Over the past few years the prices of whisky at auction have risen quite dramatically. Here at Whisky Online we tend to get record prices for the oldest, rarest and most desirable bottles on the market. We also source whiskies that aren’t found in any other auctions so the prices for these can often be quite remarkable, a good example being the Laphroaig 1967 Samaroli which fetched £5700 in our March sale last year.
The way the prices have change though has been quite fascinating and the shifting buying patterns behind it are quite telling. We aren’t usually surprised when bottles such as the Macallan 1928 50 year old or the Springbank 1919 fetch world record prices of £20,100 and £27,200 respectively; these bottles are now virtually impossible to find and will always attract premium price tags. These two bottles remain the highest prices paid for any bottles in online auctions and the highest prices for bottles in the UK last year and this year so far.
What Influences Buyers?
What is more interesting is in the mid-upper ranges of an auction, how people’s spending patterns are affecting prices. Ten years ago the driving force behind a bottle’s value was mostly down to the contents of the bottle; the quality of the whisky drove the price. This is still a major factor today and can be seen at its most potent with bottles such as the James MacArthur Port Ellen 12 year old from a couple of months ago which fetched £8200, the highest price ever paid for a Port Ellen at auction.
There are new factors influencing bidding now though. In recent years the notion of whisky as an investment has started to be more explicitly explored and written about. This has in turn brought new money to the secondary whisky market, buyers who buy purely from an investment perspective and not always with the most knowledge or from the angle of a drinker. This has been partially responsible for the upsurge in prices for whiskies like Macallan and many other official distillery releases, closed distilleries and of course Karuizawa.
collectors, drinkers or investors.
The old idea of whisky just being bought by collectors or drinkers or investors is fading to a murky mix of all three. The majority of people who buy now do so with a curious mix of intentions and will often buy without much of an idea of what they’ll ultimately do with a bottle. Another influence of new buying patterns is the ‘new collector’. These are buyers who have become interested in whisky in recent years and will collect largely newer releases and more modern bottlings. These enthusiasts came to whisky largely after the end of the age of innocence with its old bottles and old prices. They have been responsible for the sharp rise in bottles such as Arran as a collectable whisky and many other new releases that have since proven deeply popular on the secondary market. Bowmore Devils Cask being a good example.
Biggest Success stories
Perhaps one of the biggest success stories at auction in recent years though has been Karuizawa. This is the perfect storm of terrific whisky, beautifully packaged, from a closed distillery, always in limited quantities and always fairly priced upon release. Almost all Karuizawas fetch great prices these days but in our last auction the 1967 hit a new record of £8000 and the 1964 for Wealth Solutions achieved an impressive £17,600 which is the highest price paid for a Karuizawa outside Hong Kong.
For the moment prices looks set to remain strong, certainly for the right bottles. And while the market continues to diversify, if we’ve learned one thing over the past few years of auctioneering, its that the right bottle – left to run freely in our auction – will always fetch an impressive price. Just look at two Bowmores from last years sales, the 1955 ceramic visitor centre bottling which fetched £4600 and the 1964 one of only 99 bottles for Oddbins which hit £6600. Both bottles that hadn’t seen auction for a long time when they arrived with us and both smashed their upper estimates and hit new world records. The perfect storm of incredible whisky, real rarity and massive hunger for these bottles on the market always delivers top prices.