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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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February Auction Results 2018

It’s not often that the highest price item in the auction isn’t whisky but this month it was a pleasing variation to see the top spot taken by a Cognac. Not just any Cognac of course; Remy Martin’s Louis XIII Rare Cask 42.6, which finished up at a cool £7100. Not entirely surprising given how fanatical some collectors – and drinkers – are about the iconic Louis XIII bottlings. This was a rare chance to snap one up outside retail so, even without its original box, it still performed impressively.

Hard on its heels was the Glenury Royal 1953 50 year old from the 2003 Special Releases which finished up at £5800. An impressive price but down from its previous best with us last October when it fetched £8100. Is this a sign of the market cooling off for these higher end bottlings, or simply that this particular bottling has increased in supply on the secondary market over the past few months. One thing is for sure, it’s a good lesson in being smart with your timing of when you buy – especially if it can mean the difference of a few thousand pounds. Also of note was that there were two of these bottles in this sale and the one with the low level hit £4100 – still an impressive price considering there had been quite some evaporation but consistent with how filling levels determine a bottle’s value.

The noise and heat around Karuizawa seems to have eased off a little in recent months but the two Emerald Geisha bottlings were a timely reminder of the desire that still exists amongst collectors. Cask 8518 and 8908 finished up at £5050 and £5100 respectively, a strong performance for both.

The Highland Park 1958 40 year old continued to perform well with this latest bottle hitting £4200. It seems like not so long ago that these could be snapped up for £1500, I fully expect this bottling to only increase further in price over the next few years. As knowledge about the quality of the liquid proliferates these kinds of older Highland Parks will only gain in value.

Speaking of gaining in value… perhaps the standout examples were the two Laphroaig 10 year olds from the 1970s. These kinds of old style tropical fruit driven Islay whiskies (primarily Laphroaig and Bowmore) are getting more and more attention these days. The Mario Rossi import is a rare one but given the lower fill level and the label condition, the fact it sold for £2600 is rather jaw dropping. The 1970s UK version at £2350 was similarly impressive. These sorts of results just emphasise once again how quality of liquid from certain distilleries is become such a potent driving force of price on the secondary market. People know now that these sorts of flavours just aren’t produced anymore. How long before some distiller decides to actually do the smart thing and spend a bit of time, effort and money making this style of whisky again…? Looking at these bottle prices I know what I’d be doing if I had a distillery…

Other interesting higher end results were the Glen Garioch 1972 for Oddbins hitting £1750, an amazing whisky and not a big surprise. Neither were the two official 1968 single casks selling for £1450 each. These older Glen Garioch’s, again, are all about this lost, incredible peaty style of distillate. A similarly illuminating result was an extremely rare sherried Glenugie 12 year old bottled for R & I Neish of Peterhead at £1700. These kinds of bottles turn up once in a blue moon and the fact it’s from such a cult distillery as Glenugie means there is inevitably a fight when they do.

The 2005 Brora 30 performed well at £1050. I suspect these older releases of Brora will continue their slow and steady march onwards in price over the coming year. It’s also interesting looking at this point in the auction as Lagavulin 1985 21 year old, Springbank 1965 Everest and Glenfarclas 1954-2000 all hit £1050. A kind of emblematic, four figure price point for three rather disparate but brilliant whiskies that gives a further sense of how quality is what is valued, no matter the actual style of flavour profile.

Moving down the auction some solid results for interesting bottles can be seen. £825 for an old 1970s 100 proof Clynelish; £925 for an OB Macallan 10 year old 100 proof; an impressive £725 for a Dailuaine Flora & Fauna cask strength; and £775 for a 1966 25 year old decanter bottling of Ben Nevis. The Highland Park 1973 cask 11167 for Oddbins was up at £725 – a sign these bottles are steadily rising as well. The same with the Balblair 1966 at £700, a deservedly legendary dram which will probably be hitting four figures quite soon.

Perhaps an inverse surprise was the Ardbeg Special Air service bottle. This is the sort of thing which would normally send collectors into a bit of a spin, but £625 does seem slightly  on the low side for such a bottling.

Going further down there were some good results for more recent bottlings. The Laphroaig 1987 30 year old by Douglas Laing and the Longmorn 1987 17 year old cask strength edition both hit a very healthy £410.

In terms of bargains they were, once again, a little thin on the ground unsurprisingly. Although overall prices were perhaps showing signs of softening a little after some eye-watering high results over recent months. Good buys were the Glenlivet 21 year old official decanter bottling for the USA at £270. A 1952 – 1977 Hine Cognac for £235. Also, a Gordon & MacPhail 1966 Balblair and a Glen’s Extra 8 year old 1970s Springbank for £205 a piece were both something of a steal.

By and large though it was an interesting, slightly quieter sale with a broad and pretty varied selection of bottles. One that possibly indicated either a slight cooling off of recent madness, or simply a little seasonal lull. However, for the right bottles as ever, prices remain comfortably crazy.

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