Tag Archives: Lagavulin

Rare Whisky Review – 24th June 2016

As the rare whisky auction market in the UK has exploded over recent years, it’s become increasingly challenging to regularly feature coverage for each auction-house. We’ve taken the decision to produce a more holistic rare whisky review rather than a weekly auction watch featuring just one auction-house. While we plan on focussing on the secondary market, we’ll also feature important primary market releases and our opinion on pricing, value and market impact too.

We’ll ultimately be producing fewer reports but we hope our readers continue to enjoy our market commentary. We welcome feedback, suggestions and recommendations for future content.

Secondary Market – June 2016

Macallan are experiencing a sea-change in both demand and pricing for their, among others, classic 18 and 25 year olds. The increases through 2016 have been utterly mesmerising; almost unlike anything we’ve seen before. The 18 year olds have seen a 34.13% increase through 2016 and the 25 year olds by 26.14%.

Macallan Indices for 18 and 25 year olds

Scotch Whisky Auctions June sale pushed certain values further with a notable 1963 Macallan vintage (pre the more traditional 18 year olds) fetching a huge £2400. Buoyancy remained but looked to stabilise a little more for many other bottles of vintage 18’s as they continued to trade at the top of the market. The below Rare Whisky extract shows the volume and annual average value for the Macallan 1972 18 year old.

Macallan 18 1972 Volume vs Value

Bottles are vanishing from the market and values are soaring. A robust correlation?

Contemporary Macallan bottles continue to underperform the broader market.

William Grant’s highly collectable Hazelwood Reserve (the first of the five bottle set commemorating respective birthdays of Janet Sheed Roberts) has always been the most desirable of the set. This was last sold at auction in the UK for £420. That price seemed a distant memory as the current market fetched £2200.

The index below shows the combined performance of the five bottles.

Hazelwood Index Jun 2016

The impact of this recent sale is clearly evident but the remaining four bottles continue their negative trajectory. We suggest this particular bottle was bought by a collector looking to complete the set. As this is the most challenging bottle to acquire, for a completist collector price is often not the biggest barrier… simply finding one is!

Old 1980’s Lagavulin had more or less doubled in value over the last 3 years. £920 was paid for a poor fill level White Horse 1980’s bottle. These old gems are becoming less frequently seen in the market. Are the remaining bottles being hoarded or are they being drunk? The answer to that in some respects will define future values. These old, hard to find discontinued releases, look to provide further value to the collector and investor; but is there value to be had out of the current retail/primary market? We look at that a little later.

SWA High Performers
Stellar performers from the recent June Scotch Whisky Auction

Illustrating how influential and important the secondary market has become, some of the largest rare whisky retailers have now established auction based routes to market. The Whisky Exchange’s online auction – Whisky.Auction is one of those. Showing continued heightened demand for the rarest of examples, a bottle of Port Ellen 2008 Feis Ile sold for £3,700 in their June auction far exceeding its previous £3,400 record.

Bonhams June auction brought two notable rarities under the hammer. One of the 77 bottles of Dalmore Candela fetched a record £13,000, significantly up on its 2014 previous best of £10,600. The second bottle was interestingly a blend rather than a malt when an early 1900’s bottle of Johnnie Walker managed a very respectable £6000.

Whisky Auctioneer’s most recent auction ended on the 30th of May and was a generally buoyant affair. That said, a bottle of the 1953 Glenfarclas Wealth Solutions bottle came well down from its October 2015 high of £5,200. This bottle settled well below previous sales when it finally sold for £3,900 (broadly in line with its 2013 prices).

Glenfarclas 1953 Wealth Solns
Not a particularly good solution for one’s wealth if you bought at the peak

Tobermory isn’t necessarily the distillery most associated with collecting and investing, Tobermory 1972 33 year oldhowever, further cementing the underpinning of the whole market by liquid quality, a bottle of 1972 33 year old Tobermory sold for £735. We were fortunate enough to be able to sample this bottle on a recent treasure hunting trip and we were both bowled over by this exceptional spirit.

Final mention has to go to Whisky-online Auctions superb £8,200 result for a bottle of 1967 ‘Largiemeanoch’ – which is Gaelic for stunning sherry cask Bowmore! This bottle appeared expensive when it first sold in the UK for £2,350 in 2012, a price now dwarfed by recent market performance.

