Throughout January, Scotland exports itself across the English-speaking world in the shape of its national bard, Robert Burns. The calendar is bookended by his work, beginning as many do with the ringing-in of the new year through a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, and an address to a haggis during the annual Burns Night supper on 25 January, the poet’s birthday. Threaded through the very fabric of Scottish culture, whisky is central to all of these celebrations.
Individual Scotch whisky brands have differing approaches to how they position themselves in relation to ‘Rabbie’ and traditional Scottish culture. Some keep him – and ‘tartan culture’ – at arms-length, while others joyfully embrace the wordsmith and the nation’s heritage. Our January 2024 sale at Whisky Auctioneer provides a perfect opportunity to explore one of the motifs best associated with the latter camp – the noble stag. Images of male deer are prominent across the whisky industry, featuring heavily in the representation of brands such as The Dalmore, Glenfiddich, Gordon & MacPhail, Loch Lomond and, until 2009, Glen Garioch.
The Glenfiddich stag is likely the most recognisable, representing the Gaelic translation of its name, ‘Valley of the Deer’. Despite this, it was only introduced to labels in 1968, with The Dalmore having the longest-running iconographic association with the animal. Known as the Royal stag and identifiable by the 12 ‘points’ of its antlers, the emblem is part of the heraldry of Clan Mackenzie and was bestowed by King Alexander III in the 13th century. Mackenzie descendants acquired The Damore in 1867 and selected the clan’s Royal stag into the distillery’s iconography, remaining part of the distillery’s livery ever since.
Though the distillery was notable for its sale of ‘self’ (unblended malt) whisky in the 19th century, the first ‘modern era’ single malts from The Dalmore were released by Mackenzie Brothers Dalmore Ltd (via its Duncan Macbeth & Co subsidiary) in the 1950s. At the time, the stag was the company logo and it was vastly different from the version seen today, appearing only in diminutive form and heavily trademarked. While aesthetically it remained unchanged through the 1960s and early 1970s, the stag gradually migrated to a more prominent placement at the top and centre of the labels, and examples of its journey can be charted on incredibly rare eight- and 20-year-old bottlings in our January auction.
In 1976, Mackenzie Brothers was renamed Whyte & Mackay Distillers, and the stag became the emblem of the Dalmore single malt brand, specifically. This began the evolution of the logo to its current form, a journey that can again be plotted in its entirety across bottles in our current auction. We are delighted to feature distillery bottlings from 1978 through to the present day, featuring three variations of the famous badge, culminating in the large ornamental fixture found on bottles today. Among these are a special 20-year-old produced for the 20th anniversary of the famous Whiskyteca Giaccone in Italy, a rare 1960 vintage 25-year-old that is co-branded with Whyte & Mackay, and a decade-spanning selection of the changing face of the distillery’s core 12-year-old expression, including a 1980s Pilla Import.
Today, The Damore is positioned as one of Scotland’s foremost luxury whisky brands, and its stag is front and centre of this. More than just a flashy decal, it is a badge steeped in heritage and tradition. The distillery is not one to have rested easy upon these powerful connections, however, and the prestigious presentation of its Royal stag today is a testament to the decades of quality whisky in its wake.
This article is sponsored by Whisky Auctioneer and was 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.
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