Collecting guide five very rare spirits for your drinks cabinet

Collecting guide: five very rare spirits for your drinks cabinet

Karuizawa and Midleton Very Rare whiskies, Romano Levi grappa and Caroni rum are among the collector’s items offered at Christie’s in December 2020

1. Royal Salute blended scotch whisky

This prestige whisky was created in 1953 as a tribute to the British monarchy, the first bottles being launched at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The name takes its inspiration from the 21-gun salute, a traditional sign of respect at special royal events.

Royal Salute the Age Collection II. 10 crystal decanters per lot. Sold for £55,125 in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London
Royal Salute the Age Collection II. 10 crystal decanters per lot. Sold for £55,125 in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London

Royal Salute’s impressive collection of Scotch whiskies is carefully watched over from the Royal Salute vault at the legendary Strathisla Distillery in the Scottish Highlands. The distillery was originally founded in 1786, and holds the distinction of being the oldest working distillery in the Scottish Highlands.

Royal Salute whiskies are some of the finest and rarest blended whiskies in existence, and often spend many decades ageing before they are released to collectors. The level of quality and attention to detail are unparalleled. The range includes some of the most highly prized spirits ever to come to market.

2. Karuizawa Japanese malt whisky

Karuizawa is among the rarest malt whiskies Japan has ever produced. Today, it is a ‘silent still’ — a distillery that is no longer in use. The whisky was produced at the foot of Mount Asama in central Honshu from 1956 to 2000. Made with peated barley, it was drawn from small stills and then transferred to sherry casks.

The stills of Karuizawa produced huge, textural whiskies that are thick, oily and resonant. When the distillery closed, the 300 barrels that were left maturing were bought by a company that has gone on to bottle and release them to market.

It is these bottles that most often come to market today, enthralling collectors around the world. Although the supply is dwindling, the quality is still tremendous.

3. Midleton Very Rare Irish whiskey

The name says it all. Midleton Very Rare was created in 1984 by the distillery’s Master Distiller Emeritus Barry Crockett, and it is the ultimate expression of his art and expertise.

Once a year, the current Master Distiller honours Crockett’s vision by handpicking only the finest and rarest whiskeys from the distillery warehouses and carefully blending them to create the annual vintage of Midleton Very Rare. Each bottle is individually numbered and signed by the Master Distiller — the mark of a true whiskey masterpiece.

Midleton Very Rare Vintage Collection 1984-2020. 37 bottles per lot. Sold for £34,300 in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London
Midleton Very Rare Vintage Collection 1984-2020. 37 bottles per lot. Sold for £34,300 in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London

Midleton Very Rare is consistently awarded the highest honours at the world’s most respected whisky awards. The individual nature of the selection process means that each year’s vintage provides its own unique character, with subtle but recognisable differences between the years.

Midleton Very Rare was first created as an example of excellence in Irish whiskey, and it has retained this quality ever since.

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4. Romano Levi grappa

Many products are presented as ‘limited-production’ and ‘artisanal’, but few truly are. The grappas that were produced by Romano Levi (1928-2008) can authentically claim to be just that.

Distilled from the pomace left over from winemaking in the region, the grappas are some of the finest spirits ever distilled, and were made on a tiny scale by the legendary producer until his death in 2008.

Rarest Romano Levi Grappa 1981-2008. 16 bottles per lot. Sold for £3,920 in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London
Rarest Romano Levi Grappa 1981-2008. 16 bottles per lot. Sold for £3,920 in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London

Each batch of grappa was produced differently, with post-distillation ageing occurring in a range of wooden vessels for different lengths of time. The aesthetic consideration that further sets them apart is that every individual label was illustrated by hand.

No two bottles that Levi made were exactly the same. They are true one-off collector’s pieces.

5. Caroni rum

Caroni was established on the site of an old sugar factory in Trinidad, and produced rums notable for a distinctively heavy flavour profile. These are rums of enormous character that have gained momentum in recent years as extremely collectable spirits.

Caroni was famous for supplying the British Navy with full-bodied and powerful rums made using its own Trinidadian sugar cane

Caroni has been described by some commentators as ‘the Karuizawa of the rum world’, having been produced in a gloriously singular ‘silent still’. Established in the early years of the 20th century, the distillery was famous for supplying the British Navy with full-bodied and powerful rums made using its own Trinidadian sugar cane.

Rare Caroni rum 1974-2000. 15 bottles per lot. Offered in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London
Rare Caroni rum 1974-2000. 15 bottles per lot. Offered in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits, Featuring Three Superb Private Collections on 10-11 December 2020 at Christie’s in London

Sadly, in 2002, it was closed and then demolished. The spirits recovered in recent years are known for their powerful, oily character and multilayered finish.