Endangered Scotches — The ‘Great Cull’ of 1983 and How to Get Some Rare Bottles Before They’re Gone Forever

I’ve been digging around for some general history of scotch recently and came across a curious phrase on a couple of web sites: “the great whisky cull of 1983.” I find it strange that only two instances of this exact phrase appear anywhere on Google, but the history is available with a little more digging. A search on “whisky 1983 closed” turned up an in-depth article about this apparently seismic event in the scotch industry on The Whisky Exchange, “The Lost Distilleries of Scotland,” by Sukindher Singh (Sept. 2007).

Anyone with a strong interest in scotch rarities should read this article, as there are a handful of extremely hard to find whiskies you may never get a chance to taste unless you act relatively fast. Prices are going through the roof for some of these, which were shuttered before single malts became popular, during a time of glut, for reasons that had more to do with maintaining the economic stability of the dominant blends at the time than preserving unique single malt distilleries.

There is currently stock available from around thirty ‘Lost Distilleries,’ with prices for most of these increasing with every new release. The question to ask is which will disappear first. It is very difficult to know how much stock from each of these distilleries is still out there, and sometimes we only find out when it’s too late.

We remember selling Kinclaith about 10 years ago for £30.00 / bottle, but next thing we knew Gordon & Macphail had no stock left. The price for this product increased to £500.00 / bottle very quickly; recently there have been new releases of Kinclaith, but nothing at less than £600.00 / bottle.

So what are the lost distilleries and how does one find them?

A partial list of highly coveted labels, as provided in the above article, includes:

Kinclaith

Brora

Lochside

Port Ellen

Rosebank

St. Magdalene (Linlithgow)

Glenury Royal

Glenlochy

Glenugie

Glen Albyn

Glen Mohr

The article above includes a complete listing of all of the distilleries that were closed, demolished or went silent after the great whisky cull of 1983. It should be noted that some of these labels are available as distillery bottlings and others as independent bottlings from companies such as Gordon & McPhail and Douglas Laing & Co.

The author argues that most of these are quality single malts worth effort of acquiring, but he admits that he cannot vouch completely for all of them.

An earlier “great cull” occurred between 1885-1945, following an explosion in demand as a result of the phylloxera invasion that wiped out grape vineyards in Europe in 1880-1890, spurring demand for wine and brandy replacements. Scotch filled the void, but the demand was not sustainable and eventually led to a winnowing of some 83 distilleries in the period covered.

Records and even physical evidence for earlier closures are hard to come by, though historians estimate another 100 or more distilleries shuttered in the period prior to 1885.

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~ by whisky1 on August 20, 2008.

One Response to “Endangered Scotches — The ‘Great Cull’ of 1983 and How to Get Some Rare Bottles Before They’re Gone Forever”

  1. […] line: The Scotch industry has seen boom and bust before, and it could well be headed for another round. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

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