Bought: Whisky Auction, 31st July 2018
82.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 12 member votes)
If Dr Who arrived in the Tardis and begged me to become their sexy assistant, after I stopped laughing I’d ask to go back to 2013. I’d want to tell my former self, at the starting of my whisky addiction, to buy a bottle distilled in my year of birth. I would make this suggestion to anyone who wants to collect whisky because the longer you leave it the more expensive it becomes. Dr Who would probably tell me that meeting myself would cause a rift in the space-time continuum so I’d grab their sonic screwdriver and shove it up their arse. That’s an episode you wont be seeing on the BBC!
I might not be as old as Dr Who but being born in 1970 means that finding a good whisky from back then doesn’t come cheap. Auctions are the best place to look but over the last few years I’ve missed out on several bottles that are now too expensive for me to consider. But one bottle that has remained quite reasonable is the Glen Grant 5-year-old distilled in 1970. This is due to its lack of maturity but ratings suggest that it’s a very acceptable dram.
The earliest example of this 5yo I can find on Whiskybase was distilled in 1962, so bottled in c.1967. The latest example was distilled in 1988 thus bottled in the early 1990s. So this series ran for just over 25 years (c.1967-1993). A lot of the bottles found on the UK auction scene today are market ‘Seagram Italia’ or ‘Giovinetti’ Import, as the bottles have found their way over from Italy where this 5-year-old had a strong market.
The Glen Grant 5yo, without a distillation date, is still available on the Italian market today where a 70cl bottle at 40% will set you back a mere €13. Apparently it’s the best selling single malt in Italy where it’s been thriving for decades.
Serge of Whiskyfun reviews the earliest Glen Grant 5yo from 1967 but only rates it 68/100 and believes age has taken its toll on the bottle he sampled. Serge then reviews a 1968 version, which he rates very highly with 86/100. Although there’s no reviews of my 1970 Glen Grant, a mark of 82.33/100 on Whiskybase is a very strong score. Serge noticed an unexpected peatiness to the 1968 version and wondered if this was due to the problems on Islay that caused the likes of Brora to produce peaty whisky on the mainland. Did Glen Grant do the same? The peaty production at Brora drifted into the early 1970s so when I finally crack open my Glen Grant I’ll be interested to see what I can detect in the flavour. I’m hoping the liquid has held its form like the ’68 and not the ’67 that Serge tried. But when a whisky is this old you can never be sure what to expect. The same can sometimes be said about me!
Bought: Online Auction, 10th August 2017
81.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
Rugby – something Scotland used to be good at. It’s sad that there are young Scottish adults walking the earth today that weren’t born when Scotland was a proud rugby country. Scotland haven’t won the Nations Championship since 1999, the year before Italy were asked to join to make it the ‘6 Nations Championship’ that we have today. Perhaps the Scots are allergic to Italians? The ‘Grand Slam’ is where a team manages to win the championship by beating all the other teams. The last time Scotland achieved this was in 1990, finishing on the 17th March with a 13-7 win against England at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. I watched it on TV and enjoyed every minute of it, except the England try, which was definitely offside!
After the dust had settled in 1990 Glenmorangie decided to release a commemorative version of their standard 10yo. On the reverse label it includes the signatures of the victorious Scottish team. Scoring just over 81/100 on Whiskybase is what you’d expect for a 10-year-old Glenmorangie from that period. Personally I’d rate it higher at about 85/100 but then I am a big fan of the Glenmorangie 10yo from the early to mid 90s, even though it’s 40% rather than the 43% of the modern incarnation.
I rarely give investment tips but here’s one for the ‘Grand Slam Dram’. As far as I can tell the bottle wasn’t originally sold with any packaging. The majority of bottles sold at auction come without any and typically make about £80. I noticed that some cunning person had paired their ‘Grand Slam Dram’ bottle with a tube from roughly the right period, which sold for £160. It goes to show that people are prepared to pay extra for packaging (weird – I know!). I bought my bottle for £80 and picked up an empty tin from the early 1990s from Ebay for £5. I can’t guarantee I’ll double my money if I ever sell it because auctions can be fickle but I’ll definitely make a profit on the tin.
