Whisky Advocate

Do you participate in whisky auctions?

September 28th, 2011

If so, we would like to hear from you for an upcoming story we are considering. We’re interested in both buyers and sellers. If you’ve done both, that’s a plus. And if you’ve participated in one of the New York auctions, it’s also a plus. Please email our Managing Editor, Lew Bryson (lew@lewbryson.com) if you would like to participate and possibly be interviewed.

The nice thing about whisky auctions is that they provide a platform for buyers and sellers to legally conduct business. It’s a chance to finally get that bottle of whisky you’ve always been looking for. It also provides an opportunity for whisky enthusiasts, who are struggling in this terrible economy, to sell some extra bottles they have to help make ends meet.

So, let me throw it out to all of you.  Have you bought or sold at a whisky auction? If so, which auction? Were you happy with the results? Why or why not?

40 Responses to “Do you participate in whisky auctions?”

  1. anorak77 says:

    No!

    Collectors are making certain bottles completely unavailable to us who prefer to drink the stuff, thereby causing prices to skyrocket and denying younger people and others with limited funds the ability to increase our knowledge and appreciation of whisky in general.

    Ardbeg 17 & ’70s vintages, Springbank 21’s, Laga 21, various Broras, etc… I’ve only had the funds to try a couple of OB Brora 30’s. Short of exorbitantly priced miniscule 30ml samples available online, these others will sadly forever remain out of reach of my wallet, and a bottle will probably never grace my cabinet.

    In the meantime I’ve stocked up on one of my favorite drams, – Ardbeg ANB, the last *affordable* 17/18 year old we’ll see from Ardbeg in a long time, and already going for £100 on TWE ! When American stocks run as low as they have in Europe, we’ll be stuck at the auction house – Ebay or wherever else it ends up.

    • portwood says:

      anorak77, you make me laugh.

      On the one hand you say collectors are making certain bottles unavailable, on the other you say that you are stocking up on your favourite dram. That makes you a collector!

      If you were to stop drinking whisky suddenly, your estate (assuming none of your heirs liked Ardbeg) would need some way of selling those bottles. Voila, an auction house to the rescue!

      • Red_Arremer says:

        Portwood, you are misreading anorak77. I hope it’s not intentional.

        “Collecting” whisky is usually a speculative endeavor.

        “Stocking up” on the part of a middle class drinker is not a speculative endeavor. The bottles are intended to be drunk rather than “flipped” for a $ profit.

        It is always offensive when the interest of wealthy investors in this or that commodity leads directly to a situation where that commodity becomes unaffordable to less monied types. Whisky collecting follows this general course and in this sense can be equated with the much-hyped process of “gentrification.”

        • portwood says:

          Red,
          I’m not missreading anorak77 at all.

          I’m merely pointing out that the RESULT of his actions is the same as the collector he so despises. His “stocking up” is a form of collecting!!!

          The collector buys speculating the price will go up and he will make a profit. anorak77 buys on the FEAR the price will go up and he will have to pay more. Both result in fewer people holding a fixed number of bottles, thus contributing to the increase in price.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Portwood– The price of a whisky doesn’t go up simply because it’s scarce.

            It goes up because people are willing to pay more for it.

            Only collectors are willing to pay substantially more for a bottle simply because it is scarce.

            Someone who is buying to drink will not pay an ultra inflated price for a scarce bottle. Whisky drinkers who want to drink good whisky can only drive the price of a bottle up so far. At a certain point they will lose interest because they can get more/better other whiskies for the same or a lower price.

            For a collector, on the other hand, there is nothing more interesting or desirable than an increase price of an undrunk bottle. There is no bottle too expensive for a whisky collector as long as it’s price is expected to go up.

            Whisky collectors, do not have a standard of physical satisfaction from drinking, which would compel them to consider a bottle as overpriced and walk away from it– So there’s no limit to how much they will drive the price of a bottle up.

            The bad feelings of drinkers towards collectors are economically justified.

          • TheMandarin says:

            As appreciators and connoisseurs we tend to prefer a situation were people who drink whiskey will appreciate it, not reduce whiskey to being an investment marker. Also, as whiskey appreciators, we may want to see other whiskey appreciators get whiskey bottles at lower rather than higher prices. As a community of connoisseurs and appreciators we might prefer to see other whiskey appreciators have an easier (rather than harder) time finding their choice bottles. For this reason, Anorak77’s behavior would probably better be described as “rationing.” This makes a big differences, because if he’s an appreciator of whiskey there will still be a bottle of whiskey coming off the shelf and going into the glass of a whiskey appreciator without an “inserted,” middleman (aka mark up or and auction sale)…just a whiskey appreciator going to store and getting his whiskey. He buys alot apparently, but hopefully, he drinks it all. The fact that he drinks it over time really doesn’t matter (to me anyway).

