Archive for the ‘Auctions’ Category

Examining the New Whisky Auction Record

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Author - Johnnie McCormickJonny McCormick puts the auction of The Macallan M Constantine in perspective.

Sotheby’s, Hong Kong have set a new record for the highest auction price for a bottle of whisky. On Saturday January 18th, the sum of $620,000 was reportedly paid for The Macallan “M” decanter. The Macallan partnered with Lalique to produced four ‘Imperiale’ 6-liter decanters designed by Fabien Baron. Each of the imposing vessels was named after a Roman Emperor: Caesar, Augustus, Justinian, and Constantine. It took 17 craftsmen over 50 hours to produce each statement piece, which weighed 16.8 kg (37 lbs.) when filled with whisky. The Speyside single malt whisky within is a non-age statement vatting of The Macallan from distinctive casks dating from the 1940s-1990s selected by their whisky maker, Bob Dalgarno.

So let’s take a longer look at the numbers. This sale breaks the record that stood for 1,160 days from Sotheby’s, New York for The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue (hammer price $460,000). Careful checking of the Sotheby’s, HK website reveals that The Macallan (lot 212) in their Finest & Rarest Wines auction sold for HK$4 million, a figure boosted to HK$4.9million ($620,000) with the addition of the 22.5% buyer’s premium.

The Macallan M Hong Kong Auction

Hammer Time!

Due to local taxes and variable buyer’s premiums between auction houses, the only practical manner to meaningfully compare international prices is to use the hammer price. In this case, I calculate that HK$4 million to be $515,600, an increase of 12% over the previous record. Contemplate that if Sotheby’s, New York had charged 22.5% on the one-off sale of The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue, the press releases of the day would have championed its sale at $563,500, not $460,000. Check the search engines and you’ll see that I’m right.

The large format of the bottle, (unique in The Macallan’s history) undoubtedly contributes to its value. You will recall that world records were claimed for the Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts 55 year old when it was first auctioned. However, it was The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue 1.5L, not the Glenfiddich, which was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.

The Macallan M is a 6-liter decanter, so I make that an equivalent value of $64,450 per 750 ml (or $2,580 for a 1oz. pour; and there are 200 pours inside). The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue was a 1.5L ship’s decanter, so by the same measures, that’s worth $230,000 per 750 ml. For comparison, the top price paid for Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts 1955 was $94,000 for a standard sized bottle. However, Lalique is highly collectable and the desirability of a beautiful object of this magnitude can transcend the boundaries of whisky collecting. Standing at 28 inches tall, The Macallan M is definitely no standard bottle.

You can be too big, of course. The world’s largest bottle of single malt whisky, authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records, is a 105.3 liter bottle of 14 year old Tomintoul. It was valued at $164,000 to $246,000, but failed to sell at auction when offered last December. I don’t imagine it’s an easy pour at that size, but that’s still a staggering $1,168 per 750 ml at the low estimate! It can work both ways. A miniature of Karuizawa 1964 48 year old sold at an online auction last year for £1,100, the equivalent of $27,000 per 750 ml, even though a full bottle fetched a mere $6,000 at Bonhams, New York.

Well then, does age matter? It is noteworthy that the upper echelons of the list of top prices for auctioned whisky bottles are untroubled by non-age statement whiskies. Until now, that is. The Macallan M is a balance of some very old whiskies with younger whisky from the 1990s. Clearly, an age statement of around 20 years would have been legally accurate but inelegant and inappropriate to competently describe Bob Dalgarno’s creation. The Dalmore Oculus in 2009 (now the 14th most expensive bottle auctioned) is the closest equivalent project that comes to mind. Even so, it’s interesting to note that the majority of the most expensive whisky bottles ever auctioned were bottled in the 21st century and sold to collectors from new by the producers.

How about the charity angle? The proceeds of the hammer price will benefit charities in Hong Kong. Sotheby’s have agreed to donate part of their $100,000 buyer’s premium too. Although four ‘Imperiale’ M decanters were made, this was the only public offering. Two others sit in The Macallan archive and one was sold before the auction (not for charity) to a collector in Asia. That matters, as Bowmore found in 2012, following their two unsuccessful attempts to auction the Bowmore 1957 54 year old for $160,000 for charity when there were eight similar bottles for sale on Islay at the same price (and without the competition). The Bowmore 1964 auctioned for £61,000 at last October’s Distillers’ Charity Auction demonstrated just how well they could execute a one-off spectacular.

Lastly, how does the location of the sale in Hong Kong reflect on the auction market? Both decanters of The Macallan M have been sold in Asia. Sotheby’s wine department does not routinely deal with rare whiskies other than working in conjunction with The Macallan. Bonhams 2013 sales in Hong Kong were very impressive, and it has become one of the strongest growing markets for whisky auctions on the planet.

My congratulations go to The Macallan, Lalique, Baron & Baron, and Sