The Alex Barclay Miniature Collection: Interview

We’re delighted to announce that we’ll soon be auctioning the largest and most significant collection of whisky miniatures we’ve ever encountered and you could argue in the World.  The collection belongs to the president of the Mini Bottle Club, Alex Barclay, and it’s so large that we’ll be splitting the sale over more than one auction.  Alex was kind enough to take some time to talk to us about his extraordinary collection:

Whisky-Online Auctions: Hi Alex, thanks for speaking to us and congratulations on building up such an amazing collection. How did you get started in the first place? 

Alex Barclay: In 1974, after I had moved to Birmingham, my father sent me a small book by John Wilson on the Malt Whiskies of Scotland. I wanted to taste some of those whiskies, so the next time I was back in North East Scotland I went to the Gordon & MacPhail shop and bought a few minis of single malts to taste. I liked the look of the miniatures, so I decided to buy duplicates – one to drink and one to keep. My original plan was to get one from each distillery but after joining the Mini Bottle Club I expanded my range of collecting. A business trip to Japan in 1984 got me into collecting Japanese Whiskies. I went from there to collecting old blended Scotch, Irish Whiskey and some American and World whisky miniatures.

WOA: How many minis did you collect in the end?

AB: At its peak my collection numbered over 6,000 minis. I have disposed of a few over the years but it is probably still around 6,000 minis.

A snippet of Alex’s collection on display

WOA: Was there a moment when you realised it had changed from being a casual hobby to a full-on passion?

AB: I think moving to it being a passion was a gradual thing, but the Mini Bottle Club put me in contact with UK and overseas collectors, many of whom became friends and the compulsion to collect old and rare stuff and the desire to be first to get a new mini kicked in sometime after that.

The infamous Malt Mill bottled by Alex himself

WOA: The Malt Mill miniature got everyone very excited earlier this year.  Which other of your minis do you think there’ll be most interest in?

AB: I hope that my Malt Mill generates similar interest. I would also like to think that a distillery bottled CARDOW, a MACALLAN 1937 from G&M, a couple of old cork and / or foil-sealed LAPHROAIGS and an ISLAY MIST mini will generate some interest. I also have virtually all the James MacArthur minis ever bottled, plus some rare minis from other independent bottlers and almost every PORT ELLEN mini ever bottled (although I plan to keep a few PE minis).

WOA: Any quirky bottles in there or personal favourites that have special sentimental value? Is there anything you’re hanging on to or are you selling everything?

AB: I am not selling everything. Where possible I am keeping two from each Scotch Malt and Grain distillery, a few old Irish including a pre-1920 Nun’s Island Pot Still (a real personal favourite), a few that I bought in Japan in the 1980s and all my Signatory Silent Stills minis. As far as I know I am the only person with the full set and that took a lot of collecting, so I have decided to keep them for the time being. I will also hang on to a few minis that I bought in the past couple of years as I would probably get less than I paid for them. Other favourites being kept are a White Horse Label Lagavulin and the old brown Distillery label Tamdhu.

WOA: How did you keep track of everything as the collection grew?  Did you ever buy something thinking it was missing from your collection and then discover you already had it?

AB: For years I kept a list but that became too hard so I photographed everything. I stopped photographing new bottles about 4 or 5 years ago and then I lost touch a bit with what I had  – so yes, I did buy stuff that I already had and I still have a few duplicates.

WOA: Did you ever start collecting full-size bottles as well or were you only ever into minis? What is it about miniature bottles that really inspired you?

AB: I started collecting full sized bottles about 30 years ago when distilleries started to close. I had about 450 full sized bottles, including one from each Malt Distillery. I sold some of those privately and auctioned the others two or three years ago. At one point it was cheaper to buy some full-sized bottles than the equivalent mini! Minis take up less space and you can have far greater variety than with a collection of full sized bottles.

WOA: Aside from collecting what was your favourite whisky to drink?

AB: I would never choose one whisky as my favourite. I have always had a preference for peated whisky and, perhaps surprisingly, I have found peated Bunnahabhain to be amongst my favourites. I usually have a bottle of Laphroaig and a bottle of Lagavulin in the house. I have had a couple of superb bottles of Aberlour and Glen Moray, the latter matured in virgin American Oak. I have a preference for an oak vanilla flavour to a heavily sherried flavour but a good Aberlour or Glenfarclas will always tempt me. One of my favourite drinking whiskies isn’t a Scotch Whisky but is Red Breast Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey! I always have a bottle of it in the house! I also usually have a bottle of Glen Deveron as Macduff was my local distillery.

WOA: Over the years you’ve built up an extraordinary collection, but were there any ‘ones that got away’? Anything that you’d definitely still buy if you found it tomorrow?

