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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.