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Dalmore: You Won’t Believe How Eye-wateringly Expensive Whisky Can Be!

Sitting on the banks of the Cromarty Firth in Alness, some 20 miles North of Inverness, stands The Dalmore distillery. It was founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson, who retired at the age of 36 having made a fortune with his uncle in Matheson & Company Ltd. They might have been running Opium from India to China… but peddling heroin was legal back then.

Alexander Matheson established the distillery as part of his £773,020 purchase of some 220,000 acres of the county of Ross – which in today’s money may have been around £2.5 billion – yes, billion.

It was run by the Sunderland family until 1859, then it was taken over by Alexander, Andrew and Charles Mackenzie. After Matheson’s death in 1886 the Mackenzies purchased it. Production was briefly interrupted in 1917 when the Royal Navy commandeered the distillery, weirdly to produce anti-ship mines. The navy left in 1920 after the distillery was badly damaged by an explosion and fire, which resulted in a court case against The Navy that was even debated in The House of Lords.

Today Dalmore is renowned around the world for producing eye-wateringly expensive whiskys. Here are three of them.

Dalmore 64 Trinitas: £120,000

After the success of the Dalmore 62 (see below) the distillery produced just three bottles of a blend of whiskys said to be amongst the oldest in the world, over 140 years old!

The first two bottles were sold in Glasgow on October 14th 2010 for £100,000.

The final bottle was sold in Harrods for £120,000 and amusingly it is still listed in the Harrod’s online shop with the comment “We’re sorry but this item has just sold out”.

Dalmore 62: £125,000

In 1943 the Dalmore Distillery in Inverness produced twelve bottles containing a mix from five casks from 1868, 1878, 1922, 1926 and 1939.

On Thursday 5th of December 2002, a bottle was purchased at McTear’s auction house in Glasgow for £25,877.50. At the time this was a world record.

Then on the 15th of April 2005, Denis Barthe the Bar Manager of the Ascot Bar at Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot Surrey, sold a bottle of this extraordinary whisky for £32,000 to an anonymous buyer. Each of the twelve bottles was uniquely labelled. This bottle was the Matheson, named after the Dalmore Estate’s owner.

Fantastically, the story goes that the buyer shared the bottle with five of his friends, probably making them the only people in the world who have ever tasted this blend… along with the bar manager. He was lucky enough to be offered a glass of it and apparently said it was the “most beautiful thing” he had ever tasted.

Amusingly the buyer may have left a tip for the waiter as the bottle was not completely finished. The last drop of whisky in the bottle was estimated to be worth £1,000.

A bottle of Dalmore 62 was sold on the 20th of September 2011 to a Chinese buyer at Singapore’s Changi airport for £125,000.

The value of the Dalmore 62 is now thought to be over £250,000.

The Patterson Collection: £987,500 – yes really!

Not exactly a whisky… but never mind. Created in 2013 and named after Richard Patterson, Master Distiller at The Dalmore, this is a collection of 12 bottles in a presentation cabinet for, well, we might as well call it a million quid.

So, for an average spend of £82,000 a bottle you get:

  • one bottle of 1926 vintage
  • one bottle of 1939 vintage
  • two bottles of 1951 vintage
  • one bottle of 1964 vintage
  • one bottle of 1966 vintage
  • one bottle of 1969 vintage
  • one bottle of 1979 vintage
  • one bottle of 1985 vintage
  • two bottles of 1995 vintage
  • one bottle of 20 – 50 year old

Amusing for me, as two thirds of the collection is older than I am.

The 1926 and 1939 vintages must be a large part of the price tag as they surely must be some of the oldest whisky available to purchase in the world.

Still though… a million quid.

And just in case you don’t believe us, here’s the product page, note, also sadly but somewhat dubiously “just sold out”.

Image is “Cromarty Firth at Dalmore, Scotland” © Copyright Andrew Tryon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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British Beer and Arctic Exploits

The British have a proud tradition of brewing beer and exploring the North and South Poles. These endeavours are linked through history in more ways than you might imagine, as shown by the recent auction of a beer brewed especially for an Arctic expedition.

Allsopp’s Artic Ale was brewed in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire for an expedition led by Sir George Strong Nares in 1875. This was not the first time this ale would accompany explorers travelling to the arctic.