AB: There were many that got away! I always set price limits, so I missed out at times: on an old 1930’s Glendronach and an old Tomatin amongst others, when the price went too high. Perhaps my biggest frustration was in not managing to get a MacKinlays and Birnie Glen Mhor that I could be absolutely sure was genuine. I have two Glen Mhor minis with the appropriate label but I have significant doubts about one and questions about the other. I will still buy minis if any of the new Scottish distilleries like Wolfburn, Daftmill etc ever produce them, as I would still like to have at least one mini from each distillery.

WOA: What advice would you give to anyone just starting a mini collection?

AB: Decide what you want to collect, start with a small range then expand it in a direction that interests you, keep your eyes open for fakes and set a price limit and stick to it. Try to trade with overseas collectors, although that has been largely ruined by our ridiculous postage restrictions in shipping minis. The latter point was a big factor in slowing down and finally virtually ending my collecting drive!

WOA: It’s probably fair to assume you’re going to have rather more free time (and room in the house!) after this sale, so what’s next? Any plans to treat yourself or are you going to start collecting anything else?!

AB: I was always into photography, so when I retired I started bird watching and bird photography. That gets me out and about regularly and I have seen bits of Britain that I never expected to visit. I will be treating my wife and myself to a couple of birding holidays in exotic locations with some of the auction proceeds and will hopefully buy a new camera in due course. With grandchildren now the emptying of my whisky room will generate another spare bedroom when needed!

WOA: Many thanks for talking to us and letting us in on your tips and stories, Alex – Good luck in the sale and your future adventures!

We’ve got a big job on our hands to collate and organise this very exciting collection and get it ready for sale – watch this space for more details on what is sure to be the mini auction to ever hit the market!

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Crabbie 30 Year Old Single Malt

The name of Crabbie has remained famous throughout its long history in the Scottish drinks trade but latterly only for the company’s peerless Green Ginger Wine, an essential ingredient in the Whisky Mac cocktail, and more recently for a successful alcoholic ginger beer.

This was not always the case.  The Crabbie company can trace its roots back to 1801, when Millar Crabbie first established an upholstering company in Edinburgh. Millar Crabbie soon switched to grocery and from there to import and export of spices, blending and distribution of cordials and eventually, under the control of Millar’s son, John Crabbie, blending whisky.

The company flourished and by the middle of the 19th century had acquired extensive warehousing and bonded premises in Leith and the Haddington distillery in East Lothian which produced grain spirit for the company’s products until the middle of the 1860s.  Subsequently, in the 1880s, Crabbie was involved in the foundation of the North British grain distillery alongside Andrew Usher and William Sanderson, and became the first chairman of the board.

Crabbie 12-year-old from around the fifties

The Crabbie company continued producing blended whiskies throughout the 20th century but its fortunes dwindled following its acquisition by Diageo forerunner Distillers Company Limited in the 1960s. Production of the company’s own brand whiskies ceased in the 1970s and the Crabbie brand was sold in the 1980s to MacDonald and Muir, owners of the Highland Queen blend and Glenmorangie distillery.  

Halewood International acquired Crabbie in 2007 and set about reviving the brand, first with the previously-mentioned ginger beer. The new owners have ambitious plans for Crabbie, last year announcing a proposed new Edinburgh micro-distillery to produce both gin and whisky.

In the meantime, to continue the brand’s renaissance Crabbie have introduced two new sourced whiskies, an 8 year old Highland dram and a single cask 30 year old Speyside single malt bottled at natural strength from a refill Oloroso sherry butt.  Just 330 bottles of the 30 year old have been released for the UK, but luckily we’ve managed to secure a small parcel of stock, and of course we had to try it. Here’s our tasting notes:

Crabbie 30 Year Old Single Speyside Malt, 48.6%

Nose: A symphony of oak and fruit straight off the bat: the kind of really, really classy polished old wood and hints of raisins and cooked apples that lets you know straight away that this is a great whisky. There’s pretty much everything you’d want: autumn leaves, damson jam, sponge cake and a wonderfully floral edge of orange blossom and honeysuckle. Develops more on patisserie with fruit cookies, then fine milk chocolate, coffee ice cream and roast hazelnuts. The integration and balance are absolutely fantastic, nothing dominating, everything intertwined.

Palate: Medium-full in weight but very full flavours. Big but not overpowering oak attack initially, then hints of marmalade. A flash of dusty bookshelves, faint bonfire smoke, then fruit buns, burnt raisins on the edge of a fruit cake, apple pie, icing sugar, chocolate again, dried figs – absolutely textbook refill sherry. The balance is very good and water isn’t really necessary, but a very small drop lifts a tinned fruit syrup flavour. Gets more nutty with time in the glass.

Finish: Warming and very good length. Cinnamon bark, malt loaf, fruit leather and cracked black pepper on a slow fade.

Comment: Majestic stuff.  This nigh-on perfect refill sherry cask is the epitome of an autumnal whisky, begging for a comfy chair and a fireplace – it’s really got the long-matured, oak-reactive X factor that only a long time in a cask can bestow. There are big, soft-edged tannins and it’s quite warm on first tasting at full strength but the fruit always wins out and the oak is finely-poised but never too dusty or bitter. Just fantastic whisky.

Although we can’t reveal which distillery Crabbie 30 year old is from, we can promise that if the distillery name was on the bottle it’d be cheap at five times the price of this bottling, which is available for £500 here. We suspect there could be a rush on this product once word gets out, so don’t hang around if you want one!

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APRIL AUCTION RESULTS 2018

Last night’s auction kicked off with a couple of record results. Firstly for the Macallan 1948, which finished up at £15,100. It’s not a bottle we often see anymore so it wasn’t much of a surprise to see it climb to such heights. Similarly, the Bowmore 1955 40 year old is a stunning bottle which we haven’t seen at auction for a while. This bottle spent years hovering around the £4000 mark at auction and I remember speculating about when it would pick up the pace a little. With a record hammer price of £11,100, it seems that time is now. A legendary whisky which was under appreciated for many years.

Back to Macallan and it seems that being official is still what counts. The Speymalt 1945 Macallan finished up at £7600 and the 1955 at £4200. These seem comparatively cheap compared to many official bottlings. The 1945 in particular is a remarkable bottling, being not only the oldest Macallan ever bottled but one of the oldest whiskies ever bottled full stop.

The cask of 1993 Bruichladdich finished at £7100, not quite Macallan territory but natural market value for a mature, naturally low ABV bonded cask. If the strength had been higher I suspect the price for this one would have been quite different.

Some other strong results from Macallan with the Diamond Jubilee bottling hitting £3400, quite bizarre for what is essentially an NAS whisky, but this is the power of Macallan. The 1958 Anniversary Malt at £3500 looks like a good deal in comparison from a liquid quality perspective. It seems many old, official sherry bombs are doing well these days, as evidenced by the Glendronach 1968 25 year old single cask for ANA Nippon Airways which fetched £2600. These bottlings have long possessed a high reputation so it’s no surprise to see them climbing to these heights. I suspect they won’t stop here.

This sale featured a wonderful selection of old SMWS bottlings and it’s no surprise that many of them performed remarkably well. The last time a bottle of the 1966 Ardbeg 33.13 came to auction it was with us in 2016 when it fetched £1600. This time the price was £3100, almost double its previous best. Although, this is no great surprise considering how rare this bottle is. The fact that the 1974 Ardbeg 33.12 also hit £3000 is no great surprise either. These old Ardbegs from the 1970s and 60s are stunning, mythical whiskies, add to that the collectability of the old SMWS bottlings now and you have a recipe for serious value as evidenced here.

Other impressive SMWS results were the Brora 1977 61.3 at £1400, the Ardbeg 1977 33.15 for £1300 – a bottle that could be had for around £400-500 very recently – the Glen Garioch 1968 19.18 and the Clynelish 1976 26.25 for £975. The prices generally for all the SMWS bottlings in this sale were strong. Something which goes to show, if you have a big collection of SMWS rarities, it’s often better to sell them together in one auction and generate a kind of ‘feeding frenzy’ effect.

As we’ve noted in the previous two auctions, Macallan bottlings such as the Exceptional Casks series which were previously around the £300-500 price range have shot into the four figure stratosphere without warning. The same can be said of the Easter Elchies bottlings. Examples such as the 1990 15 year old Easter Elchies edition was still reasonably affordable up until quite recently. Last night the very same bottling fetched £2600, as did several other Easter Elchies bottlings. Once again, that name ‘Macallan’ only seems to be picking up more and more traction at auction.

Other notable examples were the Laphroaig 10 year old from the 1970s which fetched £2350. Even by these bottlings recent standards this is impressive and just goes to show the demand there is out there for this style of whisky which, for some ridiculous reason, no one makes any more. The same could be said of the Bowmore Sherriff’s ship label for £1850. And, while we’re on Laphroaig, it was nice to see the 1976 and 1977 official vintage bottlings back, they’re not seen very often these days and the price of £1550 apiece is understandable and well deserved.

In terms of bargains in this sale there were a few but not many – as is very much the norm these days. A litre of 12 year old Bowmore from the early 1980s was a snip at £235 and there were still some pretty tasty old examples in the First Cask series to be had for quite drinkable prices, key examples being 1970s Caol Ilas and Highland Parks. Although, even this series is starting, inevitably, to climb higher these days. It seems, as knowledge increasingly proliferates, there are fewer and fewer ‘gems’ to be discovered or snapped up for cheap. A sellers market indeed.