            You mentioned the possibility that by decreasing the number of whiskey bottles on the shelf, a whiskey-rationer will bring about corresponding price increases. This is of course the law of supply and demand, an abstract, (semi) scientific principle that can observed across networks of commerce. However, 1-for-1-style supply and demand ratio might not operate in every single store. Whiskey companies may sell-through their whole 1st run and not raise prices on the second. They may raise prices, but that’s brings in factors and considerations beyond “how quickly a run sells out.” Therefore, we need to be capable about making simple conclusions like “Anorak buys alot whiskey from the store and he rations it so therefore, Anorak is increasing prices just like a collector/auctioneer,speculator does.” This type of statement comes close to collapsing the distinction between an appreciator and a calculating, auctioneer/ collector acting largely out of economic interest.

            One could also talk about the deep or sincere way that a collector might buy bottles just to look at them, loving his/her whiskey collection like it was a collection of beautiful antiques, but I’m not looking to judge that here. :)

          • TheMandarin says:

            Portwood:
            As appreciators and connoisseurs we tend to prefer a situation were people who drink whiskey will appreciate it, not reduce whiskey to being an investment marker. Also, as whiskey appreciators, we may want to see other whiskey appreciators get whiskey bottles at lower rather than higher prices. As a community of connoisseurs and appreciators we might prefer to see other whiskey appreciators have an easier (rather than harder) time finding their choice bottles. For this reason, Anorak77’s behavior would probably better be described as “rationing.” This makes a big differences, because if he’s an appreciator of whiskey there will still be a bottle of whiskey coming off the shelf and going into the glass of a whiskey appreciator without an “inserted,” middleman (aka mark up or and auction sale)…just a whiskey appreciator going to store and getting his whiskey. He buys alot apparently, but hopefully, he drinks it all. The fact that he drinks it over time really doesn’t matter (to me anyway).

            You mentioned the possibility that by decreasing the number of whiskey bottles on the shelf, a whiskey-rationer will bring about corresponding price increases. This is of course the law of supply and demand, an abstract, (semi) scientific principle that can observed across networks of commerce. However, 1-for-1-style supply and demand ratio might not operate in every single store. Whiskey companies may sell-through their whole 1st run and not raise prices on the second. They may raise prices, but that’s brings in factors and considerations beyond “how quickly a run sells out.” Therefore, we need to be capable about making simple conclusions like “Anorak buys alot whiskey from the store and he rations it so therefore, Anorak is increasing prices just like a collector/auctioneer,speculator does.” This type of statement comes close to collapsing the distinction between an appreciator and a calculating, auctioneer/ collector acting largely out of economic interest.

            One could also talk about the deep or sincere way that a collector might buy bottles just to look at them, loving his/her whiskey collection like it was a collection of beautiful antiques, but I’m not looking to judge that here. :)

    • Logan Mann says:

      If you wish to, as you say, increase your knowledge and appreciation of whisky, join a whisky club! You get to meet lots of new people, try new whisky, and learn a lot in the process. And the bottles you are mentioning: Lagavulin 21, Ardbeg 17,etc… I don’t believe those are not available to you because of the collectors, rather, they are not available to you because they are so limited and hard to come by. And being limited, rare, or what have you, they are going to cost more. That’s how it works in every market.

  2. Ralf Nachbauer says:

    Dear John,

    I have started to participate at one auction website since this year: http://whiskyauction.com/ as a buyer only . I’m very satisfied with the results so far. The website is quite efficient. If I get outbid, I receive an email notifying me so that I am able to bid again higher, if I want to (which I never do once my limit is reached). Since it is a site which operates within Germany, I also do not have any hassles with Customs. Simply great.

    Best regards

    Ralf

  3. Morgan Steele says:

    I don’t paticipate in whisky auctions. Candidly, I’m concerned about the sophisticated counterfeiting operations that exist. I’m interested in the auctions so I look forward to the article.

