How To Read A Rare Malts Selection Label

An auctioneers' guide to the Rare Malts Selection

How To Read A Rare Malts Selection Label

Back in 1993, United Distillers struggled to know what to do with the more mature casks of single malt whiskies in its inventory. Some were from closed distilleries and all were remnants of the infamous ‘Whisky Loch’, the excess stock of the 1980s caused by over production in the 1970s and a reduced demand for whisky during an economic downturn. The quality of these whiskies was variable, but at the same time it seemed a shame to blend away 20+ year old whiskies, particularly from distilleries such as Port Ellen and Brora.

That’s when the idea for the Rare Malts Selection began to emerge. Mike Collings, who had launched the Classic Malts of Scotland in 1988, was inspired by the SMWS model of bottling single casks from different distilleries under a single branding. Something like this would be perfect for specialist whisky shops. These shops had helped establish the Classic Malts, but were already seeing distribution of those whiskies diffused into multiple retailers.

Master blender Maureen Robinson was responsible for tasting the cask samples and cask selection. Whisky writer Michael Jackson and his acolyte Owen Barstow wrote all the tasting notes, with Jackson giving advice on bottlings too. Gerry Barney of Sedley Place designed the labels, the same man who had designed the British Rail logo in 1964. By 1996, Lucy Pritchard and Dr. Nicholas Morgan were working on marketing malt whisky.

In 1995 the first batch of bottlings was released, each selling for an eyebrow raising £37. At the time no one appreciated their value, which would only be seen decades later.

The challenges of bottling on such a small scale were huge for a company geared to producing cases of blended Scotch whisky by the millions. United Distillers already had over six million casks of whisky maturing, and the casks the team wanted to bottle were spread, seemingly at random, all over Scotland. We are told that drawing cask samples was ‘a nightmare’.

It was often difficult to know what casks would be available until the last minute, but there was a selection criteria for each batch. In principal there should be two bottlings from closed distilleries as well as two from open distilleries. Each whisky should be at least 20 Years Old, no consecutive bottlings from the same distillery, and no bottlings of the same vintage from a single distillery within two years.

Casks of whisky from the six Classic Malts distilleries (Dalwhinnie, Talisker, Cragganmore, Oban, Lagavulin and Glenkinchie) were never available for the Rare Malts Selection. Nor was Cardhu at the start. Distilleries such as Caol Ila, Glen Ord and Clynelish that were available at the start of the project became so popular in their own right that they were also off the Rare Malts list by the end.

There were never more than 1000 cases (of 6 bottles) of each bottling of Rare Malts. The majority of those went to the main market, the UK, and most went to the Oddbins retail chain. Much of the rest went to Denmark, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Austria, China… and a small number of cases went to South Africa. At first the Rare Malts were bottled in 20cl sets for Duty Free shops as well as 70cl and 75cl bottles.

The Rare Malts Selection was finally killed off after a decade, with the final release in 2005. By then it had become harder to maintain the variety of whiskies, and it was difficult to move the price of Rare Malts beyond £70. Even in the 2000s, many of the Rare Malts didn’t sell and some markets even returned cases. At the same time, collectors increasingly wanted their single malts branded with distillery labels. In 2001 the first Port Ellen Special Release was put on the market for £110. As the new range proved successful, the Rare Malts Selection was replaced by Diageo’s annual Special Releases.

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1995 Releases

 

Bottled for the European market, 70cl

Brora 1972 22 Year Old, 58.7% ABV

Brora 1972 22 Year Old, 60.02% ABV

Brora 1972 22 Year Old, 61.1% ABV

Brora 1975 20 Year Old, 54.9% ABV

Dallas Dhu 1970 24 Year Old, 60.54% ABV

Dallas Dhu 1970 24 Year Old, 60.6% ABV

Dallas Dhu 1970 24 Year Old, 59.91% ABV

Glendullan 1972 22 Year Old, 62.6% ABV

Glenury Royal 1971 23 Year Old, 61.3% ABV

Linkwood 1972 22 Year Old, 59.3% ABV

Millburn 1975 18 Year Old, 58.9% ABV

St Magdalene 1970 23 Year Old, 58.1% ABV

St Magdalene 1970 23 Year Old, 58.43% ABV

 

75cl

Caol Ila 1975 20 Year Old, 61.12% ABV

Clynelish 1972 22 Year Old, 58.95% ABV

Glenlochy 1969 25 Year Old, 62.2% ABV

Glenlochy 1969 26 Year Old, 59% ABV

Glenury Royal 1971 23 Year Old, 61.3% ABV

Hillside 1969 25 Year Old, 61.9% ABV

Mortlach 1972 22 Year Old, 65.3% ABV

North Port Brechin 1971 23 Year Old, 54.7% ABV

 

5 x 20cl Set

Clynelish 1972 22 Year Old, 58.95% ABV

Glenlochy 1969 25 Year Old, 62.2% ABV

Hillside 1969 25 Year Old, 61.9% ABV

Mortlach 1972 22 Year Old, 65.3% ABV

North Port Brechin 1971 23 Year Old, 54.7% ABV

 

Bottled for the USA, 75cl

Brora 1975 20 Year Old, 59.1% ABV

Caol Ila 1975 20 Year Old, 61.12% ABV

Clynelish 1972 22 Year Old, 58.64% ABV

Glenlochy 1969 25 Year Old, 62.08% ABV

Hillside 1969 25 Year Old, 61.9% ABV

North Port Brechin 1971 23 Year Old, 54.7% ABV

 

Bottled for South Africa, 75cl

Clynelish 1972 23 Year Old, 57% ABV

Glenlochy 1969 26 Year Old, 58.8% ABV

Mortlach 1972 23 Year Old, 59.4% ABV

 

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1996 Releases

 

Bottled for the European market, 70cl

Aultmore 1974 21 Year Old, 60.9% ABV

Benrinnes 1974 21 Year Old, 60.4% ABV

Craigellachie 1973 22 Year Old, 60.2% ABV

Hillside 1970 25 Year Old, 60.10% ABV

 

75cl

Brora 1975 20 Year Old, 59.1% ABV

Caol Ila 1975 20 Year Old, 61.18% ABV

Clynelish 1972 23 Year Old, 57.1% ABV

Dailuaine 1973 22 Year Old, 60.92% ABV

Glendullan 1972 23 Year Old, 62.43% ABV

Hillside 1970 25 Year Old, 61.1% ABV

Mortlach 1972 23 Year Old, 59.4% ABV

Teaninich 1972 23 Year Old, 64.95% ABV

 

5 x 20cl Set

Brora 1975 20 Year Old, 60.75% ABV

Caol Ila 1975 20 Year Old, 61.12% ABV

Dailuaine 1973 22 Year Old, 61.80% ABV

Glendullan 1972 23 Year Old, 62.43% ABV

Teaninich 1972 23 Year Old, 64.8% ABV

 

Bottled for the USA, 75cl

Dailuaine 1973 22 Year Old, 60.92% ABV

Glendullan 1972 23 Year Old, 62.43% ABV

Teaninich 1972 23 Year Old, 64.95% ABV

 

Bottled for South Africa, 75cl

Linkwood 1972 23 Year Old, 58.4% ABV

 

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