The Distillers’ Charity, the philanthropic wing of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, has teamed up with Sotheby’s for a charity auction that promises to net some lucky bidder some rare and rarified bottles.
Taking place at Barnbougle Castle on the outskirts of Edinburgh on Friday 3 December, the theme is “One of One”, with each lot on offer being a one-of-a-kind whisky. As they are being sold without reserve prices, the event is an opportunity for collectors to snap up unique pieces of Scottish whisky history, while at the same time supporting a good cause.
Forty-two lots have been donated by some of the biggest names in the business. Expected prices range from as little as £1,000 up to £500,000, and it is hoped that the auction will raise more than £1m, to help establish a new initiative called the Youth Action Fund, to improve the employment prospects of young people in Scotland.
The most eye-catching lot – worth an estimated £350,000-£500,000 – is an entire barrel of 43 year old Talisker single malt. Filled in 1978, and still maturing, this cask, donated by Diageo, is the first of their “Casks of Distinction” to be sold at auction.
Talisker owner Diageo commissioned Turner Prize nominee Callum Innes to turn a cask-end into an original work of art that represents the spirit. Innes has made a striking piece, dividing the barrel-head down the centre, painting the left half black and the right half gold; a composition which he says recalls “the limpid light of a sunset on the Isle of Skye over the Cuillin Hills”.
The successful bidder will have the option of ageing the barrel for up to five more years, and the opportunity to consult with a master blender about the optimal time to bottle. At that point, it will be transferred into special bottles and wooden presentation boxes, featuring Innes’ artwork.
This is not the only barrel on offer as part of the auction, however. Glen Garioch has provided two barrels, the first a 31 year old cask, distilled in 1990, when the distillery only used direct fire stills. This traditional method of distillation has become rare in modern Scottish whisky making because scorching the mash can lead to off flavours, and the risk of naked flames igniting alcohol vapours and causing explosions.
The second cask is noteworthy as it contains the first liquid to come off the stills since Glen Garioch reintroduced a direct fire system this year.
Another return to tradition can be found in the barrel provided by Bruichladdich. The Islay distillery is B Corp Certified, meaning that it is audited to ensure it meets certain social and environmental standards, and for the first time ever at auction it has put forward a cask of Organic single malt. Though Islay is famed for its peat-smoked whisky, this barrel was distilled in 2011 from unpeated organic barley, harvested the previous year.
The majority of lots, however, are bottles. The most extravagant of these is a prelude set of four Baccarat crystal decanters from Glenfiddich. These one-off bottlings contain 62, 63, 64, and 66 year old whiskies, distilled between 1955 and 1959. They come in a cabinet, fitted with a high precision thermometer and hygrometer from the renowned instrument makers Fischer, which should enable the successful bidder to maintain the spirits in peak condition.
In an auction with so many exceptional whiskies, there are some lots where the bottles themselves demand attention. For instance, there is a 51 year old Bowmore, which comes in a unique 1.4 litre hand-crafted onyx-glass vessel, the shape and colour of which recall the ancient oaks found preserved in the peat that gives this Islay whisky its characteristic smokey flavour. Meanwhile, the offering from Glenturret – which has a good claim to being Scotland’s oldest distillery – comes in a rare, green, custom decanter, from the legendary French crystal-makers Lalique.
Bids are being accepted on Sotheby’s website in advance of the auction, and several lots have already met their lower-estimated values. One that appears to have attracted particular attention is the GlenDronach 50 Year Old 1971. Matured in Spanish oak sherry casks, it is the first bottle that the distillery has ever released at that age statement. The first lot to actually exceed its upper-estimate in early bidding was a bottle of 32 Year Old Port Cask Finish from Glen Moray, the purchase for which includes a distillery experience.
• The auction takes place this Friday at 13:30pm. Money raised will go to support the work of the Youth Action Fund. For more information, go to sothebys.com