Old, rare and high quality whiskies continue to be the subject of desire to a growing international audience. This sustained demand is pushing prices ever higher. While demand remains as it is and supply (of the right bottles) is relatively low in the grand scheme of things, this continued buoyancy looks set to continue.

Some of the exceptional increases we’ve seen over recent months would appear to need to cool down a little. We can’t physically see the Macallan 18 year olds progress on the same trajectory. We envisage a cooling is required in certain areas of the market to restore balance; however, we don’t expect a significant re-trace… equally we never say never.

Primary Market/Retail Releases.

Continuing Lagavulin’s 200th birthday celebrations, a new 25 year old has been released. 8,000 bottles (slightly fewer than the 2002 release’s 9,000) wholly matured in sherry casks will cost £799 per bottle. Does that represent value to the collector and investor?

Lagavulin-whisky_Lagavulin-25-Year-1200x675

Firstly, the dedicated Lagavulin collector will undoubtedly need to buy this bottle but we see little immediate reward for the investor. The 2002 release 25 year old sells on the secondary market for around £500 – £600.

While, to some degree, we’re not speaking from a position of absolute knowledge as we haven’t yet tried the liquid (but we will be), we suspect a similar auction price-point could be achieved in the short to medium term e.g. a 20% loss over retail price. If the liquid is utterly stellar, secondary market prices could be a little higher.

From a pure pricing perspective, at £799, the Lagavulin has positioned itself above virtually every other 25 out there. The current 25 year old Macallan sherry oak can be found for the same price. Dalmore’s pricing was decreed as outrageous when their recent 25 year old hit the market for £600 (that now sells at auction for around £400).

Both Highland Park and Glendronach (Grandeur) can be found for around, or under, the £350 price point. Two worthy drams in anyone’s book.

Looking at some others – Glenmorangie can be found at £250, Glenfiddich is £299 and Diageo stablemate Talisker is a mere snip (it actually really is) at £230.

OR how about half a case of Glenfarclas 25 year old (£120 per bottle) for more or less the same price?

We’re not saying the pricing is wrong, bad, good, superb or indifferent, just interesting. Once we’ve tried the liquid we’ll be able to comment with absolute knowledge.

Until next time, slainte.

Andy and David.

Weekly Auction Watch – 12th May 2016

Sometimes packaging delights us; sometimes it turns us off; sometimes it sadly becomes more of a focus than the liquid it’s intended to position, enhance and display… Rarely does it confuse. But that’s where Gordon and MacPhail’s Mortlach 75 year old packaging has left me – utterly confused.

Mortlach 75
The oldest Scotch in the world

I’m not saying it’s bad per se, just a little left of field, a bit odd and probably not that sensible if the truth be told.

The recent Whisky Auctioneer whisky sale saw a bottle of the oldest Scotch in the world sell for the not insignificant sum of £17,800. Included in the sale was the leather travel/presentation bag. I have nothing against leather travel bags, I’ve owned one for many years and it’s been a welcome companion on many a trip… But would I stuff nearly twenty grands worth of Scotch and crystal decanter inside it and haul it over my shoulder? The concept seems about as sensible as popping into Lady Gaga’s meat dress and wandering round the Maasai Mara shouting “here Lion, Lion… here boy”. Maybe the inside of the bag has significant steel and Kevlar reinforcement? At least it’s different! Odd… granted, but different.

Mortlach bag
Makes traveling with you twenty grand bottle of Scotch a breeze!

Anyway, moving from packaging to prices as is more the focus here; there were some huge new records achieved at last week’s Whisky Auctioneer sale.

Macallan – A market divided.

Macallan 18 Year Old 1970's

As auction values for more modern releases and many Macallan ‘drinkers’ splutter and falter like an asthmatic steam train ascending Everest, many are becoming available at auction for significantly less that you’d pay at retail (Rare Cask for £135 at auction). On the flip side of this crumbling coin is the golden face of the ‘old’ bottles. The older vintage 18 and 25 year old’s are absolutely flying. Values are increasing at an unprecedented rate. The 18’s have already increased by 24.69% this year and the 25 year old’s have increased by 19.35%. April’s Rare Whisky 101 month-end charts were off the scale and that growth looks to be accelerating. As with the vast Karuizawa gains seen through early 2015, we’re wondering if the market is becoming overheated. Certainly, the pace of these increases cannot be maintained. Three of the 18 year olds sold at this auction achieved fresh new records – the 1970 hit £1,050, a bottle of 1974 sold for £975 and the 1978 made £825. All were selling for around a third of those prices as recently as 2013.

