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The deferred consumer

Ulf Buxrud had dedicated a large portion of his life to his passion for malt whisky, enabling him to addemble one of the most inpressive collections of its kind. We caught up with him to find out more....
By Rob Allanson
lf Buxrud is a man familiar to many whisky aficionados. Through his web site – www2.sbbs.se/hp/buxrud/whisky.htm – he provides a portal for many whisky lovers to get the best from the net, with a comprehensive set of links to other whisky sites. He’s a familiar face on the whisky events circuit, visiting distilleries and shows all over the world in a bid to improve an already impressive knowledge of his favoured drink.

But primarily, Ulf is known for his whisky collection.

Born in Norway, 1942 and raised in Malmoe, Sweden, Ulf describes himself as a ‘whisky enthusiast’. His background is in mainframe computer software, but he retired from his wholly-owned Europe-wide company DataAnalys in the early 90s. He now divides his time between his homes in Sweden and America with his wife Birgitta and daughters Jill and Petra. We talked to Ulf about about his excellent collection.

Q: How long have you been collecting whisky?

A: Since 1970, so that’s over 30 years. In that time I’ve collected around 800 bottles. The very first was a Port Ellen.

Q: You’re not a collector that likes whisky to gather dust – your collection will be drunk at some point. Which bottle are you most looking forward to?

A: I’m most looking forward to a segment of my Macallans. They will all be sampled at a tasting in London, April 2002. It will be the most comprehensive vertical tasting of a single malt ever performed.

When I started, my love affair with malt whiskies saw me acquire the ‘amber nectar’ in larger quantities than I could reasonably consume. The sheer volume that accumulated meant I was labelled a ‘collector’ by acquaintances; friends describe the situation not as a collection but as deferred consumption occasion!

Q: Which other collectors or collections do you admire and why?

A: Valentino Zagatti, the blind man from Italy. You ran a feature on him a while ago (Whisky Magazine Issue 10). I like his sheer concentration on malt whiskies, as opposed to those who collect unspecified styles. There’s also the collector from Heidelberg who concentrates on Macallan, and a Swedish guy who concentrates on Port Ellen. I admire these collectors particularly because they are my favourite whiskies when it comes to consumption! Last, but certainly not least, is the unique, historic and vast collection of bourbons residing in Germany, which belongs to Heinz Taubenheim (see feature in Whisky Magazine Issue 8).

Q: Will you be attending Whisky Live in 2002?

A: Yes, of course. I only missed two of the masterclasses in 2001 and that was simply because they overlapped. I’m also looking forward to the third Ardbeggeddon in Las Vegas – I have been invited as a guest of honour. It’s a massive private four-day session where at least 200 whiskies are sampled and judged.

Q: Where do you think is the best place to buy whisky – both from a collector and drinker’s point of view?

A: Personally, I use specialist shops, the internet and auctions. My favourite specialist shops are Vintage Hallmark of St James’s, plus Vintage House and Milroy’s in London’s Soho. In Paris it’s La Maison du Whisky, and in Copenhagen Kjaer og Sommerfeldt. There are others, but these spring instantly to mind.

On the internet, my favourite is Sukhinder Singh’s Whisky Exchange (www.thewhiskyexchange.com). UK sites I use are Loch Fyne Whiskies (www.lfw.co.uk) and The Whisky Shop (www.whiskyshop.com), plus Royal Mile Whiskies (www.royalmilewhiskies.co.uk).

German sites I use are Celtic – www.whisky.de/celtic/

– Scoma (www.whisky.de/scoma) and Whiskymania (www.whiskymania.de).

An Italian site I use is Whisky Paradise, at www.whiskyparadise.com

As for auction houses, since Christie’s stopped their semi-annual whisky auctions a few years ago, McTear’s (www.mctears.com) is probably the best, though there are a handful of auction houses operating in the field.

Today, the main stream of whisky versions is just a mouse-click away. With the introduction and growing popularity of mail order over the internet it’s easy for anyone to acquire a massive selection of whisky expressions without leaving home. Hopefully internet shopping enthusiasts will invest money saved on ‘expeditions’ in a broader range of whiskies.

Q: What’s your most valuable bottle of whisky?

A: A Macallan 1942, which cost me £300. Today it’s worth approximately £3,000 as it’s one of the very few bottles remaining from this last year of official production during the war. Production almost came to a complete halt countrywide early in 1942.

