Auction Preview: Sotheby’s, London Is Putting a $5 Million Whisky Collection on the Block

It’s sure to be the whisky auction of the year. On Oct. 25, Sotheby’s will auction off one of the world’s most valuable whisky collections. Amassed by an anonymous single American owner, the $5 million asset has been dubbed “The Ultimate Whisky Collection” by Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s spirits specialist. The landmark sale underscores Sotheby’s new commitment to spirit auctions and promises to be a showcase for scotch not seen at live auction since the 2009 Bonhams series that encompassed the 3,000-bottle Willard S. Folsom Collection and spanned multiple countries. It’s easy to run out of superlatives for eye-popping whisky auctions, but I have genuinely never been more excited about a sale.

Massive Macallan

Sotheby’s has a strong history of bringing the finest Macallan to auction, but the magnitude of vintages in this sale is unparalleled. Macallan makes up 70% of the sale, with Sotheby’s cataloguing an unprecedented 178 bottles of The Macallan Fine & Rare series, covering vintages from 1937 to 1991; a further 104 Fine & Rare miniatures; and two complete sets of The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars in their bespoke cabinets. The 1926 Macallan Fine & Rare 60 year old is the star bottle (Est. $425,000–$545,000), and originates from the same cask as the bottles that broke $1 million in Hong Kong and London in 2018. I suspect the Fine & Rare label—with its somewhat less unique branding and packaging—may keep it from breaking the records set by the artistic designs created by Peter Blake, Valerio Adami, and Michael Dillon.

There is also a chance to bid on a bottle of The Macallan Anniversary Malt 50 year old, which comprises whisky from casks laid down in 1926 and 1928 (Est. $66,500–$91,000). This one is worth watching as a bottle sold at Bonham’s, Hong Kong in May this year for a hammer price of $153,000. In addition, there’s a Gordon & MacPhail 1938 Macallan, a 1949 Macallan 50 year old Millennium Decanter, and an abundance of Macallan Anniversary Malt 25 year old and 44 bottles of Macallan 18 year old vintages.

Further offerings from Speyside include a 1937 Glenfiddich 64 year old (Est. $66,500–$91,000), both the first and second releases of Glenfiddich 50 year old (Est. $18,000–$24,000), and an attractive bottle of 1937 Balvenie 50 year old (Est. $23,000–$30,000). Two 70 year old single malts, distilled at Mortlach (Est. $18,000–$24,000) and Glenlivet (Est. $17,000–$23,000) and bottled as part of the Gordon & MacPhail Generations series, will also be sold.

More Scotch Treasure

Beyond Speyside, the collection includes rare Islay whiskies, including every bottling of Black Bowmore, from the original trio released in the mid-1990s to Black Bowmore 42 year old (and its siblings, White 43 year old and Gold 44 year old) to Black Bowmore 50 year old (Est. $39,000–$46,000). Having witnessed the 1957 Bowmore 54 year old famously fail to sell in New York in 2012 for the second time in a month, I’ll be eagerly watching to see if Sotheby’s can attract the estimated $102,000–$133,000 price for this bottle. There’s also every Port Ellen vintage from the Diageo Special Releases and the rare 1965 Ardbeg (Est $9,700–$12,000), which has achieved impressive prices this year.

Highland whiskies are also in full force in this sale, with selections from Dalmore including a bottle of Eos 59 year old (Est. $60,000–$79,000) and three 50 year old expressions: the 1926 black ceramic decanter (Est. $20,500–$31,500), the crystal decanter at 52% ABV (Est. $24,000–$36,000), and the Baccarat decanter (Est. $36,000–$60,000) released in 2017 to mark master blender Richard Paterson’s 50th anniversary in the whisky business. There’s also a vertical of every Brora edition from the Diageo Special Releases, as well as the first official Brora 40 year old (Est. $15,000–$22,000), released in 2014.

Often a show-stealer in itself, the bottle of 1919 Springbank (Est. $121,000–$170,000) ensures that Campbeltown is represented, while an original Highland Park 50 year old (Est. $23,000–$31,500) and select releases from the distillery’s Orcadian Vintage series fly the flag for the islands.

The owner of the collection wishes to remain anonymous, but gave a quote through Sotheby’s, “Though I have always loved drinking whisky…I first began collecting wine. I then found myself looking at unique bottles of Scotch, initially attracted by the beauty of the labels. So I started this collection and realized that if I really spent time on it and was selective in my choices, I might be able to put together something significant and unique.”

While individual bottles from this collection appear at auctions throughout the year, what makes this sale particularly noteworthy is seeing such a concentration of remarkable whiskies from a single collector. Even if the price of these rarities goes beyond the budgets of all but the wealthiest whisky drinkers, as a spectacle, this will still be an auction that will live long in memory.

Sotheby’s will run online bidding ahead of a live auction on Oct. 24 in London.

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