940, which is consistent with what we’ve seen with Brora. Diageo is now carefully managing what limited stocks they have of both distilleries. During the 2016 fanfare a rumour did circulate that this was the last Brora bottling that was then denied. We’ll still have forthcoming releases to enjoy for a couple of years yet, but slowly the drawbridge is rising and time is running out for these distilleries. Both are well suited to these extended periods of maturation and having tasted several of the recent Brora’s they’re actually improving with each year.
Port Ellen distillery was established in 1825 Alexander Kerr Mackay and Walter Campbell. The former seems to have borne most of the financial brunt of establishing the distillery as shortly afterwards he was declared bankrupt. This isn’t an uncommon event if you are familiar with the tales of many Scottish distilleries. Those founders with the foresight and vision to create a distillery quite often underestimated the cost of maintaining and ensuring production at the site whilst waiting for the revenue streams to open.
Eventually it seems through attrition the opportunity that Port Ellen offered was harnessed by family member John Ramsay. Having already had some experience in the industry as a former importer of spirits and wines, he set about taking control and steering Port Ellen to success. It was the beginning of a long association. He was still in charge some 5 decades later when Alfred Barnard visited as highlighted in the excellent Scotch Missed book by Brian Townsend.
Funnily enough reading Barnard’s account of his visit, letters of introduction had been exchanged with Ramsay who was unable to meet this Englishman with a passion for whisky. Instead the distiller provided a tour and Barnard from his account lacks the passion he sometimes lavished on certain distilleries. Port Ellen receives a candid and rudimentary summary in his book. Although he does seem impressed with a nearby lighthouse and the beaches in the area. Compare this to the next distillery in his opus the Distilleries of the United Kingdom, which is Bowmore and the difference is abundantly clear. The Bowmore visit spans several pages whilst Port Ellen just a couple of paragraphs.
This can perhaps be explained somewhat by the fact that Port Ellen mainly produced for blended market and was not appreciated as a single malt until much later in its lifetime; arguably since its closure in 1983. Compared to more illustrious Islay neighbours such as Bowmore, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, it is easy to see why Barnard was eager to move on.
Ramsay passed away in 1892 with ownership moving to his wife Lucy, the distillery passed onto their son in 1906. Captain Iain Ramsay of Kildalton eventually decides in 1920 to cut the family ties with the distillery after almost a century selling to Buchanan-Dewar. Then production comes to a halt in 1930 as the distillery is closed thanks to the worldwide economic depression and tough times associated with the post-World War where distilling was restricted. The distillery remains idle until 1967. Port Ellen is revived unlike many that closed during the depression only to be demolished or decay. Instead the number of stills are increased, enhancements are made and whisky life returns once again to this part of Islay.
It would be a short revival as the growing whisky loch and the fall in demand would cease production once again in 1983 before being officially closed in 1987. This would spell the end for many now iconic distilleries across Scotland including Brora and sadly Port Ellen was not revived. Fortunately, the sound of production does exist on site today but purely because of the large drum maltings that were established in 1973.
Port Ellen nowadays exists to provide malt to all the distilleries on the island. In the 1990’s some of the distillery buildings were demolished and the distillation equipment removed for adventures new. I do recall seeing some Port Ellen memorabilia at auction a couple of years ago that would have formed part of the cask filling process at the distillery. The warehouses still stand and greet visitors to the island and these are brimming with casks of whisky, but mainly from Bunnahabhain distillery.
With very few casks left to bottle, Port Ellen exists mainly in bottle form and is a destination for every malt enthusiast. If you’ve not experienced its whisky, then perhaps this month’s auction is the perfect opportunity to select from a wide range of bottlings from this closed and iconic distillery.
16th November 2016
This month at Just Whisky Auction’s we’re pleased to bring you for the first time, the complete range of Octomore releases from Bruichladdich distillery on Islay.
Octomore is gaelic for the big eight and takes its name from a farm on the island; set above the village of Port Charlotte, where many years ago a distillery known as Lochindaal used to stand that produced a peated whisky. This of course nowadays is the inspiration for the Port Charlotte style whisky that is produced via the Bruichladdich stills two miles further up the coastline of Lochindaal.
History shows us that there was an actual distillery known as Octomore which sprang into life around 1816 when John Montgomery and his sons took over the tenancy of the said farm. Bruichladdich has researched the family and the goings on around this tiny distillery that was very much a traditional farm endeavour, with they believe a single still to produce the spirit. The Octomore story is worth reading as it soon descends into a tale of family feud that spanned generations with many twists and turns. Attempts to save the distillery failed and the once thriving community at Octomore soon depleted and faded into the history books.
Peated whisky nowadays is extremely popular with enthusiasts and new distilleries have to consider producing such a style spirit to meet an unprecedented level of demand, or using Islay casks in the maturation process as seen with Wolfburn. Bruichladdich itself is typically an unpeated whisky, or so low in the phenol parts per million (PPM) measure that it does not warrant classification as such, whereas Port Charlotte is a heavily peated whisky that is produced to a level around 40ppm. To give you some comparison Springbank can be around 8PPM although it’s variable as the PPM character depends on the elements of production.
Regional differences for peat are commonplace with peat harvested on Islay offering its own unique flavour compounds to those utilised on the mainland or Orkney. Nowadays most of the peated malt is produced centrally and delivered to distilleries across Scotland. In the case of Bruichladdich the malted barley is dried in Inverness before being transported back to Islay even if the barley comes from a nearby field on the island. The maltsters will produce the barley according to the specifications laid out by the distillery. So on one particular day they could be producing unpeated Bruichladdich malt before switching to a more heavily peated variant for the same distillery, the very next day.
Even with the convenience and economies of scale this centralisation service can offer, some distilleries have decided to keep things as traditional as possible and retain complete control over the drying process in a kiln. The type of smoke and the length of exposure of the barley all play a part in the PPM and its overall level. I do recall fondly being at Talisker and asking how long they burned the peat for and whereas some distilleries have a set period, the staff member just replied ‘until it burns out’ which seems a fair measure and a reassuring traditional yardstick in this era of computerised Scotch.
I’ve visited other distilleries such as Laphroaig, Bowmore and Highland Park where traditional floor maltings still are in operation although not to the point of being able to cover 100% of their requirements. Speaking with staff at Highland Park, they were covering around 20% of their needs via this very labour intensive method but it was seen to form such a core element of their whisky that it was well worth the cost. Laphroaig in 2015 released a 100% floor malted whisky as a special edition that promptly sold out so there is demand to experience the old ways whenever possible. The exception to the rule is unsurprisingly Springbank distillery where they do cover 100% of their needs and help maintain its unique flavour profile.
Other distilleries have redeveloped their floor maltings into visitor centres or at Dallas Dhu on Speyside you can walk around the distillery as it was in 1983. Most are lamented by distillery managers and master blenders such as Dr Bill Lumsden (Ardbeg, Glenmorangie) who would love to reopen the floor maltings at Ardbeg, but it just isn’t cost effective according to the current owners. All of this comes after a period when peated whiskies weren’t very popular with the mainstream market but now are all the rage. Whereas now Ardbeg (55PPM) has arguably never been more well received or in demand and this distillery is at the high end of what we consider peated whisky to offer nowadays.
In 2002 the folks at Bruichladdich debated the legend of Octomore and pushing the boundaries of what peated whisky could deliver. The simple answer is to push the PPM scale to new previously unseen levels, which is a particular simple concept. Grasping onto the legend of the Octomore distillery, where local men cut the peat and used the rugged crops to create their whisky was a poignant one, given how Bruichladdich was revived from its dormant slumber.
The official debut of the Octomore range as we know it today came with the 1.1 release in a chic tall uber black bottling. This style of numbering and bottle shape would be the core foundations of the range. Bottled at 131PPM it was upon launch the most heavily peated whisky in the world. It was soon outdone by 2.1 which delivered 140PPM but with twist; using a slower distillation method. Bruichladdich were pushing boundaries and establishing new steadings by using a variety of techniques, or making it up as they went along.
Peated whiskies are at their most dominant in their youthful years. Extended periods of maturation lessen the grip PPM has on the whisky, thereby merging into the fold and providing a foundation for the tasting experience, as opposed to overriding it. Bottled at 5 years old, 2.2 Orpheus landed again at 140PPM but with its maturation in casks from Bordeaux chateau Petrus, a new marriage was unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
The whole concept came full circle with the release of 6.1 that may have been a mighty 167PPM but was made using Octomore Scottish Barley. The releases of 7.1 and 7.2 broke through the 200PPM barrier giving peat-heads a new Mount Everest to conquer but it was the debut of 7.4 that I found enjoyable with a marriage between the peat level of 167PPM and virgin oak casks. The Octomore series continues and who knows where next it’ll take us?
Overall we’re very pleased to bring you this definitive list of Octomore’s as part of our November auction. If you haven’t tried a whisky from this range yet, then now is your opportunity to do so and find your favourite expression.
Saturday 22nd October 2016
Has Christmas come early for whisky enthusiasts? If you’re on the Just Whisky mailing list, you would have received notification of how the current value of sterling for foreign bidders is a dream come true. It certainly hammered home the point on whisky and inspired others to adopt a similar message when launching their own auctions.
Currency aside our current auction can be summed up in one word that is synonymous with whisky. A distillery that when I was holidaying in Italy and met an American cardiologist (apparently very into his whisky), was the only whisky he knew of. Yes, that’s right the mere mention of Brora, Port Ellen, Deanston and Tormore received a puzzled look. The only whisky is his eyes was Macallan.
We have over a hundred examples of Macallan across the auction that takes in some of their recent releases right through to bottles many of us can only dream of owning or seeing in the flesh. Also within their ranks is what we believe is a first at auction, but more on that later.
Macallan is often referred to a blue chip distillery and a benchmark for investors and collectors. Each new special release is priced accordingly and never seems to dampen enthusiasm for the chase. The said edition sells out and this prompts dramatic increases on the secondary market. It’s a constant pattern with the heightened interest around the forthcoming 40-year-old proving there is little more unstoppable than a new Macallan.
Leading the charge this month is the 30-year-old Macallan Masters of Photography Rankin. This is what we believe is a first as whilst the bottle itself has been seen at auction in its original edition of 1000. There was an even rarer subset within its ranks in the red boxed edition. In total just 189 bottles made it out into the eager hands of collectors and we’re extremely honoured to be able to bring this exceptionally rare bottling this month. The standard black edition Rankin is also up for grabs this month and as our auction continues this week it’ll be extremely interesting to see the difference a colour scheme makes for Macallan collectors with deep pockets.
We have a great array of 30-year-old sherry and fine oaks plus your ugly duckling in the guise of the Private Eye edition. The independent Gordon & MacPhail is also represented with a Macallan distilled in 1950, with its evocative handwritten label and radiant colour from those decades spent patently waiting in sherry casks.
In terms of presentation nothing comes out better than the Macallan Diamond Jubilee that is all about the label. It’s a stunning design that only increases in value thanks to just 2012 bottles being produced. That’s not to forget about the Royal Marriage release to celebrate HRH Prince William and Catherine Middleton. These editions you do see now and again but not the Macallan Royal Marriage of Charles and Diana from 1981, featuring whiskies distilled in 1948 and 1961.
More recent Macallans are represented with the Lalique Cheval Kazak Running Horse, 1824 Decanter or the mysterious cask 888. A particular favourite is the very limited bottling to commemorate the disbanding of 617 Squadron that had numerous battle honours. Yet Macallan can appeal to all levels of collectors with 18-year-old editions proving worthwhile investments and your affordable Coronations and Reawakening releases. Such bottles allow you to get in on the ground floor as a new collector with this iconic range before gazing upwards as the more lavish and chased editions.
What about to drink? Well, Macallan is enjoyed the world over and many bottles here I’m sure will never be opened. That’s not to say its whisky isn’t for enjoyment when the moment arrives. We have the limited 12-year-old for the Taiwanese market or the Edition Number One that was an excellent whisky. It’s recently been joined by Edition Two and these remain very affordable and give a hint that perhaps Macallan is returning to its former glory when it actually comes to the whisky itself. Whether the new distillery currently being built will change the character once and forever remains to be seen however this month is Christmas come early for Macallan collectors at Just Whisky.
Wednesay 7th September 2016
Auction bargains August 2016
Hopefully you’ve been enjoying our focus on certain bottles or distilleries over the past few months. As we’re about to embark on another monthly auction, we thought it was worthwhile looking at some bargains from the previous month that may influence what you may purchase in the coming year.
Just Whisky has been achieving formidable prices for the flagship distilleries such as Macallan, Karuizawa and other trophy releases. That’s all fine and well but there are still bargains to be had and suggestions about what you should consider bidding on in the future. Let’s start with five lots from the August auction that you may have overlooked as our first bargain hunt offering and in no particular order. These are bargains having fetched prices under £50, as we all cannot afford the latest No Age Statement limited expression named after a standing stone, or whatever the trend is this month.
Warning some of this advice actually involves opening and enjoying a bottle of whisky!
Bell’s Decanter LOT ID 330188
The much maligned Bell’s Decanters are a genre of their own. A genre that some auctioneers refuse to accommodate. Visually these are not for everyone and the ceramic bottles are very prone to evaporation and the cork drying out. This brings its own problems when you try to open a decanter, however it's worth persevering. I’ve highlighted one lot here but in reality it could be any of the decanters as long as the price is under £20.
Think about it for a moment as it’s a blended Scotch whisky from the 1980’s or 1990’s for less than you’d potentially pay today in a supermarket. Whisky has evolved over the decades in so much as the traditional blended recipes have been filtered in pursuit of profit margins and a shift towards a higher proportion of grain whisky. Sit down with a popular blended whisky from today and compare it to an older bygone bottling; you’ll be very surprised at the results even with something as iconic as the Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Times change and not always for the better. These Bell’s Decanters are perfect as drinking whiskies that offer a palatable experience and a surprising amount of complexity. Crack one open and take the test. You’ll have a Scotch for a decent price that upon tasting you may have thought was much more expensive. If anyone has a suggestion for what to do with the empty decanter please let us know!
Glenlivet 12 year old LOT 331032
A winning bid of £26 secured this Glenlivet bottled in the 1990’s. Now you’ll be asking why pick out this bottling when you can secure the current Glenlivet 12 year old in almost any supermarket or online retailer? Well, there are two things firstly even with auction costs a current 12 year old Glenlivet will set you back around £40, which is higher. The other reason and most important is Glenlivet nowadays is a dull whisky so to see what it was once capable of we have to step back in time.
Here you can experience what arguably will be a superior expression of the Glenlivet 12 year old bottled 20 or more years ago. It promises to be a more entertaining whisky that today’s offering.
From an investment point of view, bottles from bygone decades that are worth sizeable amounts of money such as Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Talisker are not the single cask or special editions or fancy packaged items. These targeted versions do grow in value but it’s actually the core offerings such as the Talisker 8 year old bottled in the 1980’s that attract attention given their low initial cost.
An enthusiast once told me that bottles priced at £200 or more are generally never destined to be opened. Bottles priced under this benchmark over the passage of time will become far more scarce and collectable than older and more spotlighted expressions. Very few whisky drinkers felt it was worth sitting on a Lagavulin White Horse release when these were plentiful and priced to be opened and enjoyed. Our grandfathers or fathers wouldn’t have given much thought to cracking open a bottle they purchased locally, but if they were given something special from work or for Christmas? Chances are that bottle would be put aside for a special occasion that may never have arrived.
You can approach this from two perspectives as some investors will be laying down these core ranges for future decades and a slow consistent growth. A Glenlivet 12 year old from the 1990’s today may not be worth that much, but if you’re into whisky for the long haul then come your retirement it’ll be a less seen whisky and potentially more desirable. Either that or you can sit back during your twilight years with a dram that trumps what Glenlivet will be producing in 2040.
Also consider when a core range expression changes its packaging, recipe or strength. It could be deleted entirely given the No Age Statement period we are currently enduring. This expelled version could be in future years be fondly recalled and therefore sought after.
Johnnie Walker Red Label LOT 330621
Old blended Scotch much like the aforementioned Bell’s decanters offers tremendous value for whisky drinkers. Blended whiskies have sadly declined in liquid quality in recent times. For those new to whisky or wanting to expand their knowledge and appreciation then old blends such as this Red Label offer an experience comparable if not superior to spending a great deal more on a single malt from the same period.
This Johnnie Walker comes from the 1970’s which is considered by some enthusiasts as when whisky in general moved more towards mass production ethic we have today. Thereby stepping away from the solid foundations of a rich and rewarding tasting experience. The winner of this bottle can sit back and enjoy a taste of history for very little outlay.
Cragganmore 12 year old LOT 331036
Cragganmore isn’t a fashionable distillery and that isn’t likely to change in the coming years. However it’s a member of the Diageo Classic Malts series for the simple reason that it produces a lovely style of whisky. Here we have a 1980’s Cragganmore single malt for just £30 plus auction costs, which ultimately will take it to the same pricing level as today’s version.
Taping into the themes mentioned above regarding bygone eras and the quality of the whisky then this is another bargain. The fact that it was slightly damaged visually would ensure that it’s a drinker rather than a mint example to lay down for future investment. This is one I would have snapped up myself given the chance.
Ledaig 7 year old LOT 330151
What a cracking dram this one promises to be for just over £30 plus auction costs. Independent bottlers generally offer tremendous value and don’t inflate prices with complicated or lavish packaging. They also tend not to mess with the whisky so you can rule out artificial colouring, chill filtration and a strength of 40%. Therefore you’re getting more of the original, tampered free experience from the cask.
Here we have a single cask release bottled at the ideal level of 46% so it has been watered down slightly, but at this level that’s perfectly acceptable. I’ve picked this lot out as Ledaig is the peated spirit produced at Tobermory distillery. Now it’s fair to say that whisky produced at Tobermory has not been held in high esteem in recent times. That’s changing as quality improves and its especially true of the Ledaig spirit that has produced some young peated whiskies that can challenge those produced on Islay.
So this is a drinker unless you anticipate that in future years Ledaig will become collectable as enthusiasts all cotton on to the fact that its vastly improved and offers excellent value. Either way for the price this is an excellent bargain!
That concludes our five bargains and I’m sure this month will deliver more. It pays to go through any auction carefully and consider the potential growth or enjoyment of each whisky on offer. Until next month on auction bargains…
Friday 19th August 2016
Lagavulin 18 Years Old - Feis Ile 2016
We've been fortunate to try most of the 2016 Feis Ile bottlings at Just Whisky this year. These are annual celebrations available to distillery visitors on Islay throughout the festival and beyond.
Unfortunately, sometimes such bottles don't last very long especially when a bottling is universally praised and attractively priced. Best of the bunch from 2016 is the Lagavulin 18-year-old, which was bottled at 49.5% and an edition of 6000.
It did last a little longer at the distillery going into the following month and therefore beyond the Feis Ile. Lagavulin had put a limit on
2 per person which helped slightly but sometimes folk love to queue or visit on another day. Most beneficial is the edition run of 6000 as in
2015 the equivalent bottling was just 3500.
This 18-year-old is a vatting of several cask types with refill American oak hogsheads and European oak ex-Bodega sherry butts. Once married, the Lagavulin was bottled with its distinctive labelling and accompanying bottle bag. Price at the distillery was £125 although that's only if you could travel to Islay during the short window of opportunity. Now on the secondary market its value is much higher and what about the whisky itself? Lagavulin rarely disappoints and this is no different from our tasting:
Colour: golden syrup
Nose: classic Islay really. A punchy smoky arrival with maple cured bacon, sandpaper, candy floss, Refreshers bar and honey. Some flora aspects show a gentler side to the affair with olives thrown in and a grating of lemon zest as well. Then oddly kinda unwashed dirty potatoes; perhaps that's just the vegetative decay unfolding in the glass. A great nose that ticks all the boxes.
Taste: more of that classic Islay unfolding across your mouth.
Delicious with a superb balance of kiln embers, sea salt and charred beef burgers. More of the lemon, dirty vanilla and a Scottish breakfast tea - black of course. The legacy is a long salty finish.
An excellent whisky and another winner from Lagavulin. If you're unable to bid this month on our lots then do keep an eye out for further examples in the coming months. It'll be one that you'll continue to see at auction and its well worth experiencing.
Monday 12th August 2016
Earlier this year GlenDronach distillery hit the headlines as part of the acquisition by American drinks giant Brown-Forman for the princely sum of £285 million. The owners of Jack Daniels paid top dollar for the trio of distilleries under the BenRiach Distillery Company banner. For those unaware the threesome comprises of BenRiach, GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh.
It’ll take time for Brown-Forman to thoroughly evaluate each of these distilleries, their placement and what they deem is the way forward for each distinctive distillery. For this piece we’re just concerning ourselves with GlenDronach; arguably the jewel in the crown.
The distillery punches above its weight with enthusiasts, by offering an assured sherry influenced whisky experience. One that refuses to drop an age statement or cut corners across the board. Much like Glenfarclas, it’s this staunch dedication that keeps fans happy and highlights the drawbacks of what former sherry powerhouses such as Macallan have shied away from. Of course this is now and not in the future. Arguably we could be the final closing months of a golden era or the dawn of something truly special. Only time will ultimately judge which and the impact of Brown-Forman.
Since the acquisition interest in the annual special releases from GlenDronach has increased at retail and on the secondary market. Whisky enthusiasts are a diverse and pessimistic bunch often fearing the worst of any change and the impact it could potentially have on their favourite tipple. Much like Diageo and their annual Special Releases, the trio of aforementioned distilleries every 12 months revealed a variety of single cask editions comprising of whiskies across the decades.
For 2016, GlenDronach bottled one of its remaining casks from 1968 which was the obvious star of the show. Yet it’s the sheer assortment of single cask expressions ranging from a mere 12 years old right up to the 1968, 47 year old. It’s a sherry lover’s nirvana with an assortment of Pedro Ximenez puncheons and Olorso sherry butts. This treasure chest of goodies is one that has delighted many enthusiasts and whether this is sustainable – or the prices remain relatively reasonable at retail – is one that is driving more bottles onto the secondary market such as auctions. There is also the element of being late to the ball with feasibly former Macallan collectors moving away from soaring prices and more elaborate packaging to something more superior in whisky terms. It’s all fascinating and creates an air of anticipation around what GlenDronach will do next.
It’s the latest in a series of spirit acquisitions for the owners of Jack Daniels who know how to label and sell a brand. Having visited the distillery earlier this year, the distillery staff were in good spirits regarding the change in ownership. A tour of GlenDronach reveals that little has changed in terms of production and it has a slightly enchanting and comfortable presence; like a leather chair that shows decades of use externally. Much loved certainly, but a refurbishment to sustain its longevity would be beneficial and converting some of the unused external buildings to improve the distillery tour experience would be a step forward.
Walking around the GlenDronach site, many of the outer buildings were closed and the tour itself a little amputated with no real warehouse to display and no internal photography allowed. An excellent guide made up for this in some part but that sense of what a fantastic tour GlenDronach could be with investment remains a strong belief. A little of that American showmanship and glitz would make this corner of Scotland a destination for many. As much as I love closed distilleries and seeing traditional aspects on tour, changes are necessary at GlenDronach to guarantee the promise suggested by many of its whiskies. That £285 million price which includes 2 other distilleries could look like a steal if Brown-Forman harnesses the potential of the distillery whilst ensuring the whisky maintains a high standard.
Annually, GlenDronach can produce around 1.4 million litres per annum, or to put this into comparison Tullibardine is 3 million and the mighty Tormore can produce 4.4 million. Yet when you think of GlenDronach it’s those huge sherry flavours and dedication to the craft that only Glenfarclas can match and possibly eclipse nowadays. Again for comparison Glenfarclas averages about 3.5 million a year. So the point is GlenDronach for its size amongst whisky enthusiasts is punching well above its weight and should be appreciated even more. Macallan recently was producing as much as 11 million and even that wasn’t deemed enough to meet market demand hence a completely new distillery that’s being built currently.
Clearly there is a huge market out there for GlenDronach and this is one investors and collectors are tapping into now with a speculative view with regards to the future. If the single cask annual releases come to an end, or retail price increases from 2017 and beyond, then any existing bottles will grow in value. If things remain intact then any enthusiast will tell you, the GlenDronach style of whisky will always been appreciated and sought after.
Thursday 16 June 2016
Dramfool BloodTub Review
Something new for the blog in the form of a debut release dubbed Dram Fool that offers a new perspective in Scotch whisky. What that new spotlight promises to be is a mystery – great prices and no marketing flannel? Let’s wait and see.
This initial release is of interest on several fronts as it comes from Lochindaal, is just 5 years old and a mighty 61.4% strength. Not finished there the cask is a refill sherry bloodtub so expect an amplification of flavour. What is a bloodtub you may ask? An extra out of a scene from The Shining? That’d be interesting but it’s just a name for a smaller type of cask that on average holds around 32 litres of spirit.
Your next question will no doubt be Lochindaal what’s that? Technically it is the name of a long lost Islay distillery that was also known as Port Charlotte. See where this is going now? The distillery itself closed in around 1929 but many of the buildings live on being used by local businesses and most importantly the warehouses themselves. Islay distilleries are always in need of a warehouse as they prefer to be maturated and bottled on the island if possible. Unless you’re Caol Ila where it’s shipped off to the mainland to mature in a regional centre. Yes, see why we prefer the more traditional method?
The warehouses that survive are utilised by Bruichladdich who are in the process of building more distillery space to accommodate those who enjoy their whiskies. However during the early days of the distillery revival these bloodtubs were sold to perspective buyers who wanted the experience of owning their own cask. Being in the old Lochindaal warehouse gives the whisky a twist undoubtedly.
Given the small nature of the cask and a 5 year maturation period, just 42 bottles came out of cask number 4411. These have been bottled and we’re pleased to be able to offer one for sale in this month’s auction with a very distinctive label. Even better we’ve been given a sample to experience the whisky right now so here’s what we think:
Colour: a rich golden honey
Nose: surprisingly gentle at first, given the cask I was expecting a turbo charged arrival full of vanilla and oaky notes but it’s more subtle. Some golden syrup with the tin influence, dried oranges, used tobacco, decaying vegetation and rock salt. Those unmistakable signs of Islay and Bruichladdich are noticeable. With water more floral and heather notes appear.
Taste: the restraint continues onto the palate even at this alcohol strength it’s a dram you can drink without water and I believe it’s better without any being added. It’s the peat that dominates but not a vicious overpowering nature. Instead its part of the vortex with the vegetation mixing with nutmeg, dark chocolate, apricots and dried cranberries.
Quite a surprise really. This Lochindaal whilst displaying some limitations that you do associate with its young age, does offer a worthwhile experience. Far better than many of the smaller cask bottlings I’ve tasted in recent years and if you ain’t bidding then I might snap this one up!
Friday 13th May 2016
Port Sgioba 4 North British
Here we are then, the fourth bottling from Port Sgioba which we’ve been following consistently as part of the Just Whisky blog.
With the previous releases incorporating Port Charlotte, Caol Ila and Bruichladdich we’ve been firmly entrenched on Islay. Yes, there was technically a spinoff with the Red Oktober Glenglassaugh octave but this was not granted a chronological number, which explains why North British is the fourth in line.
This marks a departure from Islay most likely by ferry and then the long winding road to civilisation and the final destination of Edinburgh. It is here that you will find North British as the last remaining distillery in Scotland’s capital. There were many distilleries in Edinburgh in bygone years but these have dwindled until they have virtually reached extinction. Fear not as the whisky boom promises at least another distillery is in the pipeline, but for now North British is the sole survivor.
Established in 1885, North British like so many other distilleries was on the outskirts of town. As the decades passed, Edinburgh expanded and engulfed the site. This seizure of a population boom did prompt the closure of many other distilleries in the early 80’s that had become inaccessible and offered no room for expansion. Perhaps it was the popularity of the Capital that in the late 1960’s and subsequent soaring house prices that instigated the then owners to look elsewhere.
Rather than move the distillery as a whole, 30 acres of land were purchased at Addiewell in West Lothian to establish the necessary warehouses and a filling store. This met the increased demand for North British at the time whilst securing the Edinburgh site for distilling. Nowadays there is just a single warehouse (number one) on the Edinburgh site that offers a traditional style of maturation for casks being laid down for longer than eight years and ensures that a long established tradition continues.
From the first spirit in September 1887, North British has been a grain distillery. Some readers I appreciate will be unfamiliar with grain whisky which is produced using a Coffey still. North British actually offers an excellent website that provides greater detail on the process. There are also some surprising figures that demonstrate the efficiency and volume of grain production. For instance the distillery today comprises of four Coffey stills that combine to produce on average every five weeks just 1.5 million gallons of spirit. Per year North British uses 180,000 tonnes of cereal equivalent to just 37,000 football pitches, or the dark grains plant produces enough pellets to feed 28,000 cows a week!
The sheer size of grain distilleries is on another level, although it must be said with Glenfiddich and Glenlivet continuing to increase production, visiting these distilleries does give you a sense of the scale involved. Grain spirit at North British is shipped at a strength of 94.5% before being watered down at the current Muirhall site to a more palatable 68.6% and put into casks for maturation.
The spirit by its very nature is almost neutral and light. Grain requires more time to open up and take on new dimensions and flavours. Normally patience is key with whiskies in excess of twenty years metamorphosing into remarkable drinking experiences. I’ve enjoyed grains at a younger age say 16 years old but it is dependent on the cask and a certain harmony to deliver in the teens. Diageo in recent years has tried to make grain whisky fashionable with a certain retired footballer and generally this has met with much distain. Advertising and pricing aside, it’s all about the whisky as the Haig Club on average is made up of whisky just three to six years old from Cameronbridge distillery in Fife. At this age it’s far too benign and rumours are that Diageo are going back to the drawing board with a new addition to the brand.
We needn’t fear such a taste vacuum with this North British Port Sgioba as it is bottled at 25 years of age and 54.8% strength. There is always a danger with grain that the wood dominates the spirit too much creating a ‘woody’ flavour profile with little else. However the quality of spirit that North British produces has in my experience led to some very high quality grain whiskies. At the end of the day it’s all in the taste and we were kindly given a sample of this bottling and here are our tasting notes.
Colour: a field of golden wheat at sunset
Nose: a caramel coconut slice and there’s a buttery oily aspect to the presentation with some noticeable legs as you swirly the whisky in the glass. A syrup oat bar? No make that tarte tatin with that mixture of butter, pastry and caramelised apples. Lots of vanilla present and white grapes and in the back row a hint of raspberries. With water allspice and bananas materialise alongside ginger. A very approachable and light offering.
Taste: a really enjoyable oily texture across the mouth. Initially it’s the vanilla and wood shavings followed by black pepper that are noticeable. Returning to the glass with water; caramel, resin and more ginger.
Overall: a very decent grain whisky with the nose winning out overall. This will entertain and delight without blowing you away. I find it perfectly enjoyable and a very easy drinking experience. Just enough character to keep you interested and the influence of the wood is held in check.
Thursday 14th April 2016
Bowmore Presidents Selection Keizo Saji’s Cask 21 year old
Whisky distilleries love an opportunity to produce a cask aligned to a story or local myth. Yet there is more substance to the existence of this Bowmore Presidents Selection Keizo Saji Cask than most fables we see on the market today.
Keizo Saji’s adopted father was the founder of Japanese giant Suntory, or Kotobukiya as it was known in the early years. Kezio played a key role in bringing whisky to the wider Japanese public after the Second World War. As Suntory grew, so did the family riches and this allowed him to indulge in his many passions; one of which was whisky.
Today, Morrison Bowmore is owned by Suntory however this acquisition did not take place until 1994. In the summer of 1991 Keizo Saji visited Islay and specifically Bowmore. During this visit he was given the honour of filling his own sherry cask that would reside in the famous Number One Vaults at the distillery. A nice touch was once Keizo had driven the bung into position, the cask was placed alongside a cask donated by Her Majesty the Queen.
Having visited many distilleries and warehouses over the years there is something rather special about the Number One Vaults experience. Normal tours will only take you as far as the viewing area but if you select a more premium option, then your guide will take you beyond the enclosure. Here you are free to wander amongst the casks, some of which are exceptionally old or unusual. For instance during my visit a group of casks from Japan sat in a cluster, each signed by the current owners I presume. These were very distinctive being made from the Japanese Mizunara oak and should produce a hopefully marvellous (if not unique) whisky given time and patience.
The Number One Vaults is full of heritage and importance including being the oldest example of a maturation warehouse in Scotland and the only one below sea level. Warehouses represent my favourite part of any distillery tour and so far this is the top of the tree. When we visited Bowmore it was a stormy day and you could hear and feel the tremendous power of Mother Nature crashing against the great seawall of the vault. Yet inside the atmosphere was extremely still, the air thick with sea salt and the distinctive smell of whisky. A huge stain on the inner wall where lucky visitors after drawing and tasting a sample from a cask are encouraged to throw the remnants as a marker. It is fair to say that only the best of Bowmore is allowed to reside in this vault.
Keizo sadly passed away in 1999, yet his cask was not considered to be at its zenith until 2012, when his son, Nobutada Saji the current family head and Suntory chairman, kindly donated its contents to the employees of Morrison Bowmore. This act of generosity created an instant collectable as the whisky was never bottled for sale at retail. We are pleased to be able to offer you this lot in our September auction and the opportunity to own a bottle that has a more tangible story than most.
Thursday 17th March 2016
It’s likely you’ll have never heard of Kennetpans distillery. It’s one that has been lost to time, the history books and mother-nature. Unlike many of the subjects in the excellent book ‘Scotch Missed: Lost Distilleries of Scotland’ by Brian Townsend, no bottles or whisky from the distillery are known to exist today. It is highly unlikely we’ll ever offer a Kennetpans whisky for sale here at Just Whisky Auctions. However there is an upside as the distillery still stands today unlike many of the structures mentioned in Brian’s comprehensive work.
Kennetpans was brought to life by the Stein family; a whisky dynasty that established several distilleries in Scotland including the nearby larger sister distillery Kilbagie, which no longer exists today but is mentioned by Rabbie Burns. The family went on to establish a distillery in Ireland (Bow Street) and purchased Marrowbone Lane. They pursued new markets for their whisky and invented the continuous still. Such was their financial clout they also assisted families such as Haig and Jameson establish their whiskies in the marketplace; names that still exist today.
The site of Kennetpans stands solitary alongside the shore of the River Forth and is clustered around a small port. It was this gateway that the Stein family utilised to ship their young whiskies in casks to market. We know that the distillery existed on this site in 1720, which puts Kennetpans as a forefather of the distilleries we know today and as such it is the oldest surviving distillery still standing in Scotland.
The current owners bought the land originally to safeguard the rural location of where they lived. The land around Kennetpans is extremely flat, arable and a flood risk. Back in the 1700’s it would have represented an ideal location for a whisky distillery, which until that time had only existed on a small-scale basis on farms or hidden away in glens. Kennetpans was the first step towards the modern distilleries we see today, by improving production and efficiency on a whole new level as the seeds of Scotland’s industrialisation began to take root.
The site was chosen for several reasons. The port offered the necessary gateway to new markets and tapped into the ability of ships to carry immense loads compared to the slow and hazardous method of travelling by horse and cart. A nearby coal mine offered the source for the four kilns that are known to have existed at the distillery and the land itself provided a water source and plenty of crops. So all the key ingredients were readily available nearby for the Stein family to utilise and they did so with great aplomb.
By 1733 Kennetpans was the largest distillery in Scotland not bad for a site that initially started out as a corn mill. It is speculated that distilling on the site reaches back into the 1600’s but that’s one feature the historians have yet to resolve. It is a site with many firsts for Scotland including being the first distillery to export spirit, the continuous still and one of the first canals linked Kilbagie to the port of Kennetpans. A very early example of a railway also existed on site as did Scotland’s first steam engine. It is extremely historical landmark so why haven’t we heard about it before? Especially with all the money floating around the Scotch whisky industry and marketing around heritage? Why has it forgotten its roots and historical sites?
A debate for another time. Thankfully by purchasing the land the owners without realising safeguarded the ruins. It was only after being asked on multiple occasions by friends what the most prominent building nearby was exactly that they set out to resolve the mystery. The arduous and rewarding path of researching the site itself commenced revealing that this was no castle or gentry holiday home for a rich landowner. Much to their surprise it revealed what actually resided on their land and how they could safeguard its future.
There now exists a wealth of information regarding Kennetpans but the best place to discover this is via the official website (http://www.kennetpans.info/) which I suggest you explore. The distillery today exists in two sections. You have the port area with the remnants of the piers still standing alongside the distillery building; these are open to the public although the building itself is currently an unsafe ruin so you are unable to venture inside.
The other aspect to the site is arguably even more impressive but is not accessible to the public currently. The four massive warehouses or maltbarns still stand albeit roofless and engulfed in trees and vines. Some of the pictures from these areas are included here in this article, as Just Whisky were allowed to venture into this forgotten distillery and explore these impressive ruins. We’ve visited many distilleries and continue to do so, but nothing quite matches the scale and sense of a lost distillery such as Kennetpans.
Today the site has charitable status and 2016 promises to be an exciting year for Kennetpans with hopefully some good news, rather than seeing more parts of it fall into rubble. It’s a cause we do support and hope to highlight through this article as being important to history of not only the whisky industry but Scotland as a whole.
Monday 14th March 2016
At Just Whisky when we’re not sending out bottles to winners or preparing the next spectacular auction, we may have the opportunity to try a particular whisky. In this case it was from a minor Speyside distillery you may have heard about before? Yes, it’s The Macallan.
Specifically an official bottling of Macallan as a 7 year old for the Italian market by Giovinetti & Figli Milano, who were wine and spirit importers. This debuted in the 1980’s being going through a handful of incarnations, which featured subtle label changes only known to the most extreme of Macallan collectors (who are much like trainspotters or stamp collectors, truth be told), before being discontinued in the 1990’s.
This bottling is slightly younger than the core Macallan range that was in existence back then and even reaching into the 1990’s, when we had the luxury of age statements. Nowadays alongside the 1824 Series and the foreign exclusive Edition 1, it could be seen as an elder statesman. Like most Macallan’s it is sherry matured and bottled at 40% strength so a fair degree of watering down here and would the short maturation time affect the quality? Let’s see.
Colour: Irn Bru
Nose: glazed cherries, coconut flakes and Szechuan peppercorns. Pink Lady apples and on the fringes some plastic, no make that wine gums.
Taste: initially this feels over-diluted with only the remnants of oranges and cranberries remaining. A hint of rubber followed by a cinnamon stick lingering finish.
Overall: it's a lite-sherried Macallan and that's not a criticism. A higher strength would have been appreciated. It is however easy to appreciate why this has been discontinued. Perhaps in the warmer Italian climate it may have been more appreciated? It lacks the sherry-oomph factor, depth of character and the qualities we really appreciate in a Macallan; even in some of today’s No Age Statement releases.
Wednesday 17th February 2016
The Moffat Distilleries Complex (Garnheath, Glen Flagler, Killyloch)
There are closed distilleries and then there are the closed distilleries that you’ll rarely see or hear mentioned. A trio of these are linked by the former site of the Moffat Paper Mill, three miles outside of Airdrie. It was here in 1964 that an ambitious American company (Publicker Industries Limited of Philadelphia) after purchasing Inver House Distilleries, set about creating its own vision of producing whisky.
The catalyst for the purchase was a booming demand from North America for Scotch whisky. For example between 1960 and 1968 the imported figure rose from 12,000,000 gallons to 33,000,000 and other foreign markets were also increasing. Publicker already had a several bourbons such as old Hickory within its ranks and was eager to become a player in the Scotch market and renamed the site the Moffat Distilleries complex. Brands owned by Inver House included Coldstream Guard, Green/Red Plaid, Kinsey and Pinwinnie Royal De Luxe.
This was an era dominated by blended Scotch. The producers often relied on gentlemen agreements to source stock, a bygone relic from past age. A core ingredient in your blend recipe may not even reside within your distillery portfolio and this with production ramping up and aged (and quality) whisky was unacceptable. A dispute or disagreement could lead to such an honourable agreement being terminated, or gazumped with a rival offering a better price per cask. More focus was also being placed on production, yields and efficiency. A reasonable idea seemed to be locating a cluster of distilleries nearby one another that could in theory, satisfy all of your blending requirements.
