Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Where is all the dusty Scotch?

This question came up on a forum the other day so I thought I'd address it here. There is so much talk about dusty bourbon, but is there dusty Scotch and if so, where is it? There is dusty Scotch but it's more recent and much harder to come by.

Most of the dusty bourbon I find on the shelves is from the 1970s and '80s. This was a great era for bourbon, and there are many good finds to be had. I see Scotch from the same era but it's mostly crappy blends because that is mostly the Scotch that people were drinking back then (I can't even begin to count the dusty bottles of Cluny I've passed on).

Single malts didn't really come on the scene in the U.S. in any significant way until the late 1980s, so the hot period for dusty Scotch malts is the late 1980s to the late 1990s. However, unlike a lot of the old bourbon that I find in dingy corner stores where the owners have no idea what it is, single malt was a high-end product that tended to go to high end stores that had a high product turnover, were heavily trafficked, and where the proprietors understood the value of the various products. For that reason, you are a lot less likely to find Scotch of any real quality gathering dust.

That isn't to say there aren't some great dusties out there, but they are harder to find and more expensive. I know someone who recently found an Ardbeg Provenance for $300, which doesn't sound like a steal, but that malt goes at auction for around $1,000.

The dusty Scotch holy grail would be a 1994/1995 Black Bowmore. If it was sitting on a shelf for its original price it would be around $200 or $300, whereas now it regularly fetches upwards of $4,000. Like the actual holy grail, though, I'm not sure Black Bowmore dusties exist.

Of course, there are lots of old Scotches out there, but most of them are going for high prices at spirits auctions. Finding a decent old single malt on the shelf in an American liquor store is a lot tougher to do, but hey, there's no reason not to try.

I'd love to hear any good stories folks have of dusty Scotch finds. Leave them in the comments.

UPDATE: I wanted to post this excellent response by Adam from the LA Whiskey Society:

Ahhh, one of my favorite topics.

In short: all the (good) dusty scotch was cleaned out over the past decade.

You are right to point out that scotch (particularly the single malts that we'd seek) was a high-end product that was treated differently. Also, Bourbon was much more widely distributed than single malts, and in much greater quantities. There's simply more of it to be left sitting around. Whereas the sort of malts we'd currently hunt for always existed in quite limited quantities. (Example: Signatory dumpies).

Bourbon hunting is also a more recent phenomenon. Scotch hunting predates it, and the people doing so were well-networked by the late 90's (due to the internet). Combine that with the fact that bourbon enthusiasts are generally on a lower budget than scotch enthusiasts, 'cause bourbon's generally a lot cheaper than single malts. So, when a malt hunter found a dusty treasure trove, he was more likely to clean it all out, and he had the network of people to distribute it to. I've heard stories of someone finding a few cases of (say) a very early Macallan 18, and he'd buy it all -- knowing that there were plenty of other friends in his whisky circle who'd happily take some of the bottles off his hands. Springbank 12/100 was essentially cleaned out of America by just a handful of guys (namely the stately and respectable PLOWED folks) [Ed: PLOWED is a Scotch tasting group], who'd often share a large find with each other.

You're not finding any dusty malts in LA because me and The Duke [Ed: Another LAWS member] scoured LA County and the neighboring valleys around 2008. PLOWED had already cleaned out SoCal in their great FOAFing [Ed: FOAF = dusty hunting] adventures of the earlier 2000s, and we bought whatever scraps they'd left behind. And drank most of it. As examples, there were still scant Springer 21's, Macallan Gran Reservas, Ardbeg 17s.

Keep in mind that it only takes ONE good hunter a few days to hit every single store in a small city. Personally I can hit upwards of 100 stores in a good day (seriously). If I've been somewhere/anywhere with some spare time on my hands, then by the time I leave, you're gonna have difficulty finding any dusty scotch in that area (I mean scotch that's any good).

To give you an idea of how seriously this was taken in the past -- before I travel anywhere, I'll speak with some of the "godfathers" of scotch dusty hunting I know. They can almost always tell me if an area has been hunted out, who hunted it, and when. You hear stuff like, "Oh yeah, so-and-so cleaned out everything on the 10 corridor between Palm Desert and Phoenix, he was commuting for business a lot between 2004-2006."

It's my belief that the Great American Whisky Hunt is essentially in its last glimmers of twilight, as far as single malts are concerned. Yes, you can hoard cases of Ardbeg Ten L7143, but that's a whole different category of dusty hunting.

Black Bowmore is gone (original was released in 1993). I think I heard that someone found a bottle in upstate NY in like 2004.

South Central LA remains unfoafed. [Ed: Not quite Adam, I've spent some time there, but there aren't any Ardbeg Provenances or Black Bowmores to be least so far].

Great comments Adam, Thanks.


sam k said...

Nothin' from me. I'm always looking for American whiskey, but i love your perspective on why there's no old sotch hanging around...and it makes perfect sense.

It was in 1978 or '79 when a friend showed up with a bottle of Laphroaig, proclaiming that it was the only presentable whisky on planet Earth, and I was totally disgusted!

Still not a fan, but am much more tolerant of the extremes that exist in whisky, and am eternally grateful to Harry for his foresight!

Greg said...

Steve - Excellent post. I've thought about this as I've hunted bourbon in the past but not really being into Scotch at the time, only gave it a cursory thought. My most recent "dusty" Scotch would be the Springbank Alchemist. I did just recently open a Johnny Walker 12 year from 1965 and thought it was very fact suprisingly good.

Tim Dellinger said...

Found an old Springbank 21 in Indiana once! Never found anything else worth bragging about.

Macdeffe said...

It's bloody annoying driving around California, all the stores have been cannibalized

sam k said...

Awesome story, Adam. you guys were waaaay ahead of the curve and are to be commended for your early efforts at coordinating mass swaths of "scorched liquor store" strategy.

I am truly impressed, you whisky ninjas, you!

AdamH said...

Thanks Sam. You don't even want to see the maps we've made for such purposes... they're cross-referenced with census data overlays in order to identify the most promising neighborhoods. But the truth of it all is really that the hunt is more fun than the find. I've always said that whiskey is an adventure, and this way it literally becomes one!

BMc said...

So what census data did you use? In my limited experience, I've found that areas that have been high-density for 30+ years but have experienced gradual economic declines have been the most fruitful.

I can't count the number of Scotch blends I've seen from the '70s here in DC. I haven't heard of ANY of them except Teacher's, and no single malts except an old Highland Park 12 from the '80s.

Anonymous said...

I was on the hunt for bourbon a few years back. I knew little about Scotch and probably passed up some great dusties.

AdamH said...

BMc, yes, previous wealth met with recent decline is a top indicator. Also, racial makeup indicates the kinds of booze that were/are distributed in an area. (I recognize that may sound superficially racist, but it's not when you understand liquor marketing/sales demographics).

It all sounds a little heartless and mercenary, but it's really just about finding good whisk(e)y. We know it looks really weird on the surface. The #1 rule before getting out of the car is, "Hide the socioeconomic maps!"

Anonymous said...

Picked up a Bowmore Sea Dragon at a little bodega in the Bunker Hill Condos 3 years ago for $280.

Maybe wasn't such a steal then, but sure is now.

BMc said...

Weird? Only if you think a good plan is weird.

"Planning's for losers! Get me another Bud Light Lime!!!"