Introducing our favorite Scallywag - Baxter MacTavish ll, aka The Scotch Scottie.
He is pictured here with a very rare, and valuable, bottle of Scotch:
Bowmore - Chateau Lagrange - Auld Alliance Celebration Edition.
Everyone who meets our little Scottie Dog Baxter knows why he is so special - he even has his own Instagram page with 2,441 followers, (@thescotchscottie). But what about that bottle of Scotch Whisky he's guarding - is it really all that rare? The answer is YES - for a very personal reason!
First of all, only 75 bottles of this whisky were ever produced by the Morrison-Bowmore Distillery on Islay, Scotland. The bottles were never sold - but instead were given away as luxury gifts to guests who attended the Auld Alliance Celebration Reception at Chateau Lagrange in Saint-Julien, Bordeaux on June 20th, 1995.
Our bottle of scotch is different from all the others because it has a rich provenance that adds to its rarity. At the time of the reception my husband - Terry Robards - was a pretty big deal in the world of wine and spirits. And when it came to Bordeaux and other French wines - Terry was a celebrity. In 1995, he was Columnist and Senior Managing Editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Furthermore, he was one of the special guests honored that day at the Auld Alliance Celebration Reception.
This is the bottle he was presented with. It is unique from the other 74 bottles given away that day - not just because it is housed in a fancy presentation box, (most were packaged in cardboard boxes), but because he was prestigiously awarded the Scotch at the event and his name is hand lettered on the back label of the bottle.
This bottle of Bowmore Auld Alliance - Celebration Edition - 25 year old Scotch Whisky
has an impressive pedigree that makes it one of a kind . It is personalized.
The back label on Terry's bottle of Scotch
The back label on other bottles given away at the event.
On the technical side of all this - it isn't the whisky itself (the actual liquor inside the bottle) that is super rare. Bowmore never distilled a small batch of Scotch just for the event - after all it was in their vault aging for 25 years (distilled in 1970). But what does make it special is the fact that this particular bottling was finished off in a red wine cask sourced from Chateau LaGrange in Bordeaux, France.
The Reception and Suntory
The 1995, Auld Alliance Celebration Reception was hosted at Chateau Lagrange by the famous Japanese beverage firm Suntory (best known for its beer and Saki production). Suntory acquired Chateau Lagrange in 1983, for the purchase price of 10 million dollars.
In 1989, Suntory began investing in Morrison-Bowmore Distillery. Then, in 1994, they were able to purchase the remaining stock and Bowmore came under Japanese ownership. Suntory now owned two giants in the wine and spirits industry - one in France and one is Scotland.
Suntory planned a prestigious event to celebrate the following year. And as fate would have it, 1995 was the 700 year anniversary of the Auld Alliance - a treaty that was signed between the French and Scottish back in the year 1295.
Significance of the Auld Alliance
The story begins with arranged marriages, greed, power and political unrest. Back in the year 1251, 10 year old King Alexander 3rd of Scotland, was arranged in marriage to 11 year old Margaret, daughter of King Henry 3rd of England.
From that moment forward King Henry 3rd (who had been busy waging war against Ireland, Wales, France and Norway in an attempt to take them over ) began plotting to prevail over the Kingdom of Scotland as well. (Now remember, King Henry 3rd was the father of Alexander's English wife - Margaret. As a sideline, Alexander and Margaret had three children; Margaret, named for her mother, Alexander 4th and David - both boys died young. )
Over the years friction and political unrest escalated as King Henry 3rd rampaged on. So in 1281, King Alexander 3rd of Scotland and King Eric 1st of Norway, joined forces against England and signed a treaty to insure peaceful relations between their two countries. To seal the deal they arranged a marriage between their two eldest children - Princess Margaret of Scotland and Prince Eric 2nd of Norway. The treaty specified that if there were no living male descendants of the Scottish King upon his death, Margaret would be heir to his throne.
In 1282, 14 year old Eric came of age and he married 20 year old Margaret - and within months they were expecting a child. A daughter was born to the couple on April 4, 1283, however the joyous event turned to tragedy when Margaret - who suffered terrible complications during childbirth - died just 5 days later. Eric was now a 15 years old widower with an infant to raise - he christened the child Margaret - Maid of Norway.
In 1286, King Alexander 3rd ( just 37 years old) died leaving his only surviving grandchild, baby Margaret - Maid of Norway, to inherit the Scottish throne. However, the reign of the little Queen was short lived. At the age of 7 years old, Margaret was on a voyage from Norway to Scotland when she became ill. Unfortunately, she passed away when the ship was just 20 miles west of the Scottish mainland.
A stained glass window of 7 year old Queen Margaret of Scotland
At the time of Margaret's death in 1290, there was much controversy over who would ascend to the Scottish throne. Meanwhile, King Edward 3rd of England, continued his rampage across Great Britain and France. In an attempt to keep him from claiming the Scottish throne in 1295, France and Scotland joined forces against England by signing an alliance between their two countries. This treaty, which is called the Auld Alliance, has remained foundational in the long lasting friendship between the Scots and the French.
