Rare Whisky Galore bottles to go under hammer

It is a tale of derring do which remains part of island folklore, but now deep pocketed whisky connoisseurs will have the chance to own a bottle from one of the most famous shipwrecks in Scottish history.
The Ballantine's bottle recovered from the SS Politician.The Ballantine's bottle recovered from the SS Politician.
The Ballantine's bottle recovered from the SS Politician.

Six rare bottles of Scotch which were recovered from the wreck of the SS Politician off the shores of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides are to go under the hammer.

They were among 28,000 cases of whisky on board the cargo ship when it ran aground in bad weather in 1941. .

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The subsequent salvage operation by islanders, much to the chagrin of customs and excise officials, inspired Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 novel, Whisky Galore, which was in turn adapted for the cinema in a 1949 Ealing comedy.

As the ship broke up and fell beneath the waves, many of the remaining bottles on board went down with it, among them the lots which are being auctioned at Bonhams in Edinburgh.

The drams, which include a Ballantine’s, a VAT 69, and four bottles of Gibbey’s, were legally salvaged in 1990, and are accompanied by letters of declaration from Irvine Butterfield, a customs official in Perth.

In the letter supporting the authenticity of the Ballantine’s bottle, written shortly after its recovery, he said testing showed that nearly half a century spent in the Sound of Eriskay had not diluted its appeal.

“Given its lengthy sojourn beneath the waters of the Outer Hebrides the whisky has stood up remarkably well and I would venture to suggest will be quite potable,” he wrote.

“Though Scotch whisky does not age in [the] bottle, it bears its age with dignity as befits an excellent beverage.”

The six bottles each carry an estimate of £6,000 to £8,000. They were bottled in around 1940, and are stamped with ’Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re Use of This Bottle’ around the shoulder.

The phrase appeared on all liquor bottles offered for sale in the USA between 1935 and 1964 in an attempt to limit the spread of illegal distilled or moonshine spirits.

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Last year, a half bottle of Ballantine’s recovered from the SS Politician fetched £2,250 at auction.

The whisky auction at Bonhams on 5 June will also see the sale of a rare bottle of Suntory Rolling Stones whisky.

The blend of selected malts was released in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the rock group’s formation, and the bottle is estimated to fetch between £25,000 and £35,000.

Martin Green, a whisky specialist at Bonhams in Edinburgh, said: “Only 150 bottles of Suntory Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary whisky were ever released, and on the rare occasions they appear at auction there is always a great deal of excitement and interest.”