The weather looked promising this morning. A few showers towards the Speyside, says the weather report. Brimming brighter than the sun rays forcing their way through the spec of clouds, I pull myself out of bed, roll away the curtains and rush to get ready for my trip from Inverness to Speyside for my appointment with Ian Logan (not from the wolverine family) at the Glenlivet distillery. All dressed and no need of a trench coat, I sway out of the door to enter my ride only to be welcomed by a thunderous pour of rain shower. The chauffeur giggled assuming correctly that this was my first visit towards Speyside. “Oh! its always unpredictable”, she grinned greeting me with kind sympathy. “Did you check the weather on BBC?”, I looked obviously at her through my rain covered lashes as I bolted myself in with the seatbelt. My blow-dry might have been ruined but my sprits wouldn’t drown so easily. I was positive the day will be bright and sunny by the time we reach Speyside. The clouds it seemed were listening intently. To my dismay, they followed us and brought more friends along.
Inverness is the administrative centre of the Scottish highlands, like a capital region of the upper north. The journey by road from Inverness to Speyside takes about an hour and a half. Scenic roads barely looked gloomy even with the clouds declaring it late evening at 10 AM. Scores of sheep grazing on never ending, rolling grassland with the windmills forming the perfect backdrop. It’s like a dream holiday picture that goes on and on for miles. Sometimes I feel Scotland looks prettier with the clouds keeping the sun away. To be more true, this IS the natural beauty of Scotland; grey cover over emerald green lands.
Speyside is best described as a region where the Scott’s spirits are always high! It is known to house the distilleries of the best whisky bottles churned out from Scotland. What a delight it was to see some of the oldest distilleries lined one after the other. I moved into a tranquil state of mind as the chauffeur generously shared some of her knowledge about the histories of the distilleries and how few are still owned by the original families who built them . Most of them have been acquired by bigger brands like Pernod Ricard. The Glenlivet is one of them. As we drove into the driveway of the distillery, I looked up. As grey as nearly night time and teasing with a drizzle of soft shower. I knew this was not the best day to photograph the distillery.
From the distillery door, walked out a gentleman who was dot on time for the appointment. Very kindly greeting me, he introduced himself as Ian Logan. Mr Logan is the international brand ambassador for Chivas Brothers, a whisky brand also associated with Pernod Ricard. He very generously reserved his time to show me the distillery. The doors that led us inside the Distillery guest area were like a vision in golden and warm with the beautiful yellow lighting inside. Starkly different from the weather outside. A well organised collection of single malts and blends sits proudly for visitors to pick and purchase from. The distillery visitors area also houses a small restaurant with a rather interesting collection of Scottish breakfast and special preparations made using the inhouse whisky.
As I was enlightened about the malt making process, I inquired with Mr Logan if we could talk about one of the rare single malts that is perhaps available to explore, at the distillery. To my very pleasant surprise, we were presented with a magnanimously packed bottle of a rare 50 year old single malt.
Please tell us about the 50 year old whisky from Glenlivet. What makes it special?
Ian Logan: The 50 year Winchester Collection from 1966 is the ultimate expression of The Glenlivet. It is a whisky that has lay slumbering in an ex-sherry cask at the distillery for just over 50 years. The cask was filled and laid down by Robert Arthur in 1966, a man who was a Master Distiller with the Glelivet for 27 years and it became part of the rich legacy of the distillery than was owned by Captain Bill Smith Grant, a direct descendant of George Smith , founder of the distillery. There were only 100 bottles produced in the world making it one of the most sought after releases of the year. Not only is it an exceptional whisky but a handblown bottle designed and made by Brodie Nairn of Glasstorm based in Scotland and the stopper by renowned silversmith Richard Fox.The stopper is finished off with a piece of Cairngorm Crystal inlaid in the top. The case for the bottle was made by John Galvin, again based in Scotland and each cabinet needed more than 30 hours work from start to finish. The wood used in the production is Cherry.
Has it been auctioned as yet, if yes then please tell us about its commanding price and about the owner if possible.
Ian Logan: There have been a few bottles auctioned in countries around the world with the most recent being in Malaysia. Four whisky lovers paid a price of 96,000 Malaysian Ringgit, which was the winning bid in the online auction for the coveted Bottle No. 3 from The Glenlivet Winchester Collection Vintage 1964, and is the highest price ever paid for a single bottle of single malt whisky in Malaysia. A bottle of the 1966 release was sold at Auction in New York last year for just over $32,000(US) by a globally renowned collector. I am not at liberty to disclose any more information on the people who purchased the bottles beyond saying they are huge fans of The Glenlivet.
What are the various aspects that qualify a whisky to command high prices at auctions?
There are a number of factors that can make a whisky desirable to a collector. Ideally it would be a reasonably small amount of bottles released defining the rarity and each of these bottles should be numbered also giving it a traceable history. To a degree the packaging would also have an influence, equally a more renowned distillery will also add to the perceived value of a bottle. Last but not least the person who created the whisky and the regard they are held in, not just by the consumer but also by the industry.
So far, which is the most expensive or rare Glenlivet whisky/ies sold at an auction/s?
Ian Logan: In the most recent years the top prices for The Glenlivet have been for the Winchester Collection releases. The 1964 was sold at £18,000(UK) and the 1966 was sold at £20,000(UK). As mentioned above there have been a couple of occasions where these prices have been beaten during auctions but it is always very difficult to know exactly where these prices will go with time. Auctions are always very difficult, all it takes is two people driven to buy a bottle and often this means the final price will be of no relation to our suggested prices. One of Scotland’s most famous independent bottlers called Gordon & MacPhail bottled a 70 yo expression a few years ago but the price was only £17,000 and this could not be sold as The Glenlivet as it was not an official bottling of the distillery.
What should collectors expect from Glenlivet, in the near future?
Ian Logan: At The Glenlivet we will continue to innovate and bring new whiskies to the whisky fan when possible. Over the past few years there has been whiskies such as Alpha, Chapter, and Cipher which while not at the price bracket of tens of thousand pounds have been new. These products and also single cask bottling’s and the Winchester Collection mean we will stay at the forefront and leading the way for both collectors and every day drinkers of The Glenlivet.
What makes Glenlivet whisky unique from the other distilleries that make whisky in the same Scottish region with the same source of water?
Ian Logan: I have to say that every distillery in Scotland makes their own unique whisky but as far as The Glenlivet is concerned we led the way after the 1823 Excise Act which made legal distillation much more cost effective. George Smith saw the opportunity to take that wonderful reputation the area had for making illicit whisky and take it to the world. Smith saw this change in the law as a door opening to the world and by the 1880’s his whisky could be found in all corners of the world. The location of the distillery was ideal, lots of spring water, an abundant source of peat as a fuel, some of the best barley growing areas only a few miles away but mostly remote and isolated. We also have our own unique water source in Josie’s well and this rises just a few hundred metres behind the distillery. He allowed himself the time to distil slowly and produce the very best whisky possible.
Smith was a remarkable man, a farmer, an architect, a builder and fortunately for all of us a talented distiller. His father and grandfather would have been illicit distillers also so he was already very knowledgeable distiller by the time to open his distillery came around. For a number of years he carried a pair of pistols with him at all time to protect himself from the illicit distillers in the valley who saw him as a traitor to the cause when he became legal.
From day one the whisky was well known for having wonderful notes of fruit, flowers and toffee and these are same characteristics that Alan Winchester and his dedicated strive for today. We now sell one bottle of The Glenlivet every three seconds somewhere around the world so hopefully George Smith would be very proud of what his distillery has become.