  4. Uffe says:

    reply to anorak77
    If it wasnt for collectors there would not be a single Ardbeg `70, springbank 21y, Laga 21 etc left to try! Then they would all have been drunk by now. Collections usually gets sold again thereby making old bottles available again, and yes at a cost, but live with it, you were just too late and the market sets the price.

    Hoarding Ardbeg ANB like mad is just leaving less for the rest of us, and isnt that what you are complaining about?

    I have bought several bottles from Whiskyaction.com and a few from Ebay (always fearing the worst, but havent been cheated yet)

  5. Lawrence says:

    I have bought and sold at auctions with very satisfactory results.

  6. lawschooldrunk says:

    I read about them afterwards in the news.

    Actually, I’m one of the secret callers driving up the price. Collectors- screw ‘em.

  7. MARS says:

    Since I started to drink and collect whisky 3 years ago, I have been buying whisky on ebay and sometimes on whiskyauction. But I am not driving price up as I am chasing the bargain’s.
    Still, a market outside the auction’s exist also and I will never have enough money to buy all the “bargain’s” I get. Brora being on the list too.
    Buy the brora 30 years old OB 2004 at 225€ 2 years ago and the 2010 at 220€ a few months ago.

  8. JWC says:

    Does eBay count? I’ve bought on eBay before. Had a very unpleasant experience with one seller but the rest have been fine.

  9. Chris says:

    I’ve yet to buy from an auction. I’m still at the point where I can’t afford to just buy a “standard” bottling whenever I feel like it. Also, I don’t feel as though I’ve found a distillery/brand that I love so much that I really need to shell out higher-than-retail prices just to try a different expression. Maybe in a few years, when I’ve won the lottery.

  10. Ruben says:

    I often buy bottles from http://www.whiskyauction.com – together with the newly started http://www.scotchwhiskyauctions.com it’s the only online auction I know of where you can find releases that are long gone. On the other hand, as a seller it’s quite expensive so I try to avoid it. Ebay used to be a nice platform as well, but nowadays (in Europe) it only seems to be used by regular stores who sell at fixed prices.

    I bought two bottles at Bonham’s once, a “real” auction house in the UK. I don’t recommend it, the prices seem low but afterwards they charge an additional “buyer’s premium” of 25%. Also, they don’t ship the goods (nor do they store them for you) so you have to hire an external pick-up / packaging / shipping company. These companies know they are indispensable, so they charge outrageous amounts of money. So unless you have someone in the UK who can take care of shipping the bottles to you, don’t be tempted unless you’re looking at buying something worth thousands of pounds anyway.

  11. ESJ says:

    Its sad the whisk(e)y industry has become so expensive and elitist. I, too, can barely to afford to buy “standard” bottlings, let alone the rare or “premium” releases. I enjoy everything about whiskey. Especially drinking it (heck, I even make it)! And I feel that its a travesty that someone like myself or Chris cannot experience these delicious drinks because someone else views them as an investment, or as some status symbol.

    On somewhat of a side note, I’ve felt this way for sometime and I guess now is as good of a time as any to express it: While I take great pleasure in reading every issue of Malt/Whisky Advocate, I am (for the most part) disappointed with the whiskies that are reviewed. Most seem to be premium or special releases which are too expensive for my budget. So I tend to skip over this (large) section of the magazine rather than read all the delicious tasting notes that I’ll probably never get to experience. For now I guess I’m stuck with the whiskies that probably weren’t even good enough to review… But hey, I still drink ‘em and love ‘em. And TWA is still a very informative magazine. Whisk(e)y does not need to be elitist, or make one feel more important that one truly is, for it to be enjoyed. Cheers!

    • Allen says:

      I too would like to see more reviews of standard bottlings in the magazine in addition to, and not in place of, the more expensive bottlings. I looked for but couldn’t find a review of Very Old Barton that received Best Buy Whiskey of the Year 2011 (along with Evan Williams). I know that a standard bottling is supposed to maintain a flavor profile from year to year, but re-visiting these bottles every 3 – 5 years wouldn’t be a bad idea.

  12. Jerome says:

    The only participation I have with whisky auctions is as a spectator. It is nice to see some of the legendary bottles still available, even if most of them are beyond my means. Probably my biggest gripe with auctions (and this problem is not particular to whisky auctions) is that it makes finding a deal on a local level much more difficult. I know of one shop which raised its price on a particular bottle simply because some yahoo was willing to pay a hefty price for it on a whisky auction website.

  13. Jazz Lover says:

    Don’t hate the Player,hate the Game!

  14. portwood says:

    I have not bought any whisky at auction for one simple reason: it is illegal for me to import alcohol, therefore I have no way of having it delivered to me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Chris S. says:

    Whisky auctions have become part of what I call “the Whisky World” nowadays.

    We all started from plain drinking, developed to nosing and ‘tasting’, and ended up in having a cabinet full of bottles, fighting with our wives for more “private” space in the house, calling our dog ‘Talisker’, teaching our kids to spell the names from the labels, older kids to “nose” and distinguish smoky and peaty from nonpeaty, going to whisky festivals, visiting distilleries, searching, reading and writing about whisky on the net daily, buying many whisky books, hunting old bottles (treasures I call them) in every little liquor store in the middle of nowhere and so on. It’s fun.

    There may be a time for some of us that we realize it is better to sell in an auction the “Loch Dhu”s we bought and have in our “collection” than open the bottle and drink, or even the “Laga”s 21 (with heavy heart though) if we realize that they will catch 6 times the price we paid. In the end, the profit will be transformed to whisky again…

    I consider myself a whisky fan first of all and secondly a collector of whisky miniatures and memorabilia. I am a buyer and occasionally a seller in the German auction site.

    The thing is, in an auction, you can find bottlings that you cannot find anywhere else. And someone already said how to enjoy the pleasures of a Laga 21, a Springbank 1966 Local Barley, a rare old Port Ellen or whatever, without spending a fortune since we cannot. Join a whisky club or establish one yourself with a few good friends so that you can share the cost of a bottle and -above all, because that is what whisky is all about- enjoy and appreciate the precious stuff on a long special night with good company.

  16. Danny Maguire says:

    I, like Chris S have a collection of whisky minatures, I also have a few bottles I’ve collected over the years. Basically they’re usually ones I’ve bought to drink but before I got round to it discovered they’re worth a lot more than I paid for them, with one exception, my bottle of the last cask filled at Dallas Dhu. But to answer the question, no, I’ve never participated in an auction, Like to find out a bit more about it before I dip my toe in the water. With reference to the comment about Bonhams. All auction houses charge a buyers premium, but 25% does seem a bit steep, most I’ve seen are mid to high teens.

  17. Tadas says:

    Look at the Bonhams auction fees and cost(http://www.bonhams.com/eur/HowToSell/). They are exorbitant beyond belief:
    * £20-£60 per lot, plus
    * Shipping cost to Bonhams, plus
    * 15% seller’s comission rate, plus
    * 1.5% loss and damage warranty, plus
    * optional £80-£200 illiustration charge, plus
    * optional £5-£10 web illiustration charge, plus
    * 21% VAT tax, plus
    * 10% buyers’s comission rate

    • John Hansell says:

      Having a quick look at your fee list, I see you are including both buyer’s and seller’s fees, and all the optional fees. This is unrealistic. If, for example, someone is selling whisky, and they drop off the whisky at the auction site, the fees do not seem that exhorbitant. Plus, for the auctions here in the U.S., there is no VAT tax.

      • Tadas says:

        Buyer cares about the total price he pays for an item. So you need to calculate also buyer’s fees into equasion. Simple accounting. It does not matter how you call a fee it is still a fee. All money are coming from buyers pocket.

        Here is a scenario:
        * Let’s assume bottle sold and the buyer paid total of £200 for it with all fees added in.
        * Cost to ship bottle to an auction house £15.
        * Illustrations option was not chosen.
        * Only one web illustration for £5.

        The buyer gets £94 if sold at Bonham’s Knightsbridge location
        The buyer gets £59 if sold at Bonham’s New Bond Street location

        Fees/costs/taxes add up to be between 112% and 239% of the proceeds. To make any profit seller needs a bottle to appreciate in value at least 2-4 times before it is a profitable business.

        They did not list fees for the US Auctions so I cannot get calculations for US.