I haven’t tasted it yet, but it will be tasted at my Mastodon Macallan tasting in April 2002. By doing so, we’ll be raising the value of other already-precious remaining 1942s.

Q: What’s the most exciting whisky-based discovery you’ve made?

A: I think that has to be Springbank’s ‘green’ whisky. It was the legendary rum cask matured (rather than finished), bottled in two versions by Cadenhead. It opened my eyes to exactly what wood influence and cask management really meant.

Q: As an avid reader of whisky books, which do you rate as the best and why?

A: Barnard’s magnum opus, because it’s the first near-complete mapping of the industry per se. And the follow-up, 100 years later, by Philip Morrice. He travelled in Barnard’s footsteps which resulted in an equally brick-thick work. The Morrice book is hard to get as it was a limited edition of only 1,000 copies. Also of note is The Science and Technology of Whisky (by Piggot et al).

Q: How often is your web site updated?

A: As often as possible, which can be several times a day. I also hear from many enthusiasts through the site and have met many personally, for example at Whisky Live 2001, your London event.

I launched my web site some five years ago (1996). It seems to be quite popular as it has been browsed by 1,200 visitors on average per month since then. The site serves as a portal for fact-finders who want easy access to whisky sites. The link library, which is updated monthly, has hundreds of links which are divided into categories so it’s easy to know what’s what. Other pages deal with collector items/series, like all known wood expressions, whisky bibliophile pages, historic compilations and other hard-to-find facts. The pages are only really lacking in seriously technical information, such as how whisky is actually made, that kind of thing.

Q: Now for the big one – what’s your favourite whisky?

A: That depends on the situation. If I’m in social surroundings – like a dinner party – I like to end my meal with a Macallan 18-Year-Old. If I’m alone, I’ll have my usual Lagavulin 16-Year-Old, sitting in my favourite chair in front of the fire, reading. I am also quite fond of Springbank but find it a bit inconsistent over time (1965-2000). It is easy to understand its recently acquired cult status among the new whisky proselytes. Regarding Islay, I am a staunch admirer of Port Ellens, from the 60s and 70s. As I mentioned, a Port Ellen was my first ‘collected’ bottle.

There are some singular shooting stars among other Islay locals, such as the 1974 Ardbeg bottled by Gordon & McPhail. Other favourites are peaty (40ppm) Talisker-like Broras (1969-1983, also called Clynelish B) and older expressions of Glenfarclas. Among the Lowlands I prefer Rosebank.

Q: Your collection is almost without parallel. What do you think would make it complete?

A: A Malt Mill and a Strathmore (period 1958-1960). Strathmore used patent stills (which is perfectly legal) to produce a single malt at this time. It was never bottled, not by the distillery nor an independent. Rumour suggests some casks may remain. Malt Mill is the most difficult to obtain. Like Strathmore, it was never bottled. No casks seem to remain. The only version I have seen is a standard 200ml whisky laboratory bottle with a hand-written label. It came from the collection of a deceased exciseman. The story is he got it from an Islay acquaintance.

Q: Once it’s complete, where do you go from there?

A: I will be concentrating more on my ‘odd wood collection’. I have snapped up material for this side interest over time, and it seems that I now have substance enough to conduct a special study. I’ll also be finishing my UDV Rare Malts collection. I have obtained all distilleries, but not all versions (such as different ABVs from the very same release).

Q: You’ve mentioned you’re organising a major Macallan tasting – tell me more about it. What inspired it?

A: Some time ago I realised I had obtained enough varied material in my cellar to organise a substantial vertical tasting of my favourite malt (Macallan) and be able to share my deferred consumption with like-minded friends. With support of their organoleptic abilities we will explore and enjoy, in a structured way, a vintage series of the last 40 consecutive years of The Macallan (1960-2001), framed by several rare versions. The date for this ‘Mastodon’ tasting is April 2002, the venue is London, with a ‘dream team’ of five leading whisky writers and journalists on the panel. It will be the most comprehensive vertical tasting of single malt yet performed. The Macallan have graciously blessed the tasting. Some of Sweden’s leading whisky journalists will be among the 35 guests.

Q: Do you have any tips or words of advice for aspiring collectors reading the magazine?

A: Read, sample and tour distilleries. Join whisky circles and societies, because there you will meet like-minded people who can further your knowledge and introduce you to new experiences. But most of all, have fun collecting!