Even below the £200 mark there were some eye-popping prices. SMWS bottlings like the Springbank 1993 7 year old 27.45 for £180 or the Laphroaig 1990 8 year old 29.11 for £195 are in many ways even more illustrative of the power and collectability of SMWS whiskies these days. These seem crazy prices for what are good, but ultimately very young whiskies. A North Port 1981 and Tomatin 1976 can be had for the same price. These kinds of results demonstrate the polarisation of the secondary market for whisky and illustrate just how complex it is compared even to a few years ago. It’s not a bubble anymore, it’s bubbles within bubbles. How the market will continue to evolve over time remains to be seen. But, on the evidence of this auction, desire remains as strong as ever for all manner of whiskies and for all kinds of reasons. Healthy in other words.

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Whisky Evaluation Day in Elgin, 23rd May

Wayne and Harrison from Whisky-Online Auctions will soon be travelling north of the border to offer free evaluations and auction advice, so if you live anywhere near Elgin and have some whiskies you’d like us to value, listen up!

Whisky-Online Auctions will be holding a Free Evaluation Open Day in Elgin from 10am-2pm on Wednesday 23rd May.  The boys will be setting up in the delightful surroundings of the Laichmoray Hotel on Maisondieu Road in Elgin and anyone can come along with their whiskies (or photos of their bottles) to take advantage of their comprehensive valuation skills.

We also have a great record of auctioning casks of whisky, so if you’d like us to value those as well just let us know the details of your cask and we can advise you.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got one bottle you found in your attic or a vast collection amassed over decades – Wayne and Harrison will give you honest, confidential advice on the likely prices your liquid gold could achieve at auction.

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Whisky-Online Auctions is a family company with a long history in the business and the highest standards of professional integrity. All advice is given freely with absolutely no obligation on your part.

If you decide to auction your bottles we’ll be happy to organise that for you, and if you don’t, no problem – at least you’ll know how much your whisky is worth.

So if you’ve got some whisky and you’re not sure how much to insure it for, or you’re thinking of cashing in and treating yourself with the proceeds, come along to the Laichmoray Hotel on 23rd May and let us take the doubt and hard work out of the auction process for you.

If you want to come along, let us know on 01253 620 376 or auctions@whisky-online.com. Appointments aren’t strictly necessary, but might save you time if there’s an Antiques Roadshow-style queue!

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The Best Way To Get Your Bottle(s) To Us

So, you’re most likely here because you’ve received your free valuation and now wish to proceed. You have four options to choose from to get your bottle(s) to us – deciding which is  the best option for you will depend on what you’re auctioning.

Here are your options with a brief overview of how each one works.

1. Courier Collection (UK Only)

With a cost of only £12, our courier collection is the most popular option for sellers based in the UK who have a single bottle, a small number of bottles or low-valued bottles. At the moment we’re using DHL to conduct these collections. Each parcel can weigh up to 10kg – if your parcel weighs more please let us know and we’ll advise if this will incur additional costs. It is your responsibility to wrap & pack your bottle(s) securely.

How to prepare your parcel

We recommend wrapping each bottle in several layers of bubble wrap – if you have any bottles with presentation boxes, make sure you fill the space inside ensuring the bottle does not rattle around. All bottles should be stood upright in a strong cardboard box; again ensuring all spaces are filled.  Please include your personal details inside the box: Full Name, Telephone Number, Address & Email.

How to book in your collection

We’ve made booking in your collection as easy as possible. Simply call our office on 01253 620376 and one of our lovely girls will organise all this for you. You will have to select a day when someone will be in all day to hand over your parcel. We will send you a tracking number so you can keep an eye on its status.

The good thing about this service is that once DHL have collected, we receive your parcel the following day; so we recommend Monday – Thursday to ensure your parcel is not held in the hub over the weekend.

Once your parcel has landed with us we will notify you by email. We will also create you an account on our website so you can track your bottles once our auction has gone live. Details for this will be attached to the email.

Please note parcels are not insured as you’re wrapping them yourself. However, insurance does not prevent breakages, taking your time to ensure your parcel is wrapped securely will. If you need further advice on how to wrap & pack your bottles, please feel free to contact us.

2. Use Your Own Courier

You’re more than welcome to source your own courier. This option is generally used by those who may have their own contract with a courier. If you’re going to use your own courier or the Post Office, please enquire if you’re allowed to post alcohol. And of course, if it’s going to cost you more than £12 you’ll be best using our service. Again, please include your personal details inside the box: Full Name, Telephone Number, Address & Email.

3. Visit Us In Blackpool

Our warehouse is situated in the sunny seaside town of Blackpool and you’re more than welcome to drop your bottles off in person. Generally, those who choose this option will wander Blackpool before or after their visit with us. Being a tourist town, there’s a whole host of things to do if you want to make a day of it. If you’d like to stay the night or even the weekend you’ll have thousands of hotels to choose from.

