At a recent high-profile whisky auction, a collection crammed with old Macallan, Bowmore and Glenfiddich amassed by aficionado Richard Gooding was billed by Whisky Auctioneer as ‘The Perfect Collection’. It’s quite a claim. Given the obsessive, addictive drive of the collector, is true perfection ever attainable? Desirable, even?
An hour or so spent in the company of Sukhinder Singh, cofounder of The Whisky Exchange and co-owner of numerous other spirits-related businesses – Whisky Auction, Elixir Distillers and London Cocktail Week among them – suggests not. We sit in The Whisky Exchange HQ, surrounded by the fruits of a 30-year run of collecting single malts: glass-fronted cabinets chock-full of the kind of historic bottles that provoke Pavlovian salivation in any whisky geek. There are so many treasures, you don’t know where to look – but at the same time, you want to look everywhere.
Some time into our conversation, I ask the crude but unavoidable question: “How big is it?” An audible sigh. “Approximately 10,000– 11,000 bottles; I haven’t counted. I’ve definitely got more than 10,000 bottles of single malt.” How does that compare, then? To other collections around the world, I mean? Another sigh. “I don’t care about numbers, but in terms of quality, I feel it’s probably the best collection out there.”
For me, these are important as a piece of history. I am very emotional about them
For Singh, beyond the thrill of the chase, there is the pleasure of drinking – it transpires that he has another 2,000 bottles of ‘drinking whisky’ sitting on pallets in the warehouse outside, and he discloses a particular taste for older bottlings from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. He is also drawn by the lure of history: the 1903 Glenfiddich that even the distillery doesn’t have; the rare-as-hen’s-teeth Kirkliston that was the first full-sized bottle of single malt he bought.
“I’ve got very few bottlings here that were released in the past 10 years,” he says. “I’ve got so many rare old bottlings, from 50 years ago, 100 years ago. For me, these are important as a piece of history. I am very emotional about them.” So naturally, we asked Singh to select his favourites from one of the greatest collections in the world.
Singh’s five most-treasured bottles
1. Kirkliston Pure Malt
“This was my first purchase when I started collecting, so it’s quite sentimental. This distillery closed in 1920; my bottle dates from the very early 1900s. I don’t know of another genuine bottle – though, sadly, there are several fakes around.”
2. Macallan 1926 Peter Blake
“I bought the Valerio Adami version from the distillery itself at launch for a few thousand pounds. I tried to get this for many years so I could complete the set. Peter Blake is a very special artist, and with only 12 bottles released, this is an important bottle.”
3. Lagavulin 1883
“A malt that everyone loves today, and one that has a special place in my heart. Having an enormous attachment to Islay, I would love to open this some day and try it.”
4. Glenfiddich 1903
“This has a really nice label – I love its simplicity. This style of label was later used on a release of Balvenie 1937 50-year-old. Again, it is the only known example.”
5. Dalmore Trinitas 64-Year-Old
“I worked closely with Dalmore on this project, and all three bottles were sold through us. Dalmore is a grand cru in the world of whisky, and aged expressions are much sought after.”
This is a shortened version of a more in-depth interview with Sukhinder Singh. The full article, complete with his tips on the five best bottles for starting a whisky collection, and why collectors have fallen out of love with Macallan, appears in the current issue of Club Oenologique. Learn more and get your issue here.