Welcome back to the new whisky column where this month we are discussing all things whisky, from the secondary whisky market and the morality of selling bottles, to £3,000 creases.
Last month we rounded off with the Springbank Local Barley 2022 which was just about to hit auctions and was our one to watch. Actual prices outperformed even our expectations and the sub £90 RRP bottle went for between £600 and £775 in its first month of auctions, making a nice little profit for the early flippers. With such easy margins to be made it is no surprise the market as a whole is still attracting new buyers and sellers each month, which is no doubt helping the market remain buoyant. However, one bottle where profits were almost guaranteed came with a caveat…
Too hot to flip
This month a different Springbank release has brought the morality of bottle flipping into the limelight. In response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine Springbank released a 10 year old limited edition bottle at £60 with proceeds going to support the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Appeal. Buyers queued down the street in London & Edinburgh to pick up a bottle. In London a brawl ensued when someone tried to queue jump and then someone was arrested – honestly! So what’s the issue?
Springbank are known for keeping their RRP for releases appropriate to the bottling (just look at the local barley example above) and have specifically said that “this was produced initially to allow a large number of people to buy a bottle of Springbank at a reasonable price while supporting a very important cause.” But while Springbank raised a fantastic £11,000, the fact remains that the secondary market is Springbank mad. Many of the buyers of those bottles are looking to flip them at auction because they know people are willing to pay more than Springbank charge. Or they would be…
Behind the scenes many auction houses have said they will not list the charity bottles for sale. Whisky Auctioneer have said they will sell them, but all the proceeds are going to charity, the lot reads: “This lot has been generously donated by the seller and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. The seller’s commission has been waived and Whisky Auctioneer will make a separate donation of buyer’s commission raised in addition to the hammer price to the DEC Appeal.” With bottles already reaching over £800 in the current auction, it will hopefully generate further profit for the DEC’s Ukraine appeal.
This isn’t the first time that in store only sales have caused issues. The famous example being at the opening of the new Macallan distillery in 2018 when the distillery exclusive Genesis bottling caused the police to come in to manage the road blockages caused by people queuing to get into the distillery. Just like that event caused a shift toward ballot systems for limited releases, we are already seeing different approaches appear in the market.
One solution is to sell charity bottles at auction. Scotch Whisky Auctions recently sold a large number of bottles for a Falklands charity by bottles from independent bottlers Claxtons, hammer prices ranged in price from £950 to £100 depending on which Falklands veteran signed them. Selling straight through an auction house has the advantage of reaching a large international market and achieving the secondary market value straight off for bottles, thus establishing demand and getting the most benefit for the chosen charity. Like a ballot system, auctions also reduce the physical issues of in-store only limited edition, and mitigate logistical issues and audience limitations.
We are already seeing auctions emerging as a solution, Springbank have announced a second release for the appeal, this time 6 bottles of 21 year old that will be sold via auction. Bidding closes on Friday 29th April. Glenfiddich have also announced proceeds from the sale of the 2022 Spirit of Speyside bottling will go to the DEC and that the bottles will be sold via Whisky Auctioneer. Hopefully these auctions will help ensure the most profit for the DEC going forward.
Packaging remains king
April’s auction results showed the importance of packaging and age statements at the supper premium end of today’s whisky industry.
The Bowmore Aston Martin collaboration was the first high performer we will look at. The Black Bowmore Aston Martin 1964 DB5-31 year old achieved a hammer plus premium of £115,900 at Bonhams in mid-April. In last month’s column we touched upon the disconnect in price that sometimes occurs between whisky that has been rebottled by the distillery.
The DB5 is another great example of the magic of repackaging; the collaboration is a rebottled Bowmore final edition (which is actually edition 3 of 6 but that’s a whole other story). The original bottling of the Black Bowmore Final Edition would currently set you back less than £12,000 at auction. That is a £100,000 difference in value of two bottles of the exact same whisky – the only difference is the packaging – which just goes to show that in the world of whisky what you have on the inside really does not matter as long as you come in a nice bottle.
Another beautifully presented bottle, Tales of the Macallan Volume One, continued its stalwart performance this month, with a £77,000 hammer price. The bottle has performed steadily around the upper 70 thousands since its release in late 2021 giving a nice return for those that paid the £60,000 initial asking price. Given however that this is a 71 year old whisky distilled in 1950 and presented in a lalique decanter this might be one of the rare times that an attractively presented Macallan is somewhat undervalued. Given the name of this bottle we are expecting Volume Two to emerge at some point, in which case expect the value to start to climb.
Macallan Anecdote of Ages goes slowly
Macallan remains strong in general, but the first release from Macallan’s Anecdotes of Ages series in 2021 shows that doing well at the super premium end of the market is not quite as simple as putting whisky in a pretty label and box.
Anecdotes of Ages ‘Down to work’ is a 1967 vintage whisky, it is a limited edition of 322 and comes in a bottle with a Sir Peter Blake label, however it has no age statement and it was released at £50,000. Just to put that into perspective purchasers could pay just (we know, we know) £10,000 more for the Tales of Macallan 1950 71 year old in a Lalique decanter.
Whether it’s the decanter, the age statement, the release price or something else, the disparity in price with Anecdote of Ages appears to be filtering down into the secondary market; it has been seen at auction less than 15 times since May 2021 but has only met its reserve 5 times, and the most recent sale was just £42,700. ‘Down to Work’ is the first of a potential series of 13 Peter Blake labels designed for a 1967 cask of whisky. Macallan bottles tend to have a market of their own, and we would expect these prices to pick up if/once Macallan confirms they will be releasing editions with the other 12 designs. For now this bottle is somewhat stagnated, but given what’s happening with the Folio’s it is another one that may have potential – if you have a spare £50,000!
Speaking of the Folios
No roundup would be complete without touching upon the Macallan Archival Folio Series. Folio 1 continued to perform way ahead of its expected market, with the hammer price reaching £15,000 for one lot, however another lot with a 3mm crease in the cardboard packaging made just £12,000, showing just how important presentation is to the people who are bidding on these bottles.
Up to now the crazy leaps in value have been limited to Folio 1, but April saw big jumps in the Folio 2 and 3 hammer prices. Presumably as more people become aware of the madness happening with this series (Folio 1 up to £16,000 in March 2022 from c.£2,400 in March 2020) it is having a knock on effect on the prices across the other bottles in the series. Hammer prices for Folio 2 and 3 jumped over £2,000 in a month; Folio 2 went from £6,400 in March 22 to £8,700 in April 22 while Folio 3 had been as low as £5,900 in March 22 and peaked at £8,500 in the April 22 auctions.
What to watch
With the Platinum Jubilee looming we are expecting the ‘royal’ bottles to do well over the coming months. These have always been popular bottles, with attractive packaging, marking events that appeal to a historically wide audience and lending themselves to a pseudo vertical. King of the jubilee bottlings has always been Macallan, however our sources advise that Macallan are not planning a bottle to celebrate the event. Either this may mark the end of an era for Macallan and the Royals, or Macallan are keeping their cards close to their chest.
Another one to watch has to be the Macallan Distil Your World New York Limited Edition which is being released at select Macallan Boutiques. This is the third release in the collaboration with the Roco brothers which began in 2020 with the London edition and is expected to encompass other cities in the future. The numbers in the limited edition for this bottle has dropped from 2,000 for the London release to 1,000 for this edition and is expected to retail for around £4,000. The London release recently hit a £10,000 hammer price at auction, so expect big results from the Big Apple edition when it hits auctions.
Mark Littler is an independent whisky broker, market analyst and consultant with over a decade of experience in the industry. Each week he publishes new videos on his YouTube channel about topics such as cask investment fraud (and how to avoid it), the history of distilleries and bottles, debunking whisky investment myths and much more.
For more information visit www.marklittler.com