Whisky Advocate

Whisk(e)y prices keep soaring

September 19th, 2008

The prices of whisk(e)ys keep going up so fast. When will there be an end to it?

 Some recent observations:

The Balvenie 1964 Vintage for $14,000

The William Heavenhill Signature Commemorative Bourbon (18 years old) for $500

Even some of the U.S. microdistilleries are selling some pricy whiskies:

Triple Eight Distillery’s eight year old “Notch” at $888

Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey, Batch #2 at $325

I’m not here to debate the quality of these whiskies. I have not tasted all of them, but the ones I have are quality products. It’s just that I’ve been writing about whisky for two decades, and these prices surprise me. I realize that packaging (and rarity) has a lot to do with the pricing, but still this is a lot of money for the ages of these whiskies.

I wonder: when will these soaring prices finally peak?

16 Responses to “Whisk(e)y prices keep soaring”

  1. Tony Menechella says:

    Hi John,
    I think that a lot of us are wondering the same thing, but when somebody such as yourself is surprised by rising prices, then that really speaks volumes. I know that I’ve really cut back on my purchases, especially the high priced limited releases, and would be surprised if more consumers haven’t as well. But, if there are still collector’s out there willing to pay top dollar, then it’s really hard to tell when it will peak. Consumers like us are the ones that suffer, and I’m really starting to have issues with some of these distilleries that are obviously bottling and packaging their whisky for the collector’s market rather than the consumer’s market. To re-iterate my comments from a previous post, I thought that whisky was crafted for us to enjoy amongst our friends??

  2. JC Skinner says:

    I presume you meant ‘soaring prices’, but somehow ‘souring’ seems very appropriate given the taste I sense in my mouth perusing those sort of prices.
    I think you have hinted in recent times at something I’ve long felt – whisky has become a bubble market distorted by speculators at the end of the market where it’s less about drinkable products and much more about their exclusivity and ‘collectability.’
    The bottom line is that all bubbles burst, as we’ve seen in global house prices recently. How will the speculators feel when they realise that, at the end of the day, what they’ve bought for their tens of thousands is, when all is said and done, simply a single bottle of good whisky?
    On the plus side for those who do invest and get burnt, at least their assets will remain liquid!

  3. Ivan Stoler says:

    Hmmm, let’s see, AIG almost gone, Bear Stearns gone, WaMu teetering, Merrill Lynch shrunk in the wash. I think we’ll see a return to earth (at least in the US market) real soon. Maybe not overseas, but here, real soon.

  4. John Hansell says:

    Yep, I meant soaring. Fixed it. But I suppose either would work.

  5. lawschooldrunk says:

    I think prices will peak when russia, india, and china disappear from the map. It has very little to do with the cost of production (i.e. poor excuses of small quantities of barley). It’s all about the demand.

    Ardbeg 10 now costs over $50? Puleeease. Time for a mass consumer strike that will never happen.

  6. kallaskander says:

    Hi John,

    what is troubling me more is that in the wake of the frenzy the prices for so called standard bottlings eg. 10 or 12 yo whiskies are rising as well. And too fast.

    We here calculate in Euros and the range of standard whiskies is nearing the 40 Euro mark fast. Not sure what that is in dollars but truth is that the prices of standards were at the 20-25 Euro mark 5 years ago.

    The same in the UK of course where standards are nearing the 40 Pound mark.

    The whisky industry world wide is blinded by the chances and opportunities true or imagined the BRIC M countries seem to promise and are prepared to jeopardise their classic European American und Asian markets for 2 digit growth figures in these emerging markets.

    BRIC M stands for Brasil Russia India China Mexico by the way. As long as the profits are made there concerns over prices in the old markets are surplus to requirements to the big global players.

    Diageo Pernod-Ricard and Bacardi have alone invested over 300 Million pounds in new facilities and extension of existing distilleries warehousing complexes and bottling plants.

    The total sum of investments in Scotland for new whisky related operations is over 500 Million Pounds 2007-2009.

    That is not done for us. The Big Boys are not adveres to taking our money but the tune we all dance to is not played here but there and in the key of BRIC M.

    So take it or leave it old markets. Follow or dearth.

  7. John Hansell says:

    Yes guys, you’re right. The most significant price increases right now aren’t these ultra high-end products (they affect such a small segment of the market), but rather the entry level whiskies. What is a good value any more? That’s worthy of its own separate posting, which I will do shortly.

