Bought: Online auction, 8th October 2018
Listed on Whiskybase here but no rating as yet.
Strathearn is another relatively new distillery, which has the claim to fame of the smallest in Scotland. It’s certainly the only one I’ve seen described as a ‘micro’ distillery. Situated in the southern highlands, Strathearn got planning permission at the start of 2013 and on the 18th October of that year the first cask was filled. The bottle of single malt I purchased at auction was distilled 12 days later on the 30th October and placed in cask no.005. Production comes from 2 stills – an 800 litre wash and a 400 litre charge. Rather than use the industry standard 200 litre barrels Strathearn have opted for the 50 litre ‘octave’. Hardly surprising since a typical spirit run is only 100 litres.
Strathearn use their own maris otter barley in the whisky making process. Well it is a farm after all. Initially they distilled into American oak and French oak barrels but recent releases have young spirit maturing in mulberry, chestnut and even peated acacia wood casks. By early 2017 Strathearn had withdrawn 12 products because of issues with the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association). Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be holding them back with their experimenting. Long may that continue!
Towards the end of 2016 Strathearn’s inaugural release was done by auction through Whisky Auctioneer. I followed it with interest but even the cheapest bottle at £315 was about £200 more than I would have considered paying, especially at 50cl rather than 70cl. Bottle no.1 went for a staggering £4,150. Interestingly the pictures of the bottles on the auction site had a blank space where the cask number should go. You would assume it was cask no.001 but the distilling date was 11th December 2013, nearly 2 months after the first barrel was filled. I can only assume this is because all the early casks were bought by the distillery’s ‘Private Cask Club’. My bottle from cask no.005 is the earliest example of distilling from Strathearn that I’ve seen on the market.
After the inaugural release it seemed the only way to own a bottle of Strathearn was by being a Private Cask Club member or finding a bottle at auction. By 2018 (if not 2017) Strathearn made a bottle of single malt available from their online shop but at £145 for 50cl it was still a bit steep. Thankfully more private casks were being bottled and appearing at auction where a typical price was £65-£80 for 70cl. Time to make a purchase!
The good thing about using smaller barrels is that there is a bigger surface to surface ratio between spirit and wood compared to a bigger barrel. This might not necessarily make the spirit taste older than its years if it comes from a smaller cask than the industry standard but it can influence the taste. My bottle is less than 4 years old but the spirit has drawn an amazing colour from the French oak, along with an augmented flavour:
Nose: Very fruity with spices (cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg), hint of pepper, honey and some citrus.
Taste: The sweetness and spices come through with a creamy fruit yoghurt at play in the background. Elements of the French oak wood become clearer, which were hinted at in the nose.
Finish: A good length with a pleasant warmth of after-spices and almost a floral tinge.
Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
85.65/100 – Whiskybase (from 8 member votes)
78/100 – Malt Maniacs (from 4 maniac votes)
This 40% Glen Ord 12yo was introduced in the mid 1990s (according to Malt Maniacs) and superseded in c.2005 by a square bottle version at a more potent 43%. I’ve wanted this distillery bottling of Glen Ord for a while because it was a classic of its day. There is certainly plenty of it about because it regularly appears in UK auctions where bottles make a modest £30-£60. The square bottle arguably contains better whisky than the earlier version from the 1990s but I was delighted to win this 100cl 40% for £42. After auction costs £55 doesn’t seem much for a whisky discontinued over 10 years ago and possibly bottled over 20 years ago. The whisky inside could have been distilled in the 1980s.
Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score, albeit only from 8 member votes. Someone leaves the comment, “quite a good and complex dram for its age. A good bottling from the past.” The 70cl version listed on Whiskybase was bottled in 2003 and scores a more modest 81/100 from 64 votes. Comments include “much better than I was expecting, not exciting or anything but easy to drink”, “just ok, certainly not offensive and even positively cordial”, and “this one goes excellent with a good coffee, a lovely malt from a nice distillery”.
Serge Valentin, one of the Malt Maniacs, scores the Glen Ord 12yo 76/100 with the comment “the new one in the rectangular bottle is much better, but this old version is rather amiable, after all”. The picture of his bottle shows it came with a square box, which is probably the early presentation from the mid 1990s. I suspect my 100cl with the round tube is from 2000+. Serge Valentin’s review can be found here.
Here’s Ben of ‘A Dram A Day’ with a history of the Glen Ord distillery and his thoughts on the square bottle of the 12yo:
Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
85/100 – Whiskybase (from 1 member vote)
72/100 – Malt Maniacs (for 70cl 1993 version)
Kinclaith wasn’t a distillery in its own right as it was constructed in the grounds of the Strathclyde grain distillery in Glasgow, which makes it a Lowland whisky. Founded in 1957 Kinclaith was closed in 1975 and subsequently demolished. In its short 18-year life Kinclaith was used for blending (primarily in Long John) and never officially sold as single malt. Whiskybase only list 5 independent bottlers releasing Kinclaith as a single malt with Cadenhead starting in 1985 with a 20-year-old. If you have a spare €2,000 you can buy this bottle from a shop in Germany. Hmmm, perhaps not!
