Auction News - Port Ellen's past, present and future

Auction News - Port Ellen's past, present and future

Whisky Auctioneer’s expert offers his thoughts on May 2022

Auction News | 27 May 2022 | By Joe Wilson

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May has been a busy period at Whisky Auctioneer with our regular monthly sales bookending not one, but two exclusive auctions. The first of these - a charity auction in partnership with Glenfiddich - raised over £150,000 to support those affected by the conflict in Ukraine, followed by our third specialist sale of American whiskey. Headlined by legendary Van Winkle bourbons for the Corti Brothers, the auction this time focussed on the historic private barrel selections and was a celebration of the ever-increasing freedom of choice enjoyed by the American drinker since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Prohibition of course was enacted in 1920, the same year Warren G. Harding was elected US president on the famous campaign slogan, “return to normalcy.” In part a reference to post-pandemic recovery, the words have a particular poignancy in the whisky world this month as 2022 finally sees the resumption of in-person revelry at the iconic Fèis Ìle festival on Islay. An important moment for an island so reliant on the industry, we are delighted to commemorate it through our upcoming May auction with a selection of standout whiskies from the illustrious history of Islay distilling.

On that subject, few things feel more momentous than the very real possibility that this may be the last Fèis Ìle to take place tiptoeing around the silent Port Ellen, a distillery Diageo plans to breathe life back into in 2023. Significantly, our June auction features a spectacularly rare example of the only official bottling from its first operational period, a 12-year-old single malt produced to mark the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the distillery in 1980. With no precedent set for a Port Ellen single malt brand, the eagle-eyed may recognise the unusual bottle type as the same one used at the time by mainland neighbour and Distillers Company stablemate, Oban.

A bottle of 12-year-old Port Ellen


Another neighbouring distillery throws up further curiosities in the shape of several Laphroaig from the 1940s and 1950s. Of particular interest is a hugely rare 12-year-old expression. An unusual age-statement, this is from the very early 1950s and likely the result of an inventory gap caused by the distillery’s closure during the second world war. This is one of last Laphroaig bottled by the Johnston family, whose name remains closely associated with the distillery despite selling their company to Bessie Williamson in 1954. A similar case is that of J.B. Sherriff and Bowmore, whose name appeared on labels of its single malt until the late 1970s despite its acquisition by Stanley Morrison in 1963. Our auction features two stunning examples of this in the form of an elusive 8- and 18-year-old release bottled in the distinct “pear-shaped” glass of the 1960s.

A return to normalcy on Islay may in time prove historic in its own right, but the upcoming re-opening of Port Ellen and arrival of another new distillery at Portintruan look set to bring fresh periods of momentous and this time, thankfully, positive change. Indeed, the future is just as bright as the many shining examples from its past and, at Whisky Auctioneer, we are grateful for our ability to explore them both.

This article is sponsored by Whisky Auctioneer and is created in partnership with the team at Whisky Magazine. This sponsorship does not influence Whisky Magazine's coverage of auctions and Whisky Auctioneer do not have input on editorial decisions.

About Whisky Auctioneer


Whisky Auctioneer is one of the global market leaders and trusted authorities on the buying and selling of whisky and spirits at auction. Founded in 2013 and located in Perth, Whisky Auctioneer utilises its expertise and knowledge combined with its auction platform, to increase interest and passion in the whisky and spirits community.

Whisky Auctioneer endeavours to make the market more accessible for buyers and sellers of any background and geography. Its monthly global auctions feature some of the most comprehensive selections of old, rare and collectible whiskies and spirits available online.

Whisky Auctioneer became the first online auction house to sell a million-pound bottle and outperformed the nearest traditional auction house by 200 per cent in value from spirits sales in 2020, showcasing the move that whisky collectors, investors and drinkers have already made online and firmly establishing their leading position within the modern secondary whisky market.


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