Islay continues to ride high.

Yet again, older rarer bottles from Islay made big money. I remember being sat in the auction room at Bonhams (Edinburgh) in 2010 and chatting in hushed tones to a friend as the auction moved along. Almost exactly when I’d finished talking, the hammer fell on a bottle I couldn’t believe I missed. £120 took a bottle of 1972 27 year old Bowmore… A snip… and I missed it because I was chewing the fat over Lyne arm angles, secondary fermentation or some other utterly geeky stuff. Like my old school reports – pay more attention! Especially noting that bottle sold for £858 at last week’s Whisky Auctioneer sale.

White Horse bottled Lagavulin seems to be in ever increasing demand. £230 took a bottle to nearly double its recent trading range… Maybe there’s panic in them there hills? Might 16 turn to eight then turns to NAS?! I suspect not to be fair, but who knows. A bottle of Murray McDavid bottled 1979 Lagavulin also shone through as a clear winner managing £1,000 for the first time. Until the end of 2013 this bottle had never sold for more than £200 at auction.

Bruichladdich saw a bottle of its 40 year old make the most expensive bottle of ‘Laddie at auction in the UK. A respect-worthy £1750 took it past a previous best of £1550.

From a silent stills perspective. The big movement was seen from independent bottlers. A brace of 1972 vintage Brora’s from Douglas Laing went expectedly berserk. The Old and Rare 29 year old managed £2,350, massively ahead of its previous UK sale price of £500 (that was expensive in 2010!) and the 30 year old bottled for The Whisky Shop hit £1,426, not a record but a superb price noting it was lacking its card tube.

Brora 1972's
A brace of big Brora ’72’s

Port Ellen had a noticeable lack of bottles at auction but a Connoisseurs Choice 1982/2007 stood out when it fetched £410.

All told, last week’s Whisky Auctioneer sale was as buoyant as they come. We’re just keeping a close eye on the rapidly heating vintage Macallan market. For those with a few stashed away, values are clearly increasing; however, I’m not so sure I’d be entering the market in a hurry right now. As always, time will tell.

 

Images courtesy of Whisky Auctioneer.

Weekly Auction Watch – 12th Aug 2015

The 21st (really? Almost two years!) Whiskyauctioneer sale ended last week and brought with it a whole host of record prices, some were particularly strong. Amid solid demand, the secondary rare whisky market (for the right bottles), looked well and truly governed by the bulls.

The first-release phenomena stood out with the sale of a full set of An Cnoc Peter Arkle bottles. The first release (fourth bottle along in the image) achieved £138, it’s first time over £100 but the rest of the collection dipped.

Not necessarily the rarest bottles in the world but An Cnoc's Arkle first release performs well
Not necessarily the rarest bottles in the world but An Cnoc’s Arkle first release performs well

Tipped as ‘buys’ previously, many independently bottled Ardbeg values drifted further north. As LVMH continue their strict cask control regime (I’ve tried to buy some, it didn’t work out well!) the number of remaining casks in the market out-with LVMH control continues to wither on the vine. Diminishing supply and no let-up from an army of keen fans should see these bottles continue to perform.

Local (to RW101 anyway) hero Balblair's 1989 vintage
Local (to RW101 anyway) hero Balblair’s 1989 vintage

Our local distillery and frequent source of great juice, Balblair, saw the first release 1989 vintage peak at £127 (first release standing out again). Just £25 took this at auction in 2010.

Surfing on Atlantic wave sized peaks and troughs, as is now common with the distillery, Bruichladdich had an interesting set of results. The trilogy of Blacker Still, Redder Still and Golder Still saw Blacker selling for £370; way under its record £600. Redder sold for £350, just off its previous best £410 and Golder advanced significantly to sell for a heady £330. In 2011 Golder sold for a mere £78, well under its original retail price.

