Mark Littler takes his monthly look at the world of whisky auctions.
WELCOME back to the new whisky column, where this month we are discussing all things Scotch, as well as some new records for Japanese single malt.
Before we get into the Japanese side of things, let’s kick off with our one to watch from last month; Macallan Distil Your World New York, which has done as well as expected. This travel exclusive bottle retailed for $2,500 and two bottles have already hit auction, going for £18,250 and £20,500. Distil Your World London also jumped to £13,500 from a high of £10,000 previously. This looks like the start of another high-performing, non-vintage, non-agestatement series from The Macallan.
Another bottle we mentioned last month was the Springbank special releases for the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Appeal. Four bottles of the £60 recommended retail price (RRP) 10-year-old Springbank hit auctions last month, eventually reaching between £1,400 and £1,500 hammer. The two bottles sold on Whisky Auctioneer were both charity lots, with the hammer price and buyers’ commission all donated to the DEC Ukraine Appeal, which Springbank chose originally as the recipients of the charity bottle sale.
We also mentioned that Springbank was running its own charity auction for six bottles of 21 year old in charity colours, again to raise money for the DEC appeal. The top bid was £12,275 and, while we do not know what the five next highest bids were, we are going to hazard a guess that Springbank has likely raised in excess of £60,000 for the DEC Ukraine Appeal, which is a fantastic achievement, alongside the original £11,000 it raised from the sale of the 10-year-old bottles.
Japanese whisky making waves
Moving a bit further afield, Bonhams Hong Kong recently closed its fine and rare wines and whisky auction. According to our records, Bonhams still holds the record for the most expensive Japanese whisky ever sold from its August 2020 sale, where it sold a Yamazaki 55 year old for almost $800,000.
Its May 2022 sale was time for the 50-year-old Yamazaki to shine and it went for just over £499,000 including buyers premium, which is just slightly higher than the previous second place record held by Whisky Auctioneer for a bottle of Yamazaki 55 year old, which sold for £476,000 including premium in October 2021.
This is an interesting moment for Japanese whisky as a whole, which continues to perform well. In this same sale, Bonhams also sold a 55-year-old Yamazaki for just over £459,000 (including premium), making it the fourth most expensive bottle of Japanese whisky ever sold and a 42-year-old Karuizawa 1965 for just over £105,000 (including buyers’ premium), putting it in the top ten highest prices for a Karuizawa. Some thought that the enthusiasm for Japanese whisky might be slowed once the tariff on Scotch being imported to the United States was removed, but the momentum seems set to continue.
Many bottles of Japanese whisky are beautifully designed, even the mid to low range ones. Considered aesthetics combined with great reviews for taste and a tendency toward single cask, cask strength bottlings with low edition numbers may be part of what is making these bottles so appealing to collectors. It is well understood that Japanese whisky distilleries have been stretched to meet demand over recent years, with many popular age statements dropped from regular releases. It will be interesting to see how the market evolves once the current adjustments to production start to appear on shelves.
Macallan Jubilee bottling still absent
With the Queen’s jubilee celebrations imminent, it is getting to the point that we might actually have to believe that The Macallan has chosen not to release a celebratory bottling. Of course, the monarchy is not everyone’s favourite but, given the secondary market demand for royal-themed bottlings, we are somewhat surprised that The Macallan has chosen not to capitalise on the potential profit.
Released in 2012 as a limited edition of 2,012, the “Diamond Jubilee” bottle was first seen at auction in August that year, where it sold for a modest £400. Since then it has risen in value considerably thanks to increases in the market in general and particularly for The Macallan and its limited-edition bottlings. The last year has seen that increase jumping significantly. In its first appearance of 2021, a bottle sold at Whisky Hammer for £4,300 in February, and this year the May auctions saw a bottle sell for £9,500 at Just Whisky Auctions.
Another royal bottling seeing the knock-on effects of the jubilee is The Macallan Coronation set. Released as a two-35cl bottle set in a dramatic red presentation box, the bottling celebrates the transition from a young queen on her coronation to a mature head of state after 60 years, with two differently casked whiskies to represent the change. The commemorative Macallan Coronation bottling achieved £2,400 at Scotch Whisky Auctions in April 2021 and, over the past 12 months, has jumped up to £4,600 as of April 2022.
The other royal-themed bottles, including the two Royal Marriages and Macallan Silver Jubilee, have also seen increases, although not quite as significant as the jumps seen with the Diamond Jubilee and Coronation bottles. With demand clearly still very high for commemorative bottles, you will have to excuse us that we will not be truly convinced that The Macallan has nothing planned until the bank holiday is officially over.
What to watch
Other than keeping your eyes on your inbox for the – possibly – mythical Macallan Jubilee bottling, The Macallan 18-year-old 2022 edition is also being released this month. The 18 year old isn’t a limited edition and has generally been exempt from first-month jumps at auction as stock has remained available at retail. That being said, without sounding like a broken record, the market for The Macallan is in a universe of its own these days, so we are ready to be proved wrong.
Another interesting one to keep an eye on is Glenfarclas. Earlier in May, the family-owned distillery was broken into and around £150,000 worth of Family Cask bottles were stolen from where they were on display in the visitors’ centre. We don’t expect these bottles to appear at auction any time soon, but apparently the news story has been having a positive impact on Glenfarlcas’ secondary market value, proving the old adage that no press is bad press.
We believe Glenfarclas is a generally undervalued single malt anyway, so we will be interested to see how the press affects the market. And, of course, if anyone offers you some stolen Glenfarclas, make sure you get in touch with Police Scotland.
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
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