Ale was instrumental to long sea voyages as it contains vitamin C and stores well. The Arctic Ale was brewed by Samuel Allsopp & Sons, founded in the early Eighteenth century by Benjamin Wilson. His son Benjamin sold the floundering business to his nephew, Samuel Allsopp in 1807.

This period was marked by an economic downturn in Britain caused by a blockade ordered by Napoléon Bonaparte. His Berlin Decree of 1806 forbade any continental trade with Britain, reducing British exports by over 50%. The blockade ended in 1814 when, after losing the Battle of Leipzeig, he was exiled to the tiny island of Elba, some 12 miles of the coast of Tuscany.

Arctic Ale was first brewed to accompany an expedition to the Arctic led by Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin. Franklin’s expedition left in 1845 and aimed to chart the famous North-west Passage, linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Unfortunately, this ended in failure and the ships and participants were lost. Franklin became a national hero and Queen Victoria ordered that the expedition party must be found.

Arctic Ale was brewed again to supply ships led by Sir Edward Belcher in 1851, seeking to discover what had befallen the Franklin expedition. A young George Nares served as Second Mate on one of the ships. Belcher failed to find anything and returned to England after three hard years of searching.

Arctic Ale was again brewed to accompany Leopold McClintock in 1857 in another failed attempt to discover the Franklin expedition. He returned with only a note detailing the fate of the expedition, discovered on an island close to where Franklin’s ships became icebound and foundered.

In 1875 Arctic Ale would accompany Nares to The North Pole.

Nares had already made a name for himself as something of a maverick. In November 1869 he took his survey ship, the Newport, into the Gulf of Suez via the newly opened Suez Canal. The French Imperial yacht L’Aigle was officially the first vessel to pass through the canal, however Nares’ ship was actually the first to do so. On the night before it was due to open he navigated Newport through the long queue of moored ships in total darkness and without lights. In the morning, the crew of L’Aigle were mortified to find that the Royal Navy had a ship in front of them and there was nothing they could do about it. Nares received an official reprimand from the Admiralty for causing a diplomatic incident. He was also promoted to Captain for his superb seamanship and for increasing Britain’s seafaring prestige.

Nares did not manage to reach the North Pole. However he became the first explorer to take his ships through the channel between Ellesmere Island and Greenland to the Lincoln sea. This passage is now called the Nares Strait in his honour. His name also graces a small island in Northern Greenland called Nares Land, and Nares County in Australia’s Queensland state.

Some 140 years later, a bottle of beer from his final Arctic expedition was discovered by Trevanion and Dean auctioneer Aaron Dean in a box in the garage of a house in Gobowen, Shropshire. Nobody knows why it was there. On the 13th of June 2015 it was auctioned for £3,300! Quite a lot for beer perhaps but certainly one steeped in history.

However, this bottle was not the first sold at auction. As a final twist in this tale, in 2007 a bottle from Belcher’s 1851 expedition was listed on eBay. Unfortunately this bottle of Allsopp’s was listed as “Allsop’s Arctic Ale”, and fetched $304. The buyer then relisted it with the correct spelling and 76,464 views and 157 bids later it sold for $503,300 (£325,000).

As spelling mistakes go, thats pretty costly!

Image is “George Nares“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Champagne From A Shipwreck Still Good After 170 Years

Sometime in the 1840s a two-masted schooner, possibly en route to St. Petersburg (nobody actually knows) sank off the coast of Föglö, an island next to Finland. It was travelling a route known to be used for Champagne deliveries to the Russian Imperial Court.

It lay there undisturbed in the calm, dark waters of the baltic for 170 years. Finally, it was found in 2003 by the Finnish Maritime Administration and explored by a group of Finnish and Swedish divers in 2010. After entering the hull through damage in the stern they found a number of items including 168 bottles of Champagne.

In 2011, a single bottle of this 200 year old Champagne sold at auction in Finland… for £26,700. Surely a bit steep for a bottle of wine thats been at the bottom of the sea for two centuries? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Old bottles of Champagne seem to have a habit of turning up.

At the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin visitor centre in Reims there is an 1893 bottle on display which was found, of all places, in a inside a sideboard in Torosay Castle, Isle of Mull, Scotland, in 2008.

The cargo recovered from the shipwreck included bottles from three of the oldest Champagne makers: Veuve Clicquot, Heidsieck and Juglar. But just how old are these bottles?