Blacker, Redder and Golder Still values yo-yo
Blacker, Redder and Golder Still values yo-yo
What goes up can also come down
What goes up can also come down

Previously one of the most sought after collectable Bruichladdich’s was ‘The Rocket’ or WMDI – Whisky of Mass Distinction (followed by the far more common WMDII – Yellow Submarine). As far back as 2008 WMDI was selling for £180 – £200; more recent sales have been as much as £270 and £310. In common with Bruichladdichs yo-yo-esque auction performance one sold for an all-time low of £175 (it also subsequently sold for less than that but more on that next week). Unless Bruichladdich is being bought as a drink or as a collectable, we’re advising to wait on the side-lines as an investment; certainly until values stabilise and this extreme volatility settles.

Silent Stills proved yet again they’re still attracting some serious competition.

Released in 2003, the Glen Flagler / Killyloch pairing performed impresively. As the only official bottling from Killyloch, this 1967 vintage sailed through its previous £1,550 record and sold for £1,850. While the Glen Flagler failed to achieve an outright new record, (£1,150 was bid in September 2013) it out-performed its current £550 – £750 trading range and set a second best price of £1,000.

Glen Flagler/Killyloch pair see surge in demand
Glen Flagler/Killyloch pair see surge in demand

Other record silent still sales were achieved by –

Cadenheads 1978 vintage Coleburn which sold for £305 (£75 low-point in 2011).

Cadenheads 1977 vintage Pittyvaich which sold for £450 (£220 low-point in 2013).

Signatory 1990 vintage Rosebank which sold for £260 (£125 low-point in 2014).

Against The Grain 1982 vintage Glen Mhor sold for £133 (£52 low-point in 2009).

Many silent stills bottles lead the market
Many silent stills bottles lead the market

Featured almost every week now, recent increased demand for Highland Park saw one of the Bicentenary Repatriation bottles achieve £799, sailing past current trading range of £350 – £450. A very respectable gain over its £250 original retail price.

Legendary Laga shines
Legendary Laga shines

Lagavulin’s 2007 released 21-year-old just pipped its previous best of £880 when one sold for £893.

While the volume end of the market continues to falter (but provides opportunities for missed bottles to be picked up at fair prices) the rarer end of the market maintains its buoyancy.

Until next time.

Slainte,

Andy

All images courtesy of Whisky Auctioneer

Feis Ile Bottles – Collectable or not?

Like a swarm of wasps round a spilled Jack ‘n Coke on a hot day, the coming months are set to see the many whisky-auctioneers of the world flooded by limited bottles from this years Islay Festival. There’s almost an underground competition to see which auctioneer can get the first bottles onto the open market such is demand for these releases.

For those collectors who can’t attend the annual Feis Ile (or maybe just don’t do queues), auctions are a viable means of acquiring these desirable bottles.

But how do they perform as an investment?

Some of the older releases are collectable icons now, the 2008 Feis Ile Port Ellen sold for £100 to the lucky few who secured a bottle on the day. It now sells for around £3,000 at auction, a truly staggering result. Can the more recent, increasingly voluminous bottlings compete as a viable liquid commodity? Over the years I’ve spoken to many Feis-goers who would pay for their annual peat-land-pilgrimage by selling the bottled spoils of their trip after the event.

It’s one thing buying a bottle for £100 upon its release and selling for £3,000, but as an investment are these bottles worth buying on the secondary market? If so, which distilleries are the ones to go for?

The chart below shows the UK auction performance from the start of June 2012 to the end of May 2015 for ALL Feis Ile bottles sold. Such is the impact and value of the Port Ellen release we’ve included a separate line with that bottle removed from the index. Over the three year term measured, all Feis Ile bottles have increased by 45.27%; without the Port Ellen that’s reduced to 37.41%.

All Bottle Feis Ile Index

The current average price of all Feis Ile bottles is £304.40 which is taken back to £262.40 without the Port Ellen. As a full and expansive collection, it has to be said the Feis releases are not the best performing of bottles; however 45% over three years is still impressive and outperforms banks, Gold, wine and a host of other investments.

Feis Ile Bottles by Distillery.

In order to have some element of fairness around this we’ve taken four years releases, 2009 – 2012 inclusive, and measured these separately (noting Kilchoman released their first Feis bottle in 2010 we’re measuring three releases for them). This also gives a reasonably good period of time for measurement, if we took it right up to 2014, we’d only be looking at 12 months performance and as we all know, whisky should be viewed as a long term investment. We also created two separate indices for Bowmore, one measuring the lower priced more voluminous releases and another for the very rare more expensive editions.

We had an opinion about which distillery(ies) would be the best performers. Prior to running the numbers we were very much of the opinion we’d see Lagavulin/Bowmore right at the top and Kilchoman/Bruichladdich at the bottom. The actual numbers are rather less obvious and proved to be something of a surprise.

The chart below indexes the bottom four performing distilleries/bottle groups.

Worst Perfroming Feis Ile by Distillery

Bowmore Rarities = +13.68%

Kilchoman = -2.12%

Caol Ila = -13.31%

Bunnahabhain = -16.95%

Bunnahabhain has seen something of a rapid slide since last years Feis. In May 2014 Bunnahabhain Feis bottles were up some 19.55% (index 119.55). Over the past 12 months values have plummeted by more than 30% to their current level. The trigger point in time is very definite, it’s on-the-nose of last years Feis Ile, so what happened? Were 2014’s bottles just too expensive causing an element of collectors turning away from the brand? Did the quality of the liquid slip significantly? Whatever the reason, Bunnahabhain’s bottles have seen a step change shift into the red.

No Bruichladdich at the bottom then? Recent prices for virtually all bottles of Bruichladdich have slumped, with even the most sought after bottles tumbling in value. A good example is PC5 which used to sell for as much as £460 and now sells for £200 – £220 having lost over 50% from its peak price.

The chart below indexes the top five distilleries/bottle groups.

Top Performing Feil Ile by distillery

Bruichladdich = +53.67%

Laphroaig = +44.75%

Bowmore = +29.37%

Ardbeg = +28.86%

Lagavulin = +26.85%

In a quite unexpected final result, somewhat akin to the recent UK general election, Bruichladdich’s bottles have out-performed the rest by a significant margin.

Average UK Auction Prices.

Average prices per bottle per distillery/bottle group look more or less where expected. The rare Bowmore bottles take top spot with many other distilleries hovering around the £100 price point.

Average Feis Ile bottle price by distillery

The interesting thing this allows is a number of assumptions; the rare Bowmore’s use up a lot of capital for a relatively small return, or they have historically. Conversely Bruichladdich uses far less capital and is apparently making the greatest gains, although I would still urge huge caution here.

In reality, for those with a keen interest in the value of their collections from a keep or drink perspective, I’d be selecting some of the rarities and older single casks while they’re still appearing on the market reasonably frequently. This final chart shows the top 10 performing bottles from the various Feis Ile releases.

Top 10 Feis Ile Release Index

Now the Feis is a relatively large scale event, the volume of collectable bottles increases yearly. Where we might have previously seen a single cask from a distillery, in order to give as many folk as possible the chance to try the liquid, we now see thousands of bottles… which is a good thing.

Despite Diageo’s gift-at-the-Feis Lagavulin pricing, I still suspect these older, rarer releases will be where the future gains are seen.

Silent Island Stills

Silent Island Distilleries by Gavin D. Smith

If one looks at a map of the ‘lost’ distilleries of Scotland it may seem that the Scottish islands have escaped relatively unscathed. This is, of course, in part due to the fact that there were never too many distilleries there in the first place, and secondly, much of the distilling that was carried on in island communities took place without the tiresome formalities of licences and documentation.

Two islands which would appear to have acquired their first licensed distilleries in relatively recent times are Arran in the Inner Hebrides and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. A distillery opened for business at Lochranza on Arran in 1993, and has gone on to establish a reputation for seriously good whisky, while the jury is still out on the comparatively youthful spirit of Lewis’ Abhainn Dearg distillery, which opened in 2008.

Yet both islands once boasted licensed distilleries, with Lagg in the south of Arran being the last of three legal distilleries on the island, operating between 1825 and 1837, though it has been reported that some 50 illicit distilleries were working on Arran during the early 19th century!

Lewis was also renowned for its illicit distilling tradition, which some say has not entirely died out in the more remote parts of the island, but a licensed distillery operated in the capital of Stornoway from 1825 until 1840. Both it and Lagg were clearly established in the optimistic years following the 1823 Excise Act, which incentivised legitimate whisky-making.

Three significant island distilleries were lost during the economically harsh years between the two world wars, namely Stromness on Orkney, in the north, and Lochindaal and Port Ellen on the ‘whisky island’ of Islay, though Port Ellen was to enjoy a second role of the dice between 1967 and 1983.