The main route is Junction 32 off the M6 onto the M55. We’re a stones throw from Blackpool Tower & The Winter Gardens. Our showroom is an Aladdin’s cave of whisky and boasts a large collection we’ve accumulated over 25 years. We have free parking on the front and a loading bay at the side, and we’re happy to assist with any lifting.  So, if you want to drop your bottles off personally, contact us today to make an appointment.

Contact Details

Tel: 01253 620376
Email: auctions@whisky-online.com
Address: Units 1-3 Concorde House,
Charnley Road,
Blackpool,
FY1 4PP (sat nav use)

Opening Times
Monday – Friday: 9am – 5pm
Excluding Bank Holidays

4. Personal Home Collection

We offer free personal home collections for large collections and high valued items. These are conducted by our directors and whisky specialists Wayne & Harrison Ormerod. Each month they travel down South and up North.

Their main route is the M6 and surrounding areas to London. This is usually on the Wednesday two weeks before our auctions go live. The following Wednesday they go up the M6 covering Glasgow, Falkirk, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen & Elgin. If you’re not in these locations or you’re unsure whether we cover your area please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Please note, we do not offer home valuations. If you require valuations please get in touch with us beforehand.  Home collections are subject to consignment. This means once you have arranged for a collection, you’re happy to proceed. When the lads arrive they will talk you through the auction process and answer any questions you may have. They will write out all the bottles they take away and issue you with a receipt. Your bottles will be fully insured whilst in transit and of course when they arrive at our premises.

Please appreciate that we have to consider whether it is going to be economical to offer a personal collection. If you are unsure whether you are eligible please do not hesitate to get in touch.

To enquire about a free personal collection please contact Harrison on 01253 620376.

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A Brief History of Connoisseurs Choice

You might already be aware that independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail has just announced a revamp of their ranges, with their Connoisseurs Choice line getting a smart new facelift.  What better excuse for a quick trawl through some of the bottlings in this historic series?

The original Connoisseurs Choice range was the brainchild of George Urquhart and was first introduced in 1968, so 2018 is the fiftieth anniversary of the range. The first CC bottlings had a simple black label featuring a golden eagle or a barrel.  These whiskies, some of which are the first known bottlings from their distilleries, are very highly sought after now and command very high prices. We have several of these legendary bottlings, including this 1963 Glenugie and one of the most famous Gordon & Macphail bottlings, Mortlach 1936 43 year old.

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The fabulous Mortlach 1936 43 year old

The black Connoisseurs Choice labels were replaced around the turn of the 1980s by a short-lived label utilising various shades of brown.  These labels are less rare than the black ones but are still very desirable as they include some of the greatest ever bottlings under the Connoisseurs Choice name, with gems from many now-lost distilleries such as Lochside, St. Magdalene and one of the rarest single malts of all: Kinclaith.

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A true unicorn whisky: Kinclaith 1966

The brown labels were themselves replaced by what is known among collectors as the Map Label.  These bottlings began around 1988 with cream labels and a thumbnail map of the relevant region in the centre – good examples include a series of Ardbegs from the classic 1974 vintage.

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…And even older vintages such as this incredible Ardbeg 1964…

The Map Label was tweaked in 1996 with a colour-coded background label for each region, and redesigned again in 2008, with a return to cream labels with colour-coded banding and the map in the top right of the label.  The previous year, 2007, had seen the standard bottling strength for Connoisseurs Choice increased to 43% from its previous regulation 40%.

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The classic 1996-era map label on a famous Brora 1972 bottling

More changes were to follow: in 2012 the range got another revamp, with embossed G&M bottles, another label tweak and, most significantly of all, another bump in the standard bottling strength to 46% and the dropping of chill-filtration and caramel colouring, delighting the range’s millions of fans.

 

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The post-2012 version of the map label

This 50th Anniversary upgrade is a big new step in the evolution of Scotland’s most long-lived and iconic independent bottling series, with the final departure of the map from the label, a very handsome new bespoke short-necked bottle and the introduction of cask strength bottlings into the Connoisseurs Choice range.  You can check out all our G&M Connoisseurs Choice bottlings, past and present, including a great selection from the new out-turn here.

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Clynelish 2005 from the new Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength range
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APRIL AUCTION – FULL CASKS HELD IN BOND – TASTING NOTES

Whisky Online Auctions Tasting Notes: Bruichladdich cask 1641

Colour: White wine

Nose: As is common with lower natural cask strength malts, this has a superb freshness about it. A light green fruitiness, some notes of crushed nettle, bath salts, minerals and wet pebbles. Underneath, with a little breathing time, there are notes of pine needle, light cereals and parsley butter. Touches of citrus throughout.

Palate: Surprisingly creamy. Vanilla foam with banana syrup, cocoanut milk, pink candy floss and strawberry wine. The greener fruit qualities you’d expect from Bruichladdich emerge with a little time. Notes of gooseberry wine, elderflower jam and some drying salty notes such as sandalwood and tea tree oil at the back.

Finish: Good length. Full of lighter cereals, lemon oil, barley water and some notes of green olive and turmeric adding an earthy element in the aftertaste.

Comments: An extremely fresh and drinkable Bruichladdich. Very much an afternoon kind of whisky. The lower strength does not hinder the texture or overtly enhance the tannin, rather it helps elevate the softer cereal and citrus fruit tones throughout the whisky. A cask that demands to be bottled imminently due to the strength, but will yield a highly enjoyable and approachable dram.

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April Auction: SMWS Collection

Our April auction is upon us and we’ve got a very special group of lots – a remarkable collection of over seventy rare old bottlings from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society sourced from a private collector in Macclesfield. Most of these bottles were bought in the 1990s and there are some very rare editions from highly-sought after distilleries.

If you’re not very familiar with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, here’s a few facts to get you going and to explain why we’re so excited about this collection.

  • The Society was founded in Edinburgh in 1983 and is therefore celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. In those 35 years the Society has grown enormously and is now represented, at last count, in 21 countries outside the UK.
  • The Society began as a private club led by Pip Hills, who had been cycling around Scotland visiting distilleries for some years. Hills clubbed together with some friends to buy a cask of Glenfarclas which they would share and drink together. The remainder of that cask became the first Society bottling when the club was formally established in 1983.
  • The Society’s original premises are at The Vaults in Leith, Edinburgh. A London bar and tasting venue was purchased in 1996 with the proceeds of a share scheme for members, while a second Edinburgh venue was established in 2004 at 28 Queen Street, in the same year that the Society was purchased by Glenmorangie.  The Society was sold in 2015 to a consortium of private investors.
  • SMWS single malts have always been bottled at full strength from single casks, without dilution, chill-filtration or additional colouring.  These practices were very unusual in 1983 but are now common among independent bottlers.
  • Distillery names are never mentioned on Society bottlings.  Instead, each whisky is identified by a two number code and occasional clues in Society publications. The first number represents the distillery, and the second identifies the cask. Therefore, the first bottling from the first distillery was 1.1, while 43.10 is the tenth bottling from the 43rd distillery. Lists of which numbers represent which distilleries are widely available on the internet but have never been confirmed by the Society.
  • Casks are chosen by the Society’s Tasting Panel, who approve each bottling and compose concise tasting notes to be published on the label and in the Society’s in-house magazine. As each bottling is from a single cask, expressions from the most popular distilleries sell out very quickly.

Now you’re up to speed on the key facts, here’s a small selection of the highlights from our auction this month. There’s a few areas of interest as follows:

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Old vintages: Highlights here include a pair of Bruichladdichs from 1968 and 1969, a Glen Garioch 1968, a Glenturret 1969, and one of the absolute standout lots, a 26 year old Ardbeg 1966 – the last bottle of this we had sold for £1600 over two years ago, so who knows what this will end up going for.

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Low Cask Numbers: These are always highly sought-after and are hard to come by as many were bottled long before collecting whisky became popular. There are a lot of these in this fantastic collection, including the first ever SMWS bottlings of Glen Scotia, Craigellachie and the incredibly rare Glencraig (distilled on a Lomond still at Glenburgie). There’s also the second bottlings from Clynelish, Glen Ord, Miltonduff, Glenturret, and the closed distilleries Imperial and Glenugie. Bidding on all of these lots will be absolutely fierce.

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Closed or Rare Distilleries: We’ve got single-digit casks from closed distilleries including Dallas Dhu, Millburn, North Port and another standout lot: SMWS 61.3, distilled in 1977 at Brora. There are also several bottles from distilleries that are rarely bottled independently, including Dalmore, Talisker, Isle of Jura, Scapa, Glenlossie, Royal Brackla and Lagavulin.

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Popular Distilleries: Clearly our collector had very good taste, as there are some mouth-watering lots from great distilleries.  We particularly like the look of long-aged Clynelish 1983 and 1976, and the Ardbeg 1977 and 1974 – these classic vintages will be fought over, as will Brora 1981, Highland Park 1976, Laphroaig 1978, Caol Ila 1983, heavily sherried expressions from Ben Nevis and Glenglassaugh (both from the 1984 vintage) and the special edition society bottlings: Longrow 1990 – the first release from Longrow, bottled for the Millennium, another Longrow 1990 bottled for the opening of the Queen Street venue and last, but certainly not least, the famous Glen Grant 1972 bottled in 2001 for the Society’s 18th anniversary.

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We’ve only really scratched the surface here – there are dozens more fantastic SMWS single malts available from this amazing collection in our auction this month. Check them out now, there really is something for everyone. Good Luck and Happy Bidding!

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April Auction Highlights 2018

Whisky-Online Auctions April 2018 Auction Is Now Live!
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Highlighting our April auction is an impressive haul of over 70 Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings. This collection was acquired over many years by the vendor, mainly from the mid 1990s through to the early 2000s  – he purchased them directly from the SMWS and enjoyed just as many bottlings that’s currently up for auction. You will find numerous interesting and unusual examples, many of which have quirky tasting notes which we have highlighted on each lot from the stack of original SMWS newsletters that were issued to members at the time of release. A few of our favourites include this 1966 Ardbeg 33.13; described as Sweet, sour and Phenolic and originally cost a mere £48 in 1992. A 1968 Glen Garioch 19.18, this one is described as an explosion of spice with bitter coffee. Hot on the heels of this is a 1969 Bruichladdich 23.9 that appears to be from a sherry cask.

From the 1970s casks there’s a whole host of brilliant releases, starting with a hot and fiery 1976 Clynelish 26.25 quickly followed by a 1977 Brora 61.3 which has been quoted ”Lagavulin by another name?”. And my personal favourite a 1978 Laphroaig 29.7 which was highlighted as a (Best Buy) in the 1995 Autumn Bottlings costing at the time a trivial £47. This was summed up as ”Sweet sherry and light fruitiness over smoke”. Sounds like a classic old Laphroaig that will be as brilliant as with the 1976 & 1977 further down.

Onto the 1980s and there’s a few nice sherried expressions such as this 1984 Ben Nevis 78.14; highlighted in the 1998 Christmas issue quoted with ”Fruit soaked in alcohol”. Another 1984, this time a Glenglassaugh 21.18 – It’s a Sherry cask; released in early summer 2001 under (Closed Distillery) Staff Shorts: ”Rum and raisin ice cream with fruit flan; if you like sherried whiskies, you’ll love this”. and finally a 1987 Highland Park 4.71; from a first-fill sherry butt. This was released for the 2001 New Year Bottlings and has been highlighted as the (Chairmans Choice). This is just a small slice of the collection, so head over to our site to view the full catalogue.

We’re pleased to auction yet another full cask held in bond. The cask available is a 1993 Hogshead of Bruichladdich which would currently yield approximately 110 x 70cl bottles of whisky at 42.6% currently at 25 years old. This is an extremely fresh and drinkable Bruichladdich. Very much an afternoon kind of whisky. The lower strength does not hinder the texture or overtly enhance the tannin, rather it helps elevate the softer cereal and citrus fruit tones throughout the whisky. A cask that demands to be bottled imminently due to the strength, but will yield a highly enjoyable and approachable dram.

Featuring for the first time this year is the magnificent 1955 40-year-old Bowmore – In cask this has seen seven different distillery managers. It started life in a Bourbon Hogshead, 20 years later it was transferred to a carefully selected Sherry Butt, it was then left to mature for a further 20 years. The outcome is a pinnacle of it’s kind. The decanter and wooden presentation both reflect similar care and attention to detail as the liquid itself. Using traditional skills each decanter has been individually blown, hand cut and engraved by the artists of Caithness Glass. Each decanter is individually numbered and has been created to reflect images of the traditional Bowmore bottle. The individual oak presentation case has been handmade by the Master Cabinet Makers of Charles Kirkby & sons. These skills combined are the result of a pure pedigree.

Up next is the 1948 51-year-old is one of the all time great Macallans and considered in the same league as the 1949 Millennium 50 year old and many of the greatest Fine & Rare releases; this is one of the most sublime whiskies ever released by this distillery. This along with the 1946 don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve and like for like seem like a bargain in the current market.

An increasingly hard to find bottling of stunning 1968 sherry matured Glendronach that was sold exclusively through All Nippon Airways (ANA). This one is cask number 06 which we have never auctioned before. This example is in excellent condition with a perfectly preserved filling level.

Two highly desirable official Laphroaig’s from the mid 1990s. The rumour is the casks for these two bottlings were purchased back by the distillery from a private cask owner. Renowned for their intense fruity and peaty profile. Very much like you find in old Bowmore’s. These don’t turn up in auction much, so this is a great opportunity to acquire both vintages and if you’re brave enough, you could do an epic head to head.

 

All the best from all of us here at ​Whisky Online Auctions.

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Macallan 18 Year Olds – Tasting Notes

Following on from our triumphant appearance at Old & Rare Whisky Show in Glasgow, we thought it’d be a good idea to publish some tasting notes on some of the whiskies we had on offer at the Show, so that those of you who couldn’t make it can get an (online) taste of what you missed.

First up is a trio of Macallan 18 year olds from different eras. We’ve got a recent Macallan Fine Oak 18 year old, then a 1982 18 year old bottled at the turn of the century and a 1973 18 year old bottled in 1991.

 

Macallan 18 Year Old Fine Oak Edition – often regarded as the best of the bunch from the Fine Oak series, which was met with, shall we say, a mixed response from whisky fans when they first appeared in 2004. The negativity at the time was a reaction against the fact that the Macallan had abandoned its previous principle of only releasing single malt from sherry casks, blending the Fine Oak range with both bourbon and sherry cask-matured spirit. However, let’s let the whisky speak for itself.

Nose: Biscuity initially, with polished wood notes and some honeyed porridge. Classic lighter Speyside character. Develops older ‘church pew’ aromas, apple peelings and hard icing sugar with time in the glass but overall this is quite a restrained nose.

Palate: Mediumweight, with a slightly hot mouthfeel. Classic toasted barley notes and well-integrated flavours from the nose, particularly the apple note. Flapjacks, dry Weetabix, then a cooked lemon sour note.

Finish: Medium length, drying. Tart apples. A little warm but quite gentle nonetheless.

Comments: Fascinating to taste more distillate-driven Macallan, and this is textbook Speyside, but while considered in isolation it’s a perfectly decent whisky, it’s also easy to see why the sherryhead hardcore Macallan fans wanted nothing to do with it. It’s an elegant whisky but lacking in what was considered the Macallan character at the time.

Macallan 1982 18 Year Old – Bottled in 2000 and originally sold at a retail price around £40, although auction prices are now well north of £1000.  1982 is of course the vintage of the famous Gran Reserva bottlings from the early 2000s that were a huge factor in the Macallan boom. Bottled from 100% sherrywood, naturally – the Fine Oak range was a good few years away when this bottling came out.

Nose: Wow, this is definitely more what you expect from Macallan (or at least what you used to expect). Really glorious sherry profile, sweet wood and dried fruits – mixed peel, prunes, dates, dried figs, treacle, cooked raisins, stewed apples. It’s the subtle, perfectly-balanced old oak notes that really kick this up into classic territory, though. One of those achingly gorgeous noses it seems almost a pity to destroy by actually drinking the whisky.

Palate: Medium-full but powerfully flavoured. Yes, this is exactly what you want it to be. All the fruity Dundee cake flavours from the nose, plus the supporting foundation of polished old bookcases. The difference is that the wood is more prominent here, a constant note rather than flitting in and out as on the nose, adding cinnamon and dusty vanilla notes to the swirling dried fruit palate. You’d never call this too oaky though.

Finish: Good length for the relatively light weight. Cooked oranges, cloves, fading cinnamon.

Comments: Absolutely wonderful. One weeps to think that this could be had for £240 a case. Certainly one of the first stops on my (sadly imaginary) Time Machine Supermarket Sweep.

Macallan 1973 18 Year Old – Released in 1991, when whisky was just something you bought and drank rather than collected or invested in, this is sherry-matured Macallan from the distillery’s golden era. This is a fascinating chance to try a relatively younger version of the spirit that would cause such a storm when bottled as a 25 or 30 year old in the late 1990s and early 2000s and was one of the major contributors to the worldwide explosion of  interest in single malt whisky. Auction prices for this bottle are creeping up towards £1500 now.

Nose: Still very sherry-dominated, obviously, but right from the start it’s clear that this is a very different beast to the 1982.  There are many of the same elements, but it’s bolder and with big differences in emphasis. Very upfront burnt raisins, dark toffee, rich marmalade, a little rum fudge, faint (acceptable) sulphur, Christmas pudding, orange liqueur, malt loaf, burnt gingerbread.

Palate: Medium-full. Mouthwatering sweet sherry oak, and for that reason it’s closer to the 1982 than the nose, but there’s still the same big differences in emphasis. The raisins, marmalade and Christmas pud steal the show, but there’s also cocoa powder, rum’n’raisin fudge and orange liqueur.

Finish: Great length for the strength. The intensity of the flavours fades very slowly, leaving the tongue tingling.

Comments: Where the 1982 was exquisite, balanced and elegant this is mostly all about knockout sensuality, with some hidden depths. It’s Audrey Hepburn vs. Rita Hayworth, Monet vs. Picasso. A fabulously expressive whisky.

 

A fascinating mini-flight, and it’s very tough pick a favourite. Macallan 18yo was always sold as a classic after-dinner malt and if I’d just put away a big steak in a nice restaurant I’d be going for the 1973.  Reading a book or staring into the fire on a winter’s evening, though, it’d be the 1982 every time for me. In such exalted company the Fine Oak doesn’t get much of a look-in, but that’s to be expected and it’s a perfectly drinkable whisky in its own right.

Hope you enjoyed our tasting notes – stay tuned to the blog, we’ll have more updates very soon.

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