Philippe Clicquot-Muiron founded the company that would become Veuve Clicquot in 1772. In 1798, Philippe’s son, François Clicquot, married Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin and died in 1805, leaving his widow (veuve in Frrench) the company. Under this formidable woman Veuve Clicquot became the Champagne power house it is today. Analysis of the corks from the Veuve Clicquot bottles recovered from the wreck show a logo with a comet, apparently added by Madame Clicquot in 1811. This was added to celebrate an unusually good crop, so the bottles recovered could be as old as 204 years.

Florens-Louis Heidsieck founded the Heidsieck Champagne house in 1785 in Reims. Legend has it that he presented wine to Queen Marie-Antoinette. After his death in 1828, his nephew Christian Heidsieck started a partnership with Henri-Guillaume Piper. Christian died in 1835, his widow married Henri-Guillaume Piper in 1838 marking the beginning of the Piper-Heidsieck Champagne house. The Heidseick bottles recovered bear branding from the original company name so they are likely no younger than 177 years old.

The last maker Juglar, is the most interesting in that it ceased to exist in 1829 as it was absorbed into the Champagne House Jacquesson. Juglar bottles were recovered from the wreck meaning that the Champagne is likely somewhere between 186 and 204 years old!

In case you were wondering, the oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, invented in 1531 by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Carcassonne. This happened, possibly by accident initially, as bottling of the wine was carried out before the initial fermentation had ended.

Scientists from the University of Reims in Champagne-Ardenne, France have now analysed samples of the champagne and were surprised by what they found.

The bottles recovered were remarkably well preserved, 55m down in waters of 2-4 degrees C, high pressure and low levels of light. The aromas and chemical features of the Champagne were preserved and it was drinkable.

The Champagne itself was remarkably similar to modern Champagne, but much sweeter with sugar levels of 14% – more like a modern desert wine. Modern tastes have driven the sugar levels in Champagne far lower than this. The levels of CO2 were vastly lower, 80% less than a modern bottle, probably because most of it had escaped through the cork. Finally, traces of arsenic hint at the use of arsenic salts as a pesticide in use at the time.

All of which goes to explain why these bottles can fetch such a high price at auction. Perfectly drinkable 200 year old Champagne, yours for around £25,000!

Image is of the Mary Camden, a two-masted schooner, by William Pierce Stubbs (1842 – 1909) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How much would you pay for Thomas Jefferson’s Wine?

Thomas Jefferson is famous for many things: for being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States, an architect, a philosopher and fluent in six languages. He is also regarded as America’s first great wine connoisseur.

Jefferson served as Minister to France from 1785 until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1787. It is this posting that became instrumental in one of the most notorious alleged wine frauds the world ever saw.

At 2:30pm on December the 5th, 1985, at Christie’s Auction House in London, bidding opened on a bottle of wine. Expectations were high. The bottle had been hand blown and was inscribed simply with a year; 1787, a name; Lafitte, and the initials Th J.

It was believed that this bottle of bordeaux was acquired by Thomas Jefferson, presumably during his posting to France, from Chateaux Lafitte.

This estate is now Chateaux Lafite Rotheschild, one of the four wine producing Chateaux of Bordeaux originally awarded first growth status in the 1855 classification. Wines from this estate demand exceptionally high prices. A case of 1982 might set you back around £30,000.

So, on that December afternoon Christopher Forbes, of the family that own Forbes Magazine, paid £105,000 for this single bottle. This is still the highest price a bottle of wine has ever fetched at auction.

Other bottles from the “Thomas Jefferson Collection” went on to be sold at auction. Unfortunately however, the authenticity of the bottles was questioned. One of the purchasers, US billionaire Bill Koch was told by the Jefferson estate that they had no record of those bottles ever being owned by Thomas Jefferson.

The subsequent investigation into alleged wine fraud became the subject of a book, “The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine”, by Benjamin Wallace. This is now being adapted into a film starring Matthew McConaughey.

The authenticity of the wines of the Thomas Jefferson Collection is still in doubt and divides experts. Some claim the wines taste far younger than they should, and show no sign of appropriate oxidation. Others claim that the engraving on the bottle is more reminiscent of modern engraving tools than those available in the 18th Century.

This mystery rumbles on. Full story in The Guardian.

Image is “Thomas Jefferson” by Rembrandt Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons