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Tag: Macallan

The Nightcap: 24 June

Tormore and Lough Gill Distillery are sold to ambitious new owners and the world’s first pub for plants opens. It’s all in the Nightcap: 24 June edition! It’s hot, isn’t…

Tormore and Lough Gill Distillery are sold to ambitious new owners and the world’s first pub for plants opens. It’s all in the Nightcap: 24 June edition!

It’s hot, isn’t it? It might be too hot. But then as soon as you say that, you’re worried the weather will desert you because you’ve tempted fate. Best to just make the most of it. Grab something cold and boozy, sit out in the sun, and enjoy this week’s round-up of drinks news.

Just a quick breakdown of the blog before we begin, we welcomed the oldest ever release from Teeling as well as a cocktail in a bottle combining sparkling wine, orange liqueur, herbs and spices, and recommended ten great single cask whiskies. We then celebrated Pride Month with a cracking cocktail, the craft behind Lyaness, and the skill it takes to become a serious bartender, while turning to more sober thoughts regarding AI and whisky investments.

The Nightcap: 24 June edition!

tormore

Why don’t they make distilleries like this anymore?

Pernod Ricard sells Tormore to founders of the Whisky Exchange

Big news from Speyside as we have just learned that Pernod Ricard has agreed to sell Tormore Distillery to Elixir. According to Alexandre Ricard, his firm is selling Tormore to concentrate on Aberlour and Miltonduff which are being massively expanded. The deal is somewhat complicated by the fact that the new owners will be Rajbir and Sukhinder Singh who recently sold most of their business including the Whisky Exchange to Pernod Ricard, but kept hold of Elixir Distillers. Sukhinder Singh explained: “Tormore is one of the most visually stunning distilleries in Speyside. It produces a beautiful spirit and fits in perfectly with the Elixir Distillers flavour-first philosophy to bottle only the very highest quality whiskies. We are hoping to build on the work that’s been done by Pernod Ricard to bring to life the magic of Tormore and show consumers around the world just what a hidden gem it is. We are humbled to be the new custodians of Tormore; we couldn’t have asked for a better distillery to welcome to the Elixir family alongside our new Islay distillery, Portintruan.” We are pleased to learn that there are plans for a visitor centre so that whisky lovers can appreciate this most striking of distilleries, designed by Sir Albert Richardson and opened in 1960, close up. 

Lough-Gill-Distillery-Aerial-Shot

Lough Gill distillery – it’s about to get bigger

Sazerac announces purchase of Sligo’s Lough Gill Distillery 

In perhaps the worst kept secret in Irish whiskey, it has finally been announced this week that American spirits group Sazerac, owners of Buffalo Trace and Paddy, has bought Sligo’s Lough Gill Distillery. It was reported in the Irish Independent back in September last year that the company was looking for a brand home for its Paddy Irish Whiskey. Now it has found it in the form of Lough Gill which was founded by David Raerthorne in Sligo in the west of Ireland and began distilling in 2019. It currently produces the Athrú Irish whiskey brand from bought-in stock. Raethorne commented: “This is a major announcement for Sligo and a vote of confidence in the potential for Sligo to become a major player in the booming global Irish whiskey market. The acquisition will enable Lough Gill Distillery to fully develop as a world-class visitor destination and will have significant long-term economic and tourism benefits for Sligo, which, for me, was always a personal goal.” Sazerac plans to increase capacity with new warehousing, bottling lines and a hospitality infrastructure to welcome 150,000 visitors per year. Irish whiskey keeps getting bigger and bigger.

the Macallan

It’s another pricey, premium trio

Macallan M Collection launches 2022 whiskies

The distillery that never sleeps has created a brand new collection. The Macallan has launched a trio of limited-edition single malt whiskies as part of the brand’s M Collection, designed to celebrate the brand’s ‘six pillars’: natural colour, mastery, curiously small spirit stills, the estate, exceptional oak casks, and sherry seasoning. The first of the three, The Macallan M 2022 Release, was matured in sherry-seasoned oak casks and tasting notes include chocolate, dried fruit and spice. The Macallan M Black 2022 Release, meanwhile, is a peated whisky aged in ‘rare’, black-ended sherry-seasoned oak casks, and The Macallan M Copper 2022 Release aims to reflect the distillery’s small stills and is said to taste of fruit and sweet malt. Each whisky comes in a 700ml decanter, and are priced at £5,000, £5,700, and £6,250 respectively, and will be coming soon to Master of Malt.

Fettercairn

We love this kind of initiative

Fettercairn 200 Club launches

Whyte & Mackay has unveiled the Fettercairn 200 Club, a partnership with local farmers to supply Fettercairn Distillery with 100% the barley it needs to produce whisky. Teaming up with malt producer Bairds Malt, the scheme will see barley farmers within a 50-mile radius of the distillery supply the producer with 100% of the barley required to produce its whisky, ensuring ‘end-to-end transparency’. Eventually the plan is to make its own single-origin single malt whisky. “We talk about being progressive and defying convention and the 200 Club truly supports this commitment,” says Stewart Walker, distillery manager. “Working with local farmers not only supports our vital community, but also ensures the highest quality of locally-supplied barley is used in our unique distillation process while truly cementing our relationship with the land”.

Bladnoch

Bladnoch rolling out the big hitters

Bladnoch releases oldest whisky to date

Lowland distillery Bladnoch is going big with its oldest ever whisky. The brand has been making up for the six years it spent dormant before 2015 by revamping its core range and creating a slew of limited-editions. This one is a 30-year-old single malt whisky aged in Oloroso sherry and Moscatel casks, bottled without chill-filtration at 45.5% ABV. “Our 30-year-old was designed to showcase the pinnacle of our range with the unique combination of oloroso and Moscatel casks. This unique cask combination, rarity and character will inspire our future whisky making for many years.” says master distiller Dr Nick Savage, who joined Bladnoch from The Macallan in 2019. There’s just 950 bottles priced at £1,000.

Chelsie Bailey lands the biggest job in British bartending

Chelsie Bailey lands the biggest job in British bartending

Chelsie Bailey takes over at the American Bar at the Savoy

Following the surprise departure of Shannon Tebay in May, there was a vacancy for the biggest job in British bartending, head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy. And now it has been filled! Stepping into the giant shoes of legends like Ada Coleman and Harry Craddock, will be Chelsie Bailey who was previously general manager at one of our favourite London bars, Happiness Forgets. In her career which began in Bristol, she has won some big awards including Chivas Masters in 2016, Monkey Shoulder in 2017 and Bacardi Legacy in 2019. So it’s fair to say she knows her way around a shaker. She commented: “I’m thrilled to be joining the Savoy team and working with such a group of talented and dynamic people; together writing the next chapter of the American Bar’s history. The Savoy has always had a reputation for innovation and quality; so the role carries with it a sense of responsibility and challenge, but that is what’s so exciting about this iconic position within the bar industry.” Meanwhile we have just learned that Tebay is now beverage director at London events company Outernet Live. So there is life after the American Bar.

Royal Salute

Another welcome step in the right direction

Royal Salute cuts carbon footprint by 70% with new packaging

Royal Salute’s signature porcelain flagon is set to be replaced. A more sustainable coated glass flagon is on the way from this month, starting with the 21 Year Old Signature Blend. The recyclable vessel will then be rolled out across the full portfolio, resulting in a 70% reduction in carbon footprint of the primary packaging. The plan is in line with Pernod Ricard’s sustainability and responsibility roadmap, ‘Good Times from a Good Place’ and all Royal Salute packaging will be 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. “Sustainability isn’t a nice to have, it’s a high priority, and I’m proud to see Royal Salute’s iconic bottle transition from ceramic to glass – this represents a key milestone in Chivas Brothers’ journey towards 100% recyclable packaging,” says Jean-Etienne Gourgues, chairman and CEO of Chivas Brothers. 

Wire Works Whisky

Can they keep up the high standards set by the first release?

White Peak bottles new Wire Works whisky

We were there when White Peak Distillery unveiled its first whisky and now we’re pleased to see it follow up with a new single malt: Wire Works Whisky Small Batch. Max Vaughan, who co-founded the distillery with his wife, Claire, days they were “incredibly humbled by the fantastic reaction to our first release of Wire Works Whisky in February,” which we really enjoyed, so we’re excited to see what’s coming next. The Small Batch which is bottled at 46.2% ABV, is a lightly peated single malt aged entirely in STR (shaved, toasted and re-charred) casks, and ex-Bourbon barrels. Tasting notes include sweet popcorn and orchard fruits on the nose, brandy baskets and sandalwood on the palate, leading to a sweet vanilla finish with a hint of nutmeg. The brand will launch just over 4,300 bottles of Wire Works Whisky Small Batch soon for a price of £60.

pub plants

No, we don’t get it either

And finally… a pub for plants?

A couple of weeks ago we had a press release from Heineken that had everyone scratching their heads. It was something to do with a ‘real life’ Metaverse bar opening in Shoreditch. Even the youngest, hippest cats in the office, ‘digital natives’ we believe they’re called, were baffled. Now Heinken’s PR people have done it again with a ‘pub for plants’ event to promote its cider brand Inch’s. It’s called ‘The Seed and Sip’ and it is “designed specifically with plants in mind, the first pub for plants will play host to an array of forna-inspired events including the first gig for plants performed by Red Rum Club.” Us neither. Perhaps someone could head down to the Freemount, the Manchester pub where this is happening, at 6pm on 29 June, and report back what all this is about because we haven’t a scoobie. 

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How to spot a fake whisky

The explosion in values for rare whiskies such as Brora, Macallan and Karuizawa in the last few years has seen an commensurate increase in the number of counterfeits coming onto…

The explosion in values for rare whiskies such as Brora, Macallan and Karuizawa in the last few years has seen an commensurate increase in the number of counterfeits coming onto the market. Lauren Eads looks at this growing problem of fake whisky and examines how you can protect yourself when buying old bottles.

In 2018, it was claimed that £41 million worth of the worlds collectible whisky was fake. Thats more than the total value of bottles of single malt Scotch sold at auction in the UK that year (£40.8m a figure forecasted to have swelled to £75m in 2021). The claims were made by whisky brokerage and consultancy firm Rare Whisky 101 following sample testing of 55 bottles (many from the 1900s or earlier) by Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre. Laboratory tests found that 21 were fakes thats 38%. The results would have led even the most optimistic observer to deduce that there must be a lot of fake whisky swilling about the secondary market, and sadly theyd be right. Four years on, is the problem getting worse?

Fake bottle of 1878 Macallan

Not kosher

Beware old Macallan

Its impossible to give a fully accurate picture, but whats clear is that as the value of Scotch continues to rise, so do the risks to consumers. It is a big problem these days but its heavily dependent on what you buy,says Angus MacRaild, drinks writer and founder of the popular blog, Whisky Sponge, and an independent bottler. If you’re buying expensive Macallan it is a nightmare. If you’re buying more obscure, unusual older bottlings, or more recent releases from more left field distilleries then its less of an issue. But as whisky as a product and culture grows in popularity and value, inevitably so does the issue of counterfeits and refills.

In 2017 it emerged that a bottle of Macallan 1878 Scotch whisky, of which a Chinese tourist paid £8,000 for single dram at the Waldhaus Hotel Am See in St Moritz, Switzerland, was in fact fake. This followed another bust that saw Rare 101 uncover a fake bottle of Laphroaig 1903, worth around £100,000, and two fake part-sets of Macallan Fine and Rare, worth an estimated £750,000. The Laphroaig had been believed to be the oldest in existence, but a six-month investigation and carbon dating found that the bottle had in fact been distilled between 2007 and 2009. Then of course there was the spate of (ultimately fake) bottles that emerged out of Italy in the 1990s, with 19th and early 20th century bottles of The Macallan and Talisker appearing somewhat endlessly on the secondary market. [These bottles] fooled many people, even distillers like Edrington who created these Macallan ‘replica’ series from these bottles,adds MacRaild. Nowadays, any serious old and rare whisky enthusiast or expert should be able to spot these bottles straight away and know the story inside out. However, some of these old duds do still slip through the net and fool people.

Whisky nose. Credit- Universty of Technology Sydney

High-tech hooter (credit: University of Technology Sydney)

How is the industry is fighting back?

Carbon dating is one of the most effective methods for testing the authenticity of a bottle of whisky. But its expensive at around £600 per test and it requires a sample of the liquid. Though on balance clearly worth it when talking about high value bottles. It works by determining when the living matter (grain) stopped living and therefore when its carbon 14 isotope was fixed, allowing for an estimate on age to be reached. Closure technology is another area of innovation. I think the more widely that holographic, tamper-proof capsules are embraced the better,says MacRaild. The work around physical closures is probably some of the most useful that can be done in deterring counterfeiters. But of course as technology disperses [counterfeiters] will find ways around this in time, so it’ll be about constantly reviewing the situation and being willing to embrace new solutions when necessary.

One of the most novel developments has been the emergence of an electronic e-nosethis year. The high-tech hooter has been developed by researchers at the University of Technology in Sydney. According to lead researcher, associate professor Steven Su: Up until now, detecting the differences between whiskies has required either a trained whisky connoisseur, who might still get it wrong, or complex and time-consuming chemical analysis by scientists in a lab. So to have a rapid, easy to use, real-time assessment of whisky to identify the quality, and uncover any adulteration or fraud, could be very beneficial for both high-end wholesalers and purchasers.In the first trial, the e-nose reached 100% accuracy for detecting the region, 96% accuracy of brand name and 92% accuracy of style. The device, designed to mimic the human olfactory system, uses eight gas sensors that can detect certain odours which are processed by a digital algorithm that is gradually trained to recognise whisky characteristics.

DAlmore NFT

Dalmore’s NFT

What about NFTs?

They might not be second nature to most consumers yet, but the emergence of NFT trading platforms offer a new way to tackle fraud. (Read more about what an NFT is here) The NFT system means that bottles are never allowed to floaton the open market, but are instead stored in one location until a bottles NFT is redeemed. It means that one bottle can be owned by multiple investors, all of whom may have never even set eyes on it. Consumers can buy direct from brands with a full record of ownership held on a digital blockchain. It wont solve the problem for old bottles, and favours those buying for investment purposes only, but it could be part of the solution. The Dalmore, Dictador Rum and Hennessy have all signed up to sell super rare expressions via NFT platform BlockBar.

Fake Macallan

Detail from a forged Macallan label courtesy of Rare Whisky 101

How can you protect yourself?

Beware of the three Rs refills, replicas and relics. Refills are bottles that can be easily refilled with another liquid and re-sold. While the bottle may seem genuine, the liquid is fake and they can be very difficult to spot without opening a bottle. Replicas are classic fakes of bottles known to command interest at auction. These are somewhat cyclical, and one generations replicas will shift with the next, but The Macallan is a perennial target. In this case the labels are the giveaway. Look out for poor print quality, mismatched typography or embossing. Relics are old bottles usually purported to be from the 1800s. While there are genuine bottles out there, they are few, and you should be particularly wary of such bottles. Any buyer of a particularly old bottle should ask the retailer to carbon date the liquid.Be sceptical, ask questions, and try to think logically about it,adds MacRaild. If you are buying a £100 old bottle of Tullibardine from the 1970s, what is the likelihood someone went to the time and effort to create a passable refill? If its a £2000 old Macallan then thats a different story.

Always check the provenance. Ask the auction houses or the retailer for provenance and history of the bottle. Having this information from good, trustworthy sources is one of the best ways to give a reasonably amount of confidence. If the bottle came from an elderly person in the highlands, its likely to be original. If its an old Macallan or Samaroli that came from some random collection in Europe with no traceability, then that should be more of a red flag,” MacRaild advises. Never be tempted to buy direct from a lone seller simply listing their bottle online. Go through a reputable auctioneer or retailer, inspect the closure and label carefully and do you research. Check for realistic price comparisons and market value from reliable sources. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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Distillery architecture: the producers breaking the mould

Distilleries are more than just factories for making alcohol. Increasingly, producers are seeing them as architectural statements and tourist attractions, as Lauren Eads. From Macallan in Scotland to Pernod Ricard…

Distilleries are more than just factories for making alcohol. Increasingly, producers are seeing them as architectural statements and tourist attractions, as Lauren Eads. From Macallan in Scotland to Pernod Ricard in China, this is the changing face of distillery architecture.

On the face of it distilleries are rather dull, sterile places that don’t lend themselves to visitors. The same could be said of any factory, really. They are practical places that serve a purpose. But while few will have ever had the urge to visit a Coca Cola factory, distilleries have people lining up around the block to take a tour. How? 

Antique Macallan

Eh oh!

Macallan’s £140m mega distillery

It’s not by chance. Yes, spirits are inherently more interesting than your average soft drink, but their success as must-visit tourist destinations is a recent phenomenon, one that has happened entirely by design. The Macallan (above) set the bar very high with its £140m mega distillery and visitor centre, which opened in 2018 and was designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. The subterranean distillery, situated on the Easter Elchies estate in Craigellachie, features an undulating wildflower-topped roof and impressive visitor centre complete with a walk-through oak ‘forest’ and cask-firing demonstration. In 2019 the design won the 2019 RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award.

Since then, a raft of increasingly innovative and bold distilleries, accompanied by visitor experiences, have continued to emerge. Last year, Diageo opened its new eight-floor Johnnie Walker whisky wonderland at Princes Street, the centrepiece of its £185million pound investment in Scotch whisky tourism. It centres around Walker’s ‘Four Corners Distilleries’ — Glenkinchie, Clynelish, Cardhu and Caol Ila – and features “personalisation to a scale never before seen in a global drinks visitor experience”. 

For PRINT Ardgowan Distillery 2 300dpi

Artist’s impression of the new Ardgowan distillery, not ‘sky platform’ on the right

Ardgowan rises form the ashes

Last month, plans for the Ardgowan Distillery in Glasgow emerged, an eagerly anticipated multi-million plan delayed by Covid. It will incorporate a Nordic long hall design that will include a ‘sky platform’ with views of the Clyde and a ‘Cathedral of whisky’ visitor experience, designed by Austrian architects Spitzbart and Partners. “This very modern Nordic long hall is pointing skyward, symbolising resurrection and our rise from the ashes of the former Ardgowan Distillery, which burned down in the Greenock Blitz in May 1941, and also our ambition to become one of the top whiskies in the world,” said principal investor Roland Grain. “I hope it will stand out as a ‘cathedral to whisky’ and put this corner of Inverclyde firmly on the tourist map.” Pending approval, construction is expected to start later this year, with the site expected to be operational by 2023.

So what’s driving these architectural beacons of distillation? “The biggest trend has undoubtedly been to accommodate not just visitors, but beautiful architecture,” says Ian Stirling, founder and co-CEO of the upcoming Port Leith Distillery in Edinburgh. “Think of the stunning feature windows that frame the stills at Lindores Abbey in Fife, or Clydeside in Glasgow. There’s a growing confidence in Scotland that we can entirely reimagine what a distillery should look like.”

Port of Leith

Rising above Debenhams, it’s the Port of Leith distillery

Vertical and round distilleries

Stirling’s own Port of Leith Distillery is an innovative 40m vertical distillery due to open in the autumn of 2022. Based in Edinburgh’s city centre, space was limited, so a vertical structure made sense. “We’d never set out to build a vertical distillery, but it quickly became apparent that the only way was up,” says Stirling. “We did, however, set out to design a contemporary piece of architecture – something that would reflect the new and modern approach that we’re seeking to take with our spirit. We’re new, we’re not old, so don’t try to look old.” Its operations are gravity-based, with production starting with grain milling and mashing at the top, through to fermentation and then distillation at the bottom.

Elsewhere, plans have been unveiled for a new “drum-like” distillery on Islay. The ili (sic) Distillery has been designed by Alan Higgs Architects (see photo in header) with completion set for summer 2023. Based at Gearach Farm, near Port Charlotte, the distillery aims to be carbon-neutral and is the vision of Bertram Nesselrode, whose family owns the farm, and Scott McLellan, a local farmer. 

While most of Islay’s distilleries follow a ‘shed’ type design, (rectangular with gable roofs and white walls), this design is circular. “Whilst not typical for distilleries, it is a shape that is the most efficient way to enclose space, maps the process of making whisky, evokes naturally the tuns, tanks, pipes, stills, barrels and bottles that are emblematic of spirit making and makes a building that is rooted in its landscape,” the firm says.

Traditional distillery designs do seem to be falling out of favour, certainly among new producers that are building their brands from scratch, quite literally. “Ten years ago, there was perhaps still a desire for some to seek comfort in the traditional white building, pagoda-topped image of what a Scotch whisky distillery should look like,” adds Stirling. “The increasingly ‘innovative’ and ‘artistic’ distilleries that we’re beginning to see constructed are really reflecting the increasing confidence that there is to present a new and modern outlook in a very old and traditional industry.”

CHUAN EMEISHAN Pernod Ricard

“We’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond”

Pernod Ricard’s new Chinese venture

Bold moves are being made outside of Scotland, too. Last year, Pernod Ricard completed work on a new US$150m stone-clad distillery in Emeishan in China’s Sichuan province (above). Built to become a “world-class destination for whisky, arts and culture” and draw two million tourists in its first decade, the Chuan Malt Whisky Distillery is China’s first malt whisky distillery, and was designed by award-winning Chinese architectural firm Neri&Hu. The distillery was built with a “timeless architecture that strikes a harmonious balance with the landscape, a design that embodies the refined sense of artistry embedded in whisky-making and blending”. 

In the US, plans have emerged for a pyramid themed distillery (which will be built into a quarry) designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban for Kentucky Owl Bourbon. While Rogers Stirk + Harbour has designed a distillery for Horse Soldier Bourbon in Kentucky, a brand founded by retired US Special Forces servicemen and named after US soldiers who fought on horseback in Afghanistan in the weeks following 9/11. Its plans include a water garden and replica of America’s Response Monument, which is located at Ground Zero in New York and unofficially known as the Horse Soldier Statue.

Building a distillery is ultimately about the practical job of producing whisky and generating revenue. But it’s also an unmissable opportunity to stand out and be seen – an exercise in branding and longevity. And that’s not been lost on modern whisky producers, no matter how big or small.

 

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Why are some whiskies so expensive

You may have noticed that there have been a flurry of fancy whiskies on Master of Malt recently such as the Yamazaki 55 Year Old and The Dalmore Decades. But…

You may have noticed that there have been a flurry of fancy whiskies on Master of Malt recently such as the Yamazaki 55 Year Old and The Dalmore Decades. But what why are they so expensive? Lauren Eads takes a closer look. 

Sometimes it’s obvious why a bottle of whisky costs the earth. A very old or very rare single malt will always carry a high price. That doesn’t mean it will be to your taste, but you can understand its value. The secondary market can dictate price and collectability. Novelty and uniqueness can also play a part. But how can you tell if a bottle is overpriced?

There are some basic factors that affect the price of Scotch, which go a long way in understanding value, no matter the price.

The macallan Fine and Rare 60-year-old

Yours for a cool £1.5 million

The older the better?

Quite often, yes, certainly when it comes to cost. The older the bottle, the higher price it will command. As a general rule, whiskies bottled before 2000 will carry a higher price tag, with this rising higher with those bottled before the 1990 when the 70cl bottle was introduced in Europe. Before then, bottles were labelled as 75cl, 750ml or 26 2/3 fl ozs, making them easy to identify. The same goes for bottles made from limited edition runs, which become rarer the older they get. In general, cask strength whiskies – bottled direct from the cask with no water added – also tend to be more sought after with a higher cost.

But a grand old age does not mean a whisky will taste any different or better to when it was first bottled. Its value will rise because there will be less of it on the market. Whisky doesn’t evolve once bottled (as wine does) – it’s inert with little to no oxygen ingress (unless closed with a cork, but that’s another debate). What you are buying is a drop of liquid history, frozen in time. The bigger factor is the amount of time it spent in cask, which determines a good proportion of flavour. Any bottle can be old, irrespective of its age statement, but a much smaller proportion of whiskies are aged in casks for significant periods of time. These older malts are much rarer.

Add to this the fact that distilleries have been running out of older casks for some time now, increasing the rarity of older malts and making the bottles that do appear on the market even more sought after (and expensive). In 2019 a single bottle The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 60-year-old set a new world record after fetching £1.5 million (US$1.9m) at auction. Great for the distillery, and those that can afford it, but not great for the wider market. With older casks in shorter supply, many distilleries have introduced more no-age statement bottles in a bid to meet demand and help control prices.

Brora Distillery

Brora is open again – what does this mean for the price of old single malts from this distillery?

What makes a whisky collectable?

So, old = expensive. Old + rare = really expensive, got it. Old + rare + collectable? That’s the hat trick.

Some brands are more coveted than others. Auctions play a big part in this, pushing up the price of certain brands. The Macallan still reigns supreme on the secondary market, but other collectable brands include Highland Park, Balvenie, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and The Dalmore, to name a few.

