An Interview with Edgar Harden – The Old Spirits Company

An Interview with Edgar Harden Old Spirits Company by the fat rum pirateA while back I reviewed a Royal Navy rum from prior to Black Tot Day.  I was able to do this by buying a sample from The Old Spirits Company.

The Old Spirits Company is ran by spirits and cocktail enthusiast Edgar Harden.  It offers buyers the chance to buy scarce and hard to find bottlings from years gone by.  The Old Spirits Company sells aged spirits as in bottled a long time ago rather than distilled a long time ago.  Though in some instances both does apply!

The company turns the concept of auctions on their head and offer any prospective consumer the chance to buy a bottle at a pre determined price. On a “first come, first served” basis.

At present Edgar has a number of interesting bottlings of rum and other spirits.  He is particularly interested and specialises in obtaining defunct and obscure spirits which are no longer produced or have fell out of general circulation.  

I would recommend joining his mailing list and gaining access to the site so you can behold his many treasures.  Edgar also sources and supplies rare and old spirits to the trade as well as offering bottlings on his companies website.  

I recently sent Edgar a few questions to answer as I know very little about the vintage spirits world.  I figured he might have a few answers…..

1. When did you first get the idea to launch a shop dealing solely in older/vintage bottlings?

In 2015, when I was establishing and launching the Old Spirits Company (OSC) through the proper channels.

2.  What experience dOld Spirits Company Interview with Edgar Harden by the fat rum pirateo you have in the drinks industry?

Prior to establishing the OSC I had none, other than as a frequenter of cocktail bars for about 20 years.

3.  How do you source your bottles?

I buy from private collections.

4.  Why did you decide to launch an online shop rather than just sell these bottlings at auction? Or on the many online auctions?

If all I wanted to do was sell bottles using an online auction platform then essentially I would just be a picker with dusties on Ebay. I think more highly of the material than that and like to present it in a way that reflects its cultural worth be that through quality photography, proper cataloguing, my website or my newsletter.

Old Spirits Company Interview with Edgar Harden by the fat rum pirateI enjoy the contact that I have with clients. Our shared enthusiasm provides me with momentum to further develop my business. I also exhibit and speak at trade shows like BCB, Imbibe Live, Boutique Bar Show, Prague Bar Show, Perfect Serve, Bar Institute and for the first time this July, Tales of the Cocktail.

5.  What is the current state of the vintage bottlings market?

The vintage bottlings market is robust. There is great breadth and depth of interest in virtually every type and brand of spirit. I am always reminded of this when my latest bizarre find flies off the shelf. 1920 Advocaat or Ned Kelly-shaped decanter of Port, anybody?

6.  Which spirits are the most sought after?

Vintage American Whiskies, like their contemporary counterparts, are highly sought after. Pricing for them is out of sync with that for bottles in most other categories except for Cognac and Absinthe. Kina Lillet, the essential ingredient for Ian Fleming’s Vesper cocktail, is a notable exception.

7.  Which spirits are becoming more popular?

Happily, people are recognizing the merits of Vermouth, Amari and fortified wines. These rich and complex liquids, more than those in any other class of spirits, reflect the positive, yet unintended result of bottle aging.

Oxidization, different decay rates of botanical distillates and the mellow aging of caramel define the distinct personalities of these classic products. As their flavors increase over time, smaller quantities are needed, meaning that bottles last longer.

8.  Have you ever been offered something and questioned its validity? Are there many fakes or counterfeits around?

I have not been offered any outright fakes, but condition is sometimes an issue, and that is an equally compelling reason not buy a bottle. The area of vintage spirits in which I specialize – off the beaten track types of spirits and brands and historic cocktail ingredients – are the least likely to be faked. There are problems in the arena of high-ticket items, as there are with wines, like Pappy, Japanese, Malts, etc.

9.  Do you ever keep certain bottlings for yourself?  Do you have a large collection? Ever tempted to open a bottle…….or six?

For a long time I did not hold back anything – a choice, but I needed to recoup my initial investment in stock and satisfy customers’ needs. Now I do keep special bottlings, or at least ones that I deem to be special, and wish that I had not sold some treasures, like all of my Kina Lillet. Amongst my keepers are old Canadian bottlings, especially from the now universally defunct old Vancouver distilleries. Very old Gins and Vodkas and random other bottlings that sp[rike my fancy also end up in the private collection, like a Sunoty bottle in the shape of the Empire State Building, complete with plastic King Kong!

Generally speaking I don’t open bottles unless they are earmarked for a tasting or do not have a label or are otherwise unattractive in some way, such as if they have a low level or are really dirty. A 1950s Wynand Fockink Cherry Liqueur was a recent eye opener; the Dutch have always made such fine fruit cordials and this brand has recently been resurrected by Lucas Bols who bought them and used their stills to make their own products for many years.

10.  Have you any plans to move into the modern classics market? By that I mean those bottlings that almost instantly become “collectors” items selling out on the day of release?

I do buy modern classics and new products that I think are great for tucking away. Tanqueray rereleases, Martini Riserva Ambrato and Rubino, Gran Classico and St. George’s Terrior, amongst others will stand the test of time.

 11.  In the rum world bottlings by the likes of Velier and Samaroli are becoming highly sought after.  These aren’t old bottlings but are aged spirits and can be very rare.  Do you think these bottlings will hold their value?

The prices that some of these bottles are reaching now seem very high to me, although we have seen this happen with the Hanyu Playing Card Series and Brora 30YO, distilled 1972, and these prices continue to rise, so it is possible that the same will happen with the likes of Caroni, Velier, Samaroli, etc.

Competitive collecting and fashion have come to play larger roles than ever in informing which spirits soar in price, but this does not always mean that the anointed are the best, viz. Pappy! For those bottlings of the highest quality I think that it is unlikely that the market for them will fall.

12.  I always ask this as its a rum related site – What are your favourite rums?

Black Tot Navy Rum Review by the fat rum pirateThese days I am drinking Navy Flagon Rum from the 1950s at 57%, pretty fabulous stuff undiluted and just enough time has passed to take the edge off. Also, 1930s St. James from Martinique, same classic square bottle back then and magnificent quality – the scent is so heady; if you close your eyes it’s not too hard to imagine that you’re standing in the middle of a cane field.

13.  And finally (and it doesn’t have to be rum related) What is your favourite spirit and cocktail?

If I could only have one spirit, then it would be a high-proof London Dry Gin, narrowly edging out Chartreuse and Bourbon. My favourite cocktail is a Vesper made with vintage Kina Lillet, Wyborowa and Gordon’s at 47.3% — discarded Sicilian Lemon twist.

Well thanks very much for that Edgar – really interesting and insightful stuff and a nice little departure in content for the site.  I hope you all enjoyed this piece.

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