Letting Go #13: Auction Action

It seems like an age since I dropped off my liquid gold treasures to whiskyauctioneer.com [WLP#4], who’s July/August auction began yesterday.

With the Golden Samurai already up to £2100 by the first morning – so my money back, phew – my total auction lots have already surpassed 18k!! Whilst most items have not even got going, staggeringly, Compass Box’s ‘The General’ is up to £410 and the 1984 SMWS 26.106 Clynelish to £460 – both already double what I paid for them. Whilst G&M’s 1966 Balblair is nowhere in the running, the official 1978 Balblair has already achieved a stunning £383. There’s no love for Strathclyde nor Dalmunach, but there are two bids for a young SMWS Macduff. Incredibly, the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask I paid £93 for in 2013, has already hit £2500! By the end of the day, that Golden Samurai is up to £3900 and the 29yo Geisha I paid £375 for in 2014 has hit £5600. Mind-blowing stuff! These prices makes me reconsider the total I had in mind [30k] when I started this journey [WLP#1].

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In another corner of the digital galaxy, Apple Maps seems to think I’m 29 minutes away from the Abhainn Dearg distillery. I duly drive 29 minutes to find Apple Maps now thinks I should go back to where I’d come from. It turns out the place I’d been staying the last two nights – Ardroil – was a two-minute walk away from the distillery [see map pic]. It took a while to calm myself down from driving an hour for nothing. As a result of this digital blunder, when I arrived at Abhainn Dearg [not some imaginary Abhainn Dearg brewery, Apple!!], the distillery was just closing, and it being Saturday, wouldn’t reopen until Monday. What to do? Time to get some decent snaps of the outside of the distillery in preparation for an ‘On Location: Spotlight On,….’ of this largely unknown, and perhaps misunderstood, remote operation.

Whilst the Abhainn Dearg distillery buildings themselves could be likened to something from pre-1990s East Berlin, there’s no denying the jaw-dropping location. When I finally get to tour the distillery on Monday morning, I have a feeling it’ll be an eye-opener. Despite coming to Scotland to let go of whisky, It’s fair to assume I’ll buy a bottle – when in Rome – after the distillery tour. It used to be you could only buy Abhainn Dearg’s whisky from the distillery itself, but I see that situation has now changed with the emergence of an online shop.

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I had a good walk around Ardroil today, though met with more bird grief [WLP#8] from two gulls who repeatedly flew towards me at eye-line, only to pull up at the last minute. A similar thing happened a bit later when I walked up a steep hill past a quarry. I braced myself, thinking I was going to have to take evasive action. Would I really have to punch a bird in the beak to protect myself? This was a preservation situation. My heart was racing. I noticed that the gulls didn’t bother a subsequent group of two and then another group of three walkers that strolled right past without having to make fists or strike a fighting pose. Perhaps it’s the hat I’m wearing? Maybe they think I’m Mr. Murray?

After a full day outdoors, I retire early. I’m in and out of sleep all night, thinking about the whisky auction and those rising Karuizawa prices. I reflect on missed opportunities to buy a number of Karuizawa’s a few years back, the ones that got away.

karuizawa-twinsMy biggest ‘miss’ was declining the opportunity to purchase either another bourbon Geisha or get the sherried counterpart, on day two of TWE Show 2014. With one bottle per customer per day, I knew couples who had grabbed four bottles between them during the weekend. I even half-thought about buying a festival ticket for my wife at the time, just so she could come just to buy another bottle. Unfortunately I didn’t have the money back then and I’d already exceeded my budget, paying £375 on top of the show ticket, masterclasses, and dream drams. It’s all too easy in hindsight, but six years ago, that all felt like an expensive gamble.

My most cutting missed opportunity is the day I was tied to a [non-paid] recording session for a show that was going nowhere. One afternoon in the autumn of 2012/13? [I don’t remember], I missed out on a Number One Drinks single cask Karuizawa release [possibly this one], that had rapidly sold out online. I immediately phoned TWE shop [which was situated at Vinopolis near London Bridge at the time], to be informed they still had two bottles on their shelves, for walk-in customers only. I wish I’d said to my theatre colleagues, “Sorry guys, let’s take a long lunch break. I’ll be back in 2 hours”. That bottle is worth around £6-7k.

Then there were those 20cl bottles of Karuizawa, available in-shop at the Weinquelle in Hamburg around the same time for just 60-70 euros. To secure them, I would have needed to get to Gatwick and take a plane and a train, carrying an empty suitcase to buy 6 small bottles [being fairly certain it was 2 per customer, with three single cask bottlings to choose from]. It all seemed too much of a crazy thing to do at the time, and I wasn’t as brave or confident as I would be now. Those bottles are currently going for £800+ each [see pic above], but who knew at the time?


On another occasion, I deliberated over a 1999/2000 Karuizawa Tokyo Show bottling for an hour or so at Hedonism in Mayfair, after attending a Morrison & Mackay masterclass there. I could not justify the £190 price tag at the time, wasn’t inspired by the label, and wondered whether I was losing the plot. Research told me the juice was, only good, not stellar [reviewers scores weren’t so wild back then]. A few years later, I saw that bottle priced in the same shop for £2100 [see pic]. I did instead, buy a single cask DL 1982 Glen Mhor [WB] for £112, so there’s the silver lining, a bottle that I have kept back for myself.

Finally, I recall the Karuizawa CS series, of which there were four releases in all. Again, around 2013-14, these bottles regularly showed up at auction for between £220 and £260. Every few weeks, I looked at them, consulted my research notes, and concluded that these decent-enough whiskies [with their utilitarian labels] weren’t worth even £200 – though I’m sure I’d have bitten at £180. Those bottles now command five times that price [see pic below.


The past is the past and I’m grateful for the bottles I have been lucky to acquire. I finally sleep, a little.


The next morning, I see my bourbon Geisha, cask #8897 has risen to £6800 overnight, and still with 5 days to go until the auction finishes! Perhaps with the exception of old Macallan and Bowmore, nothing compares to the Japanese whisky hysteria we have witnessed in the last five years [not even Brora or Port Ellen]. If I had known what all those Karuizawa’s I didn’t buy might have gone for at this auction, I’d have taken out a bank loan!

I went for a rather large walk today aiming for the highest peak [see vid]. As it turns out, when you get to the one you perceive as the highest, there’s another behind it. I managed to conquer four peaks in total, some of which I had to go right up & down the other side before venturing up another – proper ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ stuff.

The weather just about held off for my walk until I got back to the camper. Now conveniently parked bang opposite the Abhainn Dearg distillery [no thanks to Apple] for the Monday morning tour, a shit storm hit and I wasn’t in a good position to receive its brunt. It was already 23:30 when I faced up to the reality. If I was to have any chance of sleeping, I would have to try and find a more sheltered spot. That proved tricky around this coastal location and visibility was dangerously slight. With the van repeatedly battered by the winds and lashing rain, it was one rough night.


Despite the weather, drinks-wise, it was another ‘dry’ day. At the end of the weekend, my auction lot total is up to £33,229 – insane! – now passed what I had dared predict at the beginning of my journey, and still with five days to go until the auction concludes. Where will it all end? Tomorrow, Abhainn Dearg!






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