Everyone wants an easy guide to building the best whisky collection, but for the whisky connoisseur, collecting (and consuming) can be an intensely personal experience.
“I think back to the dram I shared with my brother-in-law as he married my sister,” reminisces Tod L. Bradbury, head of rare and collectable whiskies at Justerini & Brooks. “It crystallizes a time and place in my memory and I think that’s what whisky collecting is all about – the joy of the dram, the joy of the people, and really finding what moves you.”
Growing up in Crieff, a small town on the edge of the Scottish Highlands home to the oldest distillery in Scotland, whisky has always had a powerful presence in Bradbury’s life. “My grandfather played a lead role in bringing shipments of Johnnie Walker into Africa in the 70s, so you could say it was in my destiny to end up in the whisky industry somewhere,” he says.
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Over the years, J&B’s head of rare and collectable whiskies has watched perceptions of the spirit evolve. “I think the old and stuffy image of whisky has gone now,” he reflects. “Whisky is for everyone and I truly believe there’s one for each of us out there. Whether it’s a cocktail or a high ball, straight, in a nose glass, over the rocks, it doesn’t really matter to me – it’s Scotland’s definitive spirit.”
Bradbury now sources the finest whiskies for the largest collectors across the globe, traveling between the merchant’s offices in Edinburgh, London and Hong Kong. With access to 28 Scottish distilleries, J&B handpicks the rarest, most sought-after whiskies before helping each bottle to find the right home.
“The idea is to pinpoint the tastes and interests of an individual and match them up to the whisky makers,” explains Bradbury. “We’re there to help people build their collections and discover what they like, bringing them to the distilleries to see the four corners of Scotland.”
The Port Ellen distillery on the shores of Islay / ©Jo Hanley
While whisky’s image has certainly changed, the top priorities for collectors remain the same: to access the highest quality, rarest bottles possible. Justerini & Brooks’ Casks of Distinction program offers collectors a unique opportunity to buy single casks of these elusive whiskies, hand-selected by four master blenders.
“Everything is by appointment only,” explains Bradbury. “The program is essentially a small collection of aged whisky stocks from the four corners of Scotland which are normally at least 21 years old. Individuals can purchase the entire outturn of a cask or a single bottle. It’s the ultimate trophy asset.”
Alongside the well-known classics like Talisker and Mortlach, the Casks of Distinction program includes access to the captivating ‘ghost’ distilleries which closed their doors years before and have a dwindling level of finite stock, such as Brora and Port Ellen.
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“They’re almost like a time machine, transporting you back to a time and place 40-odd years ago where whisky was made in a slightly different way,” says Bradbury. “Collectors and connoisseurs are given the opportunity to glimpse into the past and try never to be repeated blends. The beauty and romance of it is that these whiskies can actually keep ageing so it’s really interesting to see their development through the years.”
For those taking the first tentative steps on their whisky collecting journey, Justerini & Brooks’ head of rare and collectable whiskies offers some valuable words of advice.
“Whisky is not formulaic, so neither should your collection be,” he says. “Be curious about the types of flavor and style you might like, visit as many distilleries as possible, work with a partner to give you access to some of the rarest liquids on the planet, and then my biggest tip really is taste, taste, taste.”
Tod L. Bradbury recommends
One to gift: Johnnie Walker, Blue Label Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal, £275
Johnnie Walker, Blue Label Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal / ©Johnnie Walker
This striking blue bottle is the third in a series of special releases crafted by master blender Jim Beveridge using extremely rare whiskies from the Johnnie Walker reserves. At the heart of this limited-edition blend is the Highland single malt, Glenury Royal – a distillery which closed its doors in 1985. Other whiskies included in the blend are those of the Pittyvaich, Cambus, Glen Elgin, Inchgower and Glenlossie distilleries. “This whisky gives individuals the rare opportunity to try stocks from a ‘ghost’ distillery, so it makes a fabulous gift for somebody,” says Bradbury. “It’s an extension of the Blue Label blend, the first bottling of which focused on Brora and the second on Port Ellen, both of which have entirely sold out.”
One to drink: Talisker 43 Year Old Xpedition Oak, £3,500
Talisker Xpedition Oak was made to celebrate wild whisky making / ©Talisker
Having been aged for over four decades, the Talisker Xpedition Oak is the iconic brand’s oldest release to date. The series was made to celebrate wild whisky making with a collection of rare aged single malt Scotches shaped by the natural elements. “This cask, in particular, includes staves that have been on a wilderness journey to further develop the taste and profile of this 43 Year Old Xpedition Oak,” explains Bradbury. “Classic Talisker with that red-hot chili pepper and hints of maritime sea salt. For me, there’s no other whisky like Talisker, which transports you to a place – the Isle of Skye.” Justerini & Brooks’ head of rare and collectable whiskies advises having this dram “straight up, unadulterated, no water, no ice, to enjoy the different styles”.
One to save: Prima & Ultima, Second Release, £23,500
The second release of Diageo’s Prima and Ultima collection / ©Diageo
The second release of Prima & Ultima showcases eight incredibly rare single malt scotch whiskies. Master blender Maureen Robinson hand-picked each bottling from Scotland’s finest distilleries including Brora, Lagavulin, Mortlach, Talisker, Convalmore, Linkwood and The Singleton of Glendullan. The cask-strength bottlings each share a glimpse into the history of scotch and are either the first or last of their kind. “The second release of Prima & Ultima offers a unique opportunity to build an expertly curated whisky library,” says Bradbury. “We can hand select some of the bottles to match up with individual’s needs. With access to these releases, it’s a really exciting time to be helping build people’s collections.”
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