I was hesitant about whether to go to the Whisky Show: Old & Rare in Glasgow as a ticket was £100 for the day. And although £50 of that price was in spendable vouchers, every dram on the day would have to be purchased, potentially taking the total price well above the ticket price.
I ended up spending ~£120 in total, so it wasn’t a cheap day – but it fell on my Birthday weekend and the quality of the whisky was pretty exceptional. There were a mix of stands: from shops, auctions, distillery groups and private collectors, and a (1cl) dram ranged in price from £1 to £300 – but there were loads in the £3-7 category, which is where I spent most of my money.
The online dram list is here, but for archive purposes, there’s a PDF version here too. Let’s get started then! Here are a few of the best drams, with some tasting notes scattered about and a few photos thrown in from the day for good measure:
Hanyu Big Butt
Hanyu Distillery was an unspectacular distillery during its working life, but after it stopped producing it was purchased along with its entire stock and started releasing collectible bottles of Japanese whisky just at the market took an upward turn. The ‘Playing Card’ series have become easily the most-collectible large set of whiskies, with individual bottles regularly exceeding £1000 at auction, rarer ones many times more that.
It’s not just these ultra-collectible bottles that hit the market however, but lots of independent releases that happen to have some of the nicest label designs of all whiskies (the Japanese aesthetic works really well with a whisky label!). So now we come to the Hanyu Big Butt – possibly my favourite whisky label ever – the big butt of a sumo wrestler representing the sherry butt of this Japanese whisky – and this bottle was available alongside an earlier ‘Caber’ release – see both here.
Nose: Cured ham, ancient wood. It evaporates like glue, but distinct sherry. So woody but also cod – in a great way. Hard fruit candy (black & red).
Taste + Finish: Hammy, but light, memories of Grandad’s garage with a tiny acidic fizz. Similar to the Spirit of Asama 12yo. Salty, basil? Engine oil, with a floral finish.
Comments: When first sold, this was €125 – clearly the market for Japanese whisky was looking up, but this would sell for 6x+ that now.. So great to try – probably my favourite bottle in terms of label design, and the guy selling it was the guy who commissioned the label – it features Serge and Olivier in the crowd…
R: 78 / 100
N: “Fruity, but not an amazingly noticeable nose. Herby!
T+F: Mint / lemon, toffee with herbs (but now not mint). Toasted wood in there too. Bit of metallic / iron? Sweet and pleasant finish with orange.
C: Hard to score due to a small (free, bonus) sample, but was great to taste. Originally sold for €65, how times have changed…
Rating: 68 / 100
Stromness Malt Sample
It’s worth making special mention of possibly the nicest-looking bottle I’ve seen, as well as being one of the rarest. It’s one of only two known existing malt samples from Stromness Distillery on Orkney. The distillery was closed in 1928 so it quite surprising there’s anything still hanging around at all, but as most stock went into the Old Orkney brand, this malt sample is incredibly rare. (You still see the odd bottle of Old Orkney (Stromness) on sale at auction, but never cheap: this one sold for £2500 + commission!).
You can hopefully begin to see why this was priced at £120 for a 1cl dram – in terms of history, it was better value than most of the expensive whiskies on site. Obviously I couldn’t afford to try it, but I did tell someone about its availability who immediately went and bought a sample – he said it was “classic, old-style whisky” and seemed happy with his purchase. I did get to have a wee smell, so I’ve come pretty close to this piece of Orkney history! It was supposedly found in an Edinburgh warehouse not too long ago (perhaps even the old buildings of the Edinburgh & Leith Warhouse Company?) – not a bad thing to find stashed in a cupboard…
With such a wealth of knowledge behind each stall, it was always worth asking for a recommendation. In this case, I wanted something really fruity, and I wasn’t disappointed.
N: Oh, so fruity – let’s get right into this…
T+F: Incredible fruitiness – apricots and peaches. Nothing’s wowwed me on the fruitiness scale since the Redbreast 21yo – another amazing dram.
C: I asked this private collector for something really fruity and he offered me this officially-bottled Tomatin – I was initially sceptical (it’s old & rare whiskies, right?), but it blew me away with it’s insane fruitiness – a true delight.
R: 78 / 100
Other notable drams were the SMWS Mosstowie 109.3 (wow, another really fruity number – mmm!), the Hanyu First Cask (smoked candy, beautiful sweetness with a little bit of fish) and the Highland Park Caledonian Selection (really cereally, sweet, rich and delicious – big herbs – woah!).
My Dram of the Day
It came slightly late in the day (all 7 hours of it!), and sometimes drams towards the end of the festival are skewed a bit by the alcohol consumption, but this had such a unique taste and was way more complex than most things I’d tried. You know it’s good when new flavours appear every time you taste it..
N: I dove straight into this dram, because it smelled amazing.
T+F: Metallic turning into something insanely complex – every time I tasted it, it gave me something new. Herby toffee – immense.
C: Oh wow – potentially the best whisky I’ve ever tasted? Incredibly complex, I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to take detailed notes (oops!). Retailing at ~£650, possibly the best-value Banff on the market… It was bottled in 2008, but due to various wranglings, it’s only being released now. A sublime dram.
R: 92 / 100
Joke of the Day
You’ve got to love the use of Irn Bru for a tasty political joke – Scotland’s national drink meets Scotland’s other national drink, with a hint of satire mixed in…
Bottle of the Day
I walked past this bottle a few times, but had to go back and taste it – it’s just got that dusty, antique vibe about it – it wasn’t amazing taste-wise, but hey – great to try these old bottles..