The early 1980’s… Average UK house prices were around £25,000, Macallan’s 1928 Anniversary Malt was retailing for £50 per bottle and the Scotch whisky industry was heading for meltdown. Over-production followed by severe global recession brought with it the rationalisation of an industry we know and love today.
One of the best known casualties was Port Ellen.
The early 1980’s… Relative unknown indie bottler James MacArthur released an innocuous, plain and inconspicuous bottle of 12 year old whisky from Port Ellen. The cost of which would have been infinitesimally small in todays world. Port Ellen was blend fodder, not the iconic collectable and (at risk of being hung, drawn, quartered, minced and fed to voracious red bellied Piranha by the anti-whisky-investment-league) valuable commodity it is today.
Assume a cost of £30 per bottle (it was probably far less) and push forward the clock to now. That £30 bottle has increased by a quite frankly ridiculous 27,000% to its current value of £8,200. That was the price paid for one of these rarities at the recent Whisky-Online Auctions (W-OA) sale which makes it both the most expensive bottle of Port Ellen and the most expensive bottle of 12 year old Scotch ever sold at auction.
Why? Clearly rarity plays a factor as does the distillery of origin but overarchingly it’s reputedly amazing whisky… No bullshit, just great Scotch (now there’s a marketing strapline I’d like to see!).
Port Ellen wasn’t the only Islay show stopper at the recent W-OA sale. A late 1970’s bottled Ardbeg 10 year old achieved £1,550 and an exceptional old Cadeneheads 12 year old Laphroaig fetched £3,600. Bowmore’s 1957 38 year old achieved £4,100 leaving its 2010 price of £1,000 as a distant memory.
One of the other highlights of the auction was a very well kept collection of older Connoisseurs Choice bottles (cream and brown labels). While the fill levels were expectedly variable, the general condition of the bottles was excellent. Many sold for record prices including –
Ardbeg 1974 13 year old – £430, up from £380 in 2012
Dallas Dhu 1968 14 year old – £280, up from £95 in 2009
Glenkinchie 1964 19 year old – £260, up from £127 in 2012
Glenlossie 1968 14 year old – £250, up from £100 in 2013
Imperial 1969 14 year old – £160, up from £100 in 2013
Brackla 1969 14 year old – £160, up from £90 in 2009
Couple the north highland seaside town of Brora with the Rare Malts Selection series and you’re almost guaranteed exceptional results. An incredibly rare 60.02% ABV variant of the legendary Brora 1972 22 year old fetched £3,200, doubling its 2012 price of £1,600. A bottle of 1975 20 year old Brora achieved £650, more than doubling its last UK auction outing of £300. Cross the road, literally, to the very much alive and kicking Clynelish and the ultra rare 1972 22 year old bottled at 58.64% sold for £825, way up from the £323 paid in 2011… 1972 was a good vintage in Brora!
Moving back down to the eastern flanks of Speyside and Ardmore’s highly sought after ‘Pure Malt Whisky’ 15 year old pushed through £1,000 for the first time when the hammer fell at £1,050. In 2011 just £550 would have taken the bottle.
Having looked at some of the positives, we should always look at the not-so-positives. Someone recently asked me “Andy, just between us, what’s the worst whisky you’ve ever tried?” The answer galvanised me to mention this weeks final bottle. While in my opinion it’s not the worst ever, so far this year I’d have to say my least favourite dram is Inchmurrin 12 year old. Clearly taste is completely subjective but I couldn’t finish a glass of it recently. From the same distillery and showing not every bottle distilled in the 1960’s will increase in value, a bottle of Inchmurrin 1966 sold for £110; exactly half its previous UK auction price of £220 (2013).
While the weather in the Highlands has been far from spring-like with four degrees centigrade and sleet at the weekend, the rare whisky market continues with a warm glow. Let’s hope it doesn’t become too overheated come summer.
Until next time.
Images courtesy of Whisky-Online Auctions.