Tag Archives: Port Ellen

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.



Images courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions.

Weekly Auction Watch – 10th Feb 2015

Weekly Whisky Auction Watch

10th Feb 2015

One of the more recently established whisky auction houses has been generating a high level of interest bringing some exciting bottles to the open market. Perth based Whiskyauctioneer has been trading for just over 12 months and appears to be a firm fixture in the monthly auction calendar. Their recent sale included a number of exceptional high end bottles with a balance of attractive prices for both buyers and sellers.

The star of the show was a bottle of the more recently released Black Bowmore along with siblings White and Gold Bowmore. Previous prices for the trilogy have been static at £12,500 for some time. £16,000 took the prize on this occasion showing demand is still high for these top end rarities. This also follows Bowmore’s general increasing trend for older bottles.

Top end Bowmores showcase high demand for old rarities
Top end Bowmore showcases high demand for old rarities

Staying with the aforementioned Bowmore, a bottle of 1968 vintage, 37 year old, sold for £1,455. As recently as December 2013 a bottle slipped through the net, achieving just £450. The previous record was £1,060 in December 2014.

Balvenie had another good auction with constantly increasing demand pushing values higher. A bottle of Sherry Oak 17 year old sold for a record £200, way past its lowest sale vale of £62 in 2012. ‘The Cooper’ performed well again; a bottle lacking the paper surround for the card tube sold for £440.

25.6% loss for the 2014 Brora Special Release
25.6% loss for the 2014 Brora Special Release

Diageo’s 2014 Brora Special release had its first UK auction outing and sold for £950. Not disastrous by any stretch, however, this shows the market value perception for the Special Releases has changed dramatically over recent years. Take off 5% sellers premium plus VAT and that leaves net proceeds of £893, a 25.6% loss over the £1,200 RRP. The question is, will the market catch up in future years or have the Special Releases had their day (from a collectors/investors perspective)? To some degree I do suspect the market will catch up, however, when you take account for sellers premium etc it could be a good three years plus to see any sort of break-even at current retail prices (I’m purely talking Brora here, not the rest of the pack, many of which are solid drinkers and nothing more).

Bruichladdich looked a little more buoyant than of late, especially at the top end (relatively standard limited releases continued to languish). The 40 year old sold for a record £1,400, edging past its previous best of £1,250… In 2009 a bottle sold for £360. This bottle also becomes the single most expensive Bruichladdich ever sold at auction in the UK.

Bruichladdich's most expensive bottle at auction in the UK
Bruichladdich’s most expensive bottle at auction in the UK

Matching Bruichladdich in age, a bottle of 1966 distilled 40 year old Dalmore sold for £1,800. Not an outright record but a record for a bottle which is unsigned by Richard Paterson. At the other end of the trading range, the Dalmore 25 year old was back down to £400, a significant loss against its £600 retail price.

Broad based Macallan values shifted very slightly north which was pleasing to see. The 15 year old Easter Elchies Seasonal Selection hit a new high of £375 and the 1841 Replica achieved £260, its best price yet. In common with other recent auctions, contemporary high value Macallan NAS bottles failed to sell. Two ‘M’ Decanters and one of the two ‘Reflexion’ bottles remained unsold. Does high value NAS actually mean Not Actually Sold (at auction anyway)?!

New record prices for Macallan bottles
New record prices for Macallan bottles

Port Ellen values look stable at current levels with the 4th release achieving a new record £1,650.

Pre Flora & Fauna Aberfeldy yields 53.6% loss
Pre Flora & Fauna Aberfeldy yields 53.6% loss

At the other end of the scale, the old ‘pre-Flora & Fauna’ bottle of Aberfeldy 15 year old sold for £130, its lowest recorded sale yet. With a high-point of £280 in 2012, recent times have seen a gradual slip in value yielding a 53.6% loss from peak to current trough.

The final interesting observation from this particular auction was the general lack of bottles from silent stills. There were the usual Port Ellen culprits and, a couple of Brora’s and a light dusting of Rosebanks but other than that, consignments from closed distilleries were pretty thin on the ground. A sign of things to come? Get them while you can…?

Until next time.



Photos courtesy of Whiskyauctioneer.com

Monthly Market Watch – November 2014

Vast Supply Stresses the Market.

My closing remark from last months update was “I remain cautiously optimistic for November but not quite as bullish as earlier in the year”. That rang very true throughout the month and while I still remain cautiously optimistic, with record breaking volumes, November passed as a month of further polarisation and stability/low growth at best.

Early in 2014 our forecast for the number of bottles sold at auction in the UK was 29,500. November saw that figure breached as 3,715 bottles took the total to 29,845 year to date (full sealed bottles of Single Malt Scotch excluding bundled lots). As a year on year comparison, there were 2,023 bottles sold at auction in the UK during November 2013 – November 2014 showed volume growth of 84%. With a further 3,500 bottles expected to be sold in December, the closing year-end figure will look more like 33,500; some 66% above 2013’s 20,211.

This remarkable continued growth and vast supply is having an impact on many values. Some of the recent volume-based limited releases are experiencing an accelerated ‘New Release Curve’ where the first few bottles sell for unsustainable amounts followed by an almost cliff-like drop. Ardbeg Kildalton Project peaked at £285 in August and now sits at around £160.

The composite index November changes ranked in order of increase/decrease are –

1 – RWVintage50 – Vintage 50 Index +0.75%

2 – RWB Index – Brora Index +0.52%

3 – RWIcon100 – Icon 100 Index +0.03%

4 – RWRMS Index – Rare Malts Selection Index -0.61

5 – RWK Index – Karuizawa -1.54%

6 – RWM25 Index – Macallan 25 -1.70%

7 – RWM18 Index – Macallan 18 -5.15%

8 – RWPE Index – Port Ellen -12.42%


While three of the eight composite indices showed growth, none were exceptional. The significant fall in the RWPE Port Ellen Index was primarily due to the first release coming back from a £2,100 October peak and settling back down to £1,300 (equalling Septembers value). Early signs in December show this down-spike should be reversed, at least to some degree.

The benchmark RWIcon100 Index remained flat at +0.03%. Twenty six bottles lost value in the month (28 in October), fifty bottles remained the same (43 in October) and twenty four bottles increased (29 in October).

The three worst performing bottles in the RWIcon100 Index were –

Novembers worst performer.
Novembers worst performer.

#3 – Port Ellen Rare Malts Selection 20 yr old (-39.29%)

#2 – Highland Park Eunsons Legacy (-40.00%)

#1 – Talisker 20 year old 1st release (-40.51%)

A Rose among thorns from a performance perspective.
A Rose among thorns from a performance perspective.

The top three performers were –

#3 – Ardbeg Provenance 1st release (+57.59%)

#2 – Lagavulin OB 30 year old (+93.75%)

#1 – Balvenie Rose 2nd Release (+220.51%)

Following Karuizawa’s ‘project Everest’ like growth over the last 6 months it was unsurprising to see some sort of pause for breath. That said, it is encouraging that prices remained broadly in line with previous highs.

Both Macallan indices are expected to soften further through December and, for the moment at least, we look to be at the top of values for the 25 year old Anniversary Malts. The 18 year olds have already seen a significant correction (Q1 this year) before rapidly regaining value so it appears Macallan 18’s are set for a bit of a lumpy ride.

The Apex Indices (the best performing 1,000, 250 and 100 bottles) remained flat through November with the Apex1000 down -0.19%, the Apex250 up 0.46% and the Apex100 down -1.27%.

Apex Nov 2014

The Negative Indices, without exception, reached new lows. The Negative 1000 index breached 60 points for the first time, settling at 59.48, some 2.75% lower than October.

Negative Nov 14

As referenced in last months update, Bruichladdich values stepped back even further, cementing what appears to be a significant re-trace. From a holistic distillery perspective (including all OB’s and IB’s), Bruichladdich values declined by a staggering 13.44%. The following index shows the performance of a collection of sought after OB rarities (including PC5, Octomore 01.1, all Legacy bottles, the 1970 and 1973 vintages plus others).

Bruichladdich values tumble.
Bruichladdich values tumble.

November saw the index open at 196.74 and close at 180.73 – down 8.14%. At its peak in June this year the index reached 215.20 – From peak to trough that represents a loss of 16.02%.

Price differentiation and Instability.

There’s clearly a leaning towards oversupply at the moment which is affecting certain high volume brands; however, we are seeing further significant differences in hammer price depending on where a bottle is physically sold. The main low-points (eg the Port Ellen 1st Release selling for £1,300) are being achieved at traditional auction houses rather than on-line. Lower prices and typically higher sellers fees asks the question (again) of the long term viability of traditional auctioneers selling whisky.

With less than one month to go until we close the book on 2014 it appears an element of instability has crept into the market.

December will be a crucial month…

Silent Stills

Our regular features contributor, renowned whisky writer Gavin D. Smith, talks in detail about Silent Stills.

Silent Stills

Gavin D. Smith

Just like any other commercial activity, whisky-making is subject to highs and lows, periods of ‘boom’ and ‘bust.’ Usually these periods coincide with wider economic prosperity or recession for the nations involved.

So it is with Scotch whisky that unprecedented levels of growth in terms of distillery expansion and new-build ventures during the Victorian era were followed by half a century of ‘bust,’ or at best stagnation.

The whisky boom of the late 19th century saw no fewer than 33 new distilleries built across Scotland between 1890 and 1900, but the bubble burst around the turn of the century due to over-production. Two world wars and global recession – ‘The Great Depression’ – meant that no new distillery was constructed in Scotland between 1900 and 1949.

Not only that but a significant number of existing distilleries fell by the wayside; many never to reopen. Distilleries had, of course, come and gone before, and it still possible to see the remains of the once mighty Kennetpans on the shores of the Firth of Forth, which closed in 1825. However, the first four decades of the 20th century gave us a body of well-documented ‘silent distilleries,’ and the remnants of many remain today.

Speyside had been at the heart of late Victorian distillery construction, and despite the challenging times of the early 20th century, very few distilleries in the region fell silent forever. One notable example was Parkmore in the ‘malt whisky capital’ of Dufftown. which operated between 1894 and 1931, though its failure to re-open when better times returned to the distilling industry was largely due to historic problems with its water supply. Today, Parkmore remains externally one of the best preserved Victorian distilleries in Scotland, though it is really just a shell, with all distilling equipment long since removed.

By contrast with Speyside, the great distilling centre of Campbeltown was permanently decimated during the 1920s and ’30s. At various times more than 30 distilleries operated in the remote Argyllshire port on the Kintyre Peninsula, with 20 working in 1885. By 1930 that figure had fallen to just three, and the last two survivors, Glen Scotia and Springbank have endured long periods of silence at various times in their history.

The demise of Campbeltown was directly related to the rise of Speyside as a favoured distilling destination. Campbeltown produced big, pungent whiskies, not always of the finest quality in the early years of the 20th century, and its remote location counted against it in terms of transporting whisky to the blending halls of the Scottish Central Belt. By contrast, Speyside single malts were stylistically ideally suited for blending, and an expansive rail network linked the distilleries of the north-east with the blending halls of Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Elsewhere in Scotland, casualties in the far north included Dingwall’s Ben Wyvis (1879 – 1926), the Easter Ross duo of Pollo, which operated from 1817 to 1903, and Glenskiach, operational between 1896 and 1926, and Gerston at Halkirk in Caithness (1886 – 1911). Up on Orkney the Stromness distillery of Man O’ Hoy ended more than a century of whisky-making in 1928, and Islay’s Lochindaal shut its doors in 1929, after precisely 100 years of activity.

Aberdeen lost its trio of distilleries – Bon Accord, Devanha and Strathdee – and Glasgow’s tally of newly-silenced distilleries embraced Adelphi, Camlachie, Provanmill and Yoker.

It is worth remembering that those distilleries named above hardly scratch the surface of whisky-making operations that perished before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

Silent - Mill St MagFrom the 1950s onwards the Scotch whisky industry began to revive, and new distilleries were constructed, while existing ones were enlarged. It was just like the late Victorian era all over again, and once more the bubble was to burst. Over-production led to a ‘whisky loch’ to rival the famed EU ‘wine lake, and in 1983 the biggest player in the industry, the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) closed 11 of its 45 malt distilleries, with a further 10 ceasing production two years later.

Seven of these sites subsequently re-opened, but it is single malt from the other 14 DCL distilleries which makes up much of the ‘silent still’ whisky being traded today. Among the brands in question are the sought-after Brora and Port Ellen, along with ‘supporting players’ like Banff, Convalmore, Glen Mhor, Glenury Royal, Millburn, North Port and St Magdalene.

Since 1985, distillery closures have been relatively few and far between, but Imperial on Speyside met its demise in 1998 and Caperdonich in nearby Rothes closed in 2010, while a few miles away in Dufftown, Pittyvaich was demolished in 2002, having only been built in 1975. The highly-prized Lowlander Rosebank ceased distilling in 1993, while fellow Lowlander Littlemill closed in 1996, having been established as early as 1772, and Lochside in the east coast port of Montrose was silenced in 1992, having been converted from a brewery during 1957.

There have, of course, been altogether more exotic losses, including the fabled Malt Mill, produced in a tiny distillery adjacent to Lagavulin on Islay from 1908 to 1960 and the subject of the 2012 Ken Loach movie The Angels’ Share.

Other relatively obscure malt distilleries to disappear were constructed within grain distilleries to provide variety for blending purposes, and all were removed at a later date to increase grain distilling capacity. Five such ‘distilleries within distilleries’ were created, namely Ben Wyvis (Invergordon distillery, 1965 – 1976), Glen Flager and Killyloch (Garnheath distillery, 1964 – 1975 and 1964 – 1985 respectively), Inverleven (Dumbarton distillery, 1938 – 1991), Kinclaith (Strathclyde distillery, 1957 – 1975) and Ladyburn (Girvan distillery, 1966 – 1975).

While spirit quality is one of the key factors in a whisky’s appeal to collectors and investors, having sampled the five whiskies in question, it has to be said that rarity and obscurity plays a greater part in their collectability. Not all whisky made in silent stills was superb. Sometimes, that was why they closed!

Silent Cream & Brown CC

Monthly Whisky Market Watch.

October – Mixed Results with Further Polarisation in the Market.

October maintained the significant increase in the number of bottles being sold on the open market. 2013 saw 2,312 bottles sold at auction in the UK (in October). In common with general trends, that number increased by 28.46% to 2,970 in October 2014. That brings the 2014 cumulative total to 26,130. That’s already 29.28% ahead of 2013’s full year figure of 20,211.

Values for certain key collectors brands remain strong.

Other than the RWM25 (Macallan 25 year old) Index, all core indices experienced gains throughout the month. At the end of September the average price for a bottle of (vintage 1957 – 1975) Macallan 25 year old was £1,000.67; that fell to £977.70 at the end of October.

On a broader scale, the Apex indices (the top performing 1,000, 250 and 100 bottles) showed positive growth without exception. The Apex 1,000 moved up 1.24%, the Apex 250 moved up 1.01% and the Apex 100 moved up significantly by 6.07%. At the end of September the negative indices (the worst performing 1,000, 250 and 100 bottles) showed signs they had possibly reached the bottom of a steady and persistent descent. For the first time ever, in September, all negative indices turned positive. This positive reversal transpired to be a short lived dead-cat-bounce with record declines recorded at the end of October. The negative 1,000 and 250 indices hit new all-time lows showing stress and polarisation continues in certain areas of the market. The Negative 100 index is just a fraction above its August low of 36.99.



Looking at the auction results through October, the clear expectation was for the RWK Karuizawa Index to shine through as a clear leader. While the Karuizawa Index achieved an impressive 5.97% increase throughout October (12 month performance +125.06%) it was the RWPE Port Ellen Index which found favour with collectors and investors. While the RWPE Index’s 12 month figures lag significantly behind Karuizwa at 72.53%, the October results in isolation were quite staggering at +9.45%.

The composite index October changes ranked in order of increase are –

1 – RWPE Index – Port Ellen +9.45%

2 – RWK Index – Karuizawa +5.97%

3 – RWM18 Index – Macallan 18 +2.45%

4 – RWIcon100 – Icon 100 Index +1.95%

5 – RWB Index – Brora +1.58%

6 – RWVintage50 – Vintage 50 Index +0.46%

7 – RWRMS Index – Rare Malts Selection Index +0.40%

8 – RWM25 Index – Macallan 25 -2.30%


The RWPE Index gain was primarily driven by the Port Ellen first release showing significant movement. A £2,100 peak took it way ahead of its £1,300 September close.  Other bottles remained relatively stable with the 4th, 5th and 8th releases showing modest increases.

GHA140707_2667 - Copy

The RWIcon100 Index performed in line with the current steady upward trend. Twenty eight bottles lost value in the month, forty three bottles remained the same and twenty nine bottles increased in value.

The three worst performing bottles in the RWIcon100 Index were –

#3 – Balblair 1966 38 year old (-39.39%)

#2 – Ardbeg Provenance 1st release (-41.38%)

#1 – 1979 Lagavulin Distillers Edition (-54.48%)

The top three performers were –

=#3 – Macallan Royal Marriage 1st Release (+66.67%)

=#3 – Bowmore 1971 34 year old (+66.67%)

#1 – Ardbeg 1977 Vintage Release (+84.78%)

The RWVintage50 Index saw a marginal 0.46% increase, due entirely to the Dalmore 1926 50 year old which moved up in value by 66.67%. The worst performer was the 1957 Macallan Anniversary Malt which lost 28.21% of its value.

Following Septembers significant gain (12.65%), the RWB Brora Index had a far more stable month. The 2003 and 2004 releases showed good growth but this was largely mitigated by a decline in value for the 2006 and 2008 bottles.

The RWRMS Rare Malts Index remained broadly static at 0.40% up on Septembers close. The most significant increase was a doubling in value for the Aultmore 1974 21 year old. The worst performer was the Teaninich 1972 27 year old which lost 44.00% of its value over the course of the month.

The most noticeable element of polarisation belonged to Bruichladdich who saw values take a 2.72% broad-based decline. Until the vast amount of supply on the open market decreases, expect to see further falls.

With values for certain distilleries continuing to drop, in some cases rapidly, there still remains uncertainty throughout parts of the market. While the Apex 1000 index moved up 1.24% in October it’s on the back of a 2.00% rise in September. November brings with it an increase in supply like we’ve never experienced before. With that huge supply may come an element of cooling in the broader market. I remain cautiously optimistic for November but not quite as bullish as earlier in the year.