From Britain to Islay, Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and the French West Indies, the 10th edition of Fine Spirits Auction offers a showcase of the mythical islands of the spirits world. A large number of closed distilleries like Karuizawa and Caroni are also on the cards. And, finally, this 2022 edition is set to make a lasting impression by exploring the buzz generated by the Feis Ile festival held on Islay every year. It is in this context that, this Friday, 13 May, the latest edition of Fine Spirits Auction kicks off, with more than a third of the lots on offer from Islay.
JAPAN: It would be difficult not to mention Japanese whisky (more than 10% of the lots available), led in this edition by a little masterpiece never distributed in France, Karuizawa 1976 Kamiasobi – Haoromo Cask #6719. This single cask released in 2009 follows on from the 2008 Karuizawa 1977 Kamiasobi – Ama The Fisher Girl Cask #7026. The two editions are generally paired together as their labels are the only ones in the NOH range not to feature a typical Noh mask.
Other versions rarely found in mainland France and up for auction in FSA #10 include:
MACALLAN ANNIVERSARY MALT: The Anniversary Malt range was one of the main releases to have cemented The Macallan’s success in the 1980s. Launched in 1983 with the vintage 1957 at the same time as a 50 Year Old distilled in 1928, it really hit the bullseye!
Anniversary Malt covers every vintage from 1957 to 1975, although the 1959 vintage seems to have been vatted with the 1958. The 1958 vintage is a special case in the collection and is available in two versions. The most commonly found bottling is the Macallan 25 Year Old Anniversary Malt 1958-1959, which covers the distribution period 1984-1985. The second is the Macallan 25 Year Old Anniversary Malt 1958, most frequently found at auction in bottlings for the importer Giovinette (Italy) or the British market. Both bottlings marked a major change in The Macallan’s packaging, with the introduction of a cork stopper which would then become the norm. Both therefore exist with a screw cap and a gold capsule (the most common) or a cork stopper, most frequently for the British market although still very rare.
No less than five editions are up for auction in FSA #10, including:
RUM: For Caroni and Demerara rums (more than 10% of the lots available), the ones to watch are those in the Caroni Employee range, a small collection within a collection composed of 16 labels, seven of which are available here, including the first two editions launched in 2018:
Plantation rums from Pierre Ferrand are so rare in our auctions, it would be impossible not to mention them when a few bottles do suddenly pop up. One definitely not to miss is the Plantation 36 Years 1984 Pierre Ferrand Extrême No. 4 Mark MMW, a 2020 bottling for France from the Clarendon distillery in Jamaica also known as Monymusk. When it was first launched, it sold out in just a few hours and is loved by collectors and enthusiasts alike (90++/100 points).
After festivities being held online for the past two years due to Covid, the Isle of Islay will finally be celebrating Feis Ile properly in an event that attracts thousands of peat lovers every year. More than 200 exceptional bottles from the island are up for auction in the 10th edition of FSA.
FOCUS – DISTILLERIES IN THE SOUTH OF THE ISLE: Below is a tour of the distilleries in the south of the island and a few gems worth looking out for in this auction.
ARDBEG: The last 15 years have been marked by the release of limited edition NAS (No Age Statement), some of which have since become collectables. But for the versions born in the new millennium, quality—which often varies from one edition to the next (the norm for limited editions)—remains the main criteria to affect prices. Another element taken into account by nostalgic collectors is the era in which the malt was distilled, whether pre-1997, Allied Domecq; 1997-2004, the MacDonald family (Glenmorangie Plc); or, from 2005 on, the LVMH group.
Despite being recent releases, the first three editions of Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old - 2019, 2020 and 2021 - are therefore noteworthy. Distilled between 2000 and 2001 (the MacDonald era), they stay in line with the aromatic profile of past Ardbeg versions. They were also the first editions of small batches (a deliberate choice or a solution to stock constraints?) launched by LVMH, who returned to a relatively high age statement.
Among the limited edition NAS, Ardbeg Corryvreckan 100° Proof Committee Reserve undoubtedly leads the pack and is the perfect example of the best this profile has to offer. With only 5,000 bottles released for the world, it was the very first version of Corryvreckan launched in 2008, making it a very safe bet in terms of both flavour and auction potential.
LAGAVULIN: Lagavulin’s success has never waned since it first boomed in 1987-1988, with the release of a 16 year old version in the Six Classic Malts range, marking the end of the classic 12 year old bottling. Such was its popularity that the distillery owners soon had to dedicate their entire production to future bottlings, in the process depriving a large number of blends of a key ingredient. But it is also a rare malt in our auctions which, in a short selection, reflects almost of the ranges created since the early 1990s. Two of these are highly sought-after due to their exclusive character and the decade commonly used for bottlings (1990s): Jazz Festival and, of course, Feis Ile. Two (of many) treasures:
And, of course, the sacred beast that is:
LAPHROAIG: If one expression alone could sum up the very essence of Laphroaig, it would be the 10 year old. Released with various bottling strengths, bottle sizes, importers, label types, stoppers and capsules, this version offers a range of more than 150 different bottlings produced over more than 60 years. No other distillery has been as loyal to a single expression over such a long period. Something worth dedicating a collection to!
Rare bottlings available include the Laphroaig 10 Year Old Geco Import cork stopper. French importers are generally quite rare in private collections. English and Italian versions are more frequent. In 1985-1986, Geco took over from St Raphael as the distributor for France. In 1986, this version was introduced very briefly in France with a screw cap, before being replaced in 1987 with cork stopper versions for all markets, including Italy (Cinzano Import). Note that distillation dates from the mid-1970s.
PORT ELLEN: The last distillery in the south of the isle, Port Ellen closed permanently in 1983. Like many great artists, Port Ellen acquired posthumous glory in the late 1990s thanks to the introduction to the Rare Malts Selection of two 1978 vintages, one a 20 year old and the other a 22 year old. Both versions distributed across the world put Port Ellen “on the map”. In 2001, Diageo launched its Annual Release range with one new edition of Port Ellen every year, with 1978 and 1979 the star vintages.
A superb illustration of the Rare Malts Selection is the Port Ellen 20 Year Old 1978 (1998) Natural Cask Strength, which unanimously scores over 92/100.
For the Annual Releases, Port Ellen 32 Year Old 1979 – 12th Release is a particular favourite among connoisseurs due to the high quality of the batch (92-95/100 points) and the very limited number of bottles worldwide (2,964).
From Bowmore, a version matured in ex-sherry casks and a limited edition of 3,000 bottles, the Bowmore 1997 (2019) Distillery Manager's Selection immediately drew our attention. For Caol Ila, keep an eye out for independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail’s “second” label Jas Gordon, whose exclusive distribution rights were granted to Auxil (its second French importer in the 1980s), and the Caol Ila 1972 Celtic Label. A label much better known to Italian collectors with the importer Meregalli.
Enjoy the auction!