The 1960s was a seminal era in the history of single malt whisky, representing both lauded periods of distilling and the bottling of the spirit. The key date, however, is undoubtedly 1963. This was the year in which William Grant & Sons resolved to become the first company to focus primarily on a single malt brand with the introduction of its Glenfiddich Straight Malt. While truly an historic and seismic moment, the emphasis placed upon it can however lead to the misconception that Glenfiddich had fired the starting gun on a race that in reality was already well underway.
The difference between Glenfiddich and other single malt brands at the time was that the others were secondary product ranges within the portfolios of their owners or were marketed by different companies entirely. Nonetheless, the market at the time was rich with representation for many distilleries and our October 2023 auction is a window into a past that while very different, is not so unfamiliar.
The trend being bucked at Glenfiddich was the market preference at the time for blended Scotch, and this was reflected in the other single malts that were available. In our sale this month are two spectacular examples of old Talisker and Cardhu, for example. Both owned by the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) at the time, these two distilleries, along with the rest of DCL’s portfolio, were assigned to the various blending operations under the corporate umbrella. The decision as to whether to market the single malt brand of these distilleries was entirely at the discretion of these licensees. Not all saw value in this, but thankfully John Walker & Sons and The Distillers Agency did, bottling among others a 12-year-old from the classic Speyside producer and an 8-year-old from the famous Skye distillery, respectively.
Similar practices were also conducted by the other large distillers of the day. Within the Seagram group, Strathisla was marketed by Chivas Brothers, while, at Hiram Walker, Miltonduff single malts were sold by George Ballantine & Son. Fantastic examples are again present in our October auction, the latter of which is presented as a sub-category of the Ballantine’s brand, just as it is again today. Where distillers had less confidence in their single malt labels, an alternative avenue to market could also be found through independent companies. This usually came in the form of their customers, such as Hill Thomson & Co which bottled Longmorn in the 1960s, having used its malt in its blends for years, or Davison Newman & Co, a London merchant that bought Glen Grant for its Carlton brand. Davison Newman & Co was one of many permitted to bottle Glen Grant spirit unblended, using the famous old livery still found today on releases by Gordon & MacPhail.
While these remain rarities, the proprietary nature of such whiskies means they were produced in greater numbers than many other sought-after bottles of the past. This often permits us to curate broader selections of them within our auctions, where they provide both a fascinating and an accessible insight into a bygone era. The names may be unchanged, but appearance, production style and their place in history may not be. For the inquisitive, these are whiskies to take not only the senses on a journey, but the mind.
This article is sponsored by Whisky Auctioneer and is created in partnership with the team at Whisky Magazine. This sponsorship does not influence Whisky Magazine's coverage of auctions and Whisky Auctioneer do not have input on editorial decisions.
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