  8. sam k says:

    Now is the time to re-evaluate your decisions when purchasing whisk(e)y. There are still some old favorites out there that aren’t hosing the traditional market the way some others are. As an American whiskey drinker, I first saw this coming when Heaven Hill began pricing their ultra-aged Rittenhouse Rye at $125 a bottle a few years back. Now they’re up to $500 for the distillery-only Heavenhill that’s spent less time in the barrel than the Rittenhouse 23 year old.

    However, when you look closely, the original Rittenhouse BIB is still around $15. Same mash bill as the more expensive version, way less time in bond, but still great whiskey. Evan Williams 1783 is another good buy from the same distillery, as is Heaven Hill BIB 6 year old. Good value is available to the careful buyer, and I’m sure the same can be said of the scotch situation. Sure, the available selection shrinks when applying this guideline, but it still makes for quality, affordable drinking. Let me see…a single excellent bottle for $500, or 33 very good $15 bottles for $500. Hmmmm…

  9. Rick Duff says:

    I think the real problem, and shame to all of this is that so much of it is for the collectors market. If there wasn’t such a good market for that, you really wouldn’t see this. What is so shameful is that these companies do come out with the rare great whiskeys and nobody can afford them except the collectors, and then they won’t open them. It is a crime to leave good whisky sitting on a shelf! It was made to be tasted and consumed, not viewed as a work of art.

  10. Ethan Prater says:

    For Scotch it has seemed reasonable to attribute this constant increase to exchange rates, but the similar trend seems to be happening with American whiskey.

    Even Four Roses is getting into the act. My favorite bourbon distillery, and the regular Yellow Label is still on the edge of being a good value at $20 (although any more and they’re over the line).

    But the new Mariage is retailing for $74. Bottled at barrel strength, and I believe non-chill-filtered, but when their single bottle is still (appropriately priced, but still a little high) in the high 30s, these new releases are feeling especially pricey.

  11. John Hansell says:

    As you can see with the sister thread to this discussion, it seems the best values right now aren’t the high end or entry level, but rather somewhere in the middle. Talisker 18 yr. is a good example.

  12. R.J. Knuth says:

    As a collector of the Balvenie Vintage Casks and limited editions this is the last straw. There is no way a person of normal income can even hope to have a collection. After finally finding away to get the last airport duty free special edition out of DeGaulle airport (a measly $1000 list) or chasing down a 1961 VC in Japan finding a first version 1964 in New Jersey or even tracking down the fairly unknown 1951 was within the budget of many of us with enough planning, scrimping and saving but $14K is out of the question. I’m giving up.

  13. John Hansell says:

    Yes, we’re getting to a point where high-end whiskies have gone from “expensive but somehow justafiable” to “there’s no way I can justify paying that much”.

  14. Regarding Charbay’s Whiskey bottle price: Trust me, Miles & Marko would give away most of their spirits if they could stay in business! Charbay is independent, family run & self funded.
    We remain a small family run artisan distillery which means we can push the envelope when it comes to ingredients, methods, stills, time spent making each spirit and how long to age them. We can take the classics to a new level.
    The Charbay Whiskey, Release II is part of a series that we started in 1999. The concept is to be able to taste this complex Whiskey as it continues to age through different phases through the years. The first release of two barrels sold out at $325 a bottle – at full barrel strength. Release II, now two years older, is at 110 proof & we held the price. With two more years of aging, of loss through evaporation and the expenses of holding product – well, it’s a passion, not a strict business. What I thought was going to be a three phase release just might be shifting – that’s the artisan side of Charbay. I hope at $325 a bottle some of you will be able to get to gether and taste it. But also, on Fridays at Tra Vigne here in St. Helena, Napa Valley, we have the Charbay Artisan Distillery Bar where one of us from the family is there to talk about the Charbay Wines & Spirits. So come in, introduce yourself as one of John Hansell’s loyal followers & let’s see what we can do for you. There’s a lot of soul in each Charbay Spirit. When you’ve spent enough late nights beside the still, there is a deep respect that comes from what nature provides and distilling brings forth. Along with raising children, running the still by myself was one of the most meaningful experiences I know. I can’t wait ’til we release our ’83 Charbay brandy. Miles & Marko carry on 12 & 13 generations of distilling.
    And to those of you who follow the spirits & all their stories – you make the circle complete, you are why we artisan distillers excell. We hope to meet you along the way.
    Best Wishes, Susan Karakasevic AKA ‘Mom’ at Charbay Winery & Distillery

  15. John Hansell says:

    Susan, thank you for taking the time to respond in such great detail–and to explain your side of the story. — John

  16. […] (Side note: earlier in 2009, John Hansell of Malt Advocate started a couple of good conversations about whiskey prices and high-value whiskies on his blog here and here.) […]

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