A closer look at the ‘awe-inspiring’ Distillers One of One Auction
It’s impossible for a whisky lover not to be left slack-jawed by the 39 lots that make up next Thursday (5 October)’s Distillers One of One auction, such is the rarity of the liquid on show. An archetypically funky Brora from 1972, the oldest release yet from Bowmore, a 68-year-old Glen Grant.
And that’s before we even get on to the packaging. Well, ‘packaging’ is an inadequate term, as anyone will attest who was lucky enough to view some of the lots paraded at Sotheby’s Bond Street London offices recently.
That Brora, for example, is suspended in a gravity-defying decanter, encased in a hand-carved stone sculpture that echoes the eye of the distillery ‘mascot’, the Scottish wildcat. Weighing in at 110kg, it took four people to lift it onto its plinth, according to Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s global head of spirits. As for opening this Excalibur-like contraption, you’ll need a bronze wildcat magnetic ‘key’ that slots into the top of the sculpture.
The Bowmore lot is a 55-year-old single malt – the distillery’s oldest release to date. It comes in an irresistibly tactile, slab-like bottle that is the result of many, many abandoned attempts to achieve the perfect look, and is designed to recall the sea stacks of Bowmore’s Islay home.
There appears to be no air inside it – the liquid reaches all the way to the top – but some clever physics (reputedly inspired by a cigarette lighter) has concealed the air bubble from sight. Pouring a dram, you sense, will require a little bit of effort and dexterity.
The One of One sale is a highlights reel of über-rare Scotch and bespoke crystal; sitting almost shyly in a corner of the room is an elegant, deep blue sculpted decanter housing a 45-year-old Old Pulteney named “Bow Wave”; then there’s the intriguing, cross-cultural aesthetic fusion that is KANDOBLANC, a whisky created by former Lakes distiller Dhavall Gandhi.
There are casks from Arran, Arbikie and Bruichladdich; a collection of three whiskies from long-closed Littlemill, and malts from Glen Scotia and Tomatin that are close to their 50th birthdays.
There’s even what may just be the poshest advent calendar yet devised: Christmas at Hazelwood, a collection of 24 x 50ml miniatures of each whisky released to date by House of Hazelwood, alongside a full-sized “Christmas Day” 51-year-old Sherried blend.
To Fowle, and to Jonathan Driver, chairman of Distillers’ Ventures Limited, one of the most impressive aspects of the sale is that large companies – for instance, Diageo, Beam Suntory, Campari Group – have gone to extreme lengths and expense to push the envelope in terms of liquid and aesthetics, but for no direct financial return.
“Don’t forget,” says Driver, gesturing at the Brora and Glen Grant lots, “that they had to get the company board to sign off on this.” Indeed – unofficial, rumoured estimates suggest that Brora Iris alone cost about £250,000 to make; KANDOBLANC in the region of £100,000.
The lots are awe-inspiring, and the bidding at the auction – scheduled for Hopetoun House, near Edinburgh, on Thursday 5 October at 2pm – is sure to be fierce. But that’s not really the point; the reason for all of this huge effort and expenditure is the work undertaken by The Distillers Charity, which this sale will fund.
The proceeds go principally to the Youth Action Fund, set up by the charity to transform young lives in Scotland. The first Distillers One of One auction, held in December 2021, raised £2.4m in this cause, enabling disadvantaged young people from across the country to lead more fulfilled lives, including finding employment, apprenticeships, education, training and volunteer work.
Already it’s estimated that more than 1,000 individuals aged 16-25 have benefitted from the Youth Action Fund – and thanks to the 39 jaw-dropping lots supplied by 36 companies for next week’s sale, many more young people will be given fresh opportunities in the future thanks to the huge love the world has for Scotland’s national drink.
For full details of The Distillers One of One auction, including all lots, see here.
Old Pulteney “Bow Wave”
This 45-year-old single malt from one of Scotland’s quirkier distilleries in the far north-east spent four decades in American oak before being transferred to a single first-fill Spanish oak butt. Pulteney can be a temperamental spirit, but age has lent this liquid a rare sense of refinement and pedigree: tangy stone fruit from the distillate, a savoury – almost umami – edge from the Spanish oak, and a saline, unmistakably maritime, undertow.
Pre-sale estimate: £20,000-30,000
Glenglassaugh Coalescence of the Coast, Aged 55 Years
This remarkable whisky marries spirit from three vintages: 1963, 1965 and 1967, and the winning bidder gets a miniature of all three, alongside the full-sized bottle that combines them. It’s a shapeshifting dram that melds seductive tropical fruits, a powerfully savoury dimension and astonishing depth on the palate. The endless finish has layers of caramel and walnut; minutes later, this morphs into coffee bean. Seems strange to talk about a £20,000 whisky being a bargain, but…
Pre-sale estimate: £15,000-24,000
Sometimes the packaging – an inadequate work to describe a handmade, wincingly heavy stone sculpture – overshadows the liquid, but not with Brora. This combination of five 1972 casks – three refill American oak hogsheads, two European oak butts, married for a year – is everything diehard fans could wish for. The peat is surprisingly forward for a whisky of its age and, although the tropical fruit battles gamely, it has to give up in the face of a fiercely stinky Brora that reeks of muck-strewn farmyard and silage. Gloriously dirty.
Pre-sale estimate: £200,000-400,000