All posts by Whisky-Online

Baillie’s T.Y.O. Scotch Whisky – The Clynelish Connection?

We just had to flag up one of the most interesting lots from our upcoming auction, which starts on Wednesday, 27th June: this rather fabulous bottling of Baillie’s Ten Years Old (T.Y.O.), bottled around a century ago by Ainslie, Baillie & Co.

Quite aside from this bottle’s incredible age and condition, it’s the bottling company rather than the brand that makes this antique blend even more special. Keen fans of old blends and Clynelish distillery will have pricked up their ears at the mention of Ainslie, for it was James Ainslie & Co. that bought the Clynelish distillery in 1896, and it was under the Ainslie & Heilbron name that many of the best ‘old Clynelish’ single malts from the distillery that became known as Brora were bottled in the 1960s and 1970s.

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By then, of course, Ainslie & Heilbron had long been a part of the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) that eventually became what we know today as Diageo. What’s so interesting about this bottle is that Ainslie, Baillie & Co. only existed for a short time, enabling us to date this bottle from the period 1913-21.

James Ainslie & Co. had refurbished the Clynelish distillery, which was already one of the foremost distilleries in Scotland, in 1898, the year of the Pattison Crash. Ainslie & Co. were badly damaged financially in the crash and eventually, in 1912, the company was facing bankruptcy.

James Ainslie and his brother Thomas both retired, James Ainslie & Co. was dissolved and their partner John Risk, who owned half of Ainslie & Co., sold the Ainslie family’s shares in Clynelish to the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL). 

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The following year, 1913, the remaining assets of James Ainslie & Co. were merged with Walter Baillie & Sons, Robertson Brothers – which Baillie & Sons had bought in 1903 – and John Gillon & Co. to form the new company Ainslie, Baillie & Co., but this company was only to last until the retirement of James Ainslie’s son Robert in 1921.

Ainslie, Baillie & Co. was then itself liquidated and its assets were acquired by Sir James Calder, who merged it with the whisky merchants David Heilbron & Co. and the distillers Colville, Greenlees & Co. to form Ainslie & Heilbron (Distillers) Ltd.

Ainslie & Heilbron was moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1922 and formally became part of the DCL empire in 1926, where the company was reunited with the Clynelish distillery, which was now wholly-owned by DCL, who had bought out John Risk the previous year. However, Ainslie & Heilbron would have been working in tandem with DCL since its inception, as Sir James Calder had been in partnership with, and indeed on the board of, DCL since 1921.

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Quite the history, eh? In these days of mega-brands and global conglomerates it’s easy to forget how different the whisky industry was a hundred years ago, when hundreds of independent blenders and distillers existed and were constantly changing hands.

This bottle of Baillie’s Ten Year Old, then, really represents a truly fascinating period in the whisky industry and given the Ainslie name we feel there must be a strong possibility that some of the ten year old whisky in this bottle would have been distilled at Old Clynelish. Bearing in mind the fact that many top-line blends of the day were up to 50% malt whisky, this is a mouthwatering idea.

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At the time that Ainslie’s bought the distillery in 1896 Clynelish was already well-known as having the most valuable spirit in the industry – indeed, for many years previously Clynelish had been able to sell every drop of whisky it produced to private customers, and refused trade orders. It was Ainslie & Co.’s rebuilding and expansion of the distillery in 1896-8 that enabled greater production and the ability to service both private and industry customers, meaning that Clynelish began to feature in more blended whiskies from the beginning of the 20th century.

In later years, the Ainslie & Heilbron company would become the home to established blends including Ainslie’s Royal Edinburgh, Ainslie’s King’s Liqueur and King’s Legend and The Real McTavish, which are all believed to have contained a proportion of Old Clynelish in their recipes. We can’t know for sure if that was also the case with this Baillie’s but the Ainslie connection means it’s a very strong possibility, and with the blend being stated as ten years old the prospect is certainly an enticing one.

 

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In any case, and all speculation aside, this is a remarkably well-preserved bottle of historical significance. It was obviously a premium product of its era – don’t forget that age statements for whiskies were relatively rare at this time, particularly for blends.

From the fact that the back label’s ‘certificate of analysis’ (dated 1904) and the capsule both have the name of the pre-merger Walter Baillie & Sons on them, we believe that this bottle dates from very soon after the creation of Ainslie, Baillie & Co. (1913, to save you referring back to the earlier history lesson) and we expect there to be a lot of interest when this bottle comes under our hammer in our next auction, which begins on Wednesday 27th June. Keep an eye on this one!

For much more information on the convoluted history of the Ainslie company, Clynelish and Brora, do check out whiskyfun’s fascinating Brora History page.

If you’re interested in this Lot, you can register on our website here.

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Daftmill Inaugural Release Tasting Notes

It’s been a long time coming, but Daftmill distillery is finally making its debut on the whisky scene. We’ve got a sample of the enigmatic Lowlander’s Inaugural Release which I’ll be trying shortly, but first here’s some history and background on this most unusual and enigmatic of distilleries.

What’s so unusual about Daftmill? Well, they just do everything their own way. The distillery is a side-project on a working farm in Fife, an hour’s drive north of Edinburgh, and distillation takes place sporadically during the main farm’s quiet periods: two months in summer and then between November and February.

If you’ve never heard of Daftmill before and are wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s a few facts and a potted history.

Daftmill was established by brothers Francis and Ian Cuthbert in 2003 with the conversion of old mill buildings on the farm into a microdistillery. The License to Distil was granted in 2005 on St. Andrew’s Day (30th November) and the first cask was filled on 16th December of that year.

 

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The Cuthbert family have been producing malting barley in Fife for six generations – Francis and Ian’s grandfather finally bought the estate in 1984 – and also grow potatoes and herd cattle. The Cuthberts are believed to be only the third owners of their land since the 13th century.

Aside from the barley they keep for their own distilling, Daftmill sell the rest of their crop to other distillers, with Edrington Group (Macallan and Highland Park) being their biggest customer.

The distillery is, therefore, arguably the most self-sufficient in Scotland, with their own barley and water from the Daftmill stream. There is a story that Daftmill got its name because this stream, which originally served the mill, appears to run uphill.

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Apart from the stills, the spirit safe and the mash tun which were made in Rothes, all the equipment and work to convert the old mill into a distillery was sourced within a few miles of the distillery. Francis conducts almost the entirety of the distillation process himself with occasional help from his brother Ian, whose day job is running the estate quarry.

The production process is geared towards generating a fruity spirit, which means clear wort, long, slow fermentations of 96-100 hours and slow distillation with minimal foreshots and very narrow cut points. The stills are small, are charged below capacity and have large condensers, all to ensure lots of copper contact for the spirit, again to try and ensure a light, fruity style.

Byproducts of the brewing and distillation process are used on the farm, with a heat exchanger heating water to help prevent the duck pond freezing over in winter, spent grains being fed to the family’s prize beef herd and even the distillery effluent being used as fertiliser.

The distillery currently produces just 20,000 litres of alcohol per year and even during the distilling seasons production is not continuous as the main business of the farm must take precedence. In practice, this has led to the filling of around 100 casks per year, making Daftmill one of the lowest-producing distilleries in Scotland.

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Around 90% of Daftmill’s new make is filled into fresh bourbon casks, the majority of which are from Heaven Hill, with the remainder being sherry hogsheads and butts. The casks mature onsite in the distillery’s dunnage warehouses.

This small scale production was certainly rare when Daftmill began production, if not unique – Kilchoman, which also began production in 2005, originally shared many of the same characteristics.  But in many other ways – most obviously commercially – these two distilleries are poles apart.

Kilchoman were straight to market the moment their spirit came of age, with a high profile press launch and accompanying hoopla, a robust marketing strategy, an expanding range packaged in bespoke bottles and literally hundreds of single cask releases for shops and independent retailers around the world.

An expansion in its third year of production now means that Kilchoman’s theoretical capacity is already over six times larger than Daftmill’s 20,000 litres a year. Indeed, with well over 400 different bottlings in just ten years since their spirit became whisky, Kilchoman’s Whiskybase page would already make a completist collector weep.

Daftmill, on the other hand, might appear to a casual observer to be almost deliberately obscurist. Marketing has been almost nil – the distillery’s website could easily be believed to have been created in 2005 and not updated since. There is no visitor centre on Daftmill farm and tours are available only by appointment in advance.

But all this is because Daftmill are only interested in their product, only concerned with the quality of their whisky. Back in the mists of 2013, I attended the inaugural Dramboree whisky festival in Aberfeldy, the highlight of which was the first Daftmill whisky tasting ever to have been conducted outside of the distillery, which was then in its eighth year of production.  The spirits we tasted were already fantastic, but Francis’s mantra has been nothing if not consistent: “We’ll release it when we think it’s ready.”

That moment has finally arrived. The Inaugural Release of Daftmill is a small bottling of just three casks, but its impact will be far-ranging. This is not just another very welcome addition to the expanding range of Lowland distilleries. With Daftmill, we whisky fans are blessed with a fully evolved new single malt in a style that was almost extinct.  

The first fill bourbon casks used for the inaugural release come from the earliest distillations at Daftmill; the whisky is twelve years old and has been bottled at 55.8%.  The release is limited to 629 bottles: 250 of these were allocated by ballot by the company’s distributor, Berry Bros & Rudd with another 250 being split between eager retailers in the UK and internationally. We are very excited to have got our hands on a few bottles of this historic whisky, which will be available on our website from Sunday 17th June at approximately 5pm. We have a small allocation so it’s first come first served.

Daftmill Inaugural Release Tasting Notes by Whisky-Online

Nose: Very clean with the expected vanilla from the first fill bourbon, and underlying notes of autumn leaves and old polished bookcases. A little nervous at first, but settles down quickly and the vanilla fades into the background behind porridge, cereals, cream, honey and cranachan. Develops ripe green apples, nougat, milky Weetabix, hard icing sugar and faint scratched lemon peel. Water releases sweet cinnamon and milk chocolate aromas.

Palate: Medium-full, sweet but lively mouthfeel – not cloying at all. Mostly the cereal, patisserie and sweetshop flavours from the nose: marshmallows, nougat, honey, plus the Weetabix and a more noticeable nuttiness – unsalted almonds and brazil nuts.  Faint Playdoh puttiness and pastry dough offset by a citric note. Water smooths the edges and adds notes of flapjacks and very faint summer fruit.

Finish: Good length, drying, sweet notes of pastry and a returning polished oakiness.

Comment: A startlingly mature release from a distinctly leftfield operation. Very high quality spirit – remarkable, considering that this is from among the very first casks to be distilled at Daftmill.

Daftmill Inaugural Release will be followed by annual Summer and Winter releases reflecting the distillery’s production cycles – this philosophy was already in place at the 2013 Dramboree tasting and the differences between the Summer and Winter output are striking. There are also plans for four single cask releases each year.

Just about everyone at that fabled Dramboree tasting five years ago would have bottled some of the six and seven year old whiskies we tasted that night on the spot if they’d had the option, but despite its modest, self-effacing demeanour Daftmill has always had luxuries that few, if any other recently-founded distilleries could afford.

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Where the vast majority of new distillers are hamstrung by crippling start-up costs, Daftmill already owned their site and their raw materials, so only needed to renovate their building and pay for their equipment. With no staff to pay, the company only needs to sustain its running costs.

And while other new distillers have to produce gin or vodka to bring revenue in and make ends meet while they wait for their whisky to mature – not to mention paying for advertising and marketing costs – the distillery remains a side project from a working, profitable family farm business.  

Daftmill answers to no investors hungry for a quick buck; there is no marketing department, no focus group, no overwhelming drive to expand or conquer the world. The Cuthberts have been able to make their own decisions on how and when to distil and how and when to come to market. Their only goal throughout all of this has been to make the best Lowland-style whisky that they are capable of producing. For the future, their sales need only to pay to keep the distillery running. The product design is in keeping with the rest of Daftmill project: minimal, unfussy.

But this image of the distillery as a side project – almost a glorified hobby for a man with a demanding full-time job – completely belies the pride that anyone who has met Francis Cuthbert will have detected as soon as he opens his mouth to talk about it.

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Francis demonstrating the high-tech winter cask transportation device

Now, finally, we have a product to put with the name. Daftmill was almost a secret, or at least a frequently forgotten, almost theoretical whisky. You can be sure that if Francis had never thought it good enough, the product would never have been bottled.  

With these new whiskies, the genie is finally out of the bottle and that forgotten status is irrevocably changed. It’s probably fair to expect that a lot more people will be phoning up for those appointment-only guided tours. But don’t expect a visitor centre just yet…

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MAY AUCTION RESULTS 2018

Macallan goes from strength to strength on the secondary market today and the top end of our latest sale only serves to underpin this fact. Results like the Macallan 1938 for £12,000 , breaking the previous record price recorded in our April sale two months ago of £11,600. The 1965 Anniversary Malt at £3500; the Annie Leibovitz Masters of Photography at £4000 and the Private Eye at £3200 were just a few of the universally impressive results for this zeitgeist distillery.

However, perhaps more interesting and illuminating was the Bowmore 1969 Fecchio & Frassa single cask which finished up at £7600. A deeply impressive result which builds on sister cask 6639 which we sold in November last year for £5500. The desire to posses these legendary and rare old bottlings of incredible whisky is skyrocketing just now, but likewise the knowledge and understanding of these whiskies is also becoming more widespread.

Also interesting was the Glen Grant 10 year old bottled in the 1960s by Peatling & Cawdron. An extremely rare and interesting example of the old classic Glen Grant labelling which fetched a whopping £2600. Not so long ago bottlings such as this one very rarely went outside the £400-600 range. This is a good example of how desirability is beginning to step outside the more obvious distilleries as knowledge and understanding of these old rarities increases across a wider range of wealthy buyers.

There were a few interesting Ardbeg results such as the 1974 single cask 5666 for £1950 – suddenly the £500 retail price in Oddbins doesn’t seem quite so steep. Then there was the 1966 Cadenhead 32 year old Ardbeg for £1800. Both these bottlings – amongst others – seem to have been at this price point for a while now. It’s likely we’ll soon see these sorts of Ardbegs jump up another level in value I suspect.

The old Andrew Usher Green Stripe from around 1900 hit a very respectable £1650. It’s always a pleasure to find bottles such as this one – true pieces of liquid history help brighten any whisky auction. Other notable four figure results were the Rare Malts 1977 Brora at an unusually impressive £1300. And, in what is likely the most expensive Pittyvaich ever, the 1974 26 year old single cask by Kingsbury fetched a mighty £1250. Every distillery has its legendary bottling and this, unequivocally, is Pittyvaich’s.

Dipping below four figures there were some solid results for the likes of Laphroaig 30 year old with three examples at £1000, £975 and £925. One of the wonderful Oban Bicentenary Manager’s Drams at a hefty £925. And a White Horse Lagavulin at £875, another bottling we’re always happy to see and once again performing consistently well.

At this level of the sale almost everything performed toward the upper end of its market value, although the Talisker 1952 21 year old for £875 did seem like something of a bargain. Goes to show they can still happen even in today’s heady climate.

Manager’s Drams continue their skywards march, a pair of the excellent Clynelish 17 year old fetched an impressive £600 apiece. Similarly bottlings that sat around the £300-400 range for a long time are starting to noticeably jump up. Good examples being the Springbank 21 year old tall bottle at £625, the Macallan Elegancia 1990 at £600 and the Glen Grant 1965 Queens Award at £600. Although, conversely, at this price range there were also a few bottles which seem to have softened a little, although probably only temporarily. Examples being the Macallan 10 year old from the late 1970s at £575; the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition at £575; and the Glen Mhor 1965 Cadenhead Dumpy for £525.

Other notable results around this end of the auction were the Gilbey’s Redbreast 10 year old from the 1960s for £550 – although interest in older Irish Whiskeys is only bound to increase these days. A pair of 1980 Dailuaine Flora & Fauna cask strengths for £525 each. And a 1930s Gilbey’s Spey Royal blend for £500, this isn’t normally a brand that commands too much at auction but this beautiful old example clearly got bidders interested. Surprising that it edged the 1950s Logan’s at £450. Macallan madness was also alive at this end of the sale as well with old examples of 10 and 12 year olds from the 1990s fetching £430 and £450 respectively. Brand power? Or just plain daftness? Time will tell…

Looking for bargains and once again there are slim pickings. A Glenlivet 1970 Duncan Taylor 39 year old looks pretty tasty at £290 – especially when a 1990s litre of Scapa 10 year old fetched £300! And a Balvenie 1974 15 year old by Signatory was a snip at £220. Although bargain of the sale should probably go to the Talisker 1979 21 year old Cadenhead for £215. But by and large most bottles hit or surpassed their market value. In fact, if this kind of sale proves anything, it is that the notion of a ‘market value’ in an increasingly brief, tenuous and unreliable concept in this day and age of whisky auctioneering. We bid in interesting times no doubt.

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Fathers Day Whisky Offers

Fathers Day is upon us once again, and after Christmas it’s the biggest weekend of the year in the world of whisky.  Across the country, happy Dads will be receiving bottles of whisky on Sunday 17th June, so here at Whisky-Online we’ve made a little guide with some great Fathers Day Whisky Offers to help make sure you get your Dad the right thing this year.

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First up, for Dads who like a lighter style of whisky, we’ve got the Auchentoshan American Oak.  This replaced the old Auchentoshan Classic a few years ago and it’s a light, easy-drinking intro to Lowland single malt, as well as being a perfect example of young, fresh bourbon cask-matured whisky. For Fathers Day, we’ve slashed the price by a huge £14 from £34.95 to £20.95 – and there’s even a free Auchentoshan glass included!

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At the other end of the spectrum, for Dads who like big flavours and high strength whiskies, we’ve got a Fathers Day offer of £5 off the Speyburn 2006 Cask Strength bottled by Gordon & MacPhail. This one is from a refill sherry butt – and from the deep colour, we’d guess this was a pretty active cask. It’s a classic sherry profile: rich and full, with fruit cake, demerara sugar and spices, and it’s been bottled at a chunky 59.2%. This is a steal at just £46.95.

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Lots of Dads like peaty, smoky whisky and we’ve got a pair of malts on offer that fit that particular bill. First up is the old favourite Big Peat from indie bottlers Douglas Laing. Big Peat is an Islay blended malt containing whisky from several Islay distillers including Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and, remarkably, Port Ellen, so if your Dad (or you!) haven’t tried it, now is a great time to rectify that – it’s reduced by £5 from £35.95 to £30.95.  

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The other peated malt we’ve got on offer is slightly left of centre – it’s from Speyside rather than Islay. Benriach have been making peated malt alongside their standard drams since 1983, and this release has been fully matured in quarter casks, allowing the oak more influence in less time. Benriach Peated Quarter Cask is also reduced by £5 for Fathers Day, from £49 down to £44.

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Finally, for Dads who are fans of rich, smooth whiskies, we’ve got a pair of Glenfiddichs on Special Offer for Fathers Day. The 18 year old and 21 year old are the pick of the Glenfiddich range, with the 18 year old being a good soft, contemplative dram and the 21 year old a great after-dinner malt thanks to an extra layer of sweetness afforded by a finishing period in rum casks.  The Glenfiddich 18 Year Old comes with two glasses in a special gift pack and a hefty £8 Fathers Day discount brings the price down from £68.95 to £60.95, while the Glenfiddich  21 Year Old comes in a handsome gift box and has been reduced by a whopping £19 to £110.

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We hope you like our Fathers Day Special Offers – if you need more inspiration, why not check out our Top Ten Whiskies Under £50, Top Ten Whiskies £50 to 100 and Top Ten Whiskies Over £100? You could also check out other whisky gift packs on our dedicated Whisky Gifts page or if all else fails, why not get your Dad a Whisky-Online eVoucher this Fathers Day and let him decide for himself?

 

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MAY AUCTION HIGHLIGHTS 2018

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Andrew Usher & Co. Edinburgh
Green Stripe early 20th century

From time to time we come across truly magical whiskies from eras that are long lost and whether they’re single malts or blends, they’re all worth getting excited about.
This bottle was purchased in 1914 by the vendors Grandfather (A Worcestershire farmer 1876 – 1960) at the beginning of the first World War with the intention of opening it to celebrate the end, which came in 1918. He never ended up drinking the whisky but instead passed it down to his son (Also a Worcestershire farmer). Again he never found the time to drink the whisky and consequently passed it down the his daughter, the current owner of the bottle. It has been sat in a cupboard in her home in Worcestershire until recently when Wayne I consigned the bottle for auction.

”I remember it sitting in the Cupboard waiting for a Suitable Event that would Warrant opening it!! I think that now, that decision maybe left to Another to choose the Occasion?”

