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Posted 1 year, 5 months ago by Fred Laing

Scotch Salvaged from the Sea

When one of our team recently returned from a holiday in the Outer Hebrides, Fred Laing regaled us with his own version of the tale of the infamous ship that sank with thousands of bottles of Scotch Whisky aboard...

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The story of the infamous ship that sank with thousands of bottles of Scotch Whisky aboard would later be told in the blockbuster "Whisky Galore!" movie, but little did we know, Douglas Laing & Co. played a genuine part in the historic tale. Here's Fred Laing's version of events...

Back in the late 1980s we were approached by a young man who had seemingly bought the rights to sell all the bottles that could be salvaged from the submerged wreck of the SS Politician. The vessel had sunk in 1941 off the Scottish island of Eriskay (famous for the native Eriskay Ponies) and was said to be carrying a hold full of over 20,000 x 12 bottle cases of Scotch Whisky on route to Jamaica and the USA. Why, I do not know, as there was a war going on at the time, but it’s all about priorities, I suppose! Perhaps it had something to do with the then Top Secret Rocket facility being developed in the Nevada desert, for which they needed fuel.

So this young man took me to see the 8 or 9 salvaged bottles which he had carefully stashed in a Glasgow bank vault. Despite being submerged all those years, parts of the labels were still intact and legible and, at that time, more original bottles were promised to marry with our own Whiskies.

Inspiring a New Whisky

I was given free rein to put a pack together that would do justice to a Scotch Whisky which had been distilled around 1936/7 that would have to be married with some of our own Malt and Grain stocks. The pack was 2nd nature for us, and I believe it still looks pretty good today, with the brass porthole screened onto the front face of the decanter, and the SS Politician visible and sinking slowly beneath the waves on the back panel. That would be about 24 hours before the local islanders commenced their own privately funded "salvage" operation.

I was given free rein to put a pack together that would do justice to a Scotch Whisky which had been distilled around 1936/7

-Fred Laing, Chairman

The blend itself was a different and trickier scenario, as Customs & Excise rules do not allow the blending of UK Duty Paid stock with non-dutiable Scotch. However...an exception was made and we were permitted to marry a small number of salvaged bottles with our own stocks. I seem to recollect 2 vattings, each with around 8-10 bottles of the original salvaged hoard, but we are talking of a blend assembled 30 years ago, so the memory is a little hazy.

Customs & Excise did insist that UK Duty was paid on all the bottles, and whilst I argued that it should be paid at the rate appropriate for 1941, that was a step too far! So, all the cases were duty paid, such that even when we sold to foreign clients, UK Duty had been paid on the all that stock. How many decanters did we fill? I cannot be exact but believe each bottling ran to about 1,000 bottles; so there may still be a few out there! 

The boat itself was named the SS Politician, and so our own Scotch Whisky was named in its honour. The tiny isle of Eriskay is home to just one pub today - named, of course, Am Politician. The locals never tired of telling the Whisky Galore! story, but we bet they've never heard Fred's version!

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