Whisky-Online Auctions made our first ever official appearance at a whisky festival recently, with a stand at the inaugural Old & Rare Whisky Show in Glasgow. The show took place in the city’s Grand Central Hotel, which has recently undergone an extremely painstaking (read: expensive and time-consuming) facelift to restore it to its former glory.
So it was that on the Saturday and Sunday of 18th-19th February a total of around 700 committed whisky devotees flowed into the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, a beautiful high-ceilinged, multi-chandeliered space, to partake in some of the finest, oldest and rarest drams ever assembled in the UK. The £100 ticket price seems expensive but becomes an amazing deal when one takes into account that this includes your first £50 of whisky tokens to spend at the stands.
As it was their debut event, Wayne and Harrison Ormerod from Whisky-Online were determined to impress the crowds with their drams. To that end, they put together an absolutely stellar line-up of whiskies for visitors to try. Wayne and Harrison were joined on the stand by whisky writer Tim Forbes for a bit of experienced help.
The format of the show was very simple – all the exhibitors’ drams were sold in measures of 1cl (10ml), payable in either tokens or cash. This system has many benefits – it encourages responsible drinking, visitors can try many more whiskies without becoming inebriated and it brings the price of the most expensive drams down so that visitors can taste whiskies at a level they might not normally be able to afford. The exhibitors really played their part as well, with some very sensible (even generous) pricing on a range of to-die-for whiskies.
Prices on the Whisky-Online Auctions stand started at just £3 for a range of cracking drams from the 1980s and earlier – standout drams included a heavily-sherried Macallan 12yo OB litre bottle from the 1980s and a pair of 12yo OB Obans, one bottled late 1970s and one just after the metric labels came into force at the beginning of the 1980s. Along with some 1970s Glen Grant square bottles these saw plenty of action throughout the show.
Getting into the more serious stuff, the stand also had a very rare blend – a black-and-gold label Old Vatted Glenlivet estimated to have been bottled around the 1930s, priced at just £10 for 1cl. This one became more and more popular as the show went on and word got out about it. Also at this price was a ‘secret’ Bowmore 1961 bottled in 1974 for Berry Bros. & Rudd, a very gentle, tropical dram.
Moving up another level to around £16-20 per dram and now the customers were really spoiled with a series of very rare single malts. These included a pair of Highland Parks: the spectacular 1955 G&M Cask and a 1961 22yo bottled for Duthie – even Serge Valentin hadn’t seen this one before. There was also the famous 1971 Glen Garioch bottled for Oddbins in the 1990s, which was a steal for just £16.
The most popular dram at this price range, though, was the mysterious Springbank 20yo ‘Dell Fines’ – a really brilliant spirit-led dram distilled at some point during the golden period from mid-1960s to early 1970s. No-one really knows anything about this dram, other than it was probably bottled in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and only two bottles have ever turned up on the market – one of which was now open.
Fortunately, the quality of the whisky was certainly never in doubt – it was truly extraordinary and the punters were soon flocking to the stand to try it. Opening this bottle was a real brainwave by the boys, and at £20 for a 1cl dram it represented an amazing opportunity for the show visitors, especially as the only other known bottle is retailing at £2000 elsewhere.
Finally to the Whisky-Online Auction’s two absolute ne plus ultra-highlights at the show: The Brora 40yo, which was going for £110 per cl; and the 1967 Largiemeanoch 12yo at £200 a measure. The Brora 40yo was very popular, and it wasn’t hard to see why – this was a famously high-scoring dram and remains the oldest official Brora ever released. The large square crystal decanter looked very impressive on the Whisky-Online Auction stand (although it was so chunky that pouring accurately without spilling was rather difficult), and just about everyone who bought a dram was taking pictures of the bottle to show their friends back home.
As for the Largiemeanoch, well… the word ‘legendary’ gets overused a lot but this is a truly legendary whisky. Bottled, possibly by Cadenhead’s, for the Howgate Wine Co. at the end of the 1970s, Largiemeanoch 12yo is a mix of three consecutive casks bottled at 54.2% and is now regarded by many cognoscenti not only as one of the best Bowmores ever bottled, but also one of the greatest ever single malts. It’s a brilliant fusion of heavy phenolic and massively intense tropical fruit aromas and flavours. Truly breathtaking stuff.
Famously, this bottling received 97 points on Whiskyfun, and it was clear at the show that its reputation had preceded it. There was the group of Dutch whisky enthusiasts who had bought tickets and flown over to the show specifically to taste it, and who insisted on having their pictures taken caressing it behind the stand; there was the customer who bought ten measures of it right at the start of the show to take back for his friends in Singapore; and there was the Asian man who, unable to attend the show himself, had bought his girlfriend a ticket and sent her in with a list of whiskies to buy, with the Brora and Largiemeanoch top of the list.
Special mention, however, goes to the unsuspecting fellow who misread the price ticket and ordered a dram of Largiemeanoch believing it to be £20. After the whisky was poured he was understandably taken aback when asked for another £180, but to his eternal credit he took a sniff of the whisky and then marched straight to an ATM for the rest of the money. We can only doff our caps to him, and hope that his wife didn’t find out.
Over the course of the show over half the bottle of Largiemeanoch was sold, and there were several visitors trying (unsuccessfully) to buy the remains of both the Brora and the Largie at the end of the event. Wayne and Harrison couldn’t be tempted, though – they must have a plan for it.
Overall, the show was a great experience for the Whisky-Online Auction team and there’s no doubt that their whiskies made a lot of lucky visitors very happy. Mission accomplished, and hopefully that’s the first of many successful events for the team.