This significance of the Auld Alliance brings us back to Bowmore, Chateau Lagrange and the " Auld Alliance Celebration Reception." Read on to learn about the French wine estate and the Scottish distillery.
Chateau Lagrange in Saint Julien
Chateau Lagrange is a distinguished Classified 3rd Growth Bordeaux Estate in Saint Julien, France. Wine making at the chateau can be traced back to the 1600s, and records indicate that by 1824, they were producing 120 barrels of wine annually (144,000 bottles). Here is the backstory as to why they are so famous.
It all starts with big ego and political rivalry between the kingdoms of France and England. In 1851, Queen Victoria hosted the first World's Fair at the magnificent Crystal Palace in London. It was called The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, and it was a huge success. There were 14,000 exhibits from all over the world, and 6 million visitors came from far and wide to see it.
Meanwhile the French Emperor - Napoleon lll, was in power and he was incensed by the success of Queen Victoria's event. Furthermore, he determined NOT to be outdone by the English. He arranged for his own grand exhibition as a demonstration of French superiority in all things art, architecture and agriculture. The result was the 1855 Exposition Universelle des produits de l'Agriculture, de l'Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris.
Napoleon wanted to showcase the best of his country's red wine during the exhibition, so he turned to the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. They in turn, commissioned the Wine Brokers Union with the task of compiling a classified list of the best wine estates based on their reputation, wine quality and trading prices. Out of the thousands of wineries that were reviewed, only 60 were chosen to represent the nation. Chateau Lagrange was one of those wineries.
After the classification of 1855, Chateau Lagrange flourished. It enjoyed prosperity and prestige well into the 20th century, but their success was cut short by World War ll. After the war, a great economic depression fell across France, making it difficult to reestablish wine production. Lagrange fell on hard times - and to make matters worse a devastating fire broke out at the Chateau in the 1950s, destroying much of the building and its impressive collection of fine older wines.
After the fire, Chateau Lagrange fell into even greater debt and despair. In order to survive - the owners began to sell off parcels of vineyard land - which in turn caused the wine quality to suffer greatly. Lagrange was in dire straights and desperately sought investors to help them recover.
In the 1970s, the Japanese beverage group Suntory showed interest in the dilapidated estate, but the French government refused to do business with them, sighting cultural difference as the reason. However by 1883, the French lifted their investment restrictions and Suntory was able to purchase the long neglected estate. In the years that followed, Suntory invested over 30 million dollars to painstakingly restore Chateau Lagrange, and its vineyards, to their former glory.
So what does all this have to do with Bowmore Distillery and the pedigree of this particular edition of Scotch Whisky? We'll have to take a look at more history and the backstory of Bowmore.
Bowmore Distillery on the Isle of Islay
Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the Isle of Islay, and the second oldest distillery in all of Scotland. It was established in 1779, but legend has it that whisky made from malted barley was being distilled in the town of Bowmore at least 10 years before its famous distillery was built.
The distillery changed hands a number of times, then in 1963, it was acquired by Stanley P. Morrison who mastered the art of distilling outstanding single malt Scotch whisky. As the Morrison-Bowmore Distillery continued to thrive, Suntory took interest in the brand. In 1989, they invested in the company's stock, acquiring a 35% holding in the firm. Then, in 1994, Suntory was able to purchase Morrison-Bowmore outright.
Suntory now owned both Chateau Lagrange in France and Morrison-Bowmore in Scotland. To celebrate their two greatest assets they arranged a grand event and invited the most influential people in the wine & spirits industry to attend. They called it "The Auld Alliance Celebration Reception" after the historic friendship between Scotland and France.
So our bottle of rare Bowmore Auld Alliance Scotch Whisky, which finished aging in a red wine cask from Chateau Lagrange, is very special. We had it listed on our store website for a hefty sum, but after learning about the rapidly rising prices on the global Scotch auction market we've decided to hold on to it - for a little while longer anyway.
According to the pros - the Scotch market is being driven up by wealthy Asian collectors who seem willing to spend whatever it takes to acquire rare bottles. For instance a bottle of Black Bowmore that was valued at $25,000 in 2018 is worth nearly three times as much in today's market. Last year a bottle of rare single malt Macallan Scotch distilled in 1926 went up for auction in Scotland with a presale estimate of up to $591, 795. It eventually fetched over 1.9 million US dollars.
In 2018, we asked a family friend based in London, who will remain anonymous, what he thought about our bottle. He in turn, talked with one of the big players in the global auction scene and this is the reply we got.
"Wowzer, talking serious money.... up to £25K.
Especially if it's still in the box.
One of only 75 produced in the world.
With the box the last one to sell at auction was
in 2013 - and this one did not have the personalized
label on the back."
That was three years ago - £25K is equal to $32,867.50 dollars!!!! Stay tuned for rest of the story in the next blog - Getting to Know Scotch Whisky.