Old & Rare Whisky Show 2020

Category: Whisky Tastings

Whisky-Online Auctions at Old & Rare Whisky Show 2020

Last weekend, for the fourth year since its inception in 2017, Whisky Online Auctions were exhibiting at the Old & Rare Whisky Show. For 2020, the show changed venues after previous events in Glasgow and was held in London for the first time, in the light, airy Great Hall of the magnificent One Great George Street buildings, just down the road from Parliament Square.

As ever, the WOL team had put together a selection of fantastic whiskies for the show’s visitors to try and were joined by whisky writer Tim Forbes to help out on the stand. There were two seven-hour sessions of the show, on Saturday and Sunday, with visitors paying £75 for entry to the show and prices for 1cl drams starting at £3 and going up to… well, quite a lot more than that.

78 Unique Open Whiskies

Whisky Online’s dram list weighed in at a healthy 78 different bottles, starting with the likes of 1980s Bruichladdich 15yo at £3 and Highland Park First Cask 1974 20yo at only £5 and going up to our magical SMWS Springbank 1965s – four of them, stylistically diverse but all incredibly delicious and each priced at £60.  

However, for most of the punters at the show the main interest was in the drams inbetween, with the Berry Bros bottling of Bunnahabhain 1972 and the 1980s Macallan 10 Year Old 100 Proof two of most popular mid-range choices – perhaps to be expected, given that both are heavily sherried and were priced at just £10 per dram.

Rare Cadenhead Bottlings

Moving up a bit in price, we had two groups of bottles from Cadenhead’s, with several of each of the Cadenhead’s 150th Anniversary Selection and ‘distillery label’ Cask Strength Editions.  These are rare bottles, even at auction, and their popularity with the clued-up denizens of the show was no surprise. The Port Ellen 1981 was far and away the most-requested of the 150th Anniversary bottlings, but the £15-20 Cask Strength editions split opinion, and it’s not hard to see why – how can you pick between Glendronach 1970, Lagavulin 1978, Talisker 1979 and Linlithgow 1982?  Several visitors took the safe option and tried them all.

Towards the top end, the classic Bowmore Bicentenary proved irresistible to many at just £30, while at £50 the Cadenhead’s Cask Strength Clynelish 1972 & Ardbeg 1975 and the very rare Cadenhead’s Ardbeg 1976 Single Cask – Harrison’s favourite dram of the show – knocked the socks off several grateful show visitors (and one or two of our fellow exhibitors…).


Here’s Tim’s tasting notes for six of his favourite drams from our stand:

Tamdhu – Cadenhead’s Black Label NAS, 80 proof (45.6%), Bottled 1960s

Nose:  Delightful clear honey aromas, some creamy vanilla, then sweet oat cookies, hazelnut, and milk chocolate. On deeper inspection, a tantalising hint of old oak.

Palate: Mirrors the nose wonderfully – this is all about honey and honeysuckle, patisserie and confectionery.  That hint of oak is more prominent, though, bringing spice and mild pepperiness.

Finish: Warm, drying in the mouth with sweet flavours and lingering peppery spice.

Comment: What a privilege to try such a rare dram, presumably a refill bourbon cask. Not especially old or complex but so elegant, with wonderful flavours and balance.


Glen Grant 25 Year Old – George Strachan, 86 Proof (49%), Bottled Early 1970s

Nose:  A wonderfully old-school nose, with polished wood, autumn leaves, cooked apples, fruit leather, fig rolls, blackberries, vanilla custard and hints of toasted homemade bread. Develops caramel, furniture polish and faint liniment aromas with time in the glass.

Palate:  Mediumweight, with the oak more forward than on the nose, a suggestion of wool and fresh laundry then raw dough a herby, grassy character almost on the verge of papery but just pulling back.  The fruits from the nose make an appearance but it’s all about that old schooloak for me.

Finish:  Quite light, but drying and spicy.

Comment: This went for £300 in our recent auction and that’s a very fair price for a single malt most likely distilled shortly after the end of WWII. From the light golden colour and the age we must assume that this is a third or fourth refill bourbon cask caught in the nick of time. Fantastic old style ‘light’ Speyside character, they really don’t make ‘em like this any more.  


Rosebank 34 Years Old – George Strachan, 88 Proof (50%), Bottled Early 1970s

Nose:  A meadow… Sweetpea and honeysuckle, then grassy, leafy, herby aromas come forward.  Develops breakfast cereal hints – Rice Krispies, muesli – then light dried fruit and buttered teacakes.

Palate:  Medium-full, with some spice as the oak flexes its muscles. Then it’s back to the meadow and the muesli, dried fruit, nuts and bready flavours with a hint of estery fruit – pears, Calvados – in the background. Becomes sweeter and more flowery with a tiny drop of water.

Finish: Good length. Spice, fruit and oak. 

Comment: A famous dram with a deserved reputation. So unusual to taste a whisky of this age from that era.  A fantastic evocation of the best of Lowland whisky (even if the label says Highland, haha). This went for £1300 in our last auction, and that’s not too much for a whisky of this quality and historical significance.  


Unknown Distillery – Cadenhead’s Dumpy Bottle, Unknown Age & Strength

Nose:  Straight into amazing old funky dark sherry, with overpowering aromas of cooked raisins, prunes, cooking chocolate, icing sugar and cooked figs. Develops earthy mulch notes before a return to the bakery with homemade gingerbread.

Palate:  Sweeter than expected, with the raisins again to the fore, but also chocolate, cocoa powder and exquisite cooked apple and raisin fruits from the sherry, which then becomes very leathery with a hint of polish.  The marvellous thing here is the intensity: this is clearly a decent strength dram with powerful punch, but the flavours are both intermingled and distinct at the same time, with the full-on dark dry fruity sherry leaving room for flashes of wood, sweetness and spice.

Finish:  Long, sweet, leathery, fruity, spicy. Warming to the tongue and to the heart. 

Comment: What a stunner… We can’t know, but my guess is an Oloroso cask Macallan from the glory years.


Port Ellen 1981 Cadenhead’s 150th Anniversary, Bottled 1992, 64.1%

Nose: Potent. Grassy and young-smelling with notes of engine oil, bandages, germolene, wet sand, wet cut grass, wool and surgical spirit. A honeyed note emerges with time in the glass.

Palate:  A sweet intro, then an onslaught of raw, grassy, phenolic power. A little de trop at full strength, with a slight papery note despite the young age, obviously a very tired cask. Bandages and cooking fat. Despite the strength this drinks well without water, although it’s better with a very small drop.

Finish: Ashy smoke, very drying with a hint of grassy sweetness at the death.

Comment:  A devastatingly pure expression of the glory of young PE. Cuts like a blade. It’s very clear that this is from the stage when the Port Ellen distillery was making incredibly austere spirit that was filled to ancient refill casks – thankfully this thrifty, careless incompetence turned out to be an unintentional masterstroke.


Talisker 1979 – Cadenhead’s Cask Strength, 64.9%, Bottled Early 1990s

Nose:  Wet cut grass, soot, brine, wet burnt wood, cake dough, sugared almonds – another refill bourbon cask for sure. Develops more on grass, vanilla custard and distant bonfires. Blind I’d never have guessed Talisker – more like a youngish Caol Ila or Port Ellen on first sniff.

Palate: Frighteningly drinkable at full strength. Sweeter than expected – lovely honey notes around a grassy, lightly phenolic core that becomes slowly more dominant – ashy, dry phenols, like dry peat briquettes and burning paper.

Finish: Long, warm, dry. Incredibly moreish.

Comment: Just like the Port Ellen, this is another clear case of a very old cask used for pointy, austere spirit. One can see why this cask found its way to the indies – it’s rather atypical for Talisker. But a sensational dram nonetheless. 


Hope the above gave you a little taste of what it was like at the Show – as ever it was great for us to hang out with such passionate whisky fans and share some of our finest whiskies with them.  Many thanks to the organisers and attendees who make Old & Rare such a special event, and on a personal note many thanks to the Whisky Online team for having me along.  We look forward to the next show.

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