For die-hard fans of peated whisky and Scottish folklore, the last weekend of May is reserved for an annual pilgrimage to Caledonia. For ten days, the Isle of Islay echoes with the sound of bagpipes, dances to the rhythm of ceilidhs and drinks to the excellence of its malts. For the fourth edition of Finespiritsauction, we head to this magical island home to just ten or so distilleries—some of the most popular on the market, with a selection of over 120 bottlings, including Laphroaig 31 Year Old 1974, Laphroaig 40 Year Old, Caol Ila 12 Year Old Bulloch Lade, Ardbeg 1974 Gordon & MacPhail and Bowmore 1956, to name but a few.
This fourth edition also sees the introduction of two brands founded by “Whisky Makers” Michel Couvreur and John Glaser (Compass Box), each expressing their own vision of and approach to the world of whisky. Finally, the rum category continues to grow with the arrival of distillery bottlings from several independent bottlers, including Samaroli, Wild Parrot, Velier, Silver Seal, Rum Nation and Sansibar. For cognac, Tesseron takes pride of place.
Until 1997, these two icons of the “south Islay” style were both owned by the Allied Domecq group.
Neglected and overshadowed by Laphroaig (the group’s flagship distillery for peated malts), Ardbeg was revived from its ashes by the Macdonald family (Glenmorangie Plc), revealing the treasures until then left to rest in its cellars. The next six years saw numerous vintage releases, single casks, small batches, cask strengths, and sherry and bourbon casks from the distillation period 1972 – 1978, as well as classic versions aged respectively for 10, 17, 25 (Lord of the Isles) and 30 years.
After being sold to the LVMH group in 2004, Ardbeg was given a makeover, swapping its tweed jacket and velvet trousers for a bespoke suit and tie. Like the world of fashion and the rhythm of its collections, Ardbeg began frantically releasing limited editions with wild names and themes that have since become highly prized among a new generation of collectors.
For its part, Laphroaig has kept the same style and pace, although since receiving the Royal Warrant from Prince Charles in 1994 many special editions have been released for charity causes (Erskin Hosptal, Cancer Relief) and as one-offs, such as Feis Isle (Cairdeas) and Highgrove (House & Gardens).
Named after its founder, independent bottler Michel Couvreur was first established in the heart of Burgundy in Bouzes-Lès-Beaunes in 1978.
Mere mention of the name brings to mind Bere Barley, Scotland, Edradour, sherry and port casks, blending, maturation and vaulted cellars. Its whiskies are distilled in Scotland and aged in France, most commonly in ex-sherry casks, although other types of casks, such as Jura vin jaune casks, have also been used. After Michel Couvreur passed away in 2013, the bottling business passed to his son-in-law and cellar master, who have since released a huge number of bottlings. A selection of several expressions are available, demonstrating the independent spirit of this bold bottler.
Born between 1995 and 2010, Generation Z distilleries are characterized by releases of very young malts and a wide variety of maturation methods. Although some opened their doors to the public from day one—inviting them to help fund the first three years of production, others kept their treasures a closely guarded secret. Those up for auction this edition include the oldest, Arran (1995, Isle of Arran), which celebrated a quarter century of operation not long ago, Kilkerran (2004 Glengyle, Campbeltown), Kilchoman (2005, Islay), Kavalan (2005, Taiwan), Chichibu (2008, Japan), and the youngest, Ardnamurchan (2014, Highlands).
Not sure where to begin? Have a look at the following themes for which one or more lots are available this auction 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, designed to indicate the feasibility of creating a collection.
(difficulty level: 2/5)
Founded in 2006 by Thierry Richard and Laurent Buob, this French wine, champagne and spirits company is best known for its Closed Distilleries range. Covering Scotland to Japan, it features selections of single cask, cask strength malts from closed distilleries. The most popular editions include Littlemill, Port Ellen and Rosebank for Scotland, and Hanyu and Kawasaki for Japan. The last bottling seems to be from 2014.
(difficulty level: 2/5)
Compass Box was founded in 2000 by John Glaser, who, after cutting his teeth at the Diageo group (Johnnie Walker , Six Classic Malts, etc.), decided to embark on his own blending adventure. He excels most in his choice of distilleries, ageing methods and blending techniques. Preferring bespoke creations to mass production, some 250 bottlings have been released, giving them an instantly collectable aspect.
Many have already proven to be a hit at auctions, including Tobias & The Angel, The Circus and The General. Just ten or so are available in this edition.
(difficulty level: 2/5)
Ardbeg is one of those distilleries that skilfully broached the new millennium with both new and old collectors on its trail. This success comes down to three players: The Allied Domecq group, who left a large amount of stock to age in their cellars due to their commercial priorities at the time; the Macdonald family, who in 1997 recognized Ardbeg as a diamond in the rough and oversaw both reconstruction of the distillery—which was near ruin, and commercialization of its stocks that made Ardbeg a key element in the history of the 20th century. And, finally, LVMH, who, despite a slow take-off, launched the distillery into orbit in 2004 with numerous limited editions that were within reach for everyone and made the malt a key player in the 21st century.
When it comes to collectable whisky, whether in the 20th century style or 21st century style, Ardbeg therefore offers a great overview.
(difficulty level: 1/5)
Knockando is a textbook example of an underrated distillery. Owned by the Diageo group, this Speyside malt enabled the J&B blend to become an international leader in the world of scotch whisky. In the 70s and 80s, France became its adoptive home, where many consumers saw it as the go-to premium single malt thanks to the release of numerous vintage limited editions. An auction-house classic, it currently offers one of the best returns in terms of price and quality but for many sadly remains a malt for drinking rather than collecting.