Port Ellen's former Glory. Diageo Archives image
Port Ellen’s former Glory. Diageo Archives image

Today Orkney is well-known for is Highland Park and Scapa distilleries, close to the island capital of Kirkwall, but apart from these two survivors, there were as many as six licensed distilleries in and around Kirkwall during the 1820s and two distilleries in Orkney’s second-largest town of Stromness. One of the Stromness pair only operated from 1825 until 1831, but the principal Stromness distillery lasted from its establishment in 1817 until 1928.

It was located close to the harbour, and was initially licensed to John Crookshanks, and though named Stromness distillery, the whisky it produced was sold for many years as Man O’Hoy, after one of Orkney’s most distinctive landmarks, the red sandstone sea stack off the island of Hoy.

Stromness was in the hands of no fewer than six individuals before closing in 1867, but 1878 saw it restored to use by the Macpherson brothers, who renamed the distillery itself Man O’Hoy and marketed its whisky as Old Orkney, or ‘OO’.

A bottle of Old Orkney from Stomness/Man O' Hoy distillery. Sold at auction for £2,500 in 2012
A bottle of Old Orkney from Stomness/Man O’ Hoy distillery. Sold at auction for £2,500 in 2012

The Macphersons ran Stromness distillery until it was acquired somewhere between 1900 and 1910 by Belfast-based J&J McConnell Ltd, who operated it through their McConnell’s Distillery Ltd, London subsidiary. However, the harsh economic climate of the inter-war years forced its closure in 1928. It was subsequently owned for a time by Booths Distilleries, but the distillery buildings were demolished during the 1940s, and ultimately replaced by local authority housing.

When he visited during the mid-1880s, journalist and author Alfred Barnard, whose book Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom was published in 1887, described Stromness as “The most remote Distillery in the Kingdom,” He added that “In the little old-fashioned Still House are to be seen two of the ‘sma’ old Pot Stills,’ each holding 300 gallons. One of these, a veritable smuggler’s Still of a peculiar shape, is the quaintest we have seen in our travels, and was formerly the property of a noted law evader; its body is shaped like a pumpkin, and is surmounted by a similarly shaped chamber one fourth the size, to prevent the goods boiling over, through which the neck passes to the head of the Still.”

Barnard continued by noting that “The Whisky, which is Highland Malt, is principally sold in Scotland, where there is a good demand for it, and the annual output is 7,000 gallons.” To get a sense of just how ‘boutique’ the enterprise really was, it is worth noting that Barnard records 50,000 gallons being distilled per annum at Highland Park.

Islay has long been home to more licensed distilleries than any other Scottish island, and Alfred Barnard visited nine licensed facilities when his travels took him there. Today Islay boasts eight distilleries, with another in the shape of Gartbreck currently under construction near Bowmore.

Of Islay’s ‘lost’ distilleries, Lochindaal distillery was founded during 1829 in Port Charlotte village, on the shores of Loch Indaal, initially operating under the name Port Charlotte Distillery. The facility was making 128,000 gallons of spirit per annum during Barnard’s visit, which compared with Lagavulin’s 75,000 gallons and the 250,000 gallons being produced by Ardbeg at the time.

In 1920, Lochindaal’s owners JF Sheriff & Co were bought out by Benmore Distilleries Ltd, and nine years later they suffered the same fate as many struggling distillery ventures during the prevailing  economic depression, being purchased by the Distillers Company Limited (DCL), which immediately closed Lochindaal.

Lochindaal distillery. Diageo Archives Image
Lochindaal distillery. Diageo Archives Image

The plant was subsequently removed, but some of the buildings continued to be utilised by the now defunct Islay Creamery until the 1990s, while others were taken over by a garage business and by Islay Youth Hostel. Two substantial, stone-built warehouses have remained in use for the maturation of spirit.

In the south of the island Port Ellen distillery was established in 1825. Port Ellen has a number of claims to fame, not least as the location where Septimus Fox’s spirit safe was tested and refined during the early 1820s. At the invitation of owner John Ramsay, both Aeneas Coffey and Robert Stein also carried out research work at Port Ellen, aiding the development of the continuous still.

Port Ellen distillery remained in the Ramsay family until 1920, when it was acquired by the major blending companies of James Buchanan & Co Ltd and John Dewar & Sons Ltd.  Port Ellen passed to DCL when Buchanan and Dewar merged with that organisation in 1925 and in 1930 the distillery closed, having been transferred to the DCL subsidiary Scottish Malt Distillers.

