What it’s like to taste some of the world’s rarest whiskies

Ahead of its October auction, Gentleman’s Journal takes a tour of The Distillers One of One's highlights…

The collectability of top-end whisky has been on a seemingly inexorable rise in recent years, driven by an expanding global marketplace for ever-rarer library releases. And an event in October is likely to set the bar even higher.

The name says it all. The Distillers One of One auction will play host to an unparalleled collection of unique Scotch whiskies from a range of storied distilleries. It’s a line-up that showcases not just some extremely rare, old whiskies, but also the astonishing craftsmanship behind the bottles (if one can even label the vessels created to house the liquids as such).

AGA by Kandoblanc, in a bottle designed with Japanese aesthetics and Italian craftsmanship

Photo: KANDOBLANC Aga by Dhavall Ghandi

The event comes courtesy of the historic livery company The Worshipful Company of Distillers, whose remit today focuses largely on providing education, bursaries and vocational training in the distilling industry. The auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, at Hopetoun House (one of Scotland’s finest stately homes, just outside Edinburgh), will raise funds for The Distillers’ charitable arm – specifically the Youth Action Fund, which provides grants to transform the life and employment chances of disadvantaged young adults in Scotland.

This year marks the fourth edition of the charity auction, following the inaugural sale in 2013, when a low estimate of a £100,000 purse was trumped by over £250,000 in takings. The event was derailed somewhat by Covid, but a return in 2021, for which locked-down distilleries were able to spend time producing more ambitious liquids, gave The Distillers the confidence to resurrect it on a regular, grander scale. (It is now intended as a biennial event.)

“We’ve gone from ‘unique and rare’ to ‘cool and doesn’t actually exist’,” said Jonathan Driver, chairman of Distillers’ Ventures.

The auction will comprise 39 lots of one-off whiskies sourced directly from distilleries around Scotland, along with a series of otherwise unavailable experiences. Estimated prices for individual lots range from £2,000 to £500,000, with the sale expected to raise more than £1m in total.

Bowmore 55-year-old Whisky in a glass bottle designed to resemble a rock formation

Among the highlights is a 55-year-old Bowmore STAC (est. £300,000–500,000), the oldest whisky ever released by the distillery, and housed in a 1.5 litre, hand-blown glass bottle that’s been painfully designed (it took over 20 attempts to perfect) to resemble a rock formation off the distillery’s Islay home.

Iris whisky from Brora distillery presented in a sculptural cat eye art piece made of limestone

The Iris from ‘ghost distillery’ Brora, which was brought back to life two years ago after having been mothballed in 1983, is another notable lot, and comprises a 50-year-old single malt, the oldest the distillery has ever bottled. With an estimate of £200,000–400,000, it is presented in a 1.5 litre decanter that’s suspended in a handcrafted sculpture made from the same stone used in the rebuilding of the distillery – the overall look is intended to represent the eye of a Scottish wildcat, the company’s emblem.

The Visionary from Glen Grant Distillery, presented in a suspended hand-blown decanter

Other highlights include The Visionary from Glen Grant Distillery (est. £50,000–90,000), a 68-year-old single malt. The liquid is suspended in a hand-blown battuto-cut decanter, topped with a malachite stopper to evoke the copper of the distillery’s traditional stills.

2 bottles of Rosebank lowland scotch whisky

Gentlemen’s Journal was fortunate to be able to taste some of the lots in a preview at Sotheby’s, and found that some had a particular resonance. The honeyed, citrus tones of the two rare Rosebank single casks – which were distilled in 1993 (the year in which the distillery was closed) and presented on a plinth made from old Rosebank casks – reduced a pair of seasoned industry hands to “a blubbing mess”, according to Jonathan Driver. The lot also includes a ‘first look’ tour and tasting at the newly built Rosebank prior to its public re-opening later this year.

Old Pulteney Bow Wave bottle

Meanwhile, the Old Pulteney Bow Wave is, at 45 years old, the oldest ever released from the Wick distillery, its rounded, sweet tones reflecting the oloroso barrel in which it was aged. Much lighter and brighter in style is the Macduff 1971 – the second such release under the distillery’s own name, with its whiskies generally being harnessed in blends or independent bottlings. With subtly integrated oak, it shows beguiling notes of lavender, candle wax and marmalade.

Jonny Fowle, global head of spirits at Sotheby’s, called the auction “the highlight of the whisky calendar” since it “represents the best elements of this industry: the community spirit, the rarity of the liquid, the creativity of the presentation and, above all, the charitable nature.”

It also, he smiled, encouraged some friendly competition between the distilleries to craft the most coveted lot.

  • After a selection of lots went on view in Sotheby’s New Bond Street, London, last week, advance bidding for the auction, which will take place on 5 October, is now open.

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