Mark Littler returns with his monthly look at the world of whisky auctions.
WELCOME back. It’s been a month of highs, with plenty to talk about in the world of whisky investing. Last month we signed off with speculation about The Macallan jubilee bottling and, against all expectations, it is now pretty fair to assume that it is not releasing a commemorative bottle for the platinum jubilee.
There are plenty of reasons why this may be, from political position, to the risks associated with doing a commemorative bottling for a woman with ailing health. There are plenty of collectors who are disappointed not to have a new royal bottle to add to their collection. They have had plenty of other opportunities to get their hands on royal themed bottlings, and the market for royalty related bottles has continued to blossom.
The Port Ellen 12 year old to commemorate the Queen’s visit is considered the earliest single malt distillery bottling from Port Ellen. It isn’t known exactly how many were produced, but the estimate is around 40. These bottles continue to perform well every time they appear at auction, the latest bottle sold for £100,000 at Whisky Auctioneer, a substantial jump from £72,000 at the start of 2021.
This is an interesting result at the higher end of the old and rare market. Most whisky bottle sales are less than £10,000 and as such, results such as this are a good test of resilience at the upper end of the market for ultra rare vintage bottles.
It’s not all sunshine and quick profits for buyers of commemorative bottlings; Gordon & MacPhail released a Glen Grant 1952 70 year old to mark this jubilee. The recommended retail price was £20,000 and several bottles are still available at retail. That didn’t stop one bottle from appearing at auction, however it failed to meet its reserve, but reached £13,400 by the end of the auction.
Japanese whisky weighs in
Other interesting results from Whisky Auctioneer last month was a Karuizawa Sumo Trio selling for £42,000, whereas a Black Bowmore Trio failed to meet its reserve at £32,000. Japanese whisky continues to perform well, especially these rare vintage bottlings from the likes of Karuizawa. The Bowmore result is somewhat surprising when you consider this includes the same whisky as the DB5 version that went for more than £115,000 including buyer’s premium in April.
Over at Scotch Whisky Auctions, there were some interesting results for the blended side of the market. Compass Box is a brand that continues to produce high-end blended whisky that has created its own demand in the secondary market. Many of the limited edition releases are doing well, and the June auction saw the Compass Box Whisky & Ink limited edition reach £5,000, despite not having its original box, and Compass Box Lady Luck went for £1,100 hammer. The highest price for the Whisky & Ink bottling was from October 2021, but this result is the second highest and, given the recent sale didn’t have its box, this is still an interesting top-end result. Compass Box as a brand focuses on high-end blends in super limited editions – Whisky & Ink was an edition of just 300 released in 2015. It is getting great reviews, but perhaps just as poignantly, it produces beautifully designed labels…
The second oldest whisky in the world
This month saw a bottle of the once oldest whisky in the world appear at auction. Scotch Whisky Auctions hosted the sale for the Gordon & Macphail Generations Glenlivet 80 year old, which – when released in September 2021 – briefly held the record for the oldest whisky ever released. The record has since gone back to The Macallan following the release of its 81 year old earlier this year.
In October last year decanter number one of the 250 80-year-old bottles broke records for the most expensive independently-bottled whisky when it sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for just under £150,000 including premium, with proceeds from the sale going to Trees For Life, a project to rewild the Caledonian forest. That particular lot included the original cask head, a signed print, and exclusive experience. Decanter 218 sold at Whisky Auctioneer in November 2021 for £80,000; the most recent sale at Whisky Auctioneer appeared to have been bid to £60,000 but we are unsure whether the lot met its reserve.
Casks of gold
June saw two casks of distinction entered into Sotheby’s auctions – a 1979 Port Ellen cask and a 1982 Brora cask. Each hand-picked cask was listed with a host of incredible extras, and each sold for £700,000 plus buyers premium. Both Brora and Port Ellen have been brought back online by Diageo this year and we think it is pretty safe to assume that these officially-released casks are part of a wider marketing package by Diageo. Given the history of special releases from the two distilleries and now these official casks, we think this is a good indication that, when new Brora and Port Ellen whiskies are finally available, they are going to be at the premium end of the market. As such, expect marketing efforts like these to have a positive impact on the secondary market for both of these distilleries.
The requisite Macallan madness
It wouldn’t be a column from us if we didn’t touch on The Macallan again. Last month, we saw the release of the 2022 Macallan 18 year old, and as expected hundreds of bottles have already hit auctions and results have been the requisite madness we have all come to expect from The Macallan. The bottles initially sold on The Macallan website for £320 but retailers quickly upped the base price to £450, which has been around the average auction price. It is just bizarre because there have been more than 500 sales of the 2021 release in the past 12 months, and the price has stabilised around £350 to £400, so buyers could easily wait a few months to pay less – they just don’t want to.
The thing with whisky is that it is all about patience; whether it is waiting for a cask to mature or waiting for a bottle price to stabilise. One thing we always say about whisky is nothing moves quickly, and that’s something to take into collecting practices too, especially with modern bottlings.
Finally, we’re rounding up for the month with our old friends at Springbank. Last month saw the release of the 30 year old as part of its core collection. Harking back to the days of the dumpy bottles, this edition was initially available at retail for £865. Springbank is renowned for pricing its bottles for drinkers, but that doesn’t stop the flippers. The current auction record stands at £3,850 hammer, but prices may well rise further.
Mark Littler is an independent whisky broker, market analyst, and consultant, with over a decade of experience in the industry. Each week, he publishes 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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