Whiskybase list the last independent bottling of Kinclaith by ‘The Whisky Talker’ in 2010, some 7 years ago. That’s hardly surprising since it’s over 40 years since Kinclaith ceased to be. Are there any casks left unopened I wonder? My 5cl by Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) was probably bottled in 1993 (as per the 70cl, making it 25/26yo) but there isn’t a code confirming this on the back of the bottle’s label. There was also a 70cl G&M bottle released in 1991. I’ve wanted a miniature Kinclaith by G&M for years but I’ve never see one with a good neck level. My bottle (pictured below) has liquid up to the shoulders, which is as good as it gets. At least it’s enough to provide a taste of this rare Lowland gem.
Tasting notes and comment from Whiskybase (translated from German):
Nose: Light oak, some water mint, hair spray, old copper coins, dried, tropical fruits (pineapple, papaya, apricot), Werther’s original, Grand Marnier, cotton candy and some burnt caramel. With time and air, the whiskey opens up and becomes more fruity and finer.
Taste: Sweetish and slightly creamy with lots of malt and light vanilla. In addition there are bright fruits and some lemon. Then becoming pepperier. Light tannins, a bit orange bitter and a hint of bitters. At the end, the bitter oak occupies the entire mouth.
Finish: Medium in the middle, woody, slightly bitter and with a fine malty sweetness. In between, the tropical fruits flash out of the nose. At the end some milk coffee.
Comments: Old-school Malt! I would have thought the Lowlander to be much easier because of its geographical origin. The tropical fruits are great, but cannot prevail over the bitter oak. This is also a bit too bitter and too dominant for me.
Posted in Kinclaith (closed 1975)
Tagged 1990s, 40%, 5cl, Gordon & MacPhail, Kinclaith, Kinclaith (closed 1975), Lowland, Lowlands, NAS, Online Whisky Auction, Single Malt
Bought: Online Auction, 5th October 2017
76.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2013
89/100 – Serge Valentin (www.whiskyfun.com)
86.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 225 member votes)
Highland Park ‘Saint Magnus’ 12yo was a distillery release in 2010 and was the second edition from the Inga Saga trilogy. The Saint Magnus label isn’t new to Highland Park as I’ve seen bottle examples using it in the 1960s. The Inga Saga trio consisted of:
- Earl Magnus 15yo, 2009, 5,976 bottles, 52.6%
- Saint Magnus 12yo, 2010, 11,994 bottles, 55%
- Earl Haakon 18yo, 2011, 3,300 bottles, 54.9%
When the Saint Magnus 12yo appeared in 2010 it was priced at €100. Some felt it was expensive for what it was but €100 for a similar release in 2017 would seem quite reasonable. The presentation is very good and I like the sturdy wooden display case. An equivalent Highland Park costing €100 today would be the Sigurd, which comes in a solid wooden box but it’s NAS (non-age statement), widely available and only 43%.
Jim Murray’s review of the Saint Magnus in his Whisky Bible 2013 is a bit of an outlier especially when compared to 89/100 from Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun. Mr Murray simply says “tight and bitter” and 76.5/100 classifies this dram as “average and usually pleasant though sometimes flawed”. Serge Valentin only uses the word ‘bitter’ with regards to ‘bitter oranges’ in the taste but I don’t get the impression this is a negative remark. He says “the cinnamon is really big” and, “with water: now it’s really excellent, with a great earthiness”. I’m a big fan of cinnamon so this sounds good to me!
Scoring over 86.5/100 on Whiskybase is a very good mark. Comments include “great malt”, “shows the potential of the distillery” and “one of the most interesting malts that HP has brought to market in recent years” (written in 2016). I’m left thinking that Jim Murray had a tainted sample because his low rating of the Saint Magnus is in the minority.
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: Online Auction, 10th August 2017
89.38/100 – Whiskybase (average from 18 member votes)
Glenlochy distillery, Inverlochy, Fort William, began production in 1901 and closed completely in 1983. During those 82 years the distillery had been closed several times meaning it had only been active for about 60 years. Unfortunately the closure in 1983 was the end of the distillery and the buildings were eventually converted into a guesthouse and flats. When active all the Glenlochy spirit went into blends, which were Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Haig, White Horse and Queen Ann. It’s only after the distillery closed in 1983 and casks were sold off that they start to be bottled as single malt. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society released the earliest bottling mentioned on Whiskybase in 1988.
Scoring almost 90/100 from 18 votes on Whiskybase is a fantastic mark. It’s nice to know when you’re spending a small fortune on a single malt that it’s the equal to a classic Macallan or illustrious Ardbeg. But to be fair to the Glenlochy, the distillery may have closed 34 years ago but this amazing bottle cost less at auction than a new Macallan 18yo would today. Only 229 bottles were produced of this rare Glenlochy and I have bottle number 104. Tasting notes provided on Whiskybase from a member scoring this Glenlochy 91/100 with the comment, “unique and characterful” are:
Nose: Sweet, mineral, fresh, herbs, grassy, caramel
Taste: Fruity (apples, oranges, pears, peaches), fresh, herbs, dry, caramel, honey
Finish: Long, sweet, spicy, herbs, caramel, nutty
John “Whiskyman” Loftus in his video below is drinking a Glenlochy, which was also distilled in 1980 but 24-years-old rather than 25. Bottled by Duncan Taylor at a cask strength of 61.2% it scores 89.8/100 on Whiskybase from 22 votes. This is a very similar score to my Glenlochy 25yo by Signatory so clearly they’re both good examples from the distillery. John also gives us a bit of history about the distillery.
