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I’m in Perthshire’s Blair Castle – would I spend £10K on ‘Scotland’s oldest whisky’?

As food & drink writer Maria learns more about the almost 200-year-old whisky supposedly drank by Queen Victoria, does she think it lives up to the price tag?

Bertie, Keren and Joe standing behind a table of whisky in Blair Castle
Blair Castle trustee Bertie Troughton, archivist Keren Guthrie and Whisky Auctioneer head curator and spirit specialist Joe Wilson. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

Driving up towards Blair Atholl the misty Cairngorm mountains grow taller, and I’m feeling the magic of Highland Perthshire.

I’ve seen Blair Castle once before, during my first visit to Scotland aged 14. Now I’ve lived here for six years, and I can’t credit the castle alone for charming me into moving, but it was certainly part of it.

13 years later and I’m finally setting foot inside. Not to walk around like an everyday visitor, but to get an exclusive peek at what’s possibly the world’s oldest Scotch whisky.

I quite enjoy the occasional dram, but I’m by no means an expert so 21-years-old sounds fancy to me. This spirit was casked in 1833, which is so old I can hardly comprehend it.

The dark, dusty and wonky bottles certainly look like they’ve been sitting in a cellar for almost a century. While they certainly seem authentic, I wouldn’t call them tempting.

Dark, dusty whisky bottles from the cellar of Blair Castle
The bottles from 1932 certainly look that old. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

The bottles were found in the oldest part of the castle, sitting on a shelf behind an old door off its hinges hiding an archway.

Blair Castle resident trustee Bertie Troughton tells me it was the first time he’s been in that cellar, despite living in the castle all his life.

Not quite sure what these 40 odd bottles contained, he told archivist Keren Guthrie and they held the bottles up to the light. Could it be port?

Bertie took a bottle home, had a taste, and happily told Keren the next day that the discovery was old whisky.

Blair Castle whisky history

Bertie recalls: “We opened a bottle to taste it and were blown away by the magic of it.

“As we dug into the archives, the story has become even more amazing.

“We think it’s the oldest Scottish whisky in the world, and Queen Victoria stayed here in 1844. Our own records, and her diaries and letters, refer to her drinking whisky while she stayed here.

“The cellar books would suggest that this is the same whisky her and Prince Albert were drinking.”

Those dusty bottles are becoming more intriguing by the minute as I chat with Bertie. My knowledge of the British royal family doesn’t go much further back than Queen Elizabeth II, but I know Queen Victoria reigned for a long time.

Bertie kneeling down beside the table of Blair Castle whisky.
Bertie discovered the whisky in the Blair Castle cellar. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

Having a sip of the same dram once served to a queen – almost 200-years-ago at that – doesn’t happen every day.

But how can Bertie be so sure it’s the same whisky? That’s thanks to the castle’s vast archives and Keren’s expertise.

She’s holding a small notebook, it says “Bin Book July 12 1834” with squiggly letters on the front. I think bin book makes it sound more like a log of what’s been thrown out, but Keren explains this is the name of the storage.

“The bin book was actually in a bundle of documents listed as wine miscellaneous, but I thought I’ll just have a look through,” says the archivist.

“When I saw the date I was thinking, oh my goodness, could this be our whisky? You never get provenance like that.”

‘Polite professional suspicion’ over whisky find

They’ve both tasted it, and I’m desperate to know what it was like. Bertie says “it had this sort of medicinal fiery quality to it”.

Not much of a whisky drinker, Keren says it was lovely and warming. But not that burning feeling you sometimes get with whisky, and I get exactly what she means.

It’s no wonder it’s warming, analysed samples of the spirit estimate the alcohol volume sits at 61.3%. This is just one of the things the whisky was analysed for ahead of going to auction.

Keren holding the bin book which has the Blair Castle whisky listed
Keren found the first mentions of the whisky in the bin book. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

It’s been carbon dated to confirm it was made in the early 19th century, and tests confirm it’s distilled from malted barley and was aged in an oak cask.

Even by today’s strict standards of what can be classed as Scotch whisky, this passes the test.

Whisky Auctioneer head curator and spirits specialist Joe Wilson admitted he wasn’t sure what to make of Bertie and Keren’s first call to him.

He says: “When somebody phones you and says they’ve found 24 bottles of whisky distilled in 1833, your natural reaction is to have a polite professional suspicion.

“But to be able to confirm that the whisky – despite being nearly 200 years old – is still in line with modern expectations for what we would call a Scotch whisky is another thing that has made this a truly special discovery.”

Blair Castle whisky £10k price estimate

The more about these dusty bottles, the more valuable they seem to get. So, I have to ask Joe, how much does he think the whisky will sell for?

Usually, he says, the price is based on sale history. But this has never been sold before, meaning he’s looked at rarity, collectability and liquid quality instead.

Joe says: “We’re expecting a conservative estimate around £10,000 per bottle.

“We know it’s rare, there’s only 24 of them and there won’t be any more.

Whisky Auctioneer head curator Joe holds up a bottle of the Blair Atholl whisky
The sale of the Blair Atholl whisky is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Joe. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

“We know the liquid quality is good because people have tried it and we’ve done the scientific analysis on it.

“We know it’s collectible, because why wouldn’t you want the oldest Scotch whisky in the world in your collection?

“When these three factors combine, you get this trinity of collectability that will push the value up. I expect there will be people who are willing to spend quite a bit.”

That is a lot of money. It’s not like many people have a spare ten grand kicking about. I definitely don’t.

But at the same time, Joe has sold a bottle of whisky for one million pounds before. That’s a whole lot more zeros than 10k.

Considering this is an almost 200-year-old whisky, probably sipped by Queen Victoria, is it actually reasonable?

Is the Blair Castle whisky worth the price?

This whisky discovery is the biggest thing both Keren and Joe have come across in their careers.

It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see and drink this whisky. A lucky few, with lots of money, will get to be part of history.

Joe says: “This is one of the most significant things not just to happen to me personally or to the company, but to the whisky industry as a whole.

“This is a truly stunning discovery, something I don’t think we’ll ever see again.”

A table of 24 bottles with whisky from 1833.
A select few will be able to snap up a bottle for themselves. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

Some bottles will be kept at Blair Castle, they’ll be part of a new exhibit coming next year. Though Bertie says in years to come, they might drink another one or two.

“The people that buy them, I’m sure some will be collectors, but I hope some are great enthusiasts and can’t resist opening it,” he says.

“Because it’s incredible to have something that old, to be able to taste it, it goes beyond organic.”

While I’d love to have a sip of this incredible find, you won’t find me in that bidding pool. Ten grand for a bottle of booze? Even if I had that money, I have a wedding to save up for.

I do agree with Bertie though, I hope the old, dusty bottles are opened and the whisky drank. Shared with old friends or sipped on a special occasion.

Whether that’s what happens, or the bottles end up untouched on shelves, I’m sure some people will see it as money well spent.

Come early December, we might find out where the whisky is heading to and how much it sold for. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bids go far over £10,000.