Bottles from silent distilleries, too, are more sought after. Rosebank, Ben Wyvis, Littlemill and Caperdonich are all good examples. As are Diageo’s Port Ellen and Brora, with pre-closure bottles still commanding a premium (Brora reopened in 2021 after a multi-million investment, with Port Ellen to follow).

Sometimes the fervour surrounding a whisky takes the industry by surprise. In 2020 Highland distillery Nc’Nean, founded in 2013, broke world records when bottle number one of its Ainnir single malt sold for £41,004 (US$54,183) during an online auction. Only 1,320 bottles of the no-age-statement whisky were made.

Love them or loathe them, critics can also build a brand’s prestige. Suntory’s Yamazaki achieved rapid growth after its Sherry Cask 2013 won the coveted Best Whisky Award in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015. Since then, prices have skyrocketed.

Oak barrels at Yamazaki

Oak barrels at Yamazaki

What about independent bottlings?

Independent bottlings are whiskies bottled by companies or individuals who are not part of the distillery, for example the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) or The Boutique-y Whisky Company. But there are dozens more. Bottlers source casks and release small batch bottles of rare or unique malts. Historically, these bottles often used to be cheaper, they were considered a distiller’s cast off casks. Today, there is exceptional quality to be found. Many releases are one-off expressions that can be very collectible and command surprisingly high prices, while also adding to the diversity of whisky.

The price of independent bottles is also tied up with a growing appetite for cask whisky investment. Increasing numbers of investors are buying up casks instead of bottles, hampering the ability of smaller bottlers to procure casks and pushing up prices of independent bottles.

Will 2020 be a good year for Scotch?

Then there are unprecedented events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. With many distilleries temporarily closing during 2020 due to restrictions production slowed with fewer casks filled. The Scotch Whisky Association said in May that during the first lockdown 87% of production sites were either “operating at reduced capacity or closed entirely”.

Consequently, some commentators have tipped whiskies produced in 2020 to become some of the rarest and most valuable. It will be some years before that theory is tested, but perhaps 2020 is as good a time as ever to invest in a bottle?

There’s no accounting for taste

The value of a Scotch can really be found at the intersection of its age, rarity and brand. Of course (investment purposes aside), none of these factors mean much at all if a whisky isn’t to your taste, no matter what it costs. If a particular dram sings to your senses, then the cost is merely a practical consideration. The enjoyment you get out of it – that’s where the real value lies.

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Whisky icons – we have a winner!

Whether they’re bourbons, single malts or blended whiskies, some brands are so famous that they’re iconic. But which is the biggest whisky icon? We’re running a poll on social media…

Whether they’re bourbons, single malts or blended whiskies, some brands are so famous that they’re iconic. But which is the biggest whisky icon? We’re running a poll on social media to find out, and this is the page to follow the results.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘icon’ as: “A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

So, what makes a whisky an icon? Well, it has to be a great whisky to start with. One that’s revered across the world. But more than this, it has to have a strong memorable image. Say the name of a particular distillery or brand, and it should instantly resonate. 

Worthy of veneration

Now this could be a globally famous brand like Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniel’s. Many people who have never even drunk whisky will have heard of these brands. Jack Daniel’s for its association with music, and Johnnie Walker because it’s an icon of consumer capitalism (as well as a great whisky). Then there’s Macallan, a symbol of luxury up there with Rolls Royce or Cartier. 

But lesser-known names can be iconic among the whisky cognoscenti. Take Springbank, for example. You have to know a bit about whisky to have heard of it but it’s undoubtedly “worthy of veneration.” We’ve seen grown men and women go all tearful at the thought of a rare bottle of Springbank. 

But your whisky icon might be Lagavulin from Islay, Four Roses from Kentucky or even a newer distillery like Mackmyra from Sweden. So to decide this once and for all, we’re giving Master of Malt customers the opportunity to shout about their favourite brands. 

Vote for your whisky of icon

Social polls will be posted on a @masterofmalt Instagram story Monday to Friday this week (simply view our story and tap on the distillery/brand you wish to vote for). Or alternatively you can vote over on the @MasterOfMalt Twitter page where a poll will be posted to our feed.

The tournament will end on Monday 27 September with the winner announced that day. This is how it will work:

Monday 20 September – first round with 32 whiskies

Tuesday 21 September – second round with 16 whiskies

Wednesday 22 September – quarter finals 

Thursday 23 September – semi finals 

Friday 24 September – finals

Saturday 25 September – voting closes

Monday 27 September – announcement of the winner

Get voting so we can say once and for all what the greatest icon of whisky is! And then we find something else to argue about. 

UPDATE, 27 September:

The winner was… Bunnahabhain with Lagavulin as the runner-up.

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71-year-old Tales of The Macallan Volume I is here!

Something remarkable has happened. No, it’s nothing to do with Pernod Ricard. The Macallan has launched the Tales of The Macallan range, kicking things off with a 71-year-old single malt…

Something remarkable has happened. No, it’s nothing to do with Pernod Ricard. The Macallan has launched the Tales of The Macallan range, kicking things off with a 71-year-old single malt whisky costing £60,000. And whisky maker Sarah Burgess was kind enough to join us to talk all about it.

Hey, guess what? A 71-year-old single-malt whisky from The Macallan was rolled into our warehouse recently, like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But unlike that particular rarity, which seems pretty meh in the face of whisky from 1950, this beauty will actually be leaving the warehouse to enter somebody’s lucky hands. How is this possible? Let’s start from the beginning.

MAC2021-Tales-of-the-Macallan-Mood-Shot-25-JPEG_LE1024_@72dpi

This book contains all the Tales of Macallan

A legacy worth celebrating

The first in a series of limited-edition single malt whiskies from the distillery, Tales of The Macallan Volume I pays tribute to Captain John Grant. Who? Why, the man who built the manor house on the 485-acre Easter Elchies Estate in 1700, the land that has been home to The Macallan Distillery since 1824, of course.

Born in 1659 in a remote location on the banks of the River Spey, Grant pursued a career in the military and returned from war to the land his family owned since 1543. He transformed the rugged landscape he inherited into the ‘garden of Elchies’, working the land to grow barley and helping to sustain a small farming community that would one day use its crops to distil whisky. By 1700, he had extended and refurbished Easter Elchies House which sits high on a hillside overlooking the River Spey.

“It seems crazy now, when he built the house as a holiday home it was only 20 miles from his actual house, but it started the foundations for the estate and without that decision we would have our spiritual home,” says Sarah Burgess, The Macallan’s whisky maker. “The story itself I find really emotional and moving. I actually cried during some of the filming we did after having an almost Back to the Future moment, because it really hit home how much things would be different without the decisions he made. We wouldn’t be here”. 

Tales of Macallan

Don’t worry, the book comes with whisky

The tale behind the Tales of The Macallan Volume I

Naturally when the brand decided to honour such a significant figure, the decision was made that it had to be a whisky of quality. The result was the Tales of The Macallan Volume I, made from spirit distilled in 1950 and bottled in 2021 at a remarkable 44.6% ABV. There’s just 350 decanters, retailing for £60,000 each. 

Burgess explained the logic behind choosing this particular whisky. “John Grant’s attitude and approach was different and unusual and I wanted that to be reflected in the whisky. What I wanted was a Macallan that isn’t a representation of what Macallan is today, all sherried and rich dried fruit, I wanted to tell a different story”. Adding, “everyone who tasted it can’t believe how delicate, fresh and vibrant it is, with woodsmoke, citrus and lots of tropical fruit being the common notes”.

When I asked how the distillery manages to retain such a remarkable ABV, the answer was that such production secrets can’t be given away. Burgess did say it’s “all part of the secret and special way that The Macallan does things”, adding “That’s just who we are”. She also describes her relentless pursuit of perfection, including an example of not approving one expression until she turned down 27 versions, which seems a more tangible explanation why standards are so high. “I’m my own worst critic and should have more patience, but I believe that in order to tell the story correctly, every part needs to be right,” Burgess explains.

It pays to look the part

As you can probably guess as this is The Macallan we’re talking about, the presentation of this one is top tier swanky. We’re talking hand-crafted Lalique crystal decanters. Antique style leather-bound books decorated with 24ct gold. A collaboration with an illustrious illustrator, in this case Andrew Davidson (the guy who makes traditional print techniques using wood engravings, I hear you ask? The very same). There’s even a short film featuring a selection of Davidson’s illustrations set to an original piece of music composed by Nicola Benedetti. And yes, she is one of the world’s most influential classical artists of today, obviously.