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: Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2006
83.71/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)
In 2015 a similar bottle of Glenturret 15yo sold at auction for £70, in 2016 for £50 and I got this old malt for £35 in 2017. At the same time the retail value of this bottle has been going up at a similar rate. This is because whisky shops tend to think that all whisky is increasing in value, which simply isn’t true, not if you follow the auction sites. If you want an old bottling of Glenturret then now is the time to buy at auction. If you’ve got an old bottle of this 15yo you’d like to sell then hold onto it because I have a feeling the auction price of this little beauty will bounce back.
When I say “beauty” I am of course referring to the taste not the packaging. In the 1990s Glenturret were going through a phase of asking a colour-blind hamster to design their boxes and labels. Dirty yellow and brown, really?! But what’s inside has gone down extremely well with 9 members of Whiskybase where nearly 84/100 is a fantastic score. One member concludes with “wonderfully balanced with a easygoing flavor palette.”
Although Jim Murray’s score of 87/100 in his Whisky Bible 2006 is a good bit after the 1990s this was a fairly consistent 15yo as it moved across the millennium. Mr Murray’s score classifies this dram as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”. He says about the taste “highly intense malt that sweetens, mildly oily with a hint of oak” and summaries with “a discontinued bottling now: if you see it, it is worth the small investment”. And I couldn’t agree more!
Tasting notes provided on Whiskybase:
Nose: Flowery, sweet and pleasant.
Taste: Soft vanilla notes, light peppery and notes of fruit.
Finish: Pleasantly sharp and soothing.
Bought: Online Whisky Auction, 24th May 2017
This 5-year-old deluxe blended Scotch whisky was bottled for Skibhoul Stores, Sandisons Ltd, on the small island of Unst in Shetland. It might seem like a crazy auction purchase and you’d be absolutely right. My justification is sentimental because the majority of my family come from Shetland. I don’t expect this to be great whisky, and the packaging and label are basic in the extreme but for £13 I’m not complaining. This Unst blend has the same caramel colour and age as the Glen Orchy 5yo from Lidl so if it tastes similar I’ll be very happy. But it will probably get the lemonade treatment as most of my budget blends do.
(Above – Skibhoul Stores, Unst, Shetland)
If Unst sounds familiar it’s because the island is also the location for the Shetland Distillery Company (Saxa Vord distillery) who are destined to be the first whisky distillery in Shetland. They produce a blended whisky but are currently most famous for their Shetland Reel gin. In 2015 they bottled a Glenglassaugh cask after storing it in Shetland for a while so it could be the first single malt from the islands, even though it was distilled elsewhere. It was a bit of a publicity stunt but I fell for it and got a bottle. Well I had to, didn’t I!
According to online company records Sandisons Ltd began life in 2006 so the blend for the Unst store isn’t very old even if the packaging belongs in the 1970s. Scoring 4.5/5 from 22 reviews on Trip Advisor the Skibhoul Stores are highly thought of by locals and visitors alike:
Whisky collections all deserve a few obscure bottles and this is certainly one of mine!
Bought: Whisky Auction, 9th February 2017
85.33/100 – Whiskybase (average from 5 member votes)
Released in 2012, this Travel Retail exclusive was a replacement for the 1990 bottle. At the same time the 2001 came in to replace the 1998 release. Unlike the Highland Park (HP) 1990 the HP 1991 was limited to the Singapore market. This may explain why it didn’t appear in Jim Murray’s ‘Whisky Bible’. Strangely it took over 4 years after the release before the HP 1991 started to appear in UK auctions. I’ve heard of the slow boat from China but these bottles must have been on a tortoise from Singapore! Auction prices have ranged from £77.50 to a whopping £165, which is a lot for a 10-11yo HP. Nevertheless I foresee prices going up because this seems to be quite a rare bottle.
Scoring over 85/100 on Whiskybase is a very good score but the HP 1990, which the 1991 replaced, scores 86.44/100. The 1990 was bottled in 2010, which makes it slightly younger than the 1991. So being older doesn’t necessarily mean being better.
Tasting notes about the HP 1991 from ‘Scotch Malt Whisky’ say:
“Golden with glowing coppery tones, Vintage 1991 (40% ABV) has aromas of dried orange peel, vanilla with toasted cedar wood and rich fragrant spicy notes such as nutmeg, a hint of cloves and incense. Mouth-watering lemon and orange citrus flavours in the mouth, with sweet vanilla custard notes wrapped in subtle yet complex spices at the end. The finish is medium sweet with a lingering, smoky spiciness.”