We all like a whisky that has been aged well, but how about a bottle that has spent a number of years under the sea?!
Sunken Scotch is a category of whisky unlike any other – bottles that were once aboard a ship and lost to the sea during wrecks. After an untold time beneath the waves, these bottles are sometimes rescued and tend to fetch a pretty penny at auction.
One of the biggest known sources of shipwrecked whisky comes from the SS Politician. The SS Politician was wrecked in 1941, during WWII, after it ran aground on the rugged rocks of the Outer Hebrides. The ship was intending to sail to Jamaica with a range of trade goods on board. At the time, it was carrying 28,000 cases of whisky – that’s over 264,000 bottles!
With that much Scotch whisky up for grabs around the coasts of Scotland, locals got to work trying to lay claim on the whisky, with many bottles being recovered by nearby islanders. Some bottles washed up on beaches, while others were dived for.
Customs & Excise
One problem that arose for officials after the wreck was that, not only had a ship and lots of trade goods been lost, but no one had paid the duty tax on the whisky.
Authorities were sent to local villages to try and recoup some of the recovered whisky bottles, and to charge those who had ‘stolen’ them from the water! In an attempt to end pilfering from the ship, the hull was blown up, with the intention of fully sinking the ship and destroying all of the whisky.
The ensuing saga has been immortalised by the novel Whisky Galore (and subsequent film adaptations), which is based on the events.
In 1958, it was announced that 211,267 bottles were accounted for, meaning that there are still tens of thousands of whisky bottles still out there in the sea!
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Whisky Galore! Two surviving bottles from the shipwrecked SS Politician which ran aground off Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides in 1941. Thousands of bottles were ‘recovered’ by Islanders who’s whisky supplies had dried up due to war time rationing and the story of which was turned into a book by Compton Mackenzie and later, a cult Ealing Studio comedy. Great story, great film! 😊 . . . . #whiskygalore #whisky #whiskylover #lovewhisky #singlemalt #lovescotland #eriskay #outerhebrides #sspolitician #visitouterhebrides #scottishculture #hebrides #visitscotland #whiskyphotography #productphotography #nikonphotography #nikonpro #commercialphotography #thisisscotland #advertisingphotography #elexiroflife #angelsshare #cultfilm #scottishfilm
Many of the bottles available at auction come from the dive that took place in 1987, 46 years after the wreck. George Currie and a small team of divers located the wreck of the ship – he says, by luck – and were able to recover five intact bottles of whisky.
SS Politician Scotch at Auction
Over the years, a few bottles of this whisky have gone to auction. In September 2020, George Currie’s recovered bottle was sold at auction for £9,200.
The bottle was deemed unsafe for human consumption, but this whisky is a fascinating part of whisky history, so is sure to make for an exciting addition to someone’s whisky shelf!
Back in 2013, a pair of whisky bottles from the SS Politician were sold at auction for £12,050. The interesting thing here was that no one really knew what they were buying! Due to their time under the water, neither bottle had a label, so there was no indication of what kind of whisky it was, or how old it was.
In 2018, a half-bottle of whisky, salvaged from the wreck was sold for £2250. The whisky in question was a bottle of Ballantine’s whisky that was rescued from the sea by a diver in 1989.
Another exciting sunken Scotch find came from the wreck of the SS Wallachia, a ship that sank in the Firth of Clyde in 1895.
The steamship was en route to the West Indies from Glasgow with whisky and gin aboard. Unfortunately, it didn’t get very far before it was rammed by a Norwegian steamer and sunk.
The SS Wallachia lay 100ft underwater for almost a century before divers found it in 1980. Hundreds of bottles of whisky and beer were found in the ship’s hold.
SS Wallachia Scotch at Auction
A number of bottles from the SS Wallachia have been recovered and sold at auction over the years. The SS Wallachia bottles tend to be in varying states of fullness – with some having suffered the loss of whisky to the ocean over the time it spent in the water.
In 2017, a bottle of Robert Brown whisky that was pulled from the wreck during the 1980 diving expedition was sold for £1009. This bottle was in pretty good condition considering it was 122 years old, with much of the whisky still in the bottle.
Back in 2016, seven bottles of Scotch from the SS Wallachia wreck were also put up for auction. These bottles had been taken from the wreck during a dive in 1988.
However, this collection of bottles were in less good shape, with none of them being more than half-full of whisky. They were also greatly discoloured during their time in the sea and were not suitable for human consumption. These only sold for a few hundred pounds.
In 2011, a full bottle, that still had an intact seal was sold for £580, while a pair of half-full bottles were sold for £180.
While it can be fascinating to own a piece of whisky history, it is clear that prices do suffer when the bottle is less than full, or damaged in some way.
Throughout history, there have been many more shipwrecks with whisky on board, so we’re excited to see what the future will bring in terms of sunken Scotch finds!