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Whisky believed to be distilled almost 200 years ago and possibly sipped by a young Queen Victoria, has been found behind a hidden cellar door in a 750 year old castle in Scotland. Believed to be the oldest known Scotch whisky in existence, it will soon be offered for sale at auction.
In late 2022, Bertie Troughton, Resident Trustee at Blair Castle in Perthshire, found a number of old bottles in an unassuming cellar room. Around 40 bottles of whisky were discovered at the back of a shelf which are believed to have been distilled in 1833 and bottled in 1841 (the whisky was then rebottled in 1932). In November 2023, 24 bottles will be sold exclusively at Whisky Auctioneer.
A group of what may be the world's oldest Scotch whisky bottles at Blair Castle, Perthshire
The bottles were initially sampled by the family and a local whisky expert before Whisky Auctioneer was contacted. Since then, authentication of the whisky by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre via carbon dating supports that this whisky could be of early 19th century origin.
Radiocarbon dating analysis indicated the whisky was distilled from grain grown before 1955 and confirmed the possibility of early 19th century origin. The Scotch Whisky Research Institute in Edinburgh then conducted further testing, including gas chromatography and an additional analysis of maturation related congeners. The conclusions were that it is quite probable that the major volatile congener profile observed is consistent with the raw materials used to produce malt Scotch whisky at that time and that it was aged in the correct method to confirm that it is Scotch whisky. Results also estimated the whisky to have an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 61.3%.
“Offering what is potentially the world’s oldest scotch whisky at auction is truly a once in a lifetime occurrence. I’m fortunate to be well acquainted with old and rare liquid, as Whisky Auctioneer handles some of the world’s rarest whisky bottlings. This, however, is a transcendent discovery that is sure to capture not just the imagination of the whisky industry but also those well beyond.
If this whisky was distilled in the 1830s, then it was made during a fascinating period when whisky production was experiencing massive change following the 1823 Excise Act, making it a particularly exciting find for those interested in the history and heritage of the Scotch whisky industry.”
Joe Wilson, Head Curator and Spirits Specialist at Whisky Auctioneer
Joe Wilson and the Blair Castle c. 1833 Scotch Whisky
Extensive references to the production of whisky and aqua vitae throughout history, specifically the early 19th century, were found in documents held in the Blair Castle archive.
The archives included cellar inventories known as ‘bin books’. One such bin book, dated July 23rd 1834 - one year after the whisky was initially casked - shows whisky recorded in the cellar safely in cask. It specifically references ‘Bin 65 - Store Whiskey - 72 bottles = 40 Gallons in wood’. This is one of the earliest known references to whisky maturing in wood.
While Queen Victoria may be best known for her association with Balmoral Castle, she also had strong connections to Blair Castle and a close friendship with the 6th Duchess of Atholl. In 1844, Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert visited and stayed at Blair Castle. During her three-week stay, the Blair Castle Household Book lists that Whisky was consumed during her visit. Local newspapers at the time reported Queen Victoria’s liking for Atholl Brose - a local drink of whisky with honey. It’s therefore highly likely that this same whisky was the whisky that was shared between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during their stay.
Examples of documents found in the Blair Castle and Atholl Estates archive
Angus MacRaild, an expert in old and rare whiskies and co-founder of Kythe Distillery, added:
“This is a profoundly historic whisky and a remarkable artefact of Scottish distilling that is unlikely to ever be equalled in terms of provenance and preservation. That it has been carefully re-bottled and preserved at natural strength, maintaining the freshness and power of this spirit for nearly two centuries is frankly, astonishing.
To taste it myself, has been a great privilege. It is very much a distillate driven malt whisky, with minimal wood influence and one of a style which could have been produced any time in Scotland up until the 1950s. What I find most fascinating is that this profile existed already as far back as the 1830s. It possesses clear textural weight in the mouth, along with a flavour profile that strongly involves medicinal characteristics without any notable or pronounced peat smoke.
Not only do I find it historically fascinating, but a pleasurable and hugely charismatic whisky that I find quite typical of older style, distillate-forward highland malt whiskies.”
24 individual lots will be sold through Whisky Auctioneer from 24 November to 4 December. For more information about Whisky Auctioneer and to register your interest in the auction, please visit: whiskylink.co/Blair-Castle