Here’s a 15-minute documentary from 2010 to mark 20 years since the final Grand Slam match between Scotland and England, Murrayfield, 17th March 1990:
Bought: Drink Supermarket, 12th June 2017
97.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
78.24/100 – Whiskybase (average from 133 member votes)
Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible, gave his 2016 ‘World Whisky of the Year’ award to the Crown Royal ‘Northern Harvest Rye’ (NHR) but specifically to bottle code L5083 N3. My bottle is code L5098 N5, whatever that means. The 5098 sounds quite close to the 5083 Jim Murray had but the N3 and N5 might refer to completely separate stills. Perhaps still number N5 is in a different building where it only has its pipes cleaned every 6 years and shares the premises with a donkey sanctuary. Don’t ask me, I just drink this shit!
After the award Crown Royal didn’t exactly rush to put their prices up in Canada and the US, although I believe it sold out everywhere for a while. Crown Royal knew the NHR was a $22 blend, and so did their market, which wouldn’t tolerate the stuff if it doubled in price. But in the UK we got massively stung and even 20+ months later it’s hard to find the NHR for less than £100 in whisky shops. Thankfully Drink Supermarket had it for £55, which convinced me it was time to grab a bottle, even though I know it’s unlikely to blow my mind (and it should only be £20!). I haven’t tried Canadian rye so I’m killing two birds with one stone with the NHR when I taste it AND get to denounce Jim Murray as a crackpot.
As I researched this blog post I watched the Whisky Vault’s review of the NHR on YouTube. In it they mention Mark Bylok’s blog (here) where he discusses the big variation across the different releases of NHR. He reviews 4 separate batches and gives them scores of 93/100, 88/100, 82/100 and 78/100. So Jim Murray’s bottle could have been 97.5/100 but my L5098 N5 may only be 60/100, such is the inconsistency across the NHR range. Thankfully most whisky producers try harder than Crown Royal to keep a standard flavour across their batches otherwise reading reviews would be pointless. But in the case of NHR, unless you have the same batch number of the bottle being reviewed, take everything that’s said with a pinch of salt.
Here are the Scotch Test Dummies on YouTube with their thoughts about the Crown Royal NHR, which they reviewed before Jim Murray’s award. Since then a lot of reviews have been tainted by an anti-Murray bias so it’s nice to see an honest summary and an above average rating of 88/100 (Aug 2015). I’m not sure what batch it is though:
Bought: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
Birth of Prince William, 1982:
82/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Birthday 1986:
Not rated yet but listed on Whiskybase here.
Bell’s Decanters have arrived in my collection and the men in white coats are coming to take me away. Did I just go insane? But no whisky collection would be complete without one, even if the majority of people consider them to be a bit naff. This is probably why they don’t make much money at auction. I paid £11 for Prince William and £18 for the Queen’s 60th. Empty bottles sell for a similar price on Ebay. It seems weird to say they’re “yesterday’s antique” when they only appeared in the 1980s. Perhaps one day their value will bounce back but there seems to be a lot of them about. It’s time to buy them all up and smash them! Let’s reduce the numbers. I’m sure the royal family won’t mind.
The Bell’s decanter first appeared in the 1920s when it was made from blue glass and designed in a more traditional decanter shape. By the late 1930s the bottle began to take on a more bell-like appearance and was made from porcelain. By the 1950s Royal Doulton, a famous British porcelain manufacturer began making the Bell’s decanter in the brown and gold design seen in Ralfy’s video below. By 1960 Stode had taken over production and then in 1966 it was Wade of Stoke. The Christmas decanters (often seen at auction) began life in 1988, which is also the year the decanters started containing ‘Bell’s Extra Special Blended Scotch Whisky’. Prior to that it wasn’t extra special at all!
Both my examples are royal commemorative decanters, which Bell’s first produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. This was also the first time that white porcelain had been used and all the stock sold out in a matter of months. Given this fact it’s hardly surprising that Bell’s decided to continue the royal theme with a second decanter release in 1982 for the birthday of Prince William. A 3rd release in 1984 commemorated the birth of Prince Harry and a 4th and 5th release in 1986 marked Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday and the wedding of Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson. Since then Bell’s have done several more regal releases.
I’ve heard Ralfy (of www.ralfy.com) describe himself as eccentric many times but he always comes across as being quite normal. Nevertheless he sometimes shows eccentricity with his purchases and he’s currently the only person I can find that’s done a review of a Bell’s decanter on YouTube. Here’s Ralfy’s decanter advice from October 2012:
Posted in Bell's
Tagged 1982, 1986, 40%, 43%, 50cl, 60th Birthday, 75cl, Bell's, Blend, British Royal Family, Decanter, NAS, Online Whisky Auction, Porcelain, Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II
Bought: Aberdeen Whisky Shop, 30th March 2017
90/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
When I watch the Whisky Hunter on YouTube I’ve been stunned by how many amazing finds he’s made. It seems that every garage sale or backwater off license in America harbours a classic whisky at a ridiculously low price. Why can’t the UK be the same? It’s possibly because bourbon is the big thing in America and single malts and blends get neglected. More people in the UK want and recognise a vintage whisky so it’s rare to see one languishing on a shop shelf for years.
I found this bottle of Crawford’s 5 Star in the Aberdeen Whisky Shop. They’d recently bought it from a private seller so it hadn’t been sitting on the shelf for long. Priced at £50 I did some research and discovered that bottles can sell at auction for over £100 but also less than £40 depending on age and condition. This particular version dates from the 1980s, which appears to be the last decade the 5 Star was produced, although it might have crept into the 1990s. A whisky auction site says “A & A Crawford was a whisky blender and merchant which established in Leith in 1860, now belonging to Whyte and Mackay’s portfolio. The deluxe 5 Star Blend that was launched in the 1920s, now discontinued, followed the success of the 3 star offering.” The Whisky Exchange are selling a bottle of 5 Star from the 1950s for £350.
I don’t think discovering this bottle of Crawford’s has turned me into a whisky hunter because £50 is probably all it’s worth. The reason I bought it was because of the great reviews it gets for flavour. 90/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic score, albeit from only 2 member votes. Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ is also very impressed. Here are his thoughts about the Crawford’s 5 Star on YouTube (Sept 2016):
Bought: Whisky Auction, 8th November 2016
None I can find.
‘Royal Chester’ sounds more like a racehorse than a whisky. I’ve been following whisky auctions since 2013 and never have I seen a bottle of the Royal Chester 12yo blend. You’d think therefore that it would be valuable but that’s not how the whisky market works. If it’s not a single malt or a known make with pedigree then it wont make much as an investment. Even if this whisky hails from the 1980s it’s still only £20-£25 maximum at auction. If I keep it for another 20 years it might reach £40.
If you have a bottle of whisky where there’s nothing on the Internet about it then the next port of call is to search for the bottler. In the case of ‘Royal Chester’ this is Campbell & Clark Ltd, Glasgow. According to the website ‘UK Companies List’, Campbell & Clark Ltd were incorporated on 9/11/1934 and dissolved on 19/02/2010. Their category was “wholesale alcohol and other drinks” with address c/o Speyside Distillery Co Ltd, Duchess Road, Glasgow, G73 1AU.
Campbell & Clark Ltd are listed on Whiskybase here for two releases of the Glen Mhor single malt, bottled in the mid 1990s. Searching for ‘Campbell & Clark Ltd’ reveals that the company mostly specialised in blended whisky for the American market. The earliest example I could find was ‘Clark’s Reserve’ from the 1950s but also ‘David Ross’, ‘Lord Nelson’ and ‘John Blair’. Not exactly famous whisky names but very typical from a time when lots of blends were being produced.
So why have the name ‘Royal Chester’? The term doesn’t appear to belong to the city of Chester in the northwest of England, which has no royal patronage. There is however a ‘Royal Chester Rowing Club’ founded in 1838 and one of the oldest rowing clubs in the United Kingdom. There’s also a steam train engine built in 1925 called the ‘Royal Chester’. But there’s nothing on the whisky bottle or box connecting it with either of these. For all I know the name was chosen randomly or comes from the Royal Chester Hotel, Nagasaki, Japan. The mystery continues!
Bought: Whisky Auction, 8th November 2016
75.33/100 – Whiskybase (from 3 member votes – 43%, 70cl version)
The Whisky Exchange are currently selling the Royal Culross 8yo for £99.95 where they say “The blend was compiled by A Gillies & Co, then-owners of Glen Scotia, hence the similar bottle style. We estimate this bottle dates from the 1980s.” It can make between £35-£45 at auction with a box but as little as £20 without.
On the back of the bottle it says in a flowery script “By appointment. This warrant shall signify that A. Gillies & Co (Distillers) Ltd. Glasgow Scotland are appointed suppliers of Royal Culross Scotch Malt Whisky to the Provost, Magistrates and Councillors of The Royal Burgh of Culross, Fifeshire. Granted this day, 23rd April 1972.” Below this is an indecipherable signature of the provost, perhaps written after sampling some of the whisky.
I found an online whisky shop saying a bottle of Royal Culross was from the 1960s but clearly the blend only started to appear in the 1970s. Both a US and UK website for trademarks have A Gillies & Co registering ‘Royal Culross’ in 1974. The trademark expired in the mid 1990s. The UK website lists trademarks going back to 1876 with no mention of ‘Royal Culross’ before 1974.
Trying to find out more about the Royal Culross blend has proved quite tricky. Scoring a fraction over 75/100 on Whiskybase suggests quite an average whisky but what has gone into the blend? Clearly Glen Scotia malt is possible but the distillery was inactive for most of the 1980s. A. Gillies & Co became part of Amalgamated Distilled Products (ADP) from 1970 who bought Littlemill in 1982 before becoming part of Argyll Group in 1984. But Littlemill closed between 1984 and 1989, much like Glen Scotia. That’s not to say stock wasn’t being used for blends during this period. ADP also produced other whisky such as the Burberry blend.
Not that any of this matters to me because I bought this bottle because I like the dumpy shape and love the 1980s. Let’s just hope the taste is more inline with Bon Jovi than Sigue Sigue Sputnik!
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 23rd August 2016
86.17/100 – Whiskybase (average from 8 member votes)
85/100 – Malt Maniacs (average from 3 maniac scores)
The Glenesk distillery, near Montrose on the east of Scotland, closed in 1985. The distillery had several different names over the years but bottlings I’ve seen at auction are either called Glenesk or Hillside. The majority of the distillery buildings were demolished in 1996 but the maltings remain as warehousing.
This 5-year-old distillery release could have been distilled in 1980 but probably began life in the 1970s. The neck level isn’t brilliant but it’s not bad for a 30yo+ whisky with a screw cap. Evaporation is happening but very slowly. At 75cl it’s probably still got more than 70cl in it, which is the UK standard bottle size today. I believe this bottle was only for the Italian market because it has “prodotto e imbottigliato da” (produced and bottled by) on the label. And you rarely see bottles without an Italian import seal over the cap. Interestingly ‘The Whisky Exchange’ say there’s colour added, which might be the case but it’s so light I find that hard to believe.
Scoring over 86/100 on Whiskybase is a fantastic rating but unfortunately the only member to leave a comment scores it 72/100, which is hardly representative. Nevertheless, as reviews are hard to find, for reference his thoughts are “very light in colour and so it comes in the nose, fresh barley perhaps with some apple, just as in the mouth, a bit flat, straw-like, very short on the finish. I think anyone who does not like the typical notes of whisky with some smoke is served here rather well. A whisky with little character.”
I’m surprised but delighted that such a young whisky gets a great score on both Whiskybase and Malt Maniacs. Bottles sell for around £150 at auction or £350 when purchasing from a shop (who have won it at auction and added a huge premium).
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 20th July 2016
None but listed on Whiskybase here.
Here’s a word of warning to anyone considering buying an opaque bottle in an online auction. If there’s no mention in the description of the ‘fill level’ then email the auction house and ask them. Some online auctions will say “good audible level” in a bottle’s details or something to let you know how much liquid you’re getting. Unfortunately that’s not the case for Just Whisky Auction where I bought this Glasgow 1990 blend. They said nothing, which made me assume it was as good as new with whisky right up to the neck – wrong! As I was preparing my bottle for the photo below I realised the liquid inside was quite low. If Just Whisky Auction simply didn’t check the fill level it makes you wonder what else they’re not analysing, which is how fakes slip through the net at auctions.
I’ve been unable to find any reviews about this blend, which is hardly surprising considering its age and lack of pedigree. But I bought it for sentimental reasons rather than tasting a great dram. Back in 1990, when I was young and charming, I spent a few summer days with my brother who was at Glasgow University. The World Cup football tournament was in full swing and Scotland were due to play Sweden in a group match. My brother and I watched it on a big screen in the university union. This was my first experience of ‘old firm’ fans and it was quite hilarious. Everyone in the room was supporting Scotland but when a Celtic player got the ball the Rangers fans would boo followed by laughter, and vice versa. In the end Scotland won 2-1 and everyone went home happy.
Not only does this bottle bring back personal memories but it marked a significant point in Glasgow’s life. By the 1970s Glasgow was a complete bog hole but in the 1980s it had a facelift and by 1990 it was somewhere worth visiting. The award of ‘European City of Culture’ was the icing on the cake and announced to the world that Glasgow had something to offer other than incomprehensible tramps and the stink of the Clyde. Since then it’s never looked back and it’s a city that Scotland can be proud of, rather than the embarrassing uncle you hope wont turn up to the party.
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 11th March 2016
97/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
89.2/100 – Whiskybase (average from 117 member votes)
95/100 – Whisky Bitch (her YouTube video below)
I didn’t join the Ardbeg committee (which is free via their website) until after the Supernova 2015 came out so sadly I had to pay a bit more for this bottle at auction. Not only is this meant to be the 5th and final release of the legendary Supernova but according to reviews on Whiskybase, this is the best version of the 5. It’s also a ‘must try’ whisky for anyone who wants to experience all that’s great in the world of peated single malts. If the Macallan 18yo is the Rolls Royce of whisky then the Ardbeg Supernova is the Hummer limousine – big, beefy and adds a touch of luxury to any night.
The first release of Supernova came out in 2008 but Jim Murray didn’t start his Whisky Bible reviews until the second version appeared in 2009. His scores in release order are:
- 97/100 – 2nd Supernova (2009)
- 93.5/100 – 3rd Supernova (2010)
- 96.5/100 – 4th Supernova (2014)
- 97/100 – 5th Supernova (2015)
So the 2nd and 5th rank the same in Mr Murray’s opinion, which classifies them as “superstar whiskies that give us all a reason to live”. He says of the 2015’s taste, “a consuming delivery: frisky, smoky, sugary, ashy, playful, stern…and naturally, as Ardbeg will, amid all the enormity, comes the counterpoint of delicate citrus.” And summarises with, “in many ways an essay in balance. This is a huge beast of a malt with seemingly insurmountable peat…until it encourages, then allows you to climb up its back. Magnificent.”
Scores on Whiskybase put the 5 versions of Supernova in the following order of brilliance:
- 89.2/100 – 5th Supernova (2015)
- 89.1/100 – 3rd Supernova (2010)
- 88.9/100 – 1st Supernova (2008)
- 88.7/100 – 2nd Supernova (2009)
- 88.5/100 – 4th Supernova (2014)
Here’s the Whisky Bitch’s review from April 2016:
Posted in Ardbeg
Tagged 54.3%, 5th Release, 75cl, Ardbeg, Committee Release, Islay, NAS, Online Whisky Auction, Single Malt, SN2015, Supernova