Relics like this don’t turn up in auction often, especially with such precise provenance. Bottles like this deserve spot light in a museum or opened and shared with good friends. Either way we know this bottle will go to a good home with one of our bidders.

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Ardbeg 1963

This is definitely one to look out for and one we’ve never seen in our auction before. A 1963 Ardbeg bottled in 1994 by Gordon & MacPhail for their Connoisseurs Choice Map label. We’re seeing less & less off these older 1960s distillate Ardbeg’s in auction and this is mainly down to their reputation of being absolutely spectacular whiskies.

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Ardbeg 1966

Joining the 1963 Connoisseurs Choice Ardbeg is this 1966 32 year old. A single cask from Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection with the Chairman’s Stock Gold Seal; This gives you and idea they were impressed with his whisky when they bottled it – This will be equally as good and you could argue harder to find with only 120 bottles produced.

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Glen Grant 10-year-old
Dark Sherry 1960s

By far my favourite bottle in this months auction. We collected this from the vendors house in Chiddingfold. We’ve never come across this one under the Peatling & Cawdron label before and we’re excited to see what interest it creates.

Peatling & Cawdron is one of many business established by Thomas Peatling, a wine and spirits agent dating back to 1826. In 1988 Peatling & Cawdron was incorporated with several other small businesses before reverting to its original name of Thos. Peatling.

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Old Blended Scotch Whisky

We have even more old blends avalible in our May auction. You will find numerous examples from White Horse, Black & White, Johnnie Walker, Haig & Logans. Along side these brands you will also find a very interesting 1930s Gilbey’s Spey-Royal. This will contain a high proportion of malt distilled at the Glen Spey distillery. Like many of the blends bottled before the war, the malt contributed was much more concentrated and often peaty. These make for fascinating drinking sessions and often the only way to experience the flavour profile of a distillery from this period is through blends like this.

Macallan Madness

With the hype of the official opening of the new (£140m) Macallan distillery, it would be rude not to share a few highlights from their old stock that are avalible in our May auction.

Macallan in 1996

In nineteen ninety six Macallan produced two iconic whiskies and arguably two of the most collectable whiskies every produced. The Macallan Private Eye, bottled in 1996 for the 35th anniversary of the magazine. The whisky is a vatting of several casks including a 1961 vintage to represent the year the magazine was founded. The very catching screen printed label was designed by Ralph Steadman, a freelance illustrator for the magazine. At the time of release they decided to keep the price of the whisky in theme with the occasion and therefore sold them for £35. To put things into perspective the p&p was £6.95. The Nicol’s Nectar is another classic collectable Macallan and is somewhat rarer than the Private Eye. Produced for the occasion of Peter Nicol’s retirement from the office. The label was drawn by artist Colin Rizza who has created numerous labels for the distillery. These were never sold publicly but instead given to everyone who worked at the distillery at the time. From a close and very reliable source approximately only 120 bottles were produced.

Experience Macallan ten, through the decades

We have a run of 10-year-olds bottled from the seventies through to the noughties. This would make a great line-up for anyone planning a whisky tasting and would given those attending a much clearer understanding of how the profiles of the same whisky can changes over many decades.

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Masters Of Photography

The Masters Of Photography by Rankin is a series of 1,000 bottles and unique portraits taken by Rankin on the Macallan estate that heavily features Easter Elchies House. Most will agree the best portraits include the nude shots of Tuuli, Rankin’s inspiration and wife. Each piece is presented with the original Polaroid that is depicted on the bottle of 30 year old with a booklet telling the story and Rankin’s signature to certify it’s an original.

”This project is very special to me for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve been able to come back to the country of my birth and portray its beauty through one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever attempted. The second reason is that this collection marks the full stop after Polaroid, as we head into the digital age.” 

RANKIN

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The Masters Of Photography by Annie Leibowizs is a set of four single cask Macallan that feature the actor Kevin McKidd. The scenes include The Library, The Skyline, The Bar & The Gallery. Within the whole series there were 1000 bottles produced. The library edition has the smallest outrun with only 145 bottles, the other three in this series yielded 285 bottles making The Library edition the rarest of the four bottlings. Taking this into account means there were only 145 possible complete sets available Worldwide.

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As always there’s a whole load more of amazing whiskies to discover over on our website. If you’re not already registered, you can do so here.

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

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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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