        • Jonny McCormick says:

          From a UK perspective, Bonham’s whisky sales are all in Edinburgh, not in London, so the regional rates apply. Secondly, if you drop your whisky off at a UK regional Bonham’s office, often they will transfer it to Edinburgh for valuation and sale without charge. Whenever you consign whisky to an auction house, they will go through all the charges with you if you are new to it – if not, just ask them!
          OK – Here are my equations and calculations from the Bonham’s site:
          If the hammer price of the bottle is £200, then there is 15% commission to pay by the seller (200*0.15=£30). This is the fee that will cover the services of the auction house i.e. valuation of the bottle, catalogue listing, advertising the sale and running of the auction etc. A £200 bottle is therefore above the minimum commission value (i.e. the lowest it could be is £20, which matters if you are selling a bottle worth £50 but not at this level). Then there is 1.5% Loss and Damage Warranty (200*0.015=£3). Your bottle is in someone else’s hands until it passes to the new buyer after all. I’ll go for a £5 web illustration like Tadas but no catalogue illustration (to tempt the online bidders). This means we have £38 (£30+£3+£5=£38) of charges to pay 20% VAT on (38*0.2=£7.60). This adds up to £45.60 (£38+£7.60=£45.60) in total, which means the seller receives £154.40 for the sale of their bottle.

          Overall, the proportion you end up paying in fees will depend on the value of the bottle – at £200, you take home ~75% of the hammer price with these calculations. For a £1000 bottle, you take home ~80% of the hammer price.

          And if your bottle ends up in the hands of a whisky club like Chris S suggests above and on some Friday night, its flavours and secrets are shared with many eager new whisky drinkers who would never get to taste it otherwise, then I’m all for that.

          • John Hansell says:

            Thank you for the clarification, Jonny.

          • Joe Hyman says:

            I sold some whisky through Bonham’s in their last auction in NY…All they charged me was a whopping 1% of the hammer price, not so bad I think. I have also purchased at their NY auctions. They add a 17% buyers premium plus NY sales tax. They will not ship to MA, so I have to pick up my lots. If you have a lot shipped to you, they add your own state tax (instead of NY).
            As far as hammer prices being too exorbitant, I have found tremendous bargains as well, so I think the pricing aspect kinda mirrors the whisky market at large.

          • Joe Hyman says:

            Oh yeah, if you pay by cash or check, they knock 2% off the auction fee.

          • Tadas says:

            Wow, a lot lower fees at Bonham’s in NY versus UK.

          • Tadas says:

            Jonny, in my sample I did not calculate the illustration charge. I have a degree in math.
            You forgot to add buyers fee to the total.
            You forgot to add lot charge.
            You forgot to calculate VAT for the total price, not just VAT on fees.
            ALL those fees should be calculated to the total. The buyer pays for everything. You should use the price buyer pays, not some funny middle value. Compare what you as a seller get against to what the buyer pays and you can see that most of the amount goes to the fees and only small part goes to seller’s pocket.

  18. MrTH says:

    The purpose of an auction is to identify the individual willing to pay the most for an item. That’ll never be me.

  19. Chap says:

    I showed whiskyauction.com to a friend of mine recently, and he’s both spent ridiculous money on one or two bottles, and found a few nice bargains. The process is too rich for my wallet, but if I had more disposable income I’d do so. It’s the only way to try some of those bottles out. One of the ridiculously expensive ones? That Convalmore 23 Dave Broom noted a while back. My friend shared a taste of it with me, so life it is good…

  20. richard says:

    Why shop at auction when dusty hunting is so fun and easy?

  21. Razboinici says:

    I love auctions and use them both ways: buying and selling. In fact, I have been so fortunate that with the proceeds I have been able to pay for all the whisky I have consumed during my entire life plus my complete collection of some 200 bottles. Thank you! Slainte!

    You display herd behavior, if you believe collectors, investors and other evil folk place the holy whisky grail beyond your reach. The first time I opened a Port Ellen/Brora/ single cask Karuizawa I expected to hear angelic trumpets and find ambrosia. In stead, rather disappointingly, the corks just popped and inside was just whisky. Fine whisky, sure, but not the kind of stuff to leave your wife for.

    Remember that with thousands and thousands of whiskies and other fine spirits to choose from, most of them are bound to stay out of your reach, regardless their price. You can find absolutely fantastic 90+ whiskies for less than $150. The art is in knowing when and where to turn left when everyone else is turning right.

  22. Chris @ LAWS says:

    I’ve bought and sold at auction and consider it part of the fun of being into single malts. And despite having what most would call a collection, it’s only because I buy them faster than I can drink them. I think there are probably few people out there that purely collect for profit. You need to be passionate about whisky to invest the time to know what to collect. If somebody is passionate about whisky and selling some bottles at auction to pay for this rather expensive hobby, more power to them.

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