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Whisky boom: 12 top performing rare Scotch names

Rare Scotch is becoming an increasingly popular passion investment, with 2016 a vintage year according to broker Rare Whisky 101.

Whisky boom

The rare whisky market has become increasingly liquid in a boom year for the spirit

According to the full year results for 2016 from broker Rare Whisky 101, both the volume and value of rare Scotch whisky sold at auction increased by record amounts, leading to a 38% jump in the Rare Apex 1,000 index in 2016.

The value of collectable bottles of Single Malt Scotch whisky sold at auction in the UK rose by 48.64% to a record £14.21 million (2015 £9.56 million). The number of bottles of Single Malt Scotch whisky sold at auction in the UK increased by 35.21% to 58,758 (2015 43,458).

According to the report, there are a number of factors behind this increased liquidity. These include a favourable forex rate, low interest rates, and the uncertainty of geopolitical change, which it have all served to fuel demand for passion investments such as whisky, wine and art as a viable component of a balanced investment portfolio.

The most expensive bottle to sell at auction in the UK was a 50-year-old Yamazaki for £62,600.

Rare Whisky 101 co-founder Andy Simpson (pictured) believes the market has matured: 'The continued growth in both volume and value has added further liquidity, making rare whisky a more popular and more accessible "passion investment".

'We have no doubt that the current low interest rate environment and wider uncertainty within the market has fuelled demand for rare whisky, as investors have looked to alternative ‘passion’ investments which can offer a diversified approach to balance their portfolios and deliver positive financial returns.'

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Whisky boom

The rare whisky market has become increasingly liquid in a boom year for the spirit

According to the full year results for 2016 from broker Rare Whisky 101, both the volume and value of rare Scotch whisky sold at auction increased by record amounts, leading to a 38% jump in the Rare Apex 1,000 index in 2016.

The value of collectable bottles of Single Malt Scotch whisky sold at auction in the UK rose by 48.64% to a record £14.21 million (2015 £9.56 million). The number of bottles of Single Malt Scotch whisky sold at auction in the UK increased by 35.21% to 58,758 (2015 43,458).

According to the report, there are a number of factors behind this increased liquidity. These include a favourable forex rate, low interest rates, and the uncertainty of geopolitical change, which it have all served to fuel demand for passion investments such as whisky, wine and art as a viable component of a balanced investment portfolio.

The most expensive bottle to sell at auction in the UK was a 50-year-old Yamazaki for £62,600.

Rare Whisky 101 co-founder Andy Simpson (pictured) believes the market has matured: 'The continued growth in both volume and value has added further liquidity, making rare whisky a more popular and more accessible "passion investment".

'We have no doubt that the current low interest rate environment and wider uncertainty within the market has fuelled demand for rare whisky, as investors have looked to alternative ‘passion’ investments which can offer a diversified approach to balance their portfolios and deliver positive financial returns.'

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Investor rankings

The Investors’ distillery ranking is 80% weighted on the percentage change in value for all bottles from a distillery, with a 10% weighting on the highest average price and the remaining 10% on the overall highest price of a single bottle.

We highlight the top 12 gainers in 2016, with some of the fascinating history and science behind the names taken from Whiskypedia on Scotchwhisky.com

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12: Glen Grant (up 10 places on 2015)

Glen Grant dates back to the 19th century when John Grant increased the original pair of stills to a quartet. A new stillhouse with a further two were added in 1973 and another four installed there in 1977. In 1983, the old stillhouse was closed and two larger stills were put into the new stillhouse, giving the current complement of eight.

Today, Glen Grant is still run by master distiller Dennis Malcolm who was born at the distillery in 1946 and started working there in 1961.

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11: St Magdalene (Down four places)

St Magdalene was built in the mid-18th century by Sebastian Henderson, to oppose the construction of Bulzion distillery that appeared a few years earlier. Henderson had rented the lands of St. Magdalene’s Cross convent from the Countess of Dalhousie to build the distillery.

The distillery was renovated into residential flats in the early 1990s, though its malting barn and kiln, which are registered as C Grade listed buildings, remain. St Magdalene’s pagoda roof is the last reminder of the burgh’s distilling heritage.

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10: Balvenie (Up seven places)

Balvenie was built on a 12 acre site adjacent to Glenfiddich in 1892/3. Originally known as Glen Gordon it took the name of the huge (ruined) castle which was located next door. The ‘new’ castle, already derelict in 1893, was turned into maltings.

The distillery provided fillings, primarily for the Grant’s Standfast blend, until 1973 when the first official bottling was made. Its continued requirements as a contributor to blends initially restricted its growth as a stand-alone brand (although increasing its cult status).

This was eased slightly with the opening of Kininvie in 1990, but it was only with the building of Ailsa Bay that greater stocks were finally made available. It is now one of the fastest-growing single malt brands in the world.

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9: Ardbeg (Up six places)

Founded in 1815 by the McDougall family, the site had grown into a small community with housing, a hall, greenhouses, a bowling green and a school for 100 pupils. The reason for its success was tied to the growing popularity of blends and the need for most to have some smoke running through them. By the end of the 19th century it had become a valued fixture on Islay's southern coast.

Heavy peating at Port Ellen maltings gives the smoke, long fermentation helps to increase softness and a clean, acidic fruitiness, while it is the use of a purifier pipe in the lyne arm of the spirit still which adds an oily, textural quality to the final product but also helps to refine the spirit.

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8: Mortlach (Down four places)

Mortlach was the name of the original village which sprang up around the abbey of the name, founded by Saint Moluag in the 7th century. With the building of Dufftown in 1817 the old name fell in abeyance – apart from the distillery.

Although no-one is sure where the unique distillation regime originated, its adherence to richness and weight singles Mortlach out as one of the distilleries with a robust belief in the older ways of making whisky.

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7: Convalmore (Up 1 place)

Convalmore was built in 1893/4 as part of the last Victorian gold rus and its life was always dedicated to providing fillings for blends and as a result its whiskies were never given the platform which.

Like many distilleries of that period, its predominant character was waxy – though according to distillers who remember its new make Convalmore’s was at the same high levels as Clynelish with an extra fruity heart. It is very rarely seen, the most notable being a couple of excellent tropical fruit-accented special releases from Diageo.

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6: Bowmore (Up 10 places)

There are claims that Bowmore’s distillery started operation in 1779, but there’s no evidence of whisky being made until a certain John Simpson took out a licence in 1816. It was not until 1837 when the Glasgow blending firm, Wm & Jas Mutter took over that it began to gain traction and reputation

Its smoke, reminiscent of beach bonfires, mingles with a distinctly saline note, flowers, cereal, citrus and underneath a touch of tropical fruit. It is this character which, when matured in refill casks for a long period of time, becomes the primary aroma, the peat seemingly disappearing completely.

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5: Port Ellen: (No move)

Port Ellen was opened in 1824, later than its neighbours on Islay’s south coast. It was built by Alexander Mackay, on the site of a malt mill which had possibly been supplying the many illicit distillers on the Oa Peninsula.

Port Ellen’s smokiness is quite different to the rest of its neighbours on Islay’s south coast, being both highly maritime in nature alongside a sharp lemon element, light tar and some oiliness in the texture. Because most of the bottlings have been matured in refill casks it is rare to find a Port Ellen with a huge amount of oak. While this accentuates the smokiness it also lends it a somewhat austere nature.

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4: Killyloch (Down 2)

It’s said the distillery’s name came about after casks of spirit produced at this Lowland distillery were incorrectly stamped Killyloch, as opposed to Lilly Loch after its nearby water source.

This lightly-peated whisky was produced mainly as a filling for blends, and as such was never really officially bottled as a single malt aside from a 36-year-old released by Inver House in 2003. Due to its short lifespan, very little of Killyloch’s liquid remains in existence, though Inver House describes its as ‘light on peat, heavy in aromas, with a complex yet soft character, smooth with a citrus spicy finish’.

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3: Dalmore (No move)

Dalmore was founded, in 1839, by Alexander Matheson who had made his fortune as a partner in Jardine Matheson the trading firm which took over from the East India Company and which, by that time, was controlling exports of opium trade into China.

The wash stills at Dalmore have flat tops, and are in two sizes. Three are 13,000-litres in capacity, the fourth is double that. The spirit stills all sport water coolers around their necks to assist in reflux.

Ex-Sherry casks are the most commonly-used maturation vessel and unlike many distilleries, ex-solera casks soaked in oloroso and PX Sherry for decades are preferred over the oak-driven bespoke casks now common across the industry.

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2: Macallan (Up four places)

One of the original farm distilleries of Speyside, Macallan became legal in 1824 when Alexander Reid obtained (or was persuaded to obtain) one of the new licences issued after the passing of the 1823 Excise Act.

The plant has continually been expanded from its original wooden shed with two stills. It was increased to five stills (two wash, three spirit) in 1954 and then more significantly in 1965 when a new stillhouse with seven stills was built. This process continued throughout the 1970s with the total number of stills reaching 21 by 1975

No colour adjustment takes place at Macallan, meaning that each vatting needs to not only replicate the previous one in terms of aroma and taste, but must hit the same hue, despite every cask having a different tint.

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1: Brora (No move)

Brora – or as it was originally known, Clynelish – is one of Scotland’s Clearance distilleries [see also Talisker]. It was built in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford (later the Duke of Sutherland) who with his wife and her factors [estate managers] enacted some of the most brutal forced evictions in the Highlands, as part of an economic experiment which saw 15,000 farmers from their estate alone, moved off their land and resettled either on the coast, or sent to Canada and Australia.

The old distillery closed for a year, but reopened in 1969 and was in production, though not always at full capacity. In 1975, after a change in legislation banning two distilleries from being called the same, its name was changed to Brora. During 1972 to 1974 when DCL’s Caol Ila was being rebuilt, production of heavily peated malt was switched here.

The distillery was closed finally in 1983, and although rumours surface occasionally about it reopening they seem little more than wishful thinking.

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