Unlike so many of its counterparts, however, Port Ellen was granted a second lease of life in 1967, when the distillery underwent an 18 months-long, £400,000 rebuilding programme, during which the plant changed quite dramatically, both internally and externally. It finally became operational one again in April 1967.

Six years later, the village of Port Ellen was transformed by the construction of a vast new mechanised maltings plant beside the distillery, and as a result, the old floor maltings at DCL’s three Islay distilleries of Port Ellen, Lagavulin and Caol Ila subsequently closed.

Floor Maltings at Port Ellen distillery
Floor Maltings at Port Ellen distillery. Diageo Archives image

Sadly, it was only a decade later that Port Ellen distillery fell silent once again. Port Ellen was probably selected as the most expendable of DCL’s Islay distilleries because its make was less popular with the blending trade than either Lagavulin or Caol Ila. In the early 1980s, Islays were very much blending whiskies, and it would have taken a remarkable crystal ball to foresee that one day Islay single malts would enjoy international cult status.

In 2005 owners Diageo demolished the sections of Port Ellen distillery dating from the 1960s rebuild, leaving the maltings and two early pagoda kiln roofs in place, along with a sea-front range of stone warehouses, which serve as a reminder of Port Ellen distillery’s productive days.

While the existence of Lochindaal and Port Ellen distilleries is familiar to many whisky aficionados, more obscure is the story of Malt Mill, whisky from which features prominently in director Ken Loach’s 2012 movie The Angels’ Share.

In the early 1900s, Lagavulin, some two and a half miles east of Port Ellen along the southern Islay shore, was owned by Mackie & Co (Distillers) Ltd, whose company produced the best-selling White Horse blended Scotch whisky. White Horse’s Peter Mackie also acted as sales agent for nearby Laphroaig, and when he lost this role due to a disagreement over water rights, Mackie decided to make his own version of Laphroaig by way of retaliation. Accordingly, he constructed a small distillery named Malt Mill within the Lagavulin site during 1908.

Despite Mackie’s efforts, Malt Mill never seriously rivalled Laphroaig, but the distillery survived until 1960, when production ceased, and two years later the plant was dismantled and its pair of pear-shaped stills were transferred to the Lagavulin still house, where they saw another seven years of service. The site of Malt Mill is now occupied by the Lagavulin visitor centre.

Precious Malt Mill
Precious Malt Mill

Islay is also noted for a proliferation of farm-based distilleries, many of which had their origins in illicit operations. A number of these small-scale distilleries were established, or legalised, in the wake of the 1816 Small Stills Act, which encouraged legal distillation.

The now lost distilleries of Ardmore (later absorbed into Lagavulin), Ballygrant, Bridgend, Octovullin, Octomore, Newton, Scarabus and Tallant all dated from the years following the Small Stills Act, while the 1823 Excise Act once again led to a spate of new Islay distilleries. These included Glenavullen, Lossit and Mulindry as well as the larger Port Ellen and Lochindaal distilleries, along with Ardenistiel, which was ultimately incorporated into the Laphroaig site.

The tradition of small-scale, farm-based traditional Islay distilleries was given a boost by the creation of Kilchoman distillery, which commenced production in 2005 at Rockside Farm, not far from Bruichladdich.

Gartbreck Distillery impression. Set to be Islay's newest
Gartbreck Distillery impression. Set to be Islay’s newest

Gartbreck distillery promises to follow in the same footsteps, even boasting that distillation will be carried out using a live flame – something to warm the hearts of old-time distillers all over the islands of Scotland.

Weekly Auction Watch – 10th March 2015

Yes, I blinked and yes, February was over. I blinked again and we’re on the 10th of March… I started this auction watch on the 2nd!

February was a month which will be favoured as exceptional in terms of the gains in value for collectable Scotch (and Japanese) whisky. With all but one major index showing positive movement, in some cases significantly, can this month take over where the short-but-sweet February left off?

March’s first auction, from Glasgow based Scotch Whisky Auctions, ended on the first of March and brought with it some incredible results.

