The 1980s marked a turning point in the history of whisky distribution in France. In the space of just ten years (1978 - 1988), the structure of the market developed and whisky become widely popular. As more premium versions were added to distilleries’ ranges of official bottlings, these entered into direct competition with the independent bottlings offered primarily by Scottish businesses. Owing to the unprecedented economic crisis caused by the Second World War, the latter began to move away from traditional approaches and the historic markets of Italy, United States and the United Kingdom in search of new opportunities.
This led to the ranges of independent bottlers Cadenhead and Gordon & MacPhail appearing in France, in spirits retailers and delicatessens, which were already popular among distributors of what had been the leading brands since the late 1960s, such as Glen Grant, Springbank, Strathisla, Glenlivet, Macallan, Aberlour, Cardhu, Aultmore, Laphroaig, Glenfiddich, Jack Daniels, Paddy and Tullamore Dew.
For this latest edition of Fine Spirits Auction, we have compiled a wide range of official and independent bottlings from this period. The collection showcases the huge variety of distributors operating in France at the time and the versatile nature of the exclusive releases created for the burgeoning market.
Cadenhead vs Gordon & MacPhail
Cadenhead is the second oldest independent bottling company still in operation (1842) after Berry Brothers & Rudd. It became the property of William Cadenhead in 1858, before his nephew Robert W. Duthie took over in the early 1900s. Upon his death in 1931, the company stayed in the family until being sold in 1969 to the Mitchell family, who also owned Springbank (Campbeltown). In 1977, the first bottlings of the famous small brown bottle with a black label were released, bottled after very light filtration at 45.7% - 46% ABV. In 1989, a new range was introduced, the Authentic Collection, this time in a more classic green bottle. This auction sees these two ranges in the spotlight The “Dumpy Brown” range offers a variation on the theme from the 1960s, including an outstanding Dalwhinnie 1966, and the Authentic Collection range is sure to appeal to fans of Macallan, with a 1976 release.
Custodians of the world’s oldest stock of single malts undergoing maturation, Gordon & MacPhail has forged a reputation and position in the world of whisky rivalled by no other It was originally under the aegis of George Urquhart that the company began bottling and selling single malts on behalf of distilleries in a period in which blended scotch dominated the international scene (Glen Grant, Macallan, Strathisla, Longmorn, Mortlach, Linkwood and Glenlivet). Gordon & MacPhail imposes its own style, heavily influenced by sherry casks, on even the peatiest distilleries, including Caol Ila, Talisker and Ardbeg. It is also the supplier for an untold number of barrels and enables specialists like Fauchon to use their own labels and small players like Auxil and SNPA to develop their own distribution networks. The rarities in this selection include Talisker 1958, Glendronach 1960 and Old Elgin 1939.
One of the most influential distributors in the French scene in the 1980s was Etablissements Gouin, the importer and distributor of the Famous Grouse Blend and the Tamdhu single malt for The Highland Distilleries Company Plc. Etablissements Gouin also became the official importer of Macallan, before passing the mantle to Rothschild in the 1990s and then disappearing from the market. Two versions from this era are of particular note, the Macallan 10 Year Old, 100 Proof ETS Gouin 57% (75 cl.) and the Macallan 18 Year Old 1979, Rothschild Import 43% (70 cl.)
The key bottlings in this edition include a handful of real gems and big name expressions, including:
For whiskies produced outside of Scotland:
And, in our other spirits categories, a small selection of Chartreuses make their entrance, including Episcopale 2003. Although the versions featured here are fairly recent, this category has for some years enjoyed growing popularity among enthusiasts and collectors across the world.
Don’t know where to begin? Have a look at the following themes for which one or more lots are available and which will help you get a foot on the ladder. Purely for guideline purposes, a difficulty level is shown, based on the price/availability ratio of bottles, indicating the feasibility of a collection.
(Difficulty level: 5/5)
Visitor Centre versions are rare in the French market. And for good reason, as these bottles specifically produced for the visitor centres of the group’s distilleries are aimed at local customers and tourists. This makes them near-impossible to get hold of without visiting the sites in person. So when one goes up for auction, it’s worth not holding back. Remember, though, small volumes can come with big price tags!
Yoichi 2000s Nikka Whisky 57% (50 cl.)
Miyagikyo Sherry & Sweet Distillery Limited Nikka Whisky 55% (18 cl.)
(Difficulty level: 1.5/5)
Following in the footsteps of its older brother Chichibu, the Japanese distillery Mars-Shinshu reopened in 2011 after major renovation work on its site and facilities, and is now coming closing to joining the world of collectable whiskies!
Behind the Komagatake label lie limited series of single casks and high-quality small batches. Although the bottlings for specific clients such as Shinanoya and Number One Drinks are quickly snapped up at auction, small batch bottlings are still accessible.
Mars Komagatake, Nature of Shinshu Kohiganzakura 52% (70 cl.)