Welcome to the June Auction Highlights! There’s a great selection this month, with golden oldies from the likes of Glenmorangie and Glendronach, some notorious modern classics from Macallan and a treasure trove of rare Diageo bottlings, so let’s crack on.
As is customary, we’ll start with Macallan. Modern limited editions from the Speyside behemoth include the Macallan X Sir Peter Blake, Macallan Sir Peter Blake 80th Birthday, Macallan Masters of Photography Albert Watson and Steven Klein and the extraordinary Macallan X Urwerk Flask 2, a rare limited edition hipflask released in 2017.
We’ve also got a couple of reminders of one of the most amusing episodes in Macallan’s history – the great fake Macallan scandal of the early 2000s. The Macallan 1841 Replica and the Macallan 1861 Replica were released in 2002, during a period when the distillery was buying up as many old bottles of Macallan as they could find – only to discover subsequently, after doubts were raised over the bottles’ authenticity, that most of them were in fact clever fakes. Though chastened by their findings, Macallan stuck to their guns and continued with the series, redesigning the 1851 label for 2010’s Macallan 1851 Inspiration.
It transpired eventually that a great number of the bottles – and whiskies – that Macallan painstakingly recreated for the short-lived Replica series had been made in the 1980s and 1990s by Italian enthusiasts using (real) old wine or spirits bottles and 19th century paper to create ‘fantasy whiskies’ for display or to swap with friends. It truly was a more innocent time back then – but perhaps inevitably some of these bottles eventually ended up in the possession of unscrupulous dealers who sold them on as the genuine article to enthusiastic but unsuspecting collectors.
There’s a twist to the story, though – the whiskies recreated by Macallan for the Replica series were actually rather good, with sweet fruity and sherry notes, citrus and a thread of smoke. This fact, along with their unique back story, has made the Macallan Replicas rather collectable now that the original backlash has faded and even though the original releases were quite large batches – and despite their dubious source material – they now sell for many times their original RRP.
For Macallan purists, of course, there’s nothing like the real thing: classic 18 and 25-year-old sherried Macallans bottled in the 1980s and 1990s, and of course we’ve got plenty of those in this month’s auction as well, with highlights including Macallan 1966 25-year-old, Macallan 1973 18-year-old and Macallan 1976 18-year-old, plus later milestones including Macallan 1990 ESC 24680, the little-seen Macallan Woodland and, for the canny aficionado, the superlative Macallan As We Get It from Ian MacLeod.
Time for a few Sherried Treasures! There’s several amazing bottles of Glendronach in this month’s auction, including one of the all-time greats: Glendronach 1968 25-year-old ANA Cask 25. This magnificent whisky is one of a handful of single casks of 25-year-old Glendronach from the 1968 vintage bottled for Japanese airline ANA (All Nippon Airways).
The Glendronach ANA casks share an outrageously gorgeous rich sherry flavour profile enhanced by a thread of dry peat smoke. For contrast, if you really want to treat yourself there’s also the Glendronach 1971 39-year-old Oloroso Sherry Cask – a very rare edition selected by and bottled for Japanese bars K6 and Campbelltounloch in 2010.
For indie sherried treasures, meanwhile, look no further than the wonderfully mahogany-esque Glenfarclas 1973 21-year-old bottled for First Cask in the mid-1990s. All the 1973 Glenfarclases we’ve tried have been amazing and for this to be so dark even at a drinking strength of 46% must be the influence of a monster sherry cask.
Let’s move on to some classic old official bottlings of whiskies bottled a few decades back. The Glenmorangie 1971 Culloden is a prime example – bottled in 1995, this is one of the most stylishly-presented Glenmorangies, with a fabulous old-style bottle complete with air bubbles in the glass, the original of which came from Culloden House. This marvellous Glenmorangie has long enjoyed a pre-eminent position in the Glenmorangie hall of fame, not only as one of the most desirable Glenmorangies for collectors but also for drinkers, with an outstanding complexity encompassing perfect Oloroso sherry notes, nutty and herbal flavours and traces of camphor and menthol.
Another glorious OB is this 2004 edition of Highland Park 25-year-old, distilled around the end of the 1970s and bottled at 50.7% in the short-lived tall round bottles (and with a very hefty wooden box ). This cask strength 25-year-old is an absolute stunner, with Highland Park’s coastal peat woven beautifully into a luscious sherry fruitcake with drying spices. It’s always been my favourite HP25.
Elsewhere, there’s so much good old Diageo stuff this month. Diageo Special Release highlights include the Glen Ord 28-year-old from 2003, Linlithgow 1973 30-year-old from 2004, 2005’s Glen Ord 30-year-old and Brechin 1977 28-year-old, and the more recent Brora 34-year-old from 2017.
Our favourite Special Release this month, though, has to be the stunning Talisker 1982 20-year-old bottled in 2003. This was the second and last Special Release 20-year-old Talisker and it’s always lived in the shadow of the previous year’s Talisker 1981 vintage sherry monster. But although auction prices for this 1982 Tally have never matched the 1981, for those of us who prefer distillery character to cask influence this gorgeous ex-bourbon Talisker, with its potent smoke and austere, briny, heathery, minerally depth will always be the winner.
We’ve got some much rarer Diageo specialties this month too – a big crop of Diageo Manager’s Drams, the staff-only cask strength special bottlings released annually and never available for general sale.
Many of the best of these famous bottlings are here, including classics like the sherried Glen Elgin 16-year-old from 1993, Clynelish 17-year-old from 1998 and the legendary sherry monster Oban 16-year-old Bicentenary from 1994. There’s also some little-seen gems from the series including sherry cask gems Cragganmore 17-year-old bottled in 1992, 1996’s oft-overlooked Blair Athol 15-year-old and the epic 64% Glendullan 18-year-old from 1989.
Time for a quick run-down of this month’s Islay magic and there’s several sumptuous old favourites returning this month. Laphroaig fans are well-catered for with one of the seminal late-1970s Laphroaig 10-year-old Unblended unicorns, plus the elegant Laphroaig 1977-1995 and both of the classic original 10-year-old Cask Strength bottlings: Laphroaig 10-year-old Cask Strength Green Stripe (57.3%) and Laphroaig 10-year-old Cask Strength Red Stripe (55.7%).
Other returning favourites include Caol Ila 15-year-old Flora & Fauna White Capsule, Port Ellen Third Release and Bunnahabhain 1971 35-year-old 125th Anniversary, but it’s Bruichladdich fans that have the most to cheer this month – we have a massive haul of amazing old ‘Laddies from the Jim McEwan era, including some of the maestro’s finest creations: Bruichladdich Black Art 1989 First Edition, and the superb Still trilogy of Blacker Still, Golder Still and Redder Still.
Best of the bunch, though is the truly legendary Bruichladdich 1970 Valinch ‘I Was There’: this was the special Valinch ex-bourbon cask bottling sold only at the distillery on the day it reopened: 29th May 2001. The circumstances of this historic bottling would make it a guaranteed collector’s item even if it wasn’t one of the most surpassingly exquisite Bruichladdichs ever bottled, which it is. Only 250 bottles of this old glory were ever available and for those of us lucky enough to have tasted it, it’s an unforgettable dram.
That’s it for this month – Good Luck and Happy Bidding!
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