Ardbeggeddon almost doubles in value
Ardbeggeddon almost doubles in value

Ardbeg’s current trend continued with rarer higher value bottles achieving new records. The Ardbeggeddon 1972 vintage set the pace when it sold for £1,550, hugely exceeding its 2014 price of £825. Another good result was seen by one of just 222 bottles from cask number 1924 (1999 vintage 10 year old) which sold for £430. These younger single cask offerings used to be available from the distillery but were sadly discontinued some years ago.

A set of Arran’s Icons achieved £600, nicely exceeding the £380 paid in 2013. For rarer bottles, Arran seems keen to continue its current bull-run.

Arran's Icons become the iconic Arran collectors set
Icons of Arran. Rapidly becoming an iconic collectors set too

While the bulk of their bottles remained depressed, Bruichladdich’s 1970 vintage (one of the first releases under the then new ownership in 2001) hit £560 way ahead of its 2010 low of £120.

Bunnahabhain’s 1968 vintage Auld Acquaintance peaked at a new record £800, £50 ahead of its previous best in January this year. In 2010 these were being picked up for £220; even further back and just £160 would have secured a bottle in 2008. Steep gains for this bottle are no real surprise… Probably Bunna’s finest?

Older vintages from Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain see upside
Older vintages from Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain see upside
Late 1970's bottled Dalmore
Late 1970’s bottled Dalmore

Dalmore’s older discontinued bottles and rarities performed admirably. A bottle of late 1970’s 12 year old (dumpy green bottle with ‘jigger’ cap, lacking its box) fetched £185, comfortably ahead of its 2013 previous best of £85. The 1985 vintage distillery exclusive sold for £360. In 2009 a bottle of this sold for just £55, with a previous record of £205 this is indeed significant movement.

£860 is almost double last years price for a bottle of 1972 39 year old Glendronach. A near doubling in value in just 12 months is incredible (£450 in March 2014). I suspect we’ll see a lot more Glendronach records over the coming months/years.

Older vintage Glenmorangie’s performed well with the (not that old to be fair) Margaux bottling in Perspex case selling for £420. In 2012 values for these had all but collapsed and bottles could be picked up for £90.

Lagavulin prices in general appeared buoyant. The first release 21 year old achieved £880, just slipping past its previous best of £840. A set of three older Lagavulins (the first release 21, the 25 and the 30) now costs a combined £2,500 at auction. With an original retail price of £430 for the three, their growth looks somewhat acceptable.

Lagavulin 21, 25 and 30 year old. 481.4% increase in value over retail prices
Lagavulin 21, 25 and 30 year old. 481.4% increase in value over retail prices

The blue box/label variant of Macallan’s 30 year old sailed up to a massive new record of £2,900. With a 2008 price of £260 this is now one of the few exclusive and illusive ‘ten-baggers’ ever seen on the open market. Conversely the Masters of Photography Leibovitz bottles (Skyline and Bar) hit their lowest prices to date. Skyline sold for £1,050 down from £1,550 in June last year and The Bar achieved £1,100 down from £1,300 in July.

A Macallan rose between two thorns... from a collectors perspective
A Macallan rose between two thorns… from a collectors perspective

Along with Diageo stablemate Lagavulin, Talisker had a great auction. A massive £380 sealed the bidding for the 2007 released distillery exclusive. I do see that as a spike, but an impressive one none the less. The 34 year old ‘in a boat’ achieved £1,650 up from £990 in 2012.

With simply too many other record prices to feature separately, many bottles from silent stills hit new highs. Lochside, Rosebank and St Magdalene all experienced increased demand, as did Port Ellen.

In December 2012 a full-set of Port Ellen official releases (1st release to 12th release incl.) would have cost £6,805 at auction. At this recent SWA sale, that price has risen to a heady £10,390, up 52.7% in a little over two years.

It would also be remiss of me to let this auction pass without mention of the mighty Japanese whisky-value-warlord, Karuizawa. I can’t reference every record but suffice to say virtually every bottle was a new high… Amazing results. I’m looking forward to seeing a 1964 or maybe even a 1960 hit the open market.

Finally, showing how important fill levels are to influencing values, a 1970’s bottled Tamdhu 8 year old with a good fill sold for £190. Exactly the same bottle but with a fill at upper mid shoulder achieved just £80.

£190 with a good fill level. Almost 60% less for a poor fill level
£190 with a good fill level. Almost 60% less for a poor fill level

Until next time.

Slainte,

Andy

Images courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions.