By Jonny McCormick

Ask the expert

Send your questions to editorial@whiskymag.com or by post to: Q&A, Whisky Magazine, 6 Woolgate Court, St Benedicts Street, Norwich, England, NR2 4AP
As a whisky collector, I have spent considerable sums on rare and collectable single malt Scotch whisky during the years, and I am aware that closed distillery bottlings have risen in value in the past ten years. With the announcements
about the rebuilding of Port Ellen, Brora, and Rosebank distilleries, what effect could this have on the value and collectability of existing bottlings from these iconic distilleries?

Tom Richardson via email

Diageo’s announcement on October 9 2017 that they would install new distilleries at Port Ellen and Brora was one of the biggest Scotch whisky stories of the year. In a seemingly choreographed move, Ian Macleod Distillers announced that they had bought the remaining stock of Rosebank casks and would reopen the distillery in Falkirk. Many who have eulogised about these distilleries will never have imagined they would live to take a tour of an operational Brora Distillery, watch the wash frothing away inside Rosebank’s copper stills, or walk away with a bottle of young Port Ellen whisky bottled for Fèis Ìle in their lifetime.

Port Ellen prices are dominated by official bottlings from the Diageo Special Releases, especially the first release. Scarcer official bottles include the Rare Malts Selection, the Port Ellen Maltings 21 Years Old, and the Fèis Ìle bottling if you can find them. Independent releases of Port Ellen are relatively numerous, but sell for considerably lower prices than official bottlings. Stocks of Brora are less numerous than Port Ellen, but for many years, prices lagged behind Port Ellen. The Brora Rare Malts Selection bottlings distilled in 1972 helped tip the scales in the highlander’s favour – these can now command £3,500-£7,000 a bottle, far more than any other release in the series. This trading activity has boosted the value of all Brora bottlings. Scarcity pushes independent bottlings of Brora to exceed the value of most independent bottles of Rosebank and Port Ellen. Particular Douglas Laing distillates from the 1970s can exceed the price of many official Brora releases.

Rosebank has been closed for a shorter period of time, so there are ranks of independent bottles at auction from every bottler you can think of. The three Rosebank Diageo Special Releases, Flora and Fauna 12 Years Old, its
cask strength cousin, and the Rare Malts Selection releases remain solid buys. When buying independent Rosebanks, look for earlier distillation dates, greater aged bottlings, and pay attention to the condition of the label, capsule, and fill level.

Learning that new distilleries will be built at these locations will be conflicting news for some. Despite reassurances, sceptics will point out how little of the original distillation equipment survives. Barley species have changed over the decades, malting and fermentation practices have become more consistent, cask quality has improved, and new warehouse sites for maturation may be used. Can it really be the same? It could be like going to see a reformed rock band only to discover that most of the people on stage are touring session musicians, strumming behind the original artist. It’s great to hear the tunes again, but it’s not quite like you remember them from your youth.

Resurrected distilleries have different impacts on the auction market. My predictions are that the value of official bottlings will continue to flourish, with Brora showing the greatest potential to be boosted by the additional publicity as the new sites come on stream. They will behave like the early releases of vintage whiskies from Ardbeg and Bruichladdich following their reopening. Their value should be resilient to the change in the perception of scarcity when the new Brora and Port Ellen releases arrive in the 2030s. Follow Rosebank.
We may have seen the final Diageo release: previous owner official releases have performed well at auction. The market could react positively to the future official bottlings of aged whisky from new owners Ian Macleod depending on the price and packaging, and newly distilled Rosebank is perhaps more likely to hit the market before Brora and Port Ellen, joining a fresh wave of newly built Lowland distillery neighbours. We may need to wait 15 years for the answer, but until then, it’s game on!