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Issue 17 - From soft touch to cask strength

Whisky Magazine Issue 17
July 2001


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From soft touch to cask strength

Tom Bruce-Gardyne recounts the history of Cadenhead, a company once regarded as a “soft touch” but now better known for being quick to spot business opportunities in the whisky industry

Miss Ann Oliver was a legend of the swinging, psychedelic sixties – well, at least she was in the drinks trade of Aberdeen. Whenever orders were thin on the ground the place to head for was number 47 Netherkirgate where Miss Oliver ran the firm of William Cadenhead Ltd. For the steady stream of salesmen selling everything from casks of whisky to boxes of labels, she was the customer from heaven – the proverbial soft touch.

When she was finally forced to retire and sell up, the trustees were horrified to find there were no records of what she had been buying all those years. The cellars and bonded warehouses were full to the brim and when Christie's were called in to liquidate the stock no-one knew what to expect. The resulting auction, held in London on 3rd and 4th October 1972, broke all records for a wine and spirit sale at that point in whisky history. Among the gems in the 167 page catalogue were: five hogsheads of Macallan, sold for £1,041.25; 10 puncheons of Demerara Rum, which went for £1,463.24; and two and a half cases of Château Latour vintage 1950 that were knocked down for a mere £312.50.

The business in Aberdeen had been around since George Duncan set up as a vintner and distillery agent there in 1842. It then passed to a brother-in-law, William Cadenhead, who continued bottling spirits for the next 50 years. Although the company had always handled a trickle of single malt and blended Scotch, the real demand was for rum due to Aberdeen being a busy s...

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