Publicker recognised this and built not just one, but three distilleries on the Airdrie site along with a cooperage, blending and bottling plant. There were 32 warehouses in total, some of which survive today. The first of the distilleries was the workhorse of the trio, it had to be a grain distillery and it was known as Garnheath. This consisted of five continuous stills, a dark grain plant and a large Saladin maltings, which was at the time the largest maltings in Europe. Garnheath remains today, a very rare whisky, as no one envisaged any demand for aged grain or single cask bottlings in recent decades. What Garnheath produced almost exclusively went into the blended Scotch market. There have been a couple of single cask bottlings in recent years from independent bottlers such as Carn Mor Celebration of the Cask. Yet these are now reaching forty plus years of age and almost at the limit of what a grain can endure without becoming dominated by the wood of the cask. It is a lovely grain whisky if you do have the opportunity to try it; a distinctive type of grain characteristic that is different from modern grains today. Garnheath closed in 1986 meaning that the site was only in existence for just 21 years, which compared to some Scottish distilleries is a mere blink of an eye.
The other two distilleries were built to produce malt whisky with the first of these being Glen Flagler, which is arguably the most commonly sighted of the trio. This distillery was built in 1965 and featured six stills. No expense was spared as it is alleged that Glen Flagler had the largest mash tun in Scotland. Whilst much of Flagler went into blends it was released for a short period as a single malt whisky in its own right. Only two young age statements were ever released at five and eight years of age before production stopped. These juvenile ages show the immaturity of the site and the Glen Flagler whisky was never highly regarded or sought after, until today at auction.
In 2003 Inver House bottled a 1973 Glen Flagler, which is likely to be the last ever official release, with the occasional independent bottling prior to this. Since then it seems Glen Flagler is no more. Technically there was a fourth whisky produced at the complex on the Glen Flagler stills and this is known as Islebrae. Produced until 1970 it is a more heavily peated whisky and is one of those ghost whiskies you may hear about but never actually see in the flesh. Glen Flagler stopped production in the early 1980’s as another victim of the closures sweeping across Scotland.
The final distillery on the site was another malt whisky producer called Killyloch. Originally it was meant to be named Lillyloch after a local water source but the story goes casks were incorrectly stencilled and the name stuck forever more. Production also commenced in 1965 and Killyloch was the most short-lived of the trio, stopping production in the early 1970’s. This extremely short lifespan has resulted in Killyloch being the Holy Grail for many closed distillery collectors. Like Garnheath and Glen Flagler, very little information was recorded regarding Killyloch activities leading to some speculation and rumours such as Islebrae.
The majority of examples you will now see come from the Inver House 2003 bottling of a 1967 cask, which is what features in this month’s auction. Independent bottler Signatory who often source and bottle the most obscure casks have previously bottled Killyloch at 23 years of age. Yet like its neighbour Glen Flagler, it seems Killyloch no longer resides in any cask and only exists in the fraction of bottlings we’ve seen in recent years.
Thursday 28th January 2016
Regulars may have noticed the appearance of a new Macallan release at the auction called Edition No.1 but may be unaware of the details of this particular release.
The Edition is the first in a series of annual limited edition releases from Macallan. This particular bottling is only for the North American and Asian markets, currently. Recent Macallan exclusives, as you'll be aware have started out in these markets before arriving in the UK. There is no confirmation that this will happen with the Edition itself, but the trend is there for all to see.
The concept is one celebrating Macallan's cask management policy. A journey that begins with the purchasing of wood to make the barrels. If you have ever visited the distillery, then most likely you will have explored the section around the importance of wood and the cask itself. For some, it is a little too detailed and artistic but does underline the importance of that cask, which can contribute 60-80% of the flavour characteristics in a dram.
A range of 8 casks have been used in this release and the packaging is highly informative in this respect. You have 58% butt, 23% hogshead and 19% puncheon. More specifically these constitute 1st fill butts from Tevasa, Toneleria Hudo, J&M Martin and Gonzalez. A 1st fill puncheon from Vasyma and 2nd fill butts and hogsheads round up a comprehensive assortment.
Macallan's Master Whisky Maker, Bob Dalgarno, has been involved with the project and the whisky has been bottled at a higher strength of 48% ABV. This is a welcome change from the disappointing 1824 Series that were all bottled at a lower strength and whilst each edition didn’t lack colour, they lacked flavour.
The cynic in me views any new idea without an age statement from Macallan with a degree of suspicion. The 1824 Series arrived with a great deal of fanfare but not much actual substance apart from Ruby. With the Edition release we could have a manipulation of powerful 1st fill casks as a turbo boost to inject flavours into the spirit in the shortest time possible. As always the proof of the pudding is in the experience and whether this justifies the asking price. We're fortunate enough to have a sample of the Edition to give you our verdict right now:
Colour: cinder toffee
Nose: plums, red apples and beeswax. A well-used leather shammy, currants, orange peel and warm toffee. With a touch of water the spices appear with all-spice, cinnamon, and ginger and cracked black pepper.
Taste: well this is very intelligent blending from Macallan, refined but showing some cracks on the edges. Using 1st fill injects flavour quickly (especially the nose) and a good 1st impression. Yet it’s a little shallow and the finish isn't as confident as I had hoped for. I picked up honey, cloves, leathery notes, spicy marzipan, cinder toffee (again) and Dairy Milk chocolate.
Overall: a thumbs up and whilst this isn't even worth mentioning alongside the old, great Macallan’s. It represents an improvement over the 1824 series. Plus the packaging is informative and the 48% strength welcome. We do like this one at Just Whisky Auctions.
Thursday 14th January 2016
In case you missed it, Jim Murray deployed his annual megaton whisky device recently prompting the usual shockwaves and ramifications. The modestly titled ‘Whisky Bible’ is debated by enthusiasts, scholars and onlookers more than any other award. To those blissfully unaware of whisky itself, it may seem to be the only award that matters.
Originally the Malt Maniacs award was a valid barometer of whiskies across a broad spectrum but this has fallen by the wayside, whereas Jim continues on his pilgrimage to educate and promote whiskies from around the world via his soapbox. The format and the man himself both come in for criticism from all sides, but you cannot argue with the impact these awards have and the most visible aftershocks are delivered at auction.
For 2016, Jim highlighted his top 5 whiskies from around the world. The biggest surprise being that Scotland wasn’t represented amongst the alumni. The Scottish contingent represents an easy target and whilst some may criticise Jim for having a vendetta; other regional producers are pushing boundaries more arguably enabled by less restrictive rules.
Several friends ignore the bible totally whereas I know of some who do find it a useful reference guide. In my opinion it is just the view of one man, a person who cannot taste every whisky released in the preceding 12 months, which is physically impossible with all the bottles nowadays. So I prefer to take it with a pinch of salt much like the rest of the Just Whisky team. For instance my favourite whisky of 2015 is the Kilkerran Work in Progress 7 Bourbon cask strength. An edition of 6000 it showcases a revived distillery that will be embarrassing many established competitors when it releases its 12 year old in 2016. This personal favourite wasn’t mentioned or even reviewed highlighting the limitations of having one man and his bible.
The top five whiskies this year are:
1. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
2. Pikesville Straight Rye
3. Midleton Dair Ghaelach
4. William Larue Weller Bourbon (Bot.2014)
5. Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara (Bot.2014)
First place always grabs the headlines and none more so than a Canadian whisky, which let’s be honest has never really been a bastion of quality in recent years. This result highlights that Canada is upping its game and improving the overall quality. The Crown Royal releases I’ve experienced are dominated by grain, a little rough around the edges and sometimes their smoothness isn’t welcome.
The brand is now owned by Diageo and is a remarkable assimilation of various types of grains and casks to produce a variety of Crown Royal editions. The Northern Harvest Rye consists of at least 90% rye from some sources or 100% from others depending on where you look. Both represent a very high percentage as normally rye whiskies are supplemented by other grains. Rye for those unaware is a type of grain mainly used in North America and delivers a spectrum of sweet flavours. It can be difficult to mash prior to distillation and this problematic component is only overcome through experience. Once conquered, a rye whisky is very enjoyable straight or as part of a cocktail – an area where Crown Royal does enjoy some success. Initial advertising highlighted its suitability and smoothness in a Manhattan, Old Fashioned or a Buck cocktail to bartenders. Now post-bible would you want to experience the best whisky of 2016 in a cocktail?
Jim did not hold back in his praise of the Northern Harvest, stating that “Crown Royal Northern Harvest pops up out of nowhere and changes the game. It certainly puts the rye into Canadian Rye. To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice,” whilst awarding it an impressive 97.5 out of 100.
Runner up this year is another rye whiskey in the form of the Pikesville Straight Rye. Tracing its heritage back to a distillery in Maryland which began producing in 1895, before the arrival of Prohibition closed the facility. The brand was then acquired in 1936 before another distillery (Monumental distillery) was contracted to provide the spirit itself. This is common in the American whiskey industry where spirits are produced to order and then bottled elsewhere for a specific brand.
Monumental distillery was renamed in 1946 as the Majestic distilling corporation which admittedly isn’t as impressive on paper. Consumer tastes began to change and the documented thirst for Maryland rye in the 1860’s was a distant historical footnote when Majestic closed in 1972. This symbolised the end of an era with Maryland rye whiskey and production within the state coming to a close. Yet the brand continued to exist on previously distilled stock (an indicator of a faithful if minor following), until a decade later when in 1982 Kentucky’s Heaven Hill acquired Pikesville. Production for the brand was commenced at Bernheim Distillery in Louisville and matured in rickhouses in Bardstown Kentucky, which continues to be the case to this today
Pikesville is a 6 year old rye whiskey bottled at 110 proof, or 55% strength to Europeans. At least 51% is rye with the remainder consisting of small grains such as corn and malted barley. So in essence this is a more traditional rye compared to the Crown Royal Northern Harvest.
In third place we have a representative from the realm of Irish whiskey. This region has been enjoying a resurgence along similar lines as craft whiskies in North America after decades in the doldrums. Distilleries are being revived, expansions of existing facilities are coming online and Irish whiskey is increasing in popularity. Unfortunately to cope with demand many releases are bottled without an age statement or (like North America) the spirit itself is produced elsewhere and bottled under a white label name.
To the onlooker this can be rather confusing and disappointing when the suggested retail prices rival Scottish competitors. Marketing bods have been watching their rivals as Midleton Dair Ghaelach on paper the name looks like another Scottish themed release. Yet there is actually some substance to the concept as this represents the first whiskey to be finished in Irish oak hogsheads.
The trees themselves come from Grinsell’s wood in County Kilkenny and were numbered prior to being felled at 130 years of age. This traceability means Midleton can go right back to the very tree which produced the cask and compare the results in years to come. The example we have in our January auction is the first batch from tree number 9 - Bruichladdich I’m sure will look on with envy.
Midleton who produce Dair Ghaelach are known for their traditional style of Irish single pot still distillate. For this release they took a range of whiskies that had matured in ex-bourbon casks for 15-22 years before marrying these together prior to the aforementioned virgin Irish oak hogsheads. A virgin cask needs to be observed very carefully as the wood is fresh and full of flavour – maturation too long in such a cask may result in a whiskey that is dominated by the wood, which is a characteristic of some bourbons.
What is refreshing is that Midleton took whiskies that were already of a decent age. Although a critic may suggest that these casks were so benign that they required some acing or finishing at the end to spark some life into the product. Given the choice I’d prefer the Midleton approach rather than some Scottish distilleries that have been using virgin casks from the very moment when the spirit comes off the still. This supercharging method means a flavour boost for relatively young whiskies. Whether you like the result is another debate, but for Dair Ghaelach it has been received well and has proven to be very successful for Midleton. Hopefully there are more trees nearby!
First place always attracts the plaudits as any silver or bronze Olympic medallist will testify. In our January auction we’ll have examples of the first 3 places available whereas 4th and 5th place remain unrepresented at the time of writing. Respectfully, these 2 bottlings are regulars in Jim’s annual awards in recent years with the 2014 expressions from William Larue Weller and Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara rounding off the awards for this year. Post-bible it’ll be interesting to see how these lots are received during our January auction.
Thursday 10th December 2015
Keeping informed of the latest whisky releases can be a momentous effort with special editions hitting the market with a unique angle on an almost weekly basis. Marketing bods are masters of dragging a local legend or Gaelic into the spotlight and draping it across a bottle label.
Many are touted as limited editions without giving us a specific outturn number so if it’s not a single cask release or number specific you simply view these as not being truly limited. Others do not warrant much interest due to fancy packaging or cask acing. The latest press releases are full of such examples, so for once it’s interesting to see a whisky that does tap into heritage and tries to bring it into today’s environment with relevance.
This whisky is simply known as The Glover. No, it isn’t named after the cop actor Danny, but in retrospect would be an ideal contender for a fanciful Hollywood epic except that it is based on fact. The man in question is Thomas Blake Glover who was the son of a Fraserburgh Coastguard Officer. A native of the North East of Scotland, Glover joined Jardine Matheson & Co after school; a company which had made its reputation in the Far East trading with China.
Posted to their Shanghai office in 1857 he was on the opposite side of the world far from Scotland. This secondment offered him the opportunity to take advantage of international pressures when Japan decided to end its period of Sakoku, or roughly translated as ‘locked country’. This transition began in 1853 when the anchored ships of Commodore Matthew Perry forced the Japanese to consider trade with the West. It was a forceful show of strength as these large warships possessed technology and weaponry beyond what the Japanese could muster in their defence.
The ending of Sakoku was not the final chapter in the political and culture changes that were sweeping across Japan. Rather it was only the opening salvo with the Meiji Restoration soon to follow in 1868. Many of the prime native instigators realised that Japan had fallen behind other countries and a new dawn with industrialisation at its heart was required. It was into this chaotic political and cultural environment that Glover found himself when he was posted to the Nagasaki office. For Glover the most immediate difficulty would have been the daily suspicion and resistance Westerners were viewed with at the time.
Starting with the prized commodity of green tea, Glover soon moved into other avenues including arms and ships which were in huge demand. He was so successful that he learned Japanese and set up as an independent merchant tapping into his family ship building connections. His dealings with important clan members soon provided important connections and helped him establish several leading ventures of the time. He also assisted the Samurai in overthrowing their Shogun and restoring the Emperor to the throne, prompting his nickname of the Scottish Samurai. His remarkable career was crowned when he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor and was the non-Japanese citizen to receive this honour. His house today in Nagasaki is a major tourist destination, overlooking the harbour it is the oldest Western style building in Japan. In essence Glove was a remarkable man who lived a remarkable life of which there is much more than just this brief summary.
How about the whisky? The obvious connection are the countries although Glover did establish the first major brewing company in Japan. The Glover has been released in two expressions both of which feature in this month’s auction. Both have been created by respected independent bottler Adelphi Distillery Ltd and we’ll tackle the most exclusive release in greater detail.
This luxury bottling represents the first blending of Japanese and Scottish whiskies. From Scotland 2 single casks from Longmorn and Glen Garioch distilleries were selected. Around 35% is from Longmorn distillery from an ex-sherry American hogshead and what is summarised as a ‘drop’ from Glen Garioch via a Spanish oak ex-sherry butt. This was done more as a homage to Glover’s original home in Fraserburgh rather than any distinct flavour profiling. The remainder of the blend which we can anticipate is over 50% from the information provided comes from a closed distillery in the form of Hanyu. Often overlooked, Hanyu distillery closed in 2000 and was dismantled in 2004. Whilst it does not enjoy the fanboy enthusiasm of Karuizawa distillery, I’ve never had a bad whisky from Hanyu. Today it is more widely known for the Playing Card series bottled by Ichiro Akuto that is increasingly sought after.
One thing is certain and that’s there aren’t many Hanyu casks left to be discovered, which makes the fact that the minds behind the Glover concept managed to obtain one even more remarkable. This refill sherry hogshead was shipped to the UK before being married with the Scottish whiskies to create this unique hybrid blend. Bottled at 53.1% strength and 22 years of age there are just 390 hand-numbered bottles. The other edition is more affordable yet still limited to a total batch of 1500 bottles and is 14 years of age and consists of Japanese and Scottish whiskies.
Thursday 5th November 2015
Those devilish chaps responsible for the Port Sgioba releases are back once again and they’ve returned to their spiritual home of Islay. This latest bottling is from Bruichladdich distillery, joining previous releases from Port Charlotte and Caol Ila amongst mainland examples.
This example from Bruichladdich was distilled in May 2005 and bottled in July 2015 at 10 years of age from a refill bourbon cask matured on the shores of Loch Indaal. The cask is poignant in many respects as it represents the first syndicate purchase by the chaps behind the Port Sgioba series. This cask united a group of individuals through their love of whisky and since then we’ve been able to enjoy their fruits of their choices through bottlings such as this.
Bruichladdich distillery today is owned by Remy Cointreau who some believe paid a hefty price of £58 million as their initial foray into the realm of Scottish whisky and onto the iconic island of Islay. Prior to this acquisition the distillery which was founded in 1881 has survived periods of temporary closures before in 2000 being purchased by Murray McDavid for £6.5 million. A period of restoration was required before the distillery sprang back into life in 2001 and then the team set about trying to turn its fortunes around.
Since then Bruichladdich has built up a strong fan base due to their releases and pushing the boundaries of what modern whisky should all be about, wrapped up in their own individual style. In retrospect this translated into a barrage of releases on a regular basis; some good and some not so good to maintain a regular cash flow. The remnants of these releases are available at auction on a regular basis and are so numerous in nature that collecting them all would be a massive task. Whilst the distillery achieved success and new found respect, the ability to take that next step up and compete with other distilleries from Islay, worldwide, on a level footing represented a struggle and ultimately out of reach. Hence the arrival of Remy Cointreau, who offered the financial clout of a major corporation and an additional key benefits of worldwide distribution channels and contacts.
Since the change in ownership sales have doubled to £20 million in 2014, new warehouses have been erected and sadly age statements have been withdrawn. Similar to what we’ve seen from other distilleries who have become a victim of their own success, Bruichladdich took action due to this increased demand and dwindling age stock. Part of the reason for this is when the distillery was revived by Murray McDavid a source of income for several years was the selling of casks to private individuals. Whilst this provided an immediate cash flow it also tied up a percentage of production and warehouse space for years on end. Facing future shortages the distillery did offer to buy back casks from private individuals, but many have seen their commitment through to its logical conclusion by bottling their own cask and thus this 2005 cask has reached this destination.
Thanks to the lot seller providing a sample of the release, which will feature in this month’s auction, we have been granted a sneak peak of the contents so here are our impressions.
Nose: a bit of patience to open this fella up. The wood dominates initially from the bourbon cask with cream crackers and vanilla. Given time dried moss, black pepper, a touch of eucalyptus soon follow, pine cones and Victoria Sponge.
Taste: a little sweet and sour initially, strongly vanilla orientated with whipped cream. White grapes, melons, pepper and apricots.
Overall for decade in age is very drinkable, satisfying and well balanced. A worthy entry in the Port Sgioba portfolio.
Saturday 10th October 2015
Littlemill Part 2, continued ...
Alfred Barnard when visiting the distillery during his epic trip across Scotland commented on how old Littlemill looked back then. He also provided some delightful details including peat taken from Stornoway and Perthshire was only used for drying the malt. Output during his visit was 150,000 gallons with England, Ireland, India and the Colonies being the main markets for its whisky. To put the volume into perspective Ben Nevis was producing 260,000, Aberlour 80,000, Macallan 40,000 and Highland Park 50,000. So Littlemill during this period was fairly successful and still able to supply enough whisky to meet demand.
We’re not going to go through a series of owners throughout the history of distillery as this will turn into a novella pretty quickly. Some of the key owners include an American speculator (Duncan G. Thomas) in 1931 who operated the distillery under the name of the Littlemill Distillery Co. Limited and Barton Distilling; who were investors in 1959 before taking full ownership in 1971. These names are important as like most distilleries Littlemill found itself into a variety of blends such as Crown of Scotland, Royal Award, Highland Mist, House of Stuart and Loch Lomond Liqueur. Such examples can appear at auction and are well worth watching out for.
Barton closed the distillery in 1984 as the effects of over production and a drop in demand devastated the whisky industry throughout Scotland. It was reopened in 1989 by Gibson International with much investment that may have assisted in hastening their bankruptcy in 1994 after production was stopped in 1992. The distillery was sold in 1994 with production never commencing again and very much like Rosebank various plans were mooted for the future of the site.
These included apartments which was a viable option given the success of the St Magdalene distillery buildings in Linlithgow. Permission was granted by the council in 1995 and the production equipment was stripped out of the distillery in anticipation of this project that ultimately fell through. Also suggested was a visitor attraction including a museum status that has been instrumental in preserving Dallas Dhu on Speyside. Any chance of a happy ending was engulfed in flames on 4th September 2004 when a fire destroyed what remained of the distillery. In 2005 the owners were given permission to demolish what remained of one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries with the only condition being the 2 towers were to remain intact.
Littlemill may be no more but it continues to exist with new bottlings coming being released on a more regular basis compared to other closed/lost distilleries. Last year Cadenheads as part of their excellent Small Batch range released a 22 year old Littlemill at 53.7% alcohol with an outturn of 558 bottles. The high standard of this range and their casks from this specific distillery continue to deliver. For 2015 Cadenheads recently bottled a 24 year old Littlemill at 53.7% alcohol (surprise surprise) and an edition of 582 bottles. It is this bottling that will feature in our September auction and hopefully will be joined by a few more examples from this historically entertaining Lowland distillery.
Macallan – The Crowther MacDougall
The Macallan nowadays has established itself as the blue-chip distillery. A favourite of drinkers worldwide and those who look to invest in whisky on a regular basis. This has been achieved through a luxury image and various official releases that seem to grow each year not only in price tag, but also the accompanying packaging size. So it is refreshing to have a private bottling of Macallan in our current auction thereby offering something a little different.
Independent bottlings of Macallan nowadays are becoming rarer despite ramping up production and starting work on a new distillery. An increased demand for anything Macallan and additional pressure on vulnerable aged stocks has depleted the range of releases available in the marketplace as a whole. You may be fortunate to see Cadenheads or the Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottle an occasional single cask of Macallan, but blink and they’ll be snapped up. It is still possible for wealthy individuals nowadays to purchase a cask at the distillery and lay it down for a specific period. Private bottlings from such casks will appear in the marketplace if the owner has not opted to sell the cask back to Macallan or kept the complete outturn for their own drinking pleasure.
This Crowther MacDougall was distilled in 1984 and cask number 7821 waited until 2010 at the ripe age of 25 years to be bottled. This sherry hogshead was bottled at 48.1 ABV in what we presume is its natural colour and cask strength – the way it should be without any additional tampering that can dilute the experience. Such practices can hamper official Macallan release in recent times, whereas if you do have the opportunity to experience an older bottling then you can truly appreciate what a Macallan whisky is all about. Rather than the colour coded no age statement range we see in retailers today. The current owner of this Crowther MacDougall has kindly provided a sample for our own tasting notes so without further ado let’s see if this 25 year old delivers.
Colour: sets expectations high oozing a dark treacle
Nose: an intoxicating mix of cinnamon, poached plums, muscovado sugar and blood orange marmalade. Then raisins plumped with a touch of rum, brine, fresh vanilla pod and a well worn leather chair.
Taste: first up this is entirely drinkable without water. It has an initial explosion of sweetness before the blackberries and cherries take over. Bitter dark chocolate, cloves then oranges, molasses, all spice and black pepper. A dry brief finish takes you to the end of this enjoyable Macallan.
This sample has gone down well in the Just Whisky office and we'd gladly purchase a bottle given the opportunity. For now we'll just let the auction market decide its value but rest assured the lot winner will have themselves a fine whisky to enjoy.
Tuesday 25th August 2015
Littlemill Distillery Part 1
When discussing closed or silent distilleries it’s all too easy focus on the big names such as Brora or Port Ellen, or even the rarely seen such as Glenury Royal or North Port. For collectors, investors or enthusiasts there are other distilleries out there that offer a wider range of bottlings and value for money. Rosebank is a good example but for this piece we’re going to concentrate on another Lowland distillery in the form of Littlemill.
Why is Littlemill overlooked, especially as it was one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland? Well in the Lowland region there were better examples and more visually appealing distilleries. Littlemill never enjoyed a consistent owner and this chopping and changing over the years affected its profile and management. Rebuilt in 1875, it was until the 1930’s the distillery followed the traditional Lowland fashion of triple distillation before venturing into more experimental practises.
This can be seen in the whisky itself as there are some terrible Littlemill’s out there under the guise of official bottlings. Often it was bottled far too young and without much care and attention. If you’ve had a disappointing official bottle from a specific distillery then you’re more unlikely to try it again. Production output was also an issue as in the 1960’s maximum capacity had been reached and rather than reinvest a sister distillery was built in the form of Loch Lomond. The most infamous examples of Littlemill’s playful past come in the form of the Dunglas and Dumbuck bottles from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Some distilleries would produce single malt whisky that was a deliberately different style from its normal house offering. Dumbuck was a heavily peated spirit whilst Dunglass was the exact opposite being unpeated and the original intension was to use these malts for blending purposes.
Sadly missed; The extinguishing of the fire at Littlemill in 2004.
It’s only recently with casks of Littlemill receiving extended periods of maturation (far longer than commercially envisaged) that have produced some delightful bottles and hastened a new found appreciation of what this Lowland distillery did produce. Like all closed distilleries most of the stock nowadays resides with independent bottlers such as Cadenheads who have been bottling some tremendous examples on a consistent basis almost annually.
Littlemill was established on the Auchterlonie estate when it was purchased by the Glasgow maltster George Buchanan in 1750. The date often quoted is 1772 when the excise accommodation was built on the estate but the general belief is that production may have already been established in the 1750’s which makes sense given the then owners assets. Brewing rather than distilling may have been the initial focus and arguably we’ll never know for sure now exactly when Littlemill laid down its first casks of whisky.
Thursday 6th August 2015
Let’s talk about distillery exclusives or distillers editions. These are often widely abused terms in the industry, in an attempt to encourage tourists to fork out that little bit extra for what is perceived to be a special bottling. Often what is badged as being only available at a certain distillery soon pops up in other distillery shops that belong to the same overall parent company.
You may have expected you’ve picked up something rather enticing on a visit to say Talisker only to subsequently see it on display at Dalwhinnie and Glen Moray. I’m only using these as examples to highlight the trend but it’s true. These distillery exclusives often only involve a special cask finish that may do little to enhance the overall experience except put a larger drain on your wallet. Such bottles also find their way into traditional retailers who may demand stock from a certain distillery but due to shortages (or overflowing inventories) are given a distillers edition instead.
A distillery exclusive should be just that and available nowhere else. The most common and popular examples are the bottle-your-own options that are popping up now as distilleries finally wake up to the possibilities offered by whisky tourists. These single cask experiences sit proudly on display in distillery shops and offer a hands on journey from the cask to sealing up and labelling your own personalised whisky. I’ve done this countless times and always enjoyed the novelty despite being priced at the premium end of the scale. Sometimes it is worth it to truly experience a cask strength distillery such as Old Pulteney and often the cask itself is something a little unusual. For instance when I was up in Wick, Old Pulteney had 2 cask options to bottle and 1 of these was from a Laphroaig cask.
These bottle-your-own will mostly come in at the £70-£90 range and for visitors or those unable to visit a distillery or country, make ideal presents. For whisky enthusiasts unable to afford a visit to Scotland (let’s face it we’re not a cheap destination) these unique experiences pop up now and again at auction. I’ve never engaged in the practice myself but I do know of some who will bottle one for themselves and another at the same time for auction. I can recall being on Speyside for their whisky festival and standing in a queue outside of Glenfiddich who bottle a special cask every year. We were held up in the line not because we were far down the pecking order, but rather the staff were all inside bottling their own examples first! In multiple purchases may I add as well, which you could tell by completing the ledger at the end, and why not?
During this month’s auction you’ll see many examples and as a fan of a specific distillery I’d encourage you to try one of these bottle-your-own lots. Not as a major investment but rather for the experience. My own whisky journey has shown a distillery such as for instance Auchentoshan, which does have its fans but I’ve found the core range a little drab and bland, changes. Then you experience a cask strength Auchentoshan bottled at the distillery and you suddenly have new found appreciation for what they’re doing. That’s worth a bid any day of the week in my book. Often these cask strength whiskies are dynamic, full of flavour and crush the everyday official range. Another I’d throw into this category is Glenfiddich that can be mundane yet a first fill sherry cask I had recently from the distillery was as I said to a friend; Glenfiddich with balls at last!
A great example of a distillery doing the exclusive aspect the way it should be is Deanston. This is part of the Burns Stewart Distillers group, which also includes Tobermory and Bunnahabhain. Deanston distillery is accessible from Edinburgh and Glasgow and is often part of these tour buses you see around the countryside. For many years it never really registered on the whisky radar and even today is quietly going about its business but growing in appreciation.
As a regular visitor to the distillery I can vouch for their exclusives that are only available from the shop. The core range of Deanston has been swelled by the recent release of an 18 year old to join the 12 and Virgin Oak editions. These are fine enough but to truly appreciate what is happening at this distillery it’s the exclusives that redefine your preconception. At tastings or with friends I’ve unleashed the Deanston to great surprise and stunned responses.
The current bottle-your-own is from taken from an Amontillado cask which is midrange on the sherry scale and is pleasant enough. This example went down well again with foreign friends I took over to Deanston recently. Then you have this continuous line of distillery exclusives that are often only bottled in editions of 600-900 (so truly limited) and priced around £90 that will have you going back for another bottle. Unfortunately these are all sold out now, there may be the odd festival edition sitting around but the other exclusives have long since been snapped up.
The Spanish Oak is a real sweet dram that has gone down well with friends who normally dislike whisky. Just 787 bottles were released of this 20 year old whisky that had spent the initial 11 years in a bourbon cask before residing in a Spanish oak Lepanto brandy cask for the remainder of its maturation. The results were sublime and bottled at cask strength, natural colour no chill filtration this is way to drink whisky. What I also appreciate from Deanston is the fact they give you the vital details of the whisky rather than hiding behind a fancy label or packaging.
There have been a couple of festival editions with the most recent being the 2014. Unfortunately for whatever reason a 2015 festival edition was never released so don’t go looking for it! Instead the bottle-your-own option was utilised to good effect. Quite often wine casks don’t work well with whisky being either used to add a twist to what was essentially a dull bourbon cask that needed something, or a quick cash cow from the distillery. The 2014 Festival edition spent 11 years in a bourbon cask before spending a year in a Marsala wine cask. This has taken the traditional sweet characteristics of Deanston and turbo charged these to a new level. A real sweetie of a dram but one that works.
Now in a way I may regret writing this piece as whilst I do have examples of all of these Deanston’s, I no longer have doubles in my archive. So this means if I want to share and experience these delights once again I’ll have to bid alongside everyone else, but that’s life. The ultimate distillery exclusive to date is the Toasted Oak release. In terms of numbers the Festival Editions are more limited but the actual whisky within the Toasted Oak is the one that when poured has received the most acclaim in my experience and it’s been universal.
There were at least 2 batches of this Toasted Oak bottled at different ages. For the Toasted Oak it all began in 1998 when the Deanston new-make spirit was put into 8 high quality ex-bourbon casks. These particular casks had been toasted to varying degrees and left to mature for another 9 years. Then the contents of the 8 casks were married together before going into a handful of young and spritely ex-whisky casks until the Toasted Oak distillery exclusive was born. Needless to say the results are worth tracking down.
As it stands Deanston isn’t a collectable distillery as it lacks the peated aspect that is so fashionable currently and an Islay location. It may never become collectable or represent a worthwhile investment but in whisky terms keep an eye out for these exclusives and any future additions to the range in this and future auctions or just ignore the lots and let me snap them up?
Tuesday 28th July 2015
Highland Park has caught the imagination in recent years with their effective use of Norse legends and the integration into Orkney’s heritage and culture. The Valhalla Collection, which we’re focusing on here specifically is the most recent themed set from Highland Park. This built upon the achievements and experience gained from the Earl Magnus Editions although it’s not a recipe for success as the Warrior series demonstrated.
It was this trio celebrating local nobles that inflamed the collector and investor market thanks to the heritage styled labels, bottle design and wooden boxes that protected the whisky. These can be a real pain to unlock and no doubt assisted the team when they moved onto the Valhalla concept. An additional learning point was the release numbers for each of the Magnus releases, as these varied hugely and caused an avalanche of demand and bitterly disappointed enthusiasts unable to secure a bottle.
The Valhalla Collection debuted with the release of Thor in 2012. For those of you who weren’t interested in whisky back then, this release caused a huge debate with many criticising the pricing and packaging. The argument was that Thor was all presentation and little else. Priced at £120 for a 16 year old whisky also came under fire and for a while it seemed many turned their back on the concept.
I can recall being at the distillery around this time and Thor’s were in plentiful supply and easily picked up. Funnily enough checking the above graph which shows the values of all 4 instalments of the collection here at Just Whisky, maybe I should have bought a box of Thor’s to take back to the mainland? Thor was released in an edition of 23,000 to help satisfy demand and despite a slow start soon sold out in 2012. What is overlooked is that it also set a very high benchmark for the whisky itself as Thor is a real bruiser of a dram and well named.
Thor’s market value has chopped and changed in recent times before bouncing back in 2015, as many no doubt looked to complete the set. I would expect to see its value continue to grow as it is the scarcest of the set with many being opened initially before the ‘collect ‘em all’ bug set in.
Next in line in 2013 was the playful 15 year old Loki, released at £120 and an edition of 21,000 bottles. By now demand was rampant for the Valhalla Collection and you had to be quick if you wanted to keep up with the set as it unfolded. It was also here that we began to notice that Highland Park had skilfully selected the whiskies to match the names of the God’s they represented. Loki was a totally different beast to Thor and what followed; one I really enjoyed upon tasting.
Loki has been a steady but slow performer at auction and should see further growth as sets look to be completed. If you do open a bottle then you won’t be disappointed either.
2014 gave us Freya and another twist on the taste buds as the Goddess of Love. The retail price increased slightly to £140 and the outturn dropped to 19,000 bottles. Needless to say it sold out instantly and is the most overlooked of the set when it comes to the whisky and this is shown on the graph above. Despite a more limited run it has never set the auction market alight and this is due to two reasons. Firstly by now everyone who was collecting the set was prepared and ready for each release so they bagged Freya relatively easily compared to Thor and Loki. Unfortunately the whisky is the most divisive comprising of light, gentle and fresh, sweet flavours thanks to the use of 100% American oak first fill ex-bourbon casks.
The final release in the series arrived earlier this year with Odin. The retail price jumped up to £180 for this one but by now Highland Park knew it would sell easily and it could be argued, took advantage of such demand. Just 17,000 bottles were released making it the lowest outturn of the Valhalla Collection. In whisky terms this was the strongest of the set and backed up by refill hogsheads and Spanish sherry casks.
A flurry of selling surrounded this release and many Odin’s made their way to the auction market. This is shown in the graph with those first to market receiving the most benefit in resale value. Since then the price has continued to decline as the market has become saturated with Odin’s and it’ll be interesting to see if values rebound and pick up once again?
If you have the complete set adorning your mantelpiece the question is if you are looking to sell whether it is as a collection or individually? For our June auction such a set was offered for sale achieving a price of £995 compared to an original retail value of £560. Individually based on the current trends the 4 bottles would achieve £943 so there is a slight premium for convenience but this is only based on a single example.
An interesting side note is what next for Highland Park? Already hints have been made that there are more Norse Gods to summon so it may pay dividends to keep a hold onto what legends you have already in your collection.
Monday 6th July 2015
Ben Nevis 49 year old
There are many rules and regulations governing Scottish whisky and one you rarely see infringed nowadays is the 40% alcohol strength rule. Once a maturating spirit has gone below this threshold it can no longer be sold as whisky, hence what we have here is called the Spirit of the Highlands.
In today’s modern age with computerised inventories and efficient monitoring of stocks such incidents are rare however we have a rulebreaker here from the Ben Nevis distillery just outside Fort William. If you haven’t visited the distillery it has a rugged and enduring charm whilst going about its business of producing quality whisky.
Ben Nevis distillery was founded by the farmer known as ‘Long John’ McDonald due to his physical stature along with a Mr McDonell in 1825, although the partnership itself came to end in 1831. It is the tales of Long John himself that have endured the test of time, as he was extremely adept publicising his whisky, never mind having a blend named after himself. Decades later it was the quality of the Ben Nevis malt that kept the distillery alive during the difficult period of the 1860’s thanks to being prized by blenders. The distillery passed through the hands of family members before moving into the Whitbread stable and experiencing periods of closure. Since 1991 it has been in the hands of Japanese whisky giant Nikka and has never looked back.
1966 is a year well known to UK football fans and one that is often mentioned but least we forget it also heralded the arrival of the original Star Trek television series, films such as Thunderball, Dr Zhivago and albums like the Sound of Silence from Simon and Garfunkel, all saw the light of day. Also in March of this year, 6 hogsheads were filled at the Ben Nevis distillery and left to mature through the decades until 10th April 2015 when they were finally bottled.
How these casks slipped through the net and let the thirsty angels have more than their fair share is unknown. What is clear is that whisky enthusiasts snapped up this once in a lifetime release of 524 bottles from the Whisky Broker thanks partially to an extremely attractive price point. The entire run sold out in a matter of days. This rare opportunity was reflected by the inclusion of a miniature bottle with every 50cl sold to allow the owner the chance to taste and experience a 49 year old spirit without opening the full bottle itself.
Consider how much a 49 year old whisky might cost today. A 44 year old Auchentoshan laid down in 1966 will set you back just £3974, or if you’re not inclined towards an official distillery release how about a 46 year old (also laid down in 1966) from Douglas Laing for £349? Such vintages and extended maturation comes at a premium. Whilst this isn’t a whisky according to the rulebook it ticks every other aspect and will be a new experience for many enthusiasts.
So how does it actually taste? Well, our good friend over at the Whisky Rover kindly let us reprint his tasting notes below. The advice offered was to give the spirit time to open up and relax in the glass before tasting. Treat it with a little respect and you’ll receive more of an insight into its journey.
Colour: golden syrup
Nose: more detailed than expected as my preconception was just too much wood surely? Nope, a touch of wood polish, stewed tea, dark chocolate, coffee beans, resin, a beef stock cube and honeycomb.
A word of warning as it doesn't tolerate much water if at all. This is a very delicate dram and is better almost 99.9% straight.
Taste: less detailed on the palate and again avoid the water where possible. More coffee again, bitter dark chocolate, a dash of vanilla and black pepper. A little bit of slightly burnt toast (in a good way) rounded off by raisins and molasses.
So who isn’t interested in a 49 year old spirit or one that dares to be different; even if it was a total accident? We’re pleased to bring you this unique lot as part of our July auction.
Thursday 11th June 2015
Since our first auction in December 2013 we have worked to introduce improvements to the customer experience when dealing with us. As part of those improvements, several updates have been made to the website and we thought we’d run over these here for people that are unfamiliar with them.
We also value customer feedback – so if you have any suggestions for us on how we can improve the customer experience please don’t hesitate to get in touch. These might range from adding a feature to the website or maybe you'd like a local drop off point for your bottles?
If you click on 'My Bids' from either the red navigation bar or the 'My account' section, you will be presented with the following screen:
You'll notice nothing appears on this list. To add items to this list is simple. When browsing a lot on the auction simply click 'watch this item'. It will then appear on this screen:
From this screen you can now bid on auction lots and see at a glance if you are winning the lot. IMPORTANT - this screen, as with others on the auction needs to be refreshed for upto date bidding information. It will not update for you automatically.
Another new feature is the ability to search our previous auction data. This might be useful to get an idea of how much bottles have sold for in the past. To do this, it's very simple. Simply use the drop down box to select Live or Previous auction and type what you're looking for. When viewing the results, you can sort them by Price, Alphabetically or by Lot ID. To view the most recent lots, choose LOT ID, Highest to Lowest.
Just Whisky use a Lot ID system where the first two numbers signify the Auction number and the next four numbers are used for a unique number for each lot.
Would you like to see any changes made to the website? Please get in touch with your suggestions to email@example.com
Sunday 24th May 2015
Ardbeg Feis Ile
Arcade Fire sang about the month of May being a violent thing and for whisky enthusiasts it is certainly true as it marks the onslaught of the Festival season and bottle chasing. Those fortunate to visit the Feis Ile or the Spirit of Speyside will have to endure crowds (particularly true on Islay) in the pursuit of bottles and new whisky experiences. Precision planning and military tactics are often vital to success and whether that’s your idea of a holiday we’ll let you decide.
When we kicked off this blog at Just Whisky we wanted not only to spotlight bottles of interest and provide a more informative experience but we also promised to discuss prices and trends. We’re constantly being asked ‘what bottles to buy’ or ‘what should I expect for this’ etc. and while we’re here to help and assist as much as possible, at the end of the day it’s down to your own personal preference. At times our advice does fall in deaf ears and the recipient decides to snare a bottle rather than show a little patience.
Now more than a year later we’re ready to start looking back at some of the prices achieved and have used the data from our fourth auction in March 2014 up to and including May 2015. This isn’t intended to be a drab index or full of corporate waffle; instead we hope it’ll be informative and may prove of assistance to buyers and sellers alike. This article will take a closer look at the Feis Ile editions or as many distilleries like to call them nowadays their annual release.
As we’re on the verge of many 2015 festival bottles debuting at auction we wondered the previous editions were performing and which distilleries were performing well and others might be best left along, or represent potential long term targets. The trick with most annual releases as a seller is to be first to market before the onslaught begins and the marketplace becomes saturated with examples. Many sellers will have expectations that their bottle will perform along similar lines to the first month of say an Ardbeg, but in many cases that boat as sailed and it’ll now be in a midfield attrition.
By far the most frequent distillery represented is Ardbeg and we’ve not even taken into account its other special releases lately such as the Supernova or the new Kildalton so this is an Ardbeg special of our own making. Excluded is the Auriverdes gold bottle that has only appeared twice at auction here. So first the results:
We’ll start with the Ardbog edition released in 2013. It’s worth remembering on our chart above that these only include the average price realised at auction; fees are not included so please bear this in mind. Ardbog is a very consistent performer showing very little if any growth at auction to date but long term this may change and we’ll track its performance in subsequent years.
A quick search online shows at least 1 retailer trying to sell a bottle of Ardbog for £150. Based on our figures that’s overpriced even with the prospect of hammer fees and postage added so you’d be better trying your luck at auction if an Ardbog was on your shopping list. Originally released with a retail price of £74.95 and an edition run of around 60,000-65,000 units, it has been a regular visitor at auction. Recent editions from Ardbeg have along similar lines when it comes to units released and the 2014 Auriverdes is currently back in stock at the official online shop for £79.99. Note a whisky online retailer is trying to sell the edition for £129 currently so it pays to do a little research.
Whisky collecting, investment, enjoyment, call it whatever you will means that more are being attracted to the market as buyers and sellers. The Auriverdes shows the promise of being first to the market by achieving a sale price that it has yet to reach since and in recent months has started to show a noticeable decline. Will this continue? Bottles do come in and out of fashion as much as distilleries and with Ardbeg having to plan their annual releases way in advance they’ll be hoping that the recent availability of Auriverdes isn’t a sign of flooding the market.
The 2012 Galileo was released at £79.99 and is arguably the best received of the trio we’ve discussed so far winning various awards and being a solid performer at auction with the occasional spike. Again a whisky retailer is trying to sell this example for £225, which proves again there is value to be had at auction if you know your limits. An edition of around 50,000 units means supply is a little more scarce compared to the 2013 and 2014 releases.
This theme also continues to the 2011 edition known as Ardbeg Day. This really was the start of the annual release being made available at various outlets and embassies (as Moet Hennessey like to call them) across the world and breaking free of just Islay. A more limited outturn (13,000 units) and a retail price of £65 has resulted in a more desirable bottle than those that have followed since. It’s also a lovely whisky and the pick of the bunch so far which always helps. This really was the end of the fairly limited edition runs that Ardbeg had done up until this point with their Committee releases and marked the end of an era and a new approach.
This all changed in 2015 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Ardbeg. With the imminent arrival of Perpetuum in an edition of 65,000 units and a retail price of £84.95 you’d have thought that would be all for 2015. However Ardbeg went back to the Committee model for a special edition initially at the distillery only for £74.95 and an edition of 12,000 units. This recently made the news in the UK after a limited amount were put on sale via the official Ardbeg online store in May that caused a meltdown online and many wasted and frustrating hours for potential buyers.
You should not need a chart to suggest that the Committee release will be the more desirable of the 2 Perpetuum’s, as it is not only more limited, but also a higher alcohol strength as is the tradition with Committee editions. As you can see from the graph we’re already tracking the Committee release that is lowering in value as more reach the market – a trend that should continue with many appearing from those fortunate to overcome the recent online shop issues in the UK. Then what will be interesting is to see if those who have bought the more widely available Perpetuum wish to complete the set. The Committee values should settle down and potentially rebound upwards after this initial rush has passed. Sometimes it pays to wait and watch, picking the right moment to enter the market.
Whatever you’re after during our June 2015 auction we hope you’re successful and we’ll be taking a look at other editions in the coming months. Did someone say Highland Park or Macallan?
Monday 4th May 2015
Lowland distilleries are experiencing a surge in interest as many whisky enthusiasts seek out malt from Littlemill, Rosebank and St Magdalene also bottled as Linlithgow. If you take the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow the first stop pulls you right past what remains of the distillery today. Closed in 1983 many of the buildings remain after being converted into residential accommodation including the commanding pagodas that are protected having been granted C-listed status.
It is heartening to see these remnants of whisky history in use rather than being bulldozed like many other distilleries, but sadly the days of whisky being produced at the site are long gone and never to return; ending a tradition that began in 1795. According to the informative ‘Scotch Missed Scotland’s Lost Distilleries’ by Brian Townsend, long before the distillery existed the location was home to a hospital built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar to treat lepers.
Changing hands over the years like so many other distilleries, eventually St Magdalene became part of the Scottish Malt Distillers group. Like Rosebank it was centrally located with access to the nearby road, rail and canal networks. The distillery also drew water from the Union Canal and because of this did become the butt of some jokes comparing its whisky to canal water. Fortunately we’ve had the opportunity to taste a sample of this 32 year old Cadenhead release and it’s simply gorgeous putting an end to such comparisons.
We still see many closed distilleries enjoying releases today despite closing during the cull of the 1980’s when the previous whisky bubble popped. In comparison releases from St Magdalene are extremely thin on the ground, as it’s not one that seems to be well stocked by the independent bottlers who we often have to rely on for closed distilleries. This could be partially because St Magdalene was never truly appreciated as a single malt during its lifetime and the majority of its whisky went into blending. You can always rely on Cadenhead’s to come up with the goods and a quick search shows that they have been able to bottle St Magdalene more consistently than anyone else. How long this can continue for is debatable, but looking at the alcohol strength of this 32 year old St Magdalene there could be life in the old girl yet. Now for our tasting notes:
Colour: a dandelion and burdock bitter
Nose: huge soft fruits that are the classic Lowland expression. This really benefits from time in the glass to settle, relax and open up. Barbecued pineapple no doubt that little bit of smoke from olden times penetrating the fruit layer. Golden syrup, Lyle's of course, and complete with the tin; not one of those plastic bottles you see today on the shelf. There is a zing edge taking us to a metalwork glass at school where you chisel and destroy a piece of metal in pursuit of creating something ultimately pathetic and pointless. Yeah, metal shavings on the fringes and tarragon just adds to this. In summary this St Magdalene offers a very distinctive and utterly wonderful nose.
Taste: it's remarkable just how similar this feels in texture and details to the George Strachan Rosebank that appeared last year at Just Whisky Auctions. It's so spritely and lemon fresh. Oh how we'd like to chop some soft fruit, cover it in honey and sugar before tossing it onto a barbecue. Thankfully this dram saves us from having to do this or reaching for the fruit pastilles. That metallic edge carries through right until the finish and what a prolonged finish it is.
Whether you fancy this piece of whisky history for investment or your collection, rest assured if you decide to open the bottle you’re in for a fantastic experience.
Tuesday 7th April 2015
Last year on the Just Whisky blog we discussed the Port Sgioba releases and the enjoyment of owning your own cask of whisky and bottling it yourself. Releases from the Port Sgioba range have performed well at auction due to their limited numbers being of a single cask nature, strong presentation and limited distribution. It also helps that the whiskies have been pretty good as well!
For their latest release they’ve finally shipped off Islay and landed at the coastal location of Glenglassaugh distillery in the North East of Scotland. Built during the 1870s on a site dominated by local mills the distillery was mothballed in 1907 and did not return to life until 1931, before suffering a similar fate in 1986. History shows that this Highland distillery is a stubborn survivor and cannot be kept down, as it sprang back into production in 2009 under the ownership of a Dutch investment group. The distillery changed hands again in 2013 when it was acquired by BenRiach Distillery Company who possessed enough financial clout to up production and invest in the site, which is sizeable.
The previous Dutch owners did offer a scheme to purchase your own octave cask which is where this particular example I presume originates from. Filled with new make spirit at 63.5% the cask would have matured at Glenglassaugh’s number 1 warehouse situated by the coast. This warehouse is of the favoured traditional dunnage style and dates from the earliest days of the distillery so circa 1875; none of these new racking methods and computer controlled environments that some of the major distilleries are now adopting. The cost of ownership would have included a minimum of 3 years to be able to call it whisky, but also a maximum period of 7 years.
The danger with octave casks is that the cask becomes dominant over a small period of time. For a normal hogshead this could take 20-40 years but the nature of octaves demands that an owner keeps careful watch over the spirit.
We’re not sure why this is named Red Oktober unless Port Sgioba are showing their appreciation of Sean Connery and the classic submarine film. Potentially the use of a red wine cask has provided a naming influence here. Bottled at just 5 years of age the fear would be that this is a very young and irresponsible spirit. However the use of an octave cask ensures a higher level of interaction between the whisky and the wood. Octaves are normally 46 litres compared to a bourbon barrel (159 litres) or a hogshead (250 litres) so they enable an acceleration of the maturation process.
Fortunately we were also provided with a taster sample of Red Oktober to describe as this is the first time we’ve seen it hit the open market. Distilled on 8th December 2009 it was matured for just over 5 years before leaving the red wine octave cask on 16th December 2014. Bottled at cask strength this has resulted in an alcohol strength of 48.1% and an outturn of just 49 bottles. Those who are interested in maturation, evaporation or the angels’ share can do the maths here.
The colour is wild Scottish gorse.
On the nose we have an olive oil texture with honey and palm sugar. More sweetness with lemon sherbet drops, macerated oranges, a hint of cream soda before ending with the nuttiness of walnuts. So for a young whisky this shows an above average layer of complexity which will come down partially to the quality of the spirit but also the confined capsule of the octave cask. As more of the spirit comes into contact with the wood than a larger cask
On the palate we have vanilla pod with white grapes reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. The coastal feature of sea salt follows before ginger and a lingering dry finish. It certainly benefits from a little water and represents an interesting whisky experience.
Sunday 15th March 2015
Macallan Masters of Photography – Daido Moriyama Remix Remixed
Backstage at Just Whisky this month there is one whisky that stands out on many fronts from the rest of our varied and enticing selection of lots. Yeah, we’re talking about Macallan again and the day-glow, no sorry Diado, remix remixed edition.
Yes, it does sound like a cocktail at a high end Edinburgh bar served up in a dazzling array of colours that demands your attention and leaves little change. That’s part of the appeal certainly and what makes it stand out amidst the Macallan Masters of Photography series. To date the collection has been a little stuffy, rigid and muted with all that classic presentation Macallan is infamous for. Instead the Diado release cannot stand idly on a bookshelf without prompting you to look a little more closely.
For the series Macallan has worked alongside some of the world’s top photographers including names such as Erwitt and Leibovitz (but sadly not our own Just Whisky bottle photography extraordinaire Matteo), to create not only a great whisky experience but a visual one as well. Daido Moriyama is a Japanese photographer respected internationally for his use of black and white pictures and small handheld cameras to give a unique perspective. A spectacular CV boasts major solo shows in Paris, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles as well as being sought after by private collectors; making him an obvious candidate for the masters series.
This release in the series was an exclusive travel retail concept and limited to just 500 bottles. The whisky itself was specially selected by Macallan’s own Bob Dalgarno after maturing in first-fill sherry seasoned oak cask (cask no 15245) to deliver a colour that matches the exterior presentation.
Ken Grier, director of malts at Edrington, said: “We took our inspiration for this capsule edition of The Macallan Masters of Photography following an exclusive event by Daido Moriyama, supported by The Macallan at The Tate Modern, entitled ‘Menu’. 350 guests gathered and selected their personal menu of Daido Moriyama’s photographs which were then bound into a silk screened book cover and signed by Daido.
“This made such an impression that we were moved to further celebrate his work by creating a very distinctive limited edition. We felt passionately about capturing Moriyama’s challenging perspective and style. His influence over the photographic world in both Japan and the rest of the world has been profound, and we’re relishing marking his life and work with this latest release.”
There has been a great deal of interest on this lot as we approach the close of our March auction and it’ll be exciting to see what happens later today. Away from this remix there are some fantastic lots that warrant your attention and we’re already putting together a fantastic array of bottles for our April auction. Remember to take a moment to look back through the lots as you could miss out on something special!
Tuesday 10th March 2015
Highland Park Odin
Visitors to Orkney are in for a treat experiencing the unique history of the landscape and those who inhabit it today. Orcadians as they tend to be known are fiercely proud of their heritage and the islands play host to Neolithic standing stones and remnants of ancient civilisations. So it isn’t a huge leap of faith to imagine the legends and ancient gods roaming this northerly archipelago cluster.
Nowadays it seems these gods descend upon Highland Park distillery that has slowly been engulfed by the expansion of Kirkwall in recent times. The distillery has tapped into local myths far more successfully than its rivals on Islay or the mainland. Even today the iconic power and individuality of the Norse Gods continues and the marketing bods at its parent company (Edrington Group) have cultivated and harvested this very efficiently.
The distillery has offered whiskies as part of a series previously for instance with the Magnus range proving to be very popular and distinctively packaged. Success is never guaranteed as the recent Warrior series shows; which has failed to attract the spotlight enjoyed by the Valhalla Collection that has come to an end with the arrival of Odin.
Just Whisky can recall the criticism that the first instalment in this series (Thor) received for its pricing and edition numbers. A run of 23,000 seems a tad on the low side now looking back and a retail price of £140 a smart purchase for anyone who did pick it up. Remember how initially Thor didn’t fly off the shelves? Instead languishing for a few weeks until slowly it finally stock dried up and then anticipation grew about what lay ahead next.
Nowadays such collections are more fashionable than a David Beckham Haig Club selfie and with each subsequent release in the Valhalla series the price has risen, as have the numbers released. We’re very fortunate to have tasted Thor, Loki and Freya at Just Whisky and each offers a distinctively different and splendid whisky experience with the overall standard being very good. The popularity of each instalment has grown and shows no sign of abating. A theory for such popularity could be the continual cost of Macallan who do love a series and theme but some say their releases have gone above and beyond mere mortal affordability. With both being owned by the Edrington Group this repositioning of both brands without leaving a gap is extremely clever.
Once you’ve bought a release in the series then the desire is to complete the set to maximise its value and the complete vision of 4 Norse gods side by side. For some who didn’t manage to pick up Odin when it arrived at retailers earlier this year then the auction market is the next destination.
What next for Highland Park? It’ll be interesting as the annual limited release has become a vital source of income for any distillery today. Dalmore has its Custodian Millennium series and others will follow suit as soon as they can we’re sure.
Saturday 14th February 2015
Diageo over the years have released various whiskies around a certain theme. The Rare Malts series highlighted overlooked or closed distilleries within its plentiful whisky portfolio, many of which have become extremely collectable.
The Flora and Fauna range, again spotlighted many distilleries that predominantly went into blends and had not been granted an exclusive release of its own. The majority of the Flora and Fauna releases are not fantastically collectable currently given the high outturn of bottles. There are a couple of exceptions and like Nintendo’s Pokemon you have to catch them all to complete the set.
Today of course we have the hugely successful annual Special Releases that may have reached a plateau in 2014 due to Diageo’s rapid price increases. It’ll be interesting to see how these unfold in 2015 and beyond. However for now we’re going to talk about another short-lived but very collectable range of releases that continue to be sought by collectors and feature heavily in our February auction.
The Manager’s Dram series was dreamt up by UDV who were the predecessors to Diageo. The concept was not original with its intention of highlighting distilleries across its portfolio. Bottles were individually numbered just like the Rare Malts range yet were always limited to a specially selected single cask. This came from an era when single cask releases from such a huge company were not a made available. Apart from special events or the later popularity of the Feis Isle editions, single cask releases were seen as inefficient and costly.
For whatever reason a change of heart was made and the concept of asking distillery managers to pick out a cask for bottling dreamt up. The brief was to selection the best cask they felt highlighted the essence of their distillery with no limitations on the type of cask or finish. Refreshingly this would be bottled at cask strength and with no chill filtration applied. So in other words you would be purchasing the purest expression of the distillery straight from the cask and into the bottle.
There was a suggestion that the casks were selected by a tasting team who visited each of the distilleries one-by-one. I had the opportunity to sample a Manager’s Dram release with a distillery manager who confirmed he had made the choice with the assistance of few chosen hands on his distillery team, rather than external help. The result was a lovely whisky that showcased the best of the distillery. The bottles were then given out to friends and co-workers ensuring their scarcity.
The downside is that being based on the ethic of a single cask, bottle numbers vary greatly across the range and are extremely thin on the ground. Some examples are more common and command lower values compared to say the Islay distilleries or Talisker. For fans of a specific distillery the ownership of the Manager’s Dram is the jewel in their collection. Adding to the attraction are the individual labels for each release that range from traditional labels such as Glenlossie, Teaninich and Strathmill to more stunning visual offerings as seen with Clynelish, Mannochmore and Linkwood. Ultimately it’s the whisky inside that counts and from experience the managers have chosen well.
With 15 Manager’s Drams in our February auction you should find at least one to your whisky preference.
Tuesday 10th February 2015
Scanning the shelves at Just Whisky this week we’re faced with a range of choice about what to cover first during our February auction. You have your Macallan’s, a favourite we’ve covered previously in the shape of a 13 year old Cadenhead’s Glenury Royal dumpy, or another bottle distilled in 1966 in the form of a marvellous 48 year old Glenlossie. There is plenty of choice and we’ll be discussing a couple of bottles you may have overlooked over the course of this auction.
Bottles have stories to tell and sometimes the distilleries they originate from are of particular interest. This auction marks a resurgence in lots from the demolished Lowland distillery Littlemill; numbering 8 in total. This is a distillery of varying quality with some younger Littlemill’s back in the day being only fit for cleaning your car windscreen. The staple expression was an 8 year old that would have benefited from further aging to be polite. Time has proven to be rather kind to the Littlemill as these immature bottling’s are now being replaced by casks that have enjoyed a prolonged period of maturation. The benefits of this extended period are considerable and just like Port Ellen, we’re only now seeing what this distillery was truly capable of, often by accident rather than by design.
Closed Lowland distilleries are currently enjoying considerable interest, as they are few and far between nowadays. Until the recent opening of distilleries in Fife (Daftmill, Eden Mill and Kingsbarns), the Lowland cluster was very much a dying breed. With Bladnoch distillery entering administration almost a year ago now (and still stuck in limbo), the only distilleries in production were Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan. Unfortunately these 2 Lowland distilleries are not held in the highest regard by enthusiasts as the whisky tends to be on the mundane side.
Instead we hark back to the glory days of the Lowland distilleries with Rosebank (Falkirk) being the most famous and mourned example often displaying the soft fruity notes the region was known for and triple distillation. Rosebank remains the classic example of what a Lowland distillery offers and it was joined by St Magdalene (often bottled as Linlithgow) and Littlemill, which was situated in Bowling, Dumbartonshire.
Littlemill was one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland being originally founded on the site of a brewery dating back to the 14th century. Starting life as a whisky distillery in 1772 it endured a chequered history with many periods of inactivity and changes in ownership. It followed the classic triple distillation of the Lowland region until the 1930’s when it started to experiment with new stills and materials. In 1989 it was modernised and hopes of a bright future revived as it returned to production until it went into liquidation before being bought in 1994 by the distillery owners of Loch Lomond. Unfortunately their plans involved clearing the historical site for housing and what buildings survived were left to decay before going up in smoke in 2004, when a fire destroyed the remnants prompting the demolishing of Littlemill in 2005.
We have a selection of single malts from Littlemill in this auction, ranging from 13 to 21 years of age. It’s worth highlighting that much of Littlemill’s output went into blending however they also engaged in experimenting with styles of whisky detached from the core distillery spirit. These experiments are very scarce nowadays with a heavily peated expression released as Dumbuck and a lightly peated variety called Dunglass, which features in this month’s auction. Even if you miss out this month it is a distillery worth watching out for as independent bottlers are still releasing what few Littlemill casks they have left.
Sunday 18th January 2015
Picking out a bottle from our current auction that finishes this evening is a difficult task. From a gorgeous Glenlossie Artist release from the Paris based La Maison du Whisky to an incredibly rare exclusive Ichiro’s Malt bottling from the Isetan department store in Shinjuku. We certainly have a great selection of varied lots across the world of whisky, but rather than just one bottling, why not four releases from a traditional Scottish greengrocer?
During July 2014 on this blog we talked a little about a Rosebank bottling from George Strachan Limited of Deeside. Whilst the company still exists today with 3 outlets in the North East of Scotland, the days of local greengrocers purchasing a cask and bottling privately are few and far between sadly. The costs of purchasing a cask (if you can find a distillery willing to part with one), waiting for maturation, then bottling combined with the dreaded VAT all add up to a convoluted, costly and prolonged process for any small business.
Releases such as these from George Strachan not only represent a bygone era for small retailers who for decades purchased their own casks, but also for whisky distilleries. These four bottles show a range of maturation from 25 to 39 years old, when distilleries did their own malting onsite, utilised direct fired stills and worm tubs. In other words for many enthusiasts; the good old days when human skill helped shape the whisky rather than a computer program.
The youngest whisky still clocks in at an impressive 25 years old in the form of a Glen Grant, which would have been bottled during the 1970’s. Subtract 25 and you have a whisky potentially distilled in the 1940’s. As Glen Grant was forced to close during World War 2 but reopened shortly afterwards this clue gives us just a small number of years when this spirit was laid down.
Next up at a mere 28 years of age is the overlooked Speyside distillery Tamdhu that has only recently reopened in 2013. Again bottled in the 1970’s by George Strachan, the distillery is well known for its excellent sherry cask whiskies. As the distillery did not reopen after World War 2 until 1948, we have a short period as to when this whisky was distilled and laid down. What this window of just a couple of years allows us is the opportunity to experience the influence of Tamdhu’s traditional maltings. These were replaced in 1950 by the mechanical Saladin boxes to malt barley and were used by numerous distilleries, as the first step towards more machinery and less human endeavour.
The third bottle in this historical line-up is another example from arguably the greatest Lowland distillery in the form of Rosebank. Despite being a different example of this distillery, we won’t repeat some the previous article here which still applies. However we were very fortunate to receive a sample of the lot from July 2014 and it was a sensational old style whisky with layers of depth and complexity that put modern equivalents to shame. If this 34 year old expression is as half as good as the 12 year old then you’re in for a treat.
Last but not least is the George Strachan bottling from Mortlach that has been bottled at 39 years of age. This grandfather of our foursome comes from the highly regarded Speyside distillery that some pundits felt produced an exceptional spirit until the early 1990’s before changes in production affected its distinctive ‘meaty’ characteristics. Bottled in the 1970’s you can take that trip back in time (39 years prior to be exact) to the 1940’s if not potentially the tail end of the 1930’s. Unlike some of the other distilleries in this blog piece, Mortlach was granted permission to remain in production for most of World War 2.
Ultimately this Mortlach as with the bottles here represents a bygone age with its roots in the original dynamics of the distillery. Malting floors, direct fired stills and that human element again all combine to something truly memorable. Bottles like these don’t come around very often so good luck if you are bidding tonight!
Sunday 10th January 2015
Cadenhead Springbank 22 year old
Our January auction is shaping up nicely with some debut releases with new distilleries from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society including some from Japan. Lately we’ve seen a surge of interest around the iconic Cadenhead dumpy range that we discussed in our blog last month. With prices on the rise and demand seemingly unrelenting, new bottles are being attracted to market that have been languishing unseen in households for possibly decades.
We’re pleased to bring you another fine example of a Cadenhead dumpy release in the form of this 22 year old Springbank. Both Springbank distillery and Cadenhead’s are owned by J&A Mitchell & Co, who purchased Scotland’s oldest independent bottler in the 1970’s after it ran into financial difficulties. It seems like the perfect fit as the Mitchell family have been involved in the whisky industry since the 1660’s (if not before), making Springbank the oldest family-owned distillery in Scotland.
Springbank distillery is highly regarded by whisky enthusiasts with some proclaiming it to be the best or at least the whisky drinker’s whisky. The proof is in the nosing and taste as it should be. Springbank attracts fans and appreciation for sticking to traditional methods of production. In an age of computerised Scotch and efficiencies it represents the only distillery in Scotland where 100% of the production process is carried out on one site. Hence the appreciation it receives globally for its characteristic whiskies.
This 22 year old Springbank would have been bottled in the 1970’s, certainly after 1972 when J&A Mitchell & Co purchased Cadenhead’s, as they are named on the label. We can also rule out the latter end of the 70’s, as the measurement is given in fluid ounces. Rather than a combination including metric that arrived towards the end of the decade, before taking over completely in 1980. So the whisky would have been distilled at Springbank in the 1950’s before maturing in refill sherry butt.
This is a rare opportunity to acquire a well-aged Springbank from the 1950’s bottled at 80% Proof in excellent condition with an impressive fill level. It is one of those special whiskies to own and maybe one day possibly experience given the right occasion.
Thursday 1st January 2015
By now we should be aware of what Jim Murray picked as his bottle of 2015 in the latest edition of his Whisky Bible. Placing it into his elite scoring range for ‘superstar whiskies that give us all a reason to live’, it has sent auction prices for the bottle spiralling upwards. For those who missed the media scrum, the winner is the Yamazki Sherry Cask 2013, released in an epic edition of 16,000 worldwide.
This sparked his introduction theme that whisky from Scotland had lost its way. What remains overlooked amidst all the publicity is that Jim may have gave an impressive score of 97.5 to the aforementioned Yamazki, but he had also given the same score to a single malt whisky from Scotland. And what is this mysterious stealth bottle that represents the best of Scotland you ask? Well, we have it right here.
Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail during October 2013 exclusively for the Soho Whisky Club in London. This single refill sherry hogshead cask was bottled just a couple of months short of its 25th birthday and produced only 229 bottles. Jim’s tasting notes tend to be short and snappy, however for this bottle they took over a third of the page. Leading him to summarise ‘allow to sit in the glass for at least 10 minutes to breathe. Nose and taste only at body temperate. Not a degree below. And do not add water. That way you will experience one of the most complete single casks ever bottled’.
High praise indeed. To put this into context it is just one man’s opinion, a man who does sample quite a few whiskies it must be said. The 97.5 score is the highest he has ever given to any bottle of whisky; no bottle has been scored above this. So we’re talking about something extremely good. Only 5 Scottish whiskies have ever received the 97.5 score including this Linkwood, so potentially it could be the best whisky you’ve ever tasted?
Continues below ..
Gordon & MacPhail are one of the elite independent bottlers who possess a cask inventory that is arguably unrivalled across the industry. The 2013 Yamazaki is the result of superb maturation and blending of potentially hundreds of casks to create its outturn. It is an impressive feat to create such consistency when variables still exist in the modern technological age of computerised whisky. Yet there is something marvellous about a single cask release that defies all expectations thanks partially due to Mother Nature and a slice of luck.
Linkwood is a perfect example of an overlooked Speyside distillery. Founded in 1821 and currently owned by Diageo, you’re more likely to see single malt releases from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and other independents than an official release. In fact the only official release has been the Flora & Fauna from a few years ago. It is not the most picturesque distillery unfortunately, as a result of a series of expansions over the years thanks to its popularity amongst blenders. Becoming a key component for several Diageo blends due to its unique qualities including Johnnie Walker.
If you do have the opportunity to experience Linkwood as a single malt then we would urge you to do so. Recently we’ve seen several companies revisiting their distilleries for new single malt ranges; hopefully it’s only a matter of time before Diageo moves on from Mortlach and considers Linkwood. For now we’ll have to make do with independent releases such as this. Now if we only had a bottle of this Linkwood and the 2013 Yamazki we could truly decide whether Japanese whisky is better than Scotland.
Sunday 7th December 2014
We’re often asked about current trends in whisky auctions and what’s proving popular, or what’s descending down the hit parade. Previously in this blog (Glen Albyn, 4th September 2014), we touched upon the enduring popularity of releases from silent or closed distilleries. These can possess more longevity than say an annual edition from an Islay distillery that you know will be released as a ‘limited edition’ and full of marketing waffle the very next year.
Independent bottlers are the main source of closed distillery releases today. These companies are the ones who have supported the industry by consistently purchasing casks even when times were bad. Slowly, but surely, these casks are reaching the end of their lifespan particularly those from the early 1980’s cull of distilleries. Releases from Dallas Dhu, Glen Mhor, Glenugie and their ilk are drying up as time ticks by. Yes, Diageo has its annual special releases portfolio but as the majority of the 2014 releases are still sitting on the shelves of most retailers they seem overpriced today more than ever.
Take an example from 2013 of a closed distillery when Diageo revealed a 1977 Convalmore at 58% ABV as an edition of 2608 bottles for around £600+. Wm. Cadenhead in 2013 also bottled a 1977 Convalmore at 58.2% as a single cask release of 288 bottles for £166. Guess which one you can easily pick up today at retail? Yes, it’s not the Cadenhead Convalmore. Now a criticism of the past was that some independent companies would bottle casks that the distillery may pass upon for one reason or another. There is some truth to this previously but nowadays with companies such as Douglas Laing and Wm Cadenhead putting together release programmes of the highest quality it no longer applies. It was also alleged that Diageo went back to the independents to source casks of Port Ellen for future special releases thereby acknowledging their practices.
We’re currently seeing more focus on these closed distilleries and independent releases that offer very good value. Now we could debate which company is the greatest independent of them all however there are a clutch of excellent candidates and Wm. Cadenhead sits amongst this elite panel. Established in 1842 they were way ahead of the trend for bottling whisky without chill filtration and at a higher strength than 40%, which many companies utilised to maximise their outturn and profits. If you purchase a Cadenhead release then rest assured your whisky hasn’t been messed around with; I often compare it to the Nintendo Gold Seal of Quality.
Viewed as the classic Cadenhead’s range are the dumpy bottle releases and these are proving very popular and often feature some very rare bygone distilleries. In today’s age of marketing and packaging, it is pleasure to acknowledge that something as simple as the dumpy design has become iconic. A squat brown bottle with some imaginative font on the label and that’s it. Simple, clear, clean and effective it’s a joy to behold. In our November 2014 auction we had a lovely example from Glenury Royal and this month we have a superb lot from Banff distillery. The design is so fondly remembered that recently Cadenhead brought back a modern take on the design for a new generation.
Banff has a history like no other distillery that could make for an interesting film. It is a very sad tale in some respects and laid out in Brian Townsend’s excellent (if now outdated) ‘Scotch Missed: Scotland’s Lost Distilleries’ that is highly recommended when reading about closed, silent or lost distilleries in general. A brief synopsis would be starting with its main location near the Speyside railway, which was the essential transport network for any distillery in the 1850’s. The distillery was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1877, but undeterred it was rebuilt and its own fire engine was kept on site thereafter. During World War 2 it was used to house infantry before a German bomber dropped its contents on warehouse number 12. To prevent the fire from escalating casks were smashed to move the spirit away from the flames and the local wildlife and cattle seemed worse for wear for a period afterwards.
In 1959 another explosion triggered by a coppersmith brought the distillery to halt for a short period. Banff distillery was closed in 1983 before being demolished 2 years later with the final warehouse sadly levelled in 1991. All that remains of Banff and its colourful history are bottles such as this 15 year old distilled in 1964 and bottled by Wm. Cadenhead in 1979. This is a historical bottle and an enticing lot.
Sunday 30th November 2014
Following on from the last blog entry ... here is part 2:
It is fairly easy to become infected with the gold rush fever that seems to greet many new whisky releases. Caution must be applied as just because something says it is limited it doesn’t automatically mean it will generate interest and prosper at auction. Some general points to consider are:
1. The distillery involved?
2. The edition number?
3. Whether this is exclusive to a certain market?
4. The age or no age statement of the release?
5. What makes this particular release different or of interest? Is it part of a series?
To provide a little more detail on each point we’ll consider two contrasting distilleries both beginning with the letter ‘a’, namely Ardbeg and Arran.
1 Ardbeg like Glenmorangie is owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, and in recent years has enjoyed a boutique makeover whilst taking an industry lead in special releases. Arran distillery in comparison lacks the backing of a corporation yet has produced its own themed bottles such as the recently concluded Devil’s Punchbowl and annual special cask editions. Ardbeg is infinitely more collectable although Arran may grow in stature as its whisky improves and its continuing range of releases attracts more interest.
2. Just Whisky can remember when a limited edition actually meant a 7” vinyl single with a run of 500 or 1000 copies. Nowadays marketers have taken the phrase and loosened constraints somewhat. Today a limited edition or special release will only be available for a specific period. Ardbeg rarely releases the details of their latest outturn in terms of bottle numbers. Generally recent editions have gone into the tens of thousands rather than just 3 or 4 digits. Is this a true limited edition or worthy of your hard earned cash?
Arran in comparison fares much better and have quoted specific details such as 6600 bottles for the Devil’s Punchbowl. When faced with an unnumbered edition a little research may throw up more detail. Ardbeg is more collectable than Arran, but loses some of that edge when you consider how many of each release they unleash on the marketplace.
3. The world is becoming smaller and some of us are fortunate to jet across the hemisphere. Exclusive releases for travel retail have continued to grow in popularity and provide profit for retailers and distillers alike. Certain bottles are only available in specific countries (or airports) and in limited numbers. Karuizawa for instance has enjoyed several exclusive releases for Taiwan, while Kininvie finally arrived on the single malt market. Not every travel exclusive release will be of interest but undoubtedly it’s an area worth keeping an eye on as distilleries continue create specific editions for the market.
4. No Age Statement (NAS) whisky is worth a blog piece on its own and continues to be a topic of debate. At Just Whisky we’ve experienced some lovely NAS bottles and others we wouldn’t give to our worst enemy. The trend is an increasing output of NAS whiskies and editions due to the lack of aged stock within the industry; thanks to the rise in demand. Aged whisky that states it’s the age on the bottle will come at a premium for many years to come. In future years to see a 25 year old whisky could become a novelty and something rather special and luxurious; it’s something worth considering as the industry tries to move us away from age statements.
5. Distilleries and their marketing departments seem very reliant on Gaelic phrase books and old tales from bygone generations. It can become a little tiresome when a new range is released with for example an animal theme or whisky in space. In this field Ardbeg continues to blaze its own trail despite using the same packaging year in year out. Whiskies are created to meet a brief and often feature a cask finish or utilisation of a different method i.e. Diageo triple distilling some of their Friends of the Classic Malts releases.
Consider what the main selling points of a release are and whether it will matter in future years? Online retailers and shop shelves are full of special editions that have failed to capture the imagination of enthusiasts and collectors alike. Rather than just one-off editions, we’re now seeing a range of releases on the same theme to encourage consumers to make subsequent annual purchases. The Highland Park range with Thor and his cohorts was one of the first and has been very successful plus the contents of the bottles were on the whole very good, which does help!
If you were to ask Just Whisky for a betting tip then we’d consider the Dalmore Millennium 1263 Custodian series. This will feature 3 releases in total aged 12, 15 and 18 years old from casks laid down in 2000. Exclusively available to members of the Dalmore Custodian group the next release will be due in 2015 with the finale in 2018. Some of the 12 year old expression did turn up at retail earlier this year and in 2013 so it’s worth considering. For this Dalmore range you had to be an existing member and even then could only pick 1 from 3 to purchase - so even members will have to look around to complete the trio. Expect to see a growing trend of complete sets appearing at auction for any series and it’ll be interesting to see how these perform.
Thursday 16th October 2014
The recent series we put online here at the Just Whisky Auctions blog for first time bidders was so well received we’re going to do another for those just starting to become interested in the joys of whisky collecting, investing or tasting.
Manning the phones, email or front desk here at our Dunfermline office we’re asked all sorts of questions some which we won’t be repeating here! Some of the most common include which distillery or bottle to purchase. There isn’t a definitive answer to either of these however we’d like to believe there are some key principles worth considering with every perspective purchase and we’ll debate those right now.
Interest continues to grow in whisky, experts with their recommendations are appearing online and in the press with increasing frequency. Distilleries have been quick to cotton onto this increased demand with various bottling’s and series’ to tap into this surge for all things limited and collectable. These releases often arrive suddenly and vanish from retailers just as quickly. Fuelled by some commentators suggesting ‘buy, buy, buy’, quite often you should step back and consider if this is really the case before exiting the checkout.
Let’s start with the distillery, as this is a major factor in any purchasing decision. It is fairly straightforward to access statistics about the most collectable distilleries and these will include illustrious names such as Macallan, Port Ellen and Brora. As with most things in life there are caveats to such information that tend to focus on the obvious big profile names, regular auctions and sale volumes. Every whisky auction nowadays it seems will include examples from such closed distilleries as Port Ellen and Brora, but what about rarely seen names such as Banff and Glenugie.
This big data cannot harness future trends or whisky fashion. For instance a couple of years ago Karuizawa would have been firmly off the radar and going back even further I’m reminded of stories when your Islay whiskies were extremely unfashionable whether bottled or in actual casks. The only certainty apart from fluctuations is that when distilleries are closed they rarely return to life unless mothballed. It is these distilleries that endure the test of time and experience increased interest from collectors and investors, or those who wish to taste the whisky. Whether the idea of a closed distillery is of interest to you as a collector, investor or enthusiast is another matter.
A recent article in a mainstream newspaper that highlighted whisky investment and several distilleries to its general readership. The Glenlivet was mentioned and it is an interesting example as just like Ardbeg it has tried its hand at special releases to meet increased demand. Compared to Ardbeg, the special release of the Glenlivet Alpha has never enjoyed a surge in asking price. The concept was original and the design very mysterious, yet like their Guardians Chapter bottle, it has not generated much interest with collectors and investors. Why? It is all in the name and the brand?
Next time we'll continue this article with a little more detail. Stay tuned.
Thursday 9th October 2014
Karuizawa 1981 Cask #6056
If there is a hot commodity for any whisky collector or investor during 2014 then it can be summed up in one word; Japanese. Some commentators may go further and suggest the Karuizawa distillery specifically, which is certainly the leading light currently in the market. However here at Just Whisky we believe that other Japanese distilleries such as Hanyu, Kawasaki (also both closed) are just as worthy of the limelight and your interest.
In our October auction we will have lots from all 3 distilleries and in this blog we’ll be taking a little more time to talk about what makes these specific releases of interest and very collectable. We’ve already discussed the mystery that is Kawasaki distillery in an earlier piece. It’s too easy just to list a lot and put up the bottle details and packaging information; we like to show a little more dedication hence this blog.
Right, Karuizawa. This distillery is sadly no more and with most things in life you don’t truly appreciate something till it’s no longer around. This is particularly so with this distillery that didn’t enjoy the worldwide reputation it has today during its existence. If it had then it’s very likely Karuizawa would still be producing its distinctive whisky today.
Set at the foot of Mount Asama, the Nagano region is more famous for wine rather than whisky. Karuizawa was originally a vineyard before the then owners (Daikoku-Budoshu) decided that a whisky distillery would be the next logical step in 1955. This was an era of increased domestic demand in Japan for whisky. Regulations were being relaxed and the hard-working public were developing a taste for whisky, as mentioned in our Kawasaki article.
Now Mount Asama is an active volcano, so setting a distillery on its doorstep might not be the greatest or safest decision. However there was logic within the madness as the climate is comparable to Scotland and would deliver an ideal level of consistent maturation. Over the years the ownership of the distillery chopped and changed never allowing for a period of stability or identity to develop. The distillery was mothballed in 2001 and never reopened.
Karuizawa throughout its existence only exclusively used the Golden Promise strain of barley that has long been dispensed by most Scottish distilleries as being inefficient. It does however add character to the whisky which is sadly missed in today’s climate of computerised and ultra-efficient whisky production. The combination of an older strain of barley, slow maturation (4 of the 5 onsite warehouses were traditional dunnage) and reliance on quality sherry casks meant at older ages Karuizawa can deliver spectacular results, which is why it is only now being appreciated.
This is partially due to the sterling work of Number One Drinks who had the foresight to negotiate an exclusive deal for the remaining casks at the distillery from the last owners. Over the years they have become the only bottler of Karuizawa often putting together distinctive releases with charismatic labels. Stocks are dwindling and while Number One have never commented on what remains, it is clear that sooner rather than later Karuizawa casks will be no more. If you have an interest in finding out more about Karuizawa then we’d suggest you read The Whisky Exchange blog that had a detailed 9 part series on the distillery and those remaining casks.
This takes us nicely onto this specific bottle, as The Whisky Exchange (TWE) today are the main source of releases of Karuizawa. In 2013 they revealed that they were releasing a single sherry cask of Karuizawa from 1981 that was the best one that they have bottled, which is stating something given the bottles they’ve experienced from this distillery.
This Karuizawa is from cask number 6056 and was a first fill sherry cask bottled at 60.3% strength. The edition number was never revealed although TWE confirmed they had just 240 of these to sell and as far as we’re aware that seems to be almost the complete edition. The cask has given this whisky an incredible jet black colour that is truly distinctive and sums up the unique approach of Karuizawa. If you could own just 1 example of a sherry cask Karuizawa then this is arguably the one to possess. We’re very pleased to be bringing you this opportunity to bid on what is a classic Karuizawa.
Sunday 5th October 2014
Hanyu 2000/2014 Grappa Finish Ghost Series
A wonderful extension of the Japanese Nonjatta whisky website is the release of special editions as and when suitable casks are discovered. These form part of their ongoing ‘Ghost series’ based on a series of prints from Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s epic series of woodblock prints.
We’ve already featured one of these releases in an earlier entry in the form of an extremely rare Kawasaki. To date there have only been 5 releases in the ‘Ghost series’ spread across 3 closed Japanese distilleries in the form of Hanyu, Karuizawa and Kawasaki. Japanese whiskies from closed distilleries are currently immensely popular amongst collectors and investors. The ‘Ghost series’ is arguably the most collectable due to its very limited numbers, unique casks, distinctive labelling, focus on quality and also only being released in Japan.
This very special Hanyu was discovered in a Japanese whisky bar called Bar Keller and available to purchase by the dram. The roots of this unusually finished Hanyu go back to a 1990 vintage Paolo Berta grappa. Left with an empty cask, the owner contacted none other than Ichiro Akuto to enquiry whether the cask would provide a suitable secondary maturation for one of his whiskies. What they selected for this experiment was a Hanyu from 2000, which was the last year of production at the distillery before being dismantled in 2004. The grappa cask was then left to mature at Chichibu distillery.
Fast forward to the opening of Bar Keller and the design incorporating 2 casks mounted within the bar wall; one of their choices was the whisky maturing in the aforementioned grappa cask. Such was its quality that the team behind Nonjatta set about releasing an edition of just 120 bottles. We would encourage you to read in more detail about the series and the whiskies themselves at the Nonjatta website.
We’re often asked about Japanese whiskies here at Just Whisky Auctions. Karuizawa is receiving most of the limelight and sightings of bottles of Kawasaki are in comparison even rarer. It is possible that there is no more Kawasaki waiting to be bottled and the companies who own the remaining stocks of Karuizawa and Hanyu only comment generally about their remaining inventory levels.
It is Hanyu that is often overlooked at auction in favour of Karuizawa; this potentially is an oversight as stocks of Hanyu are rumoured to be nearly exhausted. Add to the fact that this is the only grappa finished Japanese whisky released to date and you have something very rather special. If we were asked which Japanese distillery will receive even more attention in the coming years, then we'd say Hanyu.
Just Whisky is extremely pleased to be bringing you this Hanyu Ghost edition, which is the first time the bottle has been seen at auction outside of the Far East as far as we're aware. If you are just building your Ghost collection or becoming interested in Japanese whiskies, then this is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.
Thursday 2nd October 2014
Karuizawa 1982 Bourbon cask
Releases from the Karuizawa distillery are thin on the ground and thus are extremely collectable. Its reputation continues to grow amongst collectors, investors and enthusiasts many of whom dismissed or overlooked Japanese whisky as a whole.
Karuizawa during its existence was one of the smallest Japanese distilleries; a mere blip compared to the giants of Suntory and Nikka, both of whom continue to dominate the domestic market and have grown in popularity abroad. Only through time have we grown to appreciate Karuizawa’s style of whisky with its stubborn resistance to change. It’s reliance on the finest sherry casks, exclusively using the Golden Promise strain of barley, traditional dunnage warehouses and the location providing the perfect maturation conditions. Set in the shadow of Mount Asama this mountain provided a natural medium hard water source. All of these factors combine with the rarest and most costly resource of all; patience. Through time these key characteristics have united to produce some sensational whiskies.
With around 90% of its production being devoted to the sherry cask, this style of whisky has become synonymous with the distillery. These sherry monsters are hugely collectable and distinctive with our October auction arguably featuring the classic example in the form of a 1981 Karuizawa. Yet what of the remaining 10% production? According to Ulf Buxrud’s excellent book ‘Japanese Whisky Facts, Figures and Taste’, this percentage consisted of bourbon, American white oak and various wine casks.
Over the years single cask bourbon releases from Karuizawa have been the oddity amongst its extremely sparse schedule of releases. The remaining cask stock was purchased by Number One Drinks who have strategically released the existing editions over the years. The majority of their releases have been single cask expressions with the exception being the Spirit of Asama range, which was a blend of various casks in a justified attempt to create a widely available Karuizawa edition that was priced to be accessible to all. Of course even the Spirit of Asama has recently sold out and is experiencing a surge in price at auction.
To date there have only been a handful of single cask bourbon releases from Karuizawa. These are now receiving growing attention from collectors and investors due to their relative scarcity. If you do manage to purchase a Karuizawa then the overriding odds will be that it is from a sherry cask but what about a bourbon cask?
This Karuizawa was originally distilled in 1982 before being bottled in 2012 from a first fill bourbon cask (#8497) with an alcohol strength of 46%. Adorned with a stunning Koi style label we’re pleased at Just Whisky to bring you the opportunity to own such a bottle.
Friday 12th September 2014
At Just Whisky we are fortunate to auction hundreds of bottles on a monthly basis, many of which we would never normally see. Some of the most infamous or legendary bottles are specifically designed and crafted for the growing international luxury whisky market, which often means they are rarely seen in the UK due to their scarce numbers.
Shortly after celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Royal Brackla distillery in 2012, its current owners John Dewar & Sons (Bacardi) wanted to create a suitable extravagant commemorative piece to immortalise this milestone. Stephanie McLeod, the current Master Blender, was tasked with hand selecting a whisky of suitable quality to form the liquid centrepiece of the concept.
She selected a 35 year old whisky which was bottled at 49% ABV and un-chillfiltered (the way it should be) to represent Royal Brackla today. The age of the whisky is very interesting as when Bacardi bought the Dewar group from Diageo in 1998 for £1.15 billion, the deal not include any maturing whisky, meaning the new owners were effectively starting from scratch to build up a portfolio of aged stock. This specially selected whisky was finished in sherry casks to add their characteristic influences to the spirit. This served a dual purpose, not only enhancing the whisky, but also engaging the royal influence that runs strong throughout the overall presentation of this piece.
Royal Brackla is another example of a distillery that is mainly producing for blends today. As such it is rarely seen as a single malt at retail despite being the first Scotch whisky to receive the honour of a royal warrant. This was bestowed in 1833 by King William IV, who was a connoisseur of fine things including sherry; hence the finishing of this whisky in sherry casks. During this period Royal Brackla became known as ‘the drink divine’ and ‘the King’s own whisky’. The importance and influence of a royal warrant even today is recognisable but its effect in the 1830’s must have been cataclysmic. If you consider that a royal warrant has only been granted 3 times in total to a whisky distillery; this is a very rare honour. Unfortunately the King’s reign was ended prematurely by pneumonia in 1837 when he was succeeded by Queen Victoria.
The distillery is located in the Speyside region of Scotland, on the outskirts of Nairn to be more precise. Its long history shows that it has always been a valued component of blended whiskies much appreciated by blenders who have supported it since its early years; a tradition that continues today with various Dewar’s and Johnnie Walker blends. Today, Royal Brackla distillery is running at full capacity and is the largest within the Dewar group – not bad for a name that is rarely seen in whisky circles.
The Royal theme continues beyond the whisky and into the lavish presentation box featuring a crest inspired by the naval career of King William IV. A closer inspection reveals the level of detail and craftsmanship that has gone into the concept as a whole with the braided pillars that take their cue from sword grips of the period. More immediate symbols of royalty come from the crystal stopper, suggestive of a sceptre and the bottle taking the form of an orb. The most recognisable royal symbol of all being the crown shaped stand that holds the decanter.
Just 100 examples of edition were released, initially debuting at Singapore Changi Airport, with a suggested retail price of $16,888, which has sold out since its release. We are very pleased to bring you this exceptional lot and the opportunity to own a very luxurious whisky with a feel of royalty.
Thursday 4th September 2014
Hopefully you enjoyed our recent guide to approaching whisky auctions and points to consider before making a bid. One area that was only briefly touched upon is what to consider collecting or investing through auctions? It’s a topic many pundits could easily devote thousands of words to given the current whisky boom.
In essence what we’re doing with this piece is focusing on a specific bottle in our upcoming September auction which is a distinctive Glen Albyn from independent bottler Signatory, who now own Edradour distillery. At the same time we can also highlight the growing popularity of the independent bottlers who have become the main source (excluding some of Diageo’s annual special releases and the odd official release) of whisky from closed distilleries. As a side note it is worth visiting Edradour as the distillery shop always stocks a great of Signatory releases. And if you take the distillery tour, then the warehouse visit will confirm the independent bottler has an impressive array of casks.
Glen Albyn distillery bottled by Signatory
Distilled 1965 | Bottled 1997
Now we say ‘closed’ but other popular terms include ‘silent’ and ‘mothballed’ to name but two. Generally, the terminology applies to distilleries that are no longer in production. The distillery may have been completely bulldozed from existence (Glen Mhor), kept in suspended animation (Glen Keith which has only recently reopened) or still stands in some form today such as Convalmore or Rosebank. It is worth highlighting that while Convalmore and Rosebank distilleries still have a physical presence, the equipment within may have been sold off, stolen or been left to the elements, to decay such as Brora.
Glen Keith Distillery
Many of these distilleries closed during the early 1980’s when the whisky industry experienced a surplus in demand. Over 3 decades later and we are nearing the end of the potential lifespan for what few intact casks remain. Diageo for instance do not comment on how much they have left to bottle for Brora, Port Ellen etc. and the same veil secrecy applies to rest of the industry. Eventually we will reach a point where the only remnants of certain distilleries are in unopened bottles – it very likely that for some we’re already at this point.
This means that there is a growing interest and demand in acquiring whisky from a distillery such as Glen Albyn, which was 1 of 3 distilleries in Inverness that no longer exist today. Closed in 1983 and subsequently demolished in 1986, this Signatory release was distilled in 1965 before being bottled at 31 years old. Even in 1997, Signatory it seems appreciated the rarity of its casks by releasing the bottle with an accompanying miniature - although from the lots we’ve seen over the years these tend to be unopened anyway! At least the option exists if you wish to experience what Glen Albyn can offer without having to open up the full bottle. The final piece of the jigsaw is a decorated cask bung, which completes the edition that numbered just 530 in total.
Whisky from Glen Albyn does have a variable reputation which fits in with the 2 other Inverness distilleries; Glen Mhor and Millburn. For many collectors or investors in whisky, scores and reputations are very subjective and for completist, matter little if at all. Time is a great healer and longer than expected maturation periods can produce some very surprising whisky results. An example of this is Port Ellen as there are poor examples of this distillery for every enjoyable dram Just Whisky has experienced yet the prices continue to be robust. Even a much criticised distillery such as Littlemill has enjoyed a resurgence in interest thanks partially to some excellent recent independent releases.
So have a look through our next auction and consider some of the less fashionable and rarer distilleries. In a decade or so such lots will be become scarcer and names such as Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor, Rosebank and Brora, very much consigned to the history books.
Thursday 28th August 2014
For many enthusiasts the ultimate ambition is to own a cask of whisky and then sit back and patiently wait for the right moment to bottle its contents. This can take years, if not decades and the associated costs after purchasing a cask are prohibitive for many.
To spread such costs, clubs can be created to buy a cask and slowly save money for when the whisky is right to bottle and the VAT bill needs to be paid. Even if the cost of forming a group or joining a club proves too much, then the next best thing is to own a bottle taken from a private cask. Such releases are not widely available as many individuals did not appreciate the costs involved after the cask purchase. These casks are often sold on to brokers or direct to companies such as online retailers who possess the finances to accommodate government fees. The cask can also be sold back to the distillery that is often struggling to maintain older stock such as Bruichladdich. All these factors and many more result in private bottlings rarely coming up for sale outside of the fortunate few who owned the cask or their immediate family.
In the case of Port Sgioba a group of friends took advantage of Bruichladdich restarting production of Port Charlotte in 2001 and bought cask number 826/2001. This was part of the inaugural vintage and one of the few remaining sherry hogsheads. After 8 years the cask was bottled at a mighty 66% ABV and complimented with a label featuring an original painting by Scottish artist, Ian Gray. The overall feeling is one of quality and the Port Charlotte expression has proven to be very popular at Just Whisky Auctions. The fact that is has been well received by critics such as Charles MacLean, Dave Broom and Jim Murray just adds to the appeal.
The keen eyed will have also noticed a Caol Ila private bottling from the same group which is their 2nd release. Bottled at 12 years of age it features an original painting on the label from the same artist that depicts the stunning view from the still room at the distillery. For fans of this under-appreciated distillery it is an enticing proposition and with the cask generating only 205 bottles a very limited expression.
A quick visit to the Port Sgioba website reveals further casks, patiently maturing and waiting for the correct moment to be bottled. Hopefully we’ll be able to offer more of these unique private bottles for auction as and when the whisky reaches that perfect moment.
Tuesday 19th August 2014
In this final part of our beginners guide trilogy, we’ve now reached the point where you’ve identified lots of interest and are looking to start bidding.
We’re often asked about bidding tactics and generally everyone has their own approach that works best for them. Going through the previous steps one-by-one you should be aware of how the bidding format works for the auctioneer you are using. As soon as an auction opens online, some buyers may open the bidding to create a ‘hit list’ of bottles they want to watch through the auction. Mainly this is due to some sites not offering a favourites or watch list; it is a useful tool if you are wishing to keep tabs on several bottles on one handy screen. Or you may want to follow some lots as you already own the bottles to see how the market is viewing their value.
At JWA the trend is that after an initial flurry of opening bids things will slack off a little and the auction will progress at a steady pace. Once the auction deadline looms; bidding ramps up again often in spectacular fashion. My preference is to open with a bid and then see how things unfold through the course of the auction. It’s therefore important that you carefully trawl through the full auction when it opens. With lots numbering into the hundreds if not thousands this can take a while unless you want to overlook something.
You can manage what items you are bidding on or remain interested in, as the week unfolds. By the end of the week that initial cluster may have dwindled to a handful depending on the maximum bids received. Again its worthwhile being aware of how an auction closes as we specified previously – this isn’t like eBay where a brilliantly timed last second strike can snatch victory from another bidder. Generally we bid with a couple of hours to go or less. At this stage you may wish to bid up to your max remaining aware of how the bidding software accommodates maximum bids. It goes without saying to have time set aside and internet access on the closing night. You might find a different approach to bidding works better for you, which is great.
Set your limit
This goes without saying. You should in advance know roughly the market value of the bottle, the condition of the said item and queried with the auctioneer any concerns you may have. Ideally this should be done earlier in the week, as when the deadline looms auctioneers will become busier and may not be able to respond to any questions raised as quickly as they might wish or reach the seller with your query. You may want to pay a little over the odds if the lot is particularly unusual or filling an annoying void in your collection. The key is to set your limit and if the bidding goes beyond this, then you should either walk away, or take a moment to reconsider the lot as a whole.
Remember that the hammer price isn’t what you will pay. While we’ve covered charges in an earlier feature you will often have to pay postage and potentially VAT. There are variety of pricing and postage charges across the auctioneers so consider this when setting your limit and bidding.
Often when an auction is closing we like to have time set aside to go back through the lots. This can potentially highlight a bargain or something you overlooked previously. Most auction sites allow you to list lots by bid value so you can easily toggle your viewing layout.
Awareness also applies to other auctioneers. Throughout a month there are several auctions across a variety of websites. Another auction may have opened in the meantime with a similar or better lot so it is always worth keeping tabs on new sales. Quite often if a bottle isn’t seen at auction for a while and when it does return it may achieve a good price, but this may prompt further examples in later auctions.
So while you might be disappointed to have missed out on a particular bottle you never know what’s going to appear in the next auction and that’s part of the enjoyment as there is always another just around the corner. Hopefully this series has been of use to you.
Sunday 10th August 2014
Mention Kawasaki to Joe public and immediately they’ll think of motorbikes. Only the most hardened of whisky enthusiasts would respond by nominating the short-lived grain distillery in Kanagawa Prefecture. Bottles from Kawasaki are rarely seen, as this 33 year old release represents only the 8th single cask bottling from this distillery. Even the most basic of details are difficult to come by, such as the exact year when the distillery ceased production.
Trying to make sense of the mystery we know that the city of Kawasaki is located in-between Tokyo and Yokohama. An industrial hotbed of production, it seems this central location would be a suitable location for a grain distillery. With strong infrastructure connections, the site was chosen by the Showa Brewery Company sometime in the 1950’s. Very little is known about the whisky industry during this decade with speculation it may have dabbled in malt whisky. This would tie in with the Karuizawa distillery also starting malt whisky production in 1956, as the demand for Japanese whisky in its domestic market began to grow.
The Sanraku Ocean Company acquired Kawasaki distillery and as a new player in the marketplace it was trying to lessen its reliance on other distilleries for components of its increasingly popular Ocean blend whisky, which included Karuizawa. With the government regulations around the importing of malt relaxed in 1958, Sanraku could now purchase greater quantities of malt and as a consequence needed to boost domestic production. The Ocean whisky blend stood out in the market by featuring scantily clad women on its labels; think of it as the Japanese equivalent of the Tenants lager girls that adorned Scottish cans for over 30 years.
Kawasaki would have faded completely from memory if it was not for the discovery of a handful of casks dating from 1976, 1981 and 1982 by Ichiro Akuto that were released to widespread acclaim. These were believed to be the last remaining casks until this bottle appeared as part of Nonjatta’s ‘Ghost Series’ that has included offerings from Hanyu and Karuizawa. Featuring rare Japanese whiskies, each ‘Ghost’ label hosts a distinctive print from Tasio Yoshitoshi’s ‘New Forms of 36 Ghosts’ series. This particular print shows a badger disguised as a priest enjoying a brief sleep in the temple.
This 33 year old Kawasaki grain whisky represents a number of notable firsts for whisky enthusiasts. It is the only known surviving example of a 1980 vintage from Kawasaki. Cask number 6165 yielded just 60 bottles in total making this the oldest Kawasaki released to date. It is very likely that this will be the last ever Kawasaki we’ll see bottled, making it all the more desirable and thrilling to offer for auction.
Monday 28th July 2014
In this instalment we’ll consider the scenario that you’ve made a conscious decision to start collecting or investing in whisky. You’ve already made decisions about what whiskies, distilleries, vintages that you’d like to feature in your portfolio. You’ve also registered with auctioneers and are primed and ready to enter the bidding – so what comes next?
Familiarise yourself with the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding bidding that should be available from each auctioneer. Now, we’re not talking about the charges, which we covered in the first instalment. No, what needs further consideration is the type of bidding software utilised by the auctioneer.
Take for instance you’re first in with a bid, all anxious and wanting to get things underway. The bottle has no reserve and bidding starts at £5. You’re prepared to pay £100. Now with some auctioneers the winning bid will show as £5 and you’ll have the safety net of being able to sit back and automatically bid right up until £100 is breached. This is known as proxy bidding software and is featured on some auction websites including here at Just-Whisky Auctions (JWA). A different approach is also utilised by some auctioneers whereby your maximum bid is immediately taken and displayed. In this scenario the bid would immediately show at £100, meaning to secure this bottle you may have bid again.
There are pros and cons to both methods so being aware of what format bids are taken in advance is advisable. My own personal preference is the proxy format as a bidder and regardless of what method the auctioneer features, in this day and age you should be informed almost immediately by email if you’ve been outbid or you can access the auction via your mobile phone.
Some may bid when the bottles are just made available knowing they’ll be outbid at some point. The reasoning behind this is to create a watch list against their account that can be easily checked if the website doesn’t feature a watch lot option.
Lots may have a reserve price and these are set by the seller in advance. A good auctioneer will discuss reserves with their client and set an expectation whether what they are looking for is realistic. The reserve is there to protect the seller who will only part with the bottle when a minimum price is met. Of course there is nothing to stop the seller going against the auctioneer and setting their own reserve ignoring any advice. Hence why the auctioneer will charge a reserve fee to cover the entry of the lot in the auction; otherwise it’s a free listing for something that might not sell.
If a reserve has been set on a lot then it should be highlighted as part of the lot description. Unfortunately some auctioneers do not highlight this so your bidding may be in vain even if you place the highest offer. In these situations the auctioneer may act as a negotiator between you and the seller after the auction has ended. Personally I have acquired bottles through such discussions and here at JWA the lot will highlight when a reserve is placed and when it has been met.
Another method is to open the auction at the reserve level. For instance the seller will not part with the bottle unless his minimum price of £800 is bid. Therefore the auction bidding starts at £800 rather than £5. While this method protects the seller it can dissuade others from bidding until the very last minute or at all. On the flipside at least you know what you have to bid to remove the reserve.
Just hold on for a moment as you’re almost ready to bid! Another aspect to consider is how auctions close. Every auction has a closing time stated but auctioneers can adopt different methods prior to closing a lot. Again, it is worth being aware of what you will be dealing with in advance.
Some auctions will close at the specifically advertised time although this isn’t as common as you think. Other sites may keep an auction running as a complete whole entity until the bids dry up. This can be annoying to a certain extent, as you’re faced with babysitting a bottle to ensure you are successful. Literally you can be sitting online several hours after the auction should have ended.
Another approach is one utilised here at JWA and we believe this is fairer to buyers and sellers alike. If a lot receives a bid within the last 5 minutes then a time extension will appear. This means that if a lot doesn’t receive a bid within those dying moments then you’ll have won the lot when the auction is supposed to end. However say if a bid does come in then a 15-minute countdown for that specific lot appears. If no further bids are entered within this set period, the highest bid wins.
EXAMINING THE LOT
Now we’re almost ready. You’ve ticked all the boxes and know what is expected of you as a bidder in the auction. You’ve identified a bottle and before bidding please read the description carefully and review the photographs. Look for anything that may affect the value and for older bottles the auctioneer should comment if the fill level is below the norm – this could suggest poor storage or a weaker seal. The importance of provenance is only going to increase in the coming years. Each bottle in my personal collection is documented and recorded as to where the bottle was purchased, when, the price and the original receipt/invoice is archived.
If you have any concerns or questions regarding a lot or a more detailed photograph then contact the auctioneer before bidding. Good customer service should apply to sellers and prospective buyers alike.
If you follow all of these steps then you’ll be better prepared to participate in a whisky auction and remember it can be an enjoyable experience! In the third part of this feature we’ll look at some tactics and the importance of not getting carried away during an auction.
Friday 18th July 2014
Nowadays a week doesn’t seem to pass by without another article on the current whisky boom and how you can make a decent return on almost any purchase. Savvy investors and collectors can be rewarded by understanding the market and potential opportunities as they arise.
With this increasing coverage many are being attracted and are stepping into whisky whether it be new releases or auctions for the very first time. In such circumstances a little guidance should be welcome. For those new to this realm then hopefully here we can shed a little more light on the ins and outs of purchasing whisky. Highlighting some precautions to arm yourself with prior to venturing into the world of online auctions.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE?
We’re often asked whether we:
- Buy to drink?
- Buy to collect?
- Buy to invest?
In all honesty it’s a little of each for the Just-Whisky team, however everyone is different. Firstly you need to establish what you want to achieve? Are you making this a business venture or do you have a growing appreciation of whisky and want to entertain guests with an array of impressively distinctive bottles in your drinking cabinet? Or do you have a connection with a particular distillery or region and therefore want to start a collection and experience the enjoyment of tracking down and acquiring bottles that fit your criteria?
Some collectors or investors limit themselves to one specific distillery such as Macallan, others may focus on a region or a whisky they really enjoy. Sellers may use current releases to quickly turn a profit (‘flipping’) or others are purely involved in the long game; patiently waiting 10, 15 or 20 years before they’ll consider selling their acquisitions. In this era of low or non-existent interest rates in the UK, investing in whisky is more enticing than an ISA or more traditional options.
INFORMATION IS KEY
Once you’ve made the decision of whether you want to collect, invest or experience new whiskies for yourself. Then the next step is to arm yourself with information and knowledge. It is by doing this you’ll appreciate whether a bottle is truly a ‘limited edition’ worth acquiring, or it if is more available than a can of diet coke. For instance many view a release of over 500 bottles as simply not worth purchasing. Others will buy official releases from distilleries for their collection and independent bottles to drink and enjoy. Some investors engage in ‘flipping’ bottles that sell out quickly upon release or require you to be in a special location to purchase one i.e. a festival on Islay. Quite often these sellers if they are quick to market can make quick gains before reinvesting the profits into another bottle for their own collection.
Spend time observing auctions whether online or the more traditional auction houses. Meet people and use social media to follow other collectors and investors in whisky. This isn’t just something you should do before starting your investment or collection, but a continuous behaviour if you want to know what is on the horizon in terms of releases. Many special editions sell out immediately nowadays so registering with distillery websites and mailing lists is a convenient way to keep informed regarding new releases, as are whisky forums and social media.
Once you have built this virtual information resource and have some bottles in mind or a specific distillery or era then you’re ready to make some purchases. The internet has made the world of whisky collecting more public than it has ever been previously. This means more bottles are coming to market from all corners of the globe, which is fantastic for buyers and sellers alike. Unfortunately this openness results in more competition when it comes to bidding however bargains are still out there if you do your homework and have that small slice of luck. Fashion also plays a part in whisky with some distilleries being overlooked by collectors but trends can change over long periods.
A positive aspect of online auctions is that lots are available for inspection anything from a week to 9 days over the course of the sale. At Just-Whisky Auctions (JWA) we pride ourselves on the photographs that allow you to inspect potential targets in greater detail. Many in the whisky world won’t talk about fake bottles, which is becoming an increasing problem for certain distilleries or special editions. This is a topic for another piece, but rest assured at JWA if we have any doubts about the validity of a bottle which can range from the seal to the label itself, then the lot won’t be listed. Again, research is key here to confirming whether a bottle is the real thing – there have been recent examples of fake bottles fooling auction houses. The general rules are buyer beware and if it is too good to be true then in all likelihood it is.
Having jumped all these hurdles you’re ready to make that bid, whether it’s here at JWA or elsewhere, so what next? Consider fees. To bid on an auction site you’ll have to register first and have a way to pay if your bid wins. Registration at JWA costs just £1 and this fee can vary with other auctioneers or even be free of charge. Chances are if you are starting out that you may have to incur these costs whilst setting up accounts with various auctioneers.
Next you’ll have to consider the fees beyond merely the winning bid. At JWA we charge 10% on the winning hammer price, with some other auctioneers charging 10% plus VAT, others 15% or even going as high as 25%. These are all costs that you will have to consider before making any bid. The rarity of the auction lot may dictate that you must accommodate the costs even with an auctioneer you haven’t used previously. Next time we’ll take a look at bidding and the preparation you should consider in the next instalment of this guide.
Tuesday 8th July 2014
With Rosebank experiencing new found appreciation from collectors and investors we’re pleased to bring you this independent bottling dating from George Strachan Limited of Deeside. The company is still in existence today offering speciality foods and drink, but this bottle harks back to a bygone era where local stores would bottle it themselves such as Cadenhead’s.
While George Strachan still sells whisky today, its exclusive bottling range seems to have come to an end sometime in the 1980’s. Over the decades they managed to release bottles from a handful of distilleries including Tamdhu, Mortlach and of course Rosebank. There were at least 3 Rosebank’s bottled over this period with this 12 year old being the youngest of the trio. The bottle itself dates sometime from the 1960’s and in all likelihood would have been a single cask bottling.
We were fortunate to be able to taste a sample of this release from another bottle provided by the seller. There is an essence of the lowland style that Rosebank is well known for and sadly missed by whisky enthusiasts today. A very light grassy, lemon zesty summer dram experience, it is a massive departure from today’s era which is heavily dominated by the casks, controlled production and will have featured the original maltings which were replaced in 1968. This is a unique opportunity to acquire an early independent bottling of Rosebank from a small scale Scottish retailer.
Look out for this bottle in our auction live on 11th July!
Sunday 6th July 2014
Highland Park has revealed a new whisky for its permanent core range that will be released later this month with a recommended price of £64.95. Known as the Dark Origins, this is a No Age Statement release follows other similar moves seen in the Edrington Group from Macallan and rival distilleries.
Highland Park releases across all age statements are a mix of bourbon and sherry casks with the ratio swinging from the 12 year to the 40 year old. The Dark Arts will slant towards a robust sherry influence by using twice as many sherry casks compared to the staple 12 year old expression. Thankfully the Dark Origins will be non-chill filtered and bottled at 46.8%, which won’t give the Aberlour A’bunadh any sleepless nights, but this extra strength is a welcome decision.
Gerry Tosh, global marketing manager, said: “Cask management is so very crucial to our work at Highland Park. We have strived to raise the bar, working tirelessly in sourcing the right wood and then working and finessing the balances to ensure we create single malt that is rich, warm and enticing in flavour. Dark Origins sits in the heart of our core range complementing them perfectly – distinct in itself, but always and forever a classic Highland Park.”
Some of the recent Highland Park travel exclusives received criticism for their pricing and flavour profiles. It will be interesting to see how the Dark Arts is received when it arrives this summer across the global market.
Tuesday 1st July 2014
Old Pulteney has revealed a new 35 year old limited edition release which has been matured in ex-bourbon and Spanish ex-sherry casks. Selected by distillery manager Malcolm Waring, the whisky is non-chill filtered and bottled at 42.5% ABV. This edition is limited to approximately 2700 bottles and will be available worldwide from around £500.
The accompanying packaging emphasises the maritime tradition of Old Pulteney and the distillery has certainly benefited since Jim Murray selected the 21 year old as world whisky of the year (in his opinion) in 2012. Old Pulteney Senior Brand Manager, Margaret Mary Clarke commented:
“Old Pulteney 35 Year Old is a world class expression and we are delighted to add another high age, limited edition to our existing portfolio. From its eye catching packaging to its superior taste, the new malt is a true reflection of Old Pulteney’s outstanding quality and craftsmanship. We are confident that it will take its place amongst the best luxury whiskies available today and cement our position as one of the UK’s top ten single malts.”
This release follows on from the limited 40 year old expression last year that is still widely available with retail prices ranging from £1400-£1500. As much as we enjoyed visiting the Old Pulteney distillery and experiencing its core range of whiskies, it is difficult to recommend this as an investment purchase. However it is well packaged and in the current whisky climate attractively priced for an official 35 year old release.
Saturday 28th June 2014
A perk of being involved preparing whisky auctions is that you are able to see and examine lauded bottles that have gained mythical status amongst the whisky community. This 1955 Bowmore is a perfect example of such a bottle with a notable reputation and needless to say is rarely seen at auction.
Bowmore is a wonderful distillery to visit nowadays thanks to the opening of the visitor centre that this bottle commemorates. However it’s fair to say that in the boom current era, whisky from Bowmore has failed to live up to previous decades. Each time the subject of Bowmore comes up during a whisky tasting event, enthusiasts, will from our experience, slate the current output and wax lyrical about bottles from the 1970’s or earlier.
This 37.5cl bottle was distilled in 1955 and bottled in 1974 to celebrate the aforementioned visitor centre. The majority of bottles in this 100 only release fell into the hands of the distillery staff who promptly enjoyed the contents within the ceramic bottle. Unlike official limited releases today details are very scant regarding this Bowmore. For instance there is no strength or capacity stated but the quality of the whisky is widely known.
Ceramic bottles can often be the victims of a poor seal; however it is generally accepted from the surviving examples of this Bowmore that the seal on this bottle is of an extremely high and robust standard. The dinky ceramic bottle is in pristine condition along with the important seal itself. Just from holding the bottle and using our audible senses, the contents within are intact and have not been the victim of any evaporation or decay. Now if we only had the money to bid on this gem ourselves!
Aberlour A'Bunadh Silver Limited Edition
With the Aberlour A’bunadh now approaching its 50th batch release, the initial runs are growing in popularity and appreciation. These early batches are not numbered like the current editions and are only distinguished by a silver label on the bottle. It’s fair to say these are growing increasingly rare with each passing batch, but what we have here is a rather special and very illusive in terms of details and release numbers.
This silver A’bunadh is an extremely limited run of just 37 bottles with this being number 9 produced in 1999 and aged for 12 years. It is also signed by 2 individuals on the special edition label. Apart from this details are very scant about this release, with the suggestion that the 37 bottles were as a result of remnants from casks used in an early A’bunadh batch.
The whole existence of the A’bunadh owes itself to a bottle that was buried in the foundations of the still room at Aberlour. Distillery guides tell the story that when this still room was extended in 1973 the workmen came across this bottle wrapped in period newspaper and started to enjoy the contents of the bottle. By the time the distillery manager got wind of this discovery over half of the whisky was gone. In other words what would have been the oldest complete example of an Aberlour whisky in its original bottle had been lost. The remnants were dispatched to the company laboratory for investigation and ultimately acted as the inspiration to the A’bunadh range.
From a whisky perspective while we haven’t tasted this bottle, we have enjoyed some of the earlier releases in the A’bunadh series. These have set the benchmark extremely high, so much so that subsequent releases in the series have failed to meet expectations. This Silver A’bunadh at a strength of 58.07% should be divine.
Wednesday 4th June 2014
With a whole bunch of Feis Ile bottles arriving today we had an interesting question that deserves a post! What is Just Whisky HQ like? Here we've take a few pictures for you to see JWA in all it's glory. If you have any questions or ideas for a blog post get in touch. Maybe you'd like some extra detail on one of our auction lots?
Back of the shop with bottles ready to go!
Front office with Matteo working hard ... Ahem
Packaging for the auction stocked up.
We seem to have a visitor sleeping
Our Just Whisky Clock - always on time!
Some office Decoration
We're all set for the auction to go live on Friday, so you can expect a post auction update. For those in the know, our auction previews always go live the night before. Check on Thursday night to see a preview.
Monday 2nd June 2014
Due to demand we have been looking into replacing PayPal as our main payment provider. PayPal offered customers ease of use, but we had some issues with expensive currency converstion rates for our overseas bidders. We were also unable to allow customers to pay without a surcharge when paying online.
Because of this, we have partnered with SagePay, one of Europe's leading payment providers. SagePay were able to help us to take payments securely online, and in a way where we are not charged nearly as much for Debit card transactions. As a result we are passing these savings onto our customers and payment by Debit card online is now completely free of charge (as it should be). An improvement which will surely be welcome. More information on SagePay can be found by clicking here.
If you have any questions, as always don't hesistate to drop us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call.
Saturday 31st May 2014
Nowadays it isn't too unusual to see an example from Diageo's Rare Malts Selection appearing at auction, with a variety of distilleries from its sizeable portfolio being bottled over the lifespan of the series.
The range was launched in 1995 and continued until the final selection was released in 2005. During this period, Diageo selected some of the best casks from rarely bottled distilleries such as Banff, Convalmore, Glenlochy and Glenury Royal and bottled each at cask strength, with the average run being around 5000 bottles. Diageo also took the opportunity to highlight distilleries that were predominantly components of blends including Clynelish, Mortlach and Dailuaine. The range also plays host to some of the most desirable examples of Brora and Port Ellen released to date.
This lot is slightly different, conveniently combining 5 examples in dinky 20cl bottles and was only issued in 1995 and 1996 making it incredibly rare. This item we believe is from the 1996 release and comprises of the following:
- Brora 1975 (60.75%)
- Caol Ila 1975 (61.12%)
- Dailuaine 1973 (61.80%)
- Teaninich 1972 (64.8%)
- Glendullan 1972 (62.43%)
This represents a fantastic opportunity to own this rarely seen and complete Rare Malts selection, which is in excellent condition including the original packaging.
Monday 26th May 2014
Auctions at Just Whisky take place almost monthly but a great deal of work goes into the organising and preparing of these in Dunfermline. A regular feature we wanted to introduce is to highlight some of the forthcoming bottles in the next, or a future auction and write about what makes this bottle interesting to us.
It could well be a very exclusive release that you’ll rarely see available for auction or just something very unusual. While not everyone can see these limited editions in the flesh hopefully we can bring a little of that excitement and detail to you via this blog. Maybe there is an interesting story to the bottle from the owner? Perhaps the inspiration for the bottling or packaging is worth a little more detail than what we can accommodate in the usual auction wording? These are all things to consider when we highlight a handful of examples.
Generally the bottles will be appearing in the next auction but there could be exceptions. The reason for this is another aspect of the Just Whisky service to any potential sellers. When you approach us or drop by the office for a chat, or to hand in those bottles, we’ll take the time to highlight whether an auction already has that bottle inserted. As sellers ourselves we know from experience the disappointment when you browse an auction for the first time to realise that your Ardbeg limited edition is one of fifteen identical bottles in the sale.
Our next auction goes live on 6th of June so we have picked out a couple of interesting bottles to look at in closer detail here. First up, well it had to be a Macallan didn’t it? A genre of collecting, enjoyment and investing by itself. Those that tread into the realm of the Macallan must have deep pockets and a wealth of knowledge.
To celebrate the semiquincentenary, or 250th anniversary of Scottish literary great Robert Burns in 2009, the Macallan put together this unique package which was limited to just 250 bottles. The initial impression is created by the box of home-grown red pinewood that lacks the slickness of many Macallan boxed releases we see on the market today. Crafted by master cabinet maker, Harvey McLean, the end result is a distinctive historical casing for the lavish contents within.
No hint apart from the enamel plate is given as to the purpose of this item. Sliding off the top of the box reveals a series of contents to explore:
- A decanter made to an original design based on the head and shoulders of the Macallan bottle.
- A reproduction of a map of Burns country as it would have been in 1759.
- A unique numbered printing of your own individual Burns Poem which in this example is ‘I Gaed A Waefu Gate Yestreen’.
- 70cl of Macallan whisky matured for at least 12 years in twin casks numbered 1759
Macallan for the reproduction called upon design and illustrator David Holmes along with novelist Nicholas Salaman to provide the historical content. Their work forms part of the map outskirts putting the work of Burns into context, homespun tales of whisky form the link to the Macallan.
Sadly Macallan were unable to count upon their legendary reserves to provide a whisky from 1759 seeing how it was only granted a license in 1824. Instead there a tale regarding the 2 casks being discovered in one of the Macallan warehouses forms the connection. By some bizarre fate both of these casks had 1759 stamped upon them and it is these twin casks together that provide the whisky for this unique bottling and celebration.
Monday 19th May 2014
- Technical updates to the Just Whisky site
- Improvements to the services we offer
- A look back at past bottles we’ve auctioned
- Forthcoming auction bottles and what makes these of particular interest
- A just Whisky Tasting evening in the Dunfermline area
- Just Whisky goes to a Scottish Malt Society evening
- Helpful hints to those new to whisky collecting
- Statistical information such as which distilleries are enjoying popularity or decline and bottles that are consistently performing well
- Our favourite bottles and why