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Largest Scotch whisky charity auction raises £1.8m

The second edition of the Distillers’ One of One auction raised money to support young people in Scotland and shone a spotlight on both large and small distilleries.

A series of world records tumbled at last Thursday’s Distillers’ One of One auction at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh, with £1.8m hammer proceeds raised for charities that support young people in Scotland.

The most-expensive lot was a 1.5-litre tall sea stack-shaped bottle of 55-year-old Bowmore distilled in 1962, which sold for £450,000, an auction record for the Islay distillery.

A 50-year-old Brora distilled in 1972 fetched £320,000, with the Highland single malt poured into a long, thin 1.5-litre bottle and placed in an oval-shaped mount, representing the eye of a Scottish wildcat and earning its name ‘Iris’.

A similar long and thin 1.5-litre bottle of 68-year-old Glen Grant distilled in 1955 and named ‘The Visionary’ reached £170,000.

Many of the lots included trips for the winning bidders to visit distilleries, including four decanters of The Glenturret aged for 25, 32, 36, and 44 years, which were accompanied by dinner for four people at the distillery’s Michelin-star restaurant – the lot set an auction record for The Glenturret at £100,000.

The total hammer price for the 39 lots at the auction reached £1.8m, with the total rising to £2.25m once value-added tax (VAT) and fees were included. Auction house Sotheby’s – which ran the sale – donated its commission.

Young people benefiting from industry’s efforts

The auction was organised by The Worshipful Company of Distillers, one of the City of London’s livery companies, with the money going to its philanthropic arm, The Distillers’ Charity, which was founded in 1955.

The Distillers’ Charity launched its Youth Action Fund in January 2022 using the £2.4m raised at the inaugural Distillers’ One of One auction, which took place in 2021.

The youth action fund supports five Scottish charities – Action for Children, Enable, FARE, Aberdeen Foyer, and Street League – that tackle youth unemployment by helping young people into jobs or training, as well as supporting the Alcohol Education Trust.

The fund’s work is supported by Inspiring Scotland, an organisation that helps charities with professional development and to secure long-term funding.

Speaking to Decanter ahead of the auction, Grant Gordon – chair of The Distillers’ Charity – said: ‘On one level, this is a global showcase for the excellence of the Scotch whisky industry, with distillers putting their brands forward on this platform.

‘But, at a society level, this is an opportunity for the industry to come together collectively and to strengthen our communities here in Scotland by helping these young people.

‘We all share a common goal of working with young people to transform their lives and give them a positive future.’

Single casks accompanied by singular experiences

Edinburgh start-up Holyrood Distillery’s inaugural whisky, ‘Arrival’, had its official launch on Friday 6 October, with bottle number one selling for £8,000 at the auction, near the middle of its pre-sale estimate of £5,000 to £10,000.

Many of Scotland’s other newer and smaller distillers donated casks to the auction, with some of the lots accompanied by visits to their distilleries.

An Ardross peated Oloroso sherry butt sold for £22,000 – smashing its pre-sale estimate of between £8,000 and £16,000 – while an Arran Palo Cortado sherry cask raised £17,000 against a valuation of between £6,000 and £12,000, and Arbikie’s Highland rye fetched £15,000 compared to a guide price of between £7,000 and £12,000.

As well as private buyers and their advisors, some bottling companies also bought casks, with independent bottler The Single Cask snapping up a cask of Bruichladdich Bere barley for £30,000.

Fellow independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail chalked up its latest auction record when its ‘Recollection Showcase’ of five decanters distilled between 1966 and 1979 at five distilleries sold for £75,000.

Another auction record that fell during the afternoon’s proceedings was for The Last Drop’s blending experience at Scone Palace near Perth, with the 12-bottle lot fetching £48,000, double the top end of its pre-sale estimate.

From royal lots to works of art

Two royal lots proved popular, with independent bottler Duncan Taylor’s ‘Trilogy of Laphroaig Fit for Royalty’ – the final set of its 18-, 23-, and 26-year-old malts, a collection also given to King Charles III and Queen Camilla – selling for £20,000, obliterating the top-end of its valuation of £3,500, and a special coronation edition of Chivas Brothers’ Royal Salute fetching £16,000.

Auctioneering duties were undertaken by Sotheby’s head of whisky, Jonny Fowle, and the company’s flamboyant chairman, Harry Primrose, who – as Lord Dalmeny – is heir to a nearby eponymous estate.

Both entertained guests in the room and online bidders alike with quick-witted quips, many at the expense of colleague and whisky specialist James Grey, who fielded telephone bids.

Many guests were ferried to the massive country house by a fleet of cars supplied by Edinburgh Bentley.

Several of the lots were accompanied by works of art, including ‘The Only Drop’ by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year; its bottle – which sold for £15,000 – was surrounded by a paper pulp sculpture made using wood shavings from the two casks that had contributed whisky to its Macallan single malt.

Glen Scotia’s 49-year-old Campbeltown malt was distilled in 1973 – making it the oldest whisky in the distillery’s reserves – and was accompanied by a painting by Alice Angus, which helped it fetch £27,000 against a valuation of £10,000 to £15,000.

One of the more unusual bottles was the 53-year-old ‘The Flag’, the first collaboration between Coachbuilt – the company founded by former Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button and George Koutsakis – and motorsport artist Paul Oz, which sold for £9,500.

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