As Burgess says, “Luxury requires more luxury”, adding: “The quality of the packaging has to match the quality of the whisky. A whisky distilled in 1950 and bottled in 2021 simply cannot be presented in a Tetra Pak carton”. And presumably the folks who will tragically never open and taste this remarkable whisky will enjoy all the additional reading materials and films.

Luckily ,Burgess did compile some tasting notes, so we can live vicariously through them. But what would John Grant think of all this? “I think someone who was prepared to build something so significant and distinctive in a time when we were recovering from the Jacobite Rebellion would appreciate what we are,” Burgess says. “Also what we do for the community through the Robertson Trust, he’d be really proud of that. It mirrors his attempts to create something for the community that was also special”.

Tales of the Macallan

Violin not included

Come and get your rare whisky!

So there you have it. If you’ve got £60,000 burning a hole in your pocket, then you can express your interest in purchasing a bottle of Tales of The Macallan Volume I here. A representative from our lovely team should contact you.

Sarah Burgess’ Tales of The Macallan Volume I Tasting Notes:

Nose: Grapefruit zest, antique oak, vanilla, melon, wood smoke, nutmeg, ripe plum and almond.

Palate: Peach and apple, wood spice with ginger and hints of clove, sweet wood smoke and yuzu.

Finish: A medium finish with citrus and sweet oak.

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The Nightcap: 24 September

Lots of big whisky news this week with rare releases from Bowmore, Macallan and Bushmills. Plus a beer so strong that it’s actually illegal (in some states in America.) They’re…

Lots of big whisky news this week with rare releases from Bowmore, Macallan and Bushmills. Plus a beer so strong that it’s actually illegal (in some states in America.) They’re all in the Nightcap: 24 September edition! Oh, and Pernod Ricard has just bought the Whisky Exchange. We told you there was big whisky news this week. 

This week at Master of Malt it was all about whisky icons. No, not elaborate devotional paintings of Bill Lumsden or Rachel Barrie – though they sound amazing – but distilleries and brands that are iconic. So we’ve been asking customers on social media which whiskies are worthy of veneration and, at the time of writing, it’s come down to a four-way all-Scottish dust-up between Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain, Lagavulin and Talisker. All distinctive island whiskies with a particularly strong showing from Islay. MoM customers clearly love a bit of Islay. It’s all taking place on Twitter so get voting. We’ll announce the winner on Monday. There can only be one!

The week got off to an expensive start as we talked to Richard Paterson about the super-fancy Dalmore Decades collection which has just landed at MoM. It was delivered in a special Whyte & Mackay armoured car which the company uses only for it’s most elite whiskies. Good whisky doesn’t have to be expensive though, as Aber Falls has proved with the second release of its Welsh single malt. Then Adam got taste of the first release from Midleton’s micro distillery, the Method & Madness Rye and Malt Irish Whiskey, and we launched our Whisky Icons competition. Lauren Eads returned to show us how to make a Singapore Sling, and Henry tried Waterford Cuvee and pondered the future of whisky *strokes chin*. Right, that’s enough chin stroking, it’s on with the Nightcap: 24 September edition!

Sukhinder Singh

Sukhinder Singh, now very rich indeed

Pernod Ricard buys The Whisky Exchange 

There was no doubt what was the biggest story of the week. On Monday we learned that Pernod Ricard had acquired The Whisky Exchange from its owners Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh. The brothers said in a statement: “The Whisky Exchange and our customers have always felt like a family, and we are looking forward to maintaining this ethos with a partner that shares our values. Our mission remains the same: to offer the finest range of whiskies and spirits from the best producers around the world, educate and engage with consumers, and support the top on-trade establishments around the UK”. Alexandre Ricard, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, added: “We are thrilled to work with industry pioneers such as Sukhinder, Rajbir and the whole team to bring The Whisky Exchange to a new step of its development.” There was no mention of how much Pernod Ricard paid but industry analyst Jefferies on the Business Wire estimated it to be between: £360m and £420m. That’s a lot of Pernod. The deal includes the Whisky Exchange website, shops, Whisky.Auction and trade arm Speciality Drinks. However, it does not include agency Speciality Brands or Elixir distillers. So the brothers are holding onto their Islay distillery. Very canny. 

Colum Egan

Colum Egan from Bushmills stroking a cask

Bushmills releases its second rare ‘Causeway Collection’

It’s been a big week on the blog for Irish whiskey with Method and Madness Malt and Rye, and Waterford Cuvee. Now it’s Bushmills turn with three rare releases called ‘the Causeway Collection.’ It’s the second such offering from Northern Ireland’s most famous distiller. The 2021 release consists of three bottlings: a 2011 finished in Banyuls casks (a Port-style wine from the South of France); a 1995 finished in Marsala casks; and a 32 year old matured in a Port cask. The latter is one of the oldest ever whiskeys from Bushmills. Master distiller Colum Egan commented: “All the whiskeys used in The Causeway Collection have been expertly created and cared for by craftsmen steeped in a unique whiskey-making tradition passed from generation to generation for more than 400 years here at The Old Bushmills Distillery. The Causeway Collection celebrates our extremely rare and unique cask finishes, our passion for single malts and honours our rich heritage. It’s a privilege to work with such rare liquid, these special cask-finished whiskeys really are our greatest treasures. We were delighted with how the Bushmills Causeway Collection was received globally in 2020, with some even selling out in minutes – and we can’t wait to share this year’s collection with the world.” Prices start at 55 for the 2011, great value for such a distinctive whiskey, up to a punchy 950 for the 32 year old. We’ll have some in soon, but as Egan warns, they’re unlikely to hang about. 

Glenmorangie 18 YO x Azuma Makoto 1.jpg

It’s flower power time over at Glenmorangie

Glenmorangie goes floral with limited edition 18 year old

Glenmorangie has partnered with Japanese flower sculptor Azuma Makoto to create a fabulously floral limited edition design for its 18 Year Old. We skipped up to the Saatchi gallery this week to check it out and were treated to a private view of the RHS Botanical Art and Photography Show. The Glenmorangie team served up some fabulous cocktails, cleverly named using anagrams of Glenmorangie. First up we had A Ginger Lemon – a Glenmorangie Original highball with lemon bitters and a splash of ginger ale, most refreshing whilst we wandered the botanical illustration rooms. Secondly we were treated to a Gleaming Reno, shaking up passion fruit and pineapple – a tremendously tropical treat whilst we took in the photography finalists and winners. Special mention from us goes to Faye Bridgwater, with some super colourful artwork in the show, and some serious alliteration skills. We loved the name of this painting: A Bloody Great Big, Ballsy and Bountiful Buncha Bodacious, Buoyant and Bewitching Blooms. Well said Faye! 

Bowmore 30 YO Vaults

Super fancy Bowmore incoming!

Bowmore goes big with ultimate rare collection for 2022

Over on Islay, the Bowmore Distillery has got something big planned for 2022. Earlier this week it announced that it’ll be launching a collection of extraordinarily rare expressions at the start of next year, with a 50-year-old 1969 vintage single malt in the spotlight. The final release in Bowmore’s 50-year-old vaults series, following on from a brace of other vintages from the ’60s, it was matured in a combination of American oak ex-bourbon barrels and hogsheads for half a century before being bottled up. It’s set to retail at £35,000, so start digging through your sofa cushions now. Clearly not content with one with just the one well-aged whisky, the collection will also feature the 2021 releases of Bowmore 30 Year Old and Bowmore 40 Year Old, priced respectively at £2,000 and £6,750. Again, prepare to ransack those sofa cushions.

Macallan 30

Macallan Double cask 30, great with honey and radishes

The Macallan unveils Double Cask 30 Year Old 

The Macallan’s Double Cask range grows once more, this time with the addition of a particularly impressive 30 year old. Its three decades have been spent in sherry-seasoned new American and European oak casks, the former sourced from Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky, and the latter sourced from northern Spain and southern France. Both wood types are toasted in Jerez, filled with sherry and seasoned for up to 18 months before finally holding the whisky. “The Macallan Double Cask 30 Years Old is a modern take on our classic 30-year-old and is an exceptional aged single malt,” says Kirsteen Campbell, master whisky maker. “With a rich combination and depth of flavour and a complex character, it is a whisky to be savoured, exhibiting notes of cinder toffee, fresh honeycomb, rich vanilla and red apples.” As you’d probably expect, the RRP is by no means small, clocking in at $4,000 – though it does come presented in a solid oak presentation box for that price tag. Who doesn’t love a solid oak presentation box?

Craft Distilling Expo

Craft Distilling Expo – pink hair and flat caps encouraged

Craft Distilling Expo is back, Back, BACK!

Are you a craft distiller or are you craft distilling curious? Then you need to get a ticket to the Craft Distilling Expo which runs from 30 September to 1 October at the Old Truman Brewery in East London. Yes, in real life. None of this Zoom nonsense. Co-founder David T Smith commented: “As with the whole industry the last 18 months have been a challenge, despite the success of our online offerings. We are really looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues, both old and new in-person this year; we’ve put on an exciting range of talk with an increasing focus on sustainability.” Highlights include Ian Wisniewski on tasting, Peter Holland with a guide to botanical and spiced rum and Julia Nourney looking at barrel finishes. We’re also intrigued by ‘ultrasonic spirits’ with Ben Marston of Puddingstone Distillery – does that mean they move really fast? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Go to the website for more information.

Sam Adams Utopias

Sam Adams Utopias, it’s beer but not as we know it

And finally… a beer so strong it’s illegal

What do you think is strong for a beer? 6% ABV? 8% ABV? Well, how about 28% ABV? No, that’s not a typo. The latest release of Sam Adams Utopias from the Boston Beer Co. is stronger than Port and getting on for whisky territory. It’s so strong that it’s illegal in 15 states in America. Apparently, it’s made with special ‘Ninja yeasts’ which can work at very high alcohol levels. The release is made up of aged beers dating back decades and aged like whisky in old bourbon, Port, Madeira and sherry barrels. It’s released every two years and for the first time this latest batch contains beer from Sauternes casks. All this magnificence doesn’t come cheap, around $240 retail, but if you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, or West Virginia, you’re out of luck.

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How to win at whisky auctions

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what…

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what newcomers should be bearing in mind.

There are only 14 bottles of the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 year old in existence – one of which was bought for approximately £1.3m at Sotheby’s in London in 2019, the most expensive single bottle of whisky ever sold at auction. Other bottles and collections to join Macallan at the top of the pile are Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series (£1.1m), The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60yo (£765,000), and The Macallan Red Series which raised a whopping £756,400 for charity.

Auctions are, unsurprisingly, big business (it’s small business too with a recent rare collection of 400 miniatures selling for a total of £56,732.95 via Whisky.Auction). But there are bargains to be had. So, how does the auction world work? And how can first-time bidders navigate the (virtual or live) auction room?

Springbank

Miniatures can be big business. This Springbank 5cl went for £5600 via Whisky.Auction

The auctioneers

“I actually come from an art background,” Georgia Porteous of Bonhams in Edinburgh tells me of how she got into the auction game. “I’ve worked for Bonhams since leaving university, so 10 years ago now. I always had a passion for whisky so when I moved up to Edinburgh, a job finally came up in the department.” Now, she’s the junior whisky specialist at the auctioneer, working alongside Martin Green (head of whisky) and Diego Lanza (whisky specialist) valuing bottles, cataloguing them ahead of quarterly auctions, and consigning items for sale.

As first sales go, Porteous’ – a Macallan Peter Blake 1926 which fetch upwards of £700,000 – wasn’t a disappointment: “What I love about working at an auction house is that it so varied: you can be handling a lot of five bottles that are worth £300 and then you can go on to a £350,000 bottle of whisky – it’s a real privilege.”

Sam Hellyer, wine and spirits specialist at Chiswick Auctions unknowingly began his career in drinks when he got himself a job at a Bottoms Up wine shop at 18, before heading to university, getting his foot in the door at Oddbins after graduating, a couple of nights a week and finally embarking on a decade-long job with the retailer. After a time working for small importers, Brexit hit and Hellyer decided a move into the world of auctions was the more disaster-proof option.

Georgia Porteous of Bonhams

Death, downsizing and divorce

“We operate on the three ‘d’s: Death, downsizing, and divorce,” he explains matter-of-factly. “It’s a miserable way to look at things but the pandemic has actually particularly seen a lot of downsizing… so we’ve picked up quite a few cellars.” One recent cellar held a 2004 vintage of Bordeaux en primeur on which the seller made a 200% profit.

As well as valuations, visiting cellars, and negotiating listing timings, Hellyer is also a key factor to the live auction, acting as auctioneer for the wine and spirits lots – I say key as the sale rate drops by 20% when he misses one. Why? “Knowing the wines and being able to talk about them and even pronounce them is very important… there is a recognised value in the knowledge when you’re working in the auction side.”

And when it comes to valuing the goods, Hellyer has a layman’s explanation: “The most basic explanation is everyone looks over everyone else’s shoulder. I see what it sold for at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams… all of these places because they set the price and once they’re not selling it, I’m setting the price,” he said.

The Nightcap

It’s not just about whisky, this Taylor’s 1977 Port sold through Chiswick Auctions recently

The bidder

Over his time in the drinks industry, Matt Hastings, now blender at Nc’Nean whisky, would acquire bottles of fun liquids that he didn’t want to drink and would sit in a dark cupboard. So, he started selling them in auction to fund the purchase of liquids he did want to drink. “I’ve entered bottles in batches five or six times and never been disappointed – I always get a good or fair price.”

Hastings opts for the platform Whisky Auctioneer which he came across organically and was so impressed with that he used them for Nc’Nean’s inaugural release auction – an auction that saw its first bottle go for £41,004.

But Hastings started buying at auctions before he embarked on selling. “I was just looking for fun things I couldn’t buy in shops anymore… seven or eight years ago you could get some absolute bargains with bottles selling for less than they originally sold.” And although he admits that coming across these bargains is harder nearly a decade later, there are still some specific bottles that get him excited. “Things that pique my interest are bottles like earlier Compass Box releases and old Jack Daniel’s before they changed the ABV, like an early 80s Jack Daniel’s 90 proof which is just amazing. [You’re paying for] a piece of history and to get the chance to taste something in its early [phase] of phenomena.”

Matt Hastings frequents auction sites as a buyer and seller

The industry

Of course, when it comes to selling and buying at auction, there are some variables that have impacted the industry over the years. Most notably, and recently, the EU/ US trade war that saw Scotch whisky hammered by tariffs. “In our February sale barely anything whisky-wise shifted,” explains Hellyer while continuing that there was a huge uptick in brandy, Cognac and Armagnac. “Trump’s final passing shot was putting a tariff on the brandies too, so in February those didn’t shift either, not because people don’t want them, but because a huge chunk of brokers’ clients are in the US, so they all pulled out.”

Now that those tariffs are lifted though, Chiswick Auctions did a big whisky sale, selling over 90% in one go, while 87% of the brandies listed also went. “It would be so much cheaper for the end-user to buy directly from us [rather than through a broker],” he laments, “but you’ve got to know when the auctions are and be available to be there on the day.”

A subtle change Porteous has discovered has been the type of bidder turning up to Bonhams’ auctions. While they’ve been online for years (unlike Chiswick who moved online due to the pandemic), she’s noticed that “over the last 18 months we’ve seen new, keen bidders who are participating for the first time and have more questions.”

So, with that in mind, we asked our experts for some of their top tips for newbies to the world of auctions.

Tips for first-timers to whisky auctions

Ask for a condition report. This is something you can do a few days before the auction – don’t be scared to ask, it’s what I’m paid to do! Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Check the fees before you bid. See what fees the auction house charges and don’t forget about VAT. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

Do some value research. The platforms have their old lots on display so you can look at pricing to see what similar bottles are getting which will help guide your decision. Matthew Hastings, Nc’Nean

Have a maximum budget for everything. Someone outbids you by £10 and then you’re in it and you could spend £100/£200 over – I see it all the time. The increments get bigger the higher you go too (before £100 your bidding in £5 increments, £200 it’s £10 and so on). Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Don’t forget shipping and insurance. The most important thing to do is get a quote before you bid because most people aren’t aware of how much shipping and insurance is. The auction house is not responsible for the bottles once they leave the property, so do your research and get a reputable shipper with insurance. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

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Ken Grier on what makes an investment-grade spirit

After a recent tasting of Dictador’s latest 2 Masters release, MoM caught up with affable marketing mastermind Ken Grier to find out just what makes a spirit ‘investment grade’.   “I help people…

After a recent tasting of Dictador’s latest 2 Masters release, MoM caught up with affable marketing mastermind Ken Grier to find out just what makes a spirit investment grade.  

“I help people do cool stuff,” says Grier, explaining his job. “I did it for Macallan for 20 years and I had a lot of fun. Now I do it for other people. These are not just vanity projects, it’s about connecting with consumers in a highly distinctive manner: telling stories, making people dream, helping people to feel smarter, cooler and giving them more status. A moment of really special enjoyment where you go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’ve opened that’.

Grier helped to put The Macallan on the world stage. After retiring from the Scotch mega brand’s parent company, Edrington in 2018, he set up his own consultancy firm, De-Still, where he helps brands to reach their potential. A potential that often includes becoming an ‘investment grade spirit’. He describes investment-grade spirits as having a particular cocktail of ingredients, including provenance and often some history.

The second thing we can say is that they would normally carry some degree of distinctiveness in terms of liquid. Whether that be a rarity, a complexity within that. These things make something collectible. There is definitely something about scarcity and genuine rarity.

Investment-grade spirits also have a certain aesthetic, Grier explains, whether that’s simple elegance or an activation such as the £50,000-a-bottle Bowmore and Aston Martin collaboration.

You either want something that gives an incredible user experience or something that makes people feel there is some arbitrage there – that they feel they bought smartly, they have the respect of their friends, they feel good about it. And they might make a small return on it.

Ken Grier

Ken Grier in his Macallan days (photo courtesy of Macallan)

Beyond whisky

While whisky is firmly on the investment-grade radar, Grier says there are other categories that are interesting. Though he also suggests it’s often more about the brand than the category.

Rather than rum per se, if we look at Dictador in particular, and the cocktail we talked about, it ticks a lot of the boxes. It has been around since 1913, third-generation master blender and the remarkable cache of very old rum that they’ve carefully curated in good wood is amazing.

He also points to collaborations such as the latest Dictador 2 Masters Niepoort. The ultra-premium limited edition is the work of Port winemaker Dirk van der Niepoort and Dictador’s master blender Hernan Parra. The £800 rum is made from four vintage Columbian rums from 1971, ‘74, ‘78 and ‘80 aged for 12-16 months in Port pipes.

Innovation in 2 Masters has created something unique. This idea of having real friendships, real collaborations in different terroirs, different climates is really exciting,” Grier adds.

Elsewhere, he mentions Mezcal and his client Amores’ Logia project, which makes use of wild agave. “The limit on the production is the amount of agave a donkey can carry,” he says. “It goes into the areas of scarcity and it’s a very different product experience because the agaves are very different.

Both Cognac and baijiu – and the Martell and Moutai brands in particular are on Grier’s investment-grade radar. But baijiu aside, he says it’s a tough area for white spirits. White spirits are more difficult,” he says. Some of them do have some provenance – Beefeater for example – but they don’t have rarity.

Ken Grier investment

It’s not just whisky that makes for a sound spirit investment

Secondary market

Now we know what makes an investment grade spirit, what’s in it for the drinks companies that make them? Well, Grier agrees “100%” that selling spirits on the secondary market is a good PR exercise for the producers and he speculates that The Macallan is now 39% of the entire Scotch whisky market at auction.

“I’m a big, big fan,he says of the secondary market, which can build caché for a brand and establish price points, “which can be helpful”. He also says the secondary market helps to expose brands to a wider category of people and in a different way.

Whether people use auctions to find liquid that will create a special connection with friends or as alternative asset classes, Grier says the secondary market is “very, very useful”. “Places like Sotheby’s do a great job,” he adds. “The way that they actually publicise brands, bring them to more people, tell interesting stories… and very often that raises good money for charity.” He mentions a Macallan that raised $460,000 for Charity: water.

Ken Grier investment

The Macallan Masters of Photography

To drink, collect, or both?

While there are benefits to the secondary market, there are some that believe spirits should be consumed – and not traded.

To me, it’s both,” says Grier. The liquid in the bottle is always at the centre. When I did the stuff at The Macallan, like Masters of Photography, the M Decanter, they were beautiful and interesting objet dart, but the liquid was also superb. It was put together for a specific purpose; it was aligned to the story and part of the whole objet d’art. And I’m proud of that.

“Ultimately, all of these things should be capable of being consumed and enjoyed. Because the purpose of alcoholic beverages is to consume and enjoy them,” he adds.

Grier says people chose to keep some products back because they are beautiful and because of the scarcity and intrinsic value.

“People see a value in them which is fine. And if people want to do that, that’s great. It’s when people buy them and flip them very quickly that I get worried for the industry because that means people are trying to make a very quick profit without really understanding.”

He highlights the many approaches to investment grade spirits, including the love, care and knowledge displayed by collectors as well as smart purchasers and those that open and enjoy the liquid.

“I’ve seen all sorts of things,” he says, “but if you specifically have in your mind to buy today and sell tomorrow, I’m not sure what that necessarily does for the industry.

Ken Grier investment

Casks are a tricky market to get right

The potential perils of casks

At this point in our conversation, talk turns to casks. There has been a lot in the press lately about the perils of buying casks as an investment opportunity.

“If you have a wonderful cask from a great make – a Balvenie, a Bowmore, Laphroaig, then that’s to be applauded, bottled carefully, enjoyed, and savoured. I think it’s a lot of the casks from no-name companies – ‘whisky 568% growth! Outstrips any other index!’ That’s when you’ve got to be a bit worried.

Grier reminds us that good wood is the basis of good whisky – and he says that if you’re careful about the type of wood, the type of spirit from a reputable brand, and the way it’s matured, then a cask is something that can be a legacy.

He also reveals his own legacy: “I’ve got a cask of Macallan that I laid down and I prize that.” He says it will be for his own consumption with his friends and family. (Ken, can we be your friend?)

Ken Grier

Ken Grier at the recent launch for Dictador 2 Masters Niepoort

How to get into investment-grade spirits

When it comes to offering advice on buying high-value booze, Grier has some wise words. “The first thing is: be clear on what your budget is, then look at the character of the liquid – it’s got to be something that is interesting. I’d certainly look at the brand – what do you know about it? Its heritage? Then I’d ask myself what character am I looking for from that liquid and over what time horizon? Do I want to enjoy it or keep hold of it and hope for future appreciation? Am I collecting? Be clear with your objectives. If you do that, it’s very difficult to go wrong.

Our chat winds down with a look at Grier’s own investments, which include a bottle of the 1972 Macallan Fine and Rare, which was bottled in 2002.

“I paid £500 for it, there were only 100 bottles in the cask… I saw one come up recently and it was £26,000, so that was decent,” he says.

And we part with one last story, a tale that suggests even the experts aren’t immune to the odd ‘accidentally-opened bottle’.

Grier tells the story of when his mother-in-law came to stay a few years ago, to look after the children while he went away.

“I left her a bottle of Famous Grouse – she was a Famous Grouse drinker. I came back and to my horror, my blue box bottle of 30-year-old Macallan was almost empty. That’s probably three and a half grand,” he says. Though he was happy there was a thimble left to try.

Nevertheless, an expensive babysitter.

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The Nightcap: 9 July

It’s Friday, work is over (or nearly), which means it’s time for another round-up of all the news from the world of booze. We’ve got sustainable cocktails, sustainable Bentleys, and…

It’s Friday, work is over (or nearly), which means it’s time for another round-up of all the news from the world of booze. We’ve got sustainable cocktails, sustainable Bentleys, and a row over Russian Champagne. They’re all in the Nightcap: 9 July edition!

Apparently there’s some sort of sporting jamboree going on this weekend. Something about football coming home?? So we imagine that many of our readers will be glued to the telly on Sunday night. Luckily, there’s still time to order a selection of tasty beverages to heighten your viewing pleasure. For those with no interest in the Euros, there’s always Wimbledon, the Tour de France, and cricket. Or if you don’t like sport, you could go for a walk, read a book, learn a foreign language, or just pour yourself a drink and settle in with another edition of the Nightcap.

On the blog this week

It was another rocking week on the Master of Malt blog. First off, we got very excited about the arrival of a new exclusive whisky from the Lakes Distillery called Miramar. And so did you, seemingly, as it all sold out in under an hour. Whoosh! Then Lucy Britner looked at what you can do with white Port beyond adding tonic water. Ian Buxton gleefully looked at great whisky marketing disasters like the ill-fated launch of Bailey’s whiskey and Cardhu Pure Malt. Meanwhile, Millie Milliken screamed ‘spring break!’ and showed us to make the Sex on the Beach cocktail. We enjoyed a candid chat with Stephen Davies from Penderyn about Jim Swan, Jim Murray, and how everyone laughed when he wanted to make whisky in Wales. They’re not laughing now. And finally, because getting abroad is far from easy at the moment, we rounded up the 10 best drinks to transport you to faraway lands. 

Meanwhile over on Clubhouse

If you’re a fan of Tequila and mezcal, then head over to the Clubhouse app on your portable telephone device at 3pm today, Friday 9 July. Kristy Sherry, Alejandro Aispuro, Richard Legg, and Michael Ballantyne will be discussing whether 2021 is going to be the year of agave. What do you think? Yes? No? A little bit?

Now, it’s on with the Nightcap: 13 July edition!

The Macallan X Bentley Motors - Image 4[13]

Macallan and Bentley team up for some reason which will become clear at some point, probably

Macallan announces “sustainable” partnership with Bentley

First Bowmore teamed up with Aston Martin, and now there’s more whisky/ automotive synergy as this week Macallan announced a new collaboration with Bentley. Because cars and booze go so well together. It’s all a bit vague at the moment but according to the press bumf, the two companies share more than rich histories and even richer customers. Both are, apparently, big on sustainability and are going to help each other become carbon neutral. MD at Macallan Igor Boyadjian explained: “A key focus of the partnership will be our commitment to a more sustainable future. The breath-taking natural landscape at The Macallan Estate provides the perfect platform for us to embark together on this exciting and extraordinary journey.” Bentley’s chairman and chief executive Adrian Hallmark added: “Transforming Bentley into the world’s most sustainable luxury car company is an exciting journey, and I’m delighted to be working with The Macallan with one common goal – to both lead our fields as we work towards a more sustainable future.” We’ll let you know when there are more specifics but from this week’s press release, it’s clear that neither brand is short of wind power. 

Taittinger Cork

The famous Taittinger cork

Taittinger cork sold as NFT for 69 Bitcoin SV, or £6,200 in old money

If you thought the worlds of Taittinger and Bitcoin wouldn’t collide, then you clearly weren’t at the CoinGeek conference in Zurich a few weeks ago. A bottle of the Champagne was popped by Kurt Wuckert Jr, CoinGeek’s chief bitcoin historian (a real job title, we’ll have you know) at the closing of the conference live on CoinGeek TV – rather handily, it was caught on film. The NFT (non-fungible token) version of this cork (which is basically just a photo, as far as we can tell) then sold for 69 Bitcoin SV. Oh, you don’t know what that means in legal tender? Thank goodness, neither did we – it equals around $8,500. That’s also known as around £6,200, which is how we measure things over here at MoM Towers. Yes, that’s a lot of money for a digital file of a photo of a cork, but the net proceeds are being donated to PROPEL, a charity which helps support children’s education. That’s all rather heartwarming, except now the new owner of ‘The Cork’ (as it’s now known) is trying to resell it here for 2,180 Bitcoin SV. We’ll leave you to work out the inflation on that… Alternatively, if you don’t have big money to blow, you could just treat yourself to a bottle of the good stuff right here!

north-point-distillery-banner

You could win a cask of rum from North Point Distillery in Scotland

Win a whole cask of rum with CaskShare

It’s World Rum Day on 10 July. It’s also Piña Colada day and Teddy Bear Picnic Day. Why not combine the three by making Piña Coladas for your teddies and serving them on a blanket al fresco? And soon, if you take part in Caskshare’s new competition, you could have plenty of rum to share with all your bears. The online spirits marketplace has teamed up with Scotland’s North Point Distillery to offer a whole cask of rum for one lucky customer. All you need is purchase a share of rum (prices start from £40) between 7-31 July, and then bang on about it on social media (full details here). You’ll be entered into a draw to win a one year old firkin of rum containing about 72 bottles worth £2,400. Think how many Piña Coladas you could make with that. And if you’ve got any left over, it’s National Mojito Day on 11 July. So much to celebrate!

The Beaufort Bar (Bar) Lewis Wilkinson.jpg RS

Swanky

The Savoy launches eco-friendly Co-Naissance cocktail

Drinks are often shouting about which far-flung corners of the world their ingredients are from, but the newest cocktail from The Savoy does the opposite. The Co-Naissance cocktail, developed by senior mixologist Cristian Silenzi, is all about local flavours and ingredients, and we were lucky enough to give it a taste at the Beaufort Bar (above). A combination of Portobello Road Gin, and locally-foraged elderflower from Little Venice and fig leaves from Embankment Gardens, is topped off with re-carbonated Champagne that would otherwise have gone down the drain. These local ingredients don’t just show off London’s flora – the cocktail eliminates packaging and waste, and removes single use glass, thus eliminating more than 1.8kg of C02 emissions per cocktail through both waste reduction and reforestation. The Savoy is also planting one native tree in the endangered Kalimantan rainforests of Borneo for each Co-Naissance cocktail served. Needless to say there’s no garnish, though the sublime glassware hardly needs it. As you’d expect from The Savoy, the cocktail itself is a delight, and much more herbaceous than we expected it to be, carried on waves of light florals. If you find yourself on the Strand and fancy doing some good while enjoying a delicious drink, you know where to head.

BBR-SPIRITS-SUMMER_Label_BBR-Small-Batch-Linkwood-2.jpg RS

Snazzy

Berry Bros. & Rudd unveils its first ever bespoke spirits bottle 

London-based Berry Bros. & Rudd, Britain’s oldest family-owned wine and spirits merchant, has launched its summer 2021 spirit range, revealing its first ever bespoke bottle in its 323 years! Designed by Stranger & Stranger, the new bottle will be used across the entire range moving forward. Indeed, some new bottles have already landed at Master of Malt. So, what’s new? The shop windows at its home in No.3 St. James’s Street are the inspiration for the label design – easy enough to recognise if you’ve been lucky enough to visit the charming shop. What’s more, each label boasts different levels of detail as customers move through (well, up) the price range. Lizzy Rudd, Berry Bros & Rudd chairperson commented “I’m delighted that after over 300 years, we are opening another new chapter for our prestigious spirits range. The new packaging and advertising draws upon and respects our heritage, whilst celebrating who we are and what we stand for today.” A snazzy new campaign full of lifestyle films and images accompany the launch as the brand looks towards world domination expanding its appeal in the China, Germany, USA, and UK markets.

The Churchill Arms, Notting Hill

Churchill Arms in Notting Hill, hopefully there will be some free nibbles on 18 September

Inaugural National Hospitality Day to run on 18 September 

Here’s a good idea to help Britain’s pubs, bars and, restaurants which have been having a hell of time recently: A National Hospitality Day. Rather like Record Store Day but with more booze. It’s taking place on 18 September and those taking part will put on special events, menus, entertainment and even free nibbles. Free nibbles? We are there. Hospitality Action is the force behind this new initiative. Chief executive of the charity, Mark Lewis explained: “On one amazing day, we’re going to spark the mother of all parties – and all to help the businesses that have been thrown to their knees by Covid-19, and the people who work in them.” Go to the National Hospitality Day website for more information. By supporting, you’ll not only be helping your local, but also raising money for four charities: The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, The Licensed Trade Charity, and The Springboard Charity. Let’s hope some of Britain’s brewers get behind this worthwhile initiative and, most importantly, it gets people back down their local. Though remember, a pub isn’t just for National Hospitality Day, it’s for life, so make sure you keep going back, even when there aren’t any free nibbles. 

sovetskoje-shampanskoje-polusladkoje-soviet-champagne-semi-sweet

Proper Russian Champagne, none of that French muck

And finally… Real Champagne comes from Russia 

You might think Champagne (the wine) comes only from Champagne (the place in France) but the Russians have other ideas. A new law passed by Vladamir Putin’s government says only Russian producers can label their products ‘shampanskoye’ (worth reading this explainer on the background to the story). Makers of the original French stuff can keep the word ‘Champagne’ on the front label but on the back can only call their product ‘sparkling wine.’ As you can imagine, the French are not happy with protests from French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie and, at one point Moët Hennessy, announced it was suspending exports to Russia. However, someone high up in the company, probably, pointed out how lucrative the Russian market is because the (French) Champagne giant changed its mind and announced: “The Moët Hennessy Champagne houses have always respected the law in place wherever they operate and will restart deliveries.” Money talks, that’s one thing they can agree on in Moscow and Paris. 

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