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Clynelish Distillery Co. White Label 1920s

2022, Auction Highlights, Special Highlights -

Clynelish Distillery Co. White Label 1920s

We thought we’d give you a sneak preview of one of the bottles coming up in next week’s auction - for the simple reason that this is one of the most exciting bottles we’ve found all year and we couldn’t wait to tell you about it.

Old bottles of Clynelish are always great to find, especially the wonderful old white label bottles from the original Clynelish distillery that later became Brora. Brora was closed in 1983 and was presumed permanently lost for most of the last few decades, but Diageo announced plans to revive it in 2017 and in 2021 the stills were finally fired up again after a hiatus of almost forty years.

It’ll be a good few years until we see how the new Brora spirit shapes up, but in the meantime it seems unlikely that prices for the classic bottles of original Clynelish and Brora will be much affected. We’re certainly expecting a lot of interest for this fabulous bottle of Clynelish we picked up in Scotland this week. 

Clynelish 1920s

At first glance it seems like the standard old Clynelish white label bottlings - but there’s a couple of differences that make this particular Clynelish white label a fascinating artefact and the rarest Clynelish we’ve ever had at Whisky-Online.

For starters, where’s the famous lion symbol?  The original red winged lion we all know from Clynelish came from another of former Clynelish parent company James Ainslie’s blends, Glen Lion (many thanks to Serge Valentin for that titbit of trivia). It was also used on other Ainslie blends and of course it graces all the Ainslie & Heilbron white label Clynelish bottlings we’ve seen before, but this bottle doesn’t have it - instead there’s a simple logo: C D Coy Ltd.

But what is C D Coy Ltd? The answer is found on the bottle’s capsule, which states: Proprietors Clynelish Distillery Co Ltd, Edinburgh (Coy. is an archaic abbreviation for Company, by the way). This is hugely significant and is of great help with dating this wonderful bottle.

Clynelish 1920s Cap

The Clynelish Distillery Company Ltd (CDC) was formed in December 1912 after Clynelish’s previous parent company James Ainslie & Co. fell into financial trouble and brothers Thomas and James Ainslie, who owned half of Clynelish distillery, both retired. The remaining shareholder, John Risk, transferred the Ainslies’ shares in Clynelish to Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) and founded Clynelish Distillery Company Ltd as equal partners with DCL. In 1916 the share capital was increased by 50% when John Walker & Sons became a partner in Clynelish Distillery Company, with Sir Alexander Walker joining the board. This meant that Walker & Sons, DCL and Risk each held a third of the shares in the distillery.

The next major development came in 1925 when John Risk sold his shares in Clynelish Distillery Company to DCL, making DCL two-thirds owner and John Walker and Sons the only other shareholder. John Walker & Sons themselves became part of DCL the same year, so DCL had de facto 100% ownership of Clynelish from then on. 

Serge’s wonderful Brora history pages (to which this blog is naturally very heavily indebted) tell us that around 1925-1930 DCL bought the remaining shares in Clynelish from John Walker & Son, and transferred ownership of Clynelish to their Scottish Malt Distillers subsidiary, at which point it can be assumed that the Clynelish Distillery Company ceased to exist.

Around the same time, Clynelish’s licence was transferred to the Ainslie & Heilbron subsidiary, which DCL had acquired in 1926, and the first of the well-known white label Ainslie & Heilbron bottlings of Clynelish appeared in the early 1930s. In other words, this bottle of Clynelish must have been released no earlier than December 1912 and no later than 1930.

But there's more - just as with the wonderful 1920s Banff bottle we found last year, the glass code on the bottle helps us to narrow these dates further. The bottle code is A4E C4 UGB, with A4E being the style code for this particular bottle. The letter underneath is the letter used to determine which plant the bottle was produced at, so in this case the C means that this glass bottle was produced at the Charlton plant in London which started production in 1921. U G B is the manufacturer - United Glass Bottle.

We can therefore state pretty definitively that this bottle was produced at some point between 1921-1930, which makes sense as the label design is very similar to the Ainslie & Heilbron white label editions that followed immediately afterwards.

This timeframe fits perfectly with the provenance of our bottle, which was gifted to the vendor’s father, who was a postman, in the 1930s. Originally there were two bottles of this whisky in the family, but one of them was opened and later gifted to a relative after the death of the vendor’s father. This remaining bottle came to the vendor from his mother and will be going under the hammer in our extended Christmas auction, which begins on Wednesday 21st December and runs until Wednesday 4th January 2023.

This fabulous bottle of old Clynelish is a fascinating piece in the jigsaw of the distillery’s complex history. It’s one of the rarest and most beautiful Clynelish bottles we’ve ever had at Whisky-Online, and we’re deeply grateful for the privilege of putting it up for auction. Bid now on this amazing 1920s Clynelish.

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Serge Valentin, Whiskyfun: The Magical History of the Great Brora Distillery

Philip Morrice: The Schweppes Guide to Scotch

Brian Townsend: Scotch Missed: The Lost Distilleries of Scotland

Scotchwhisky.com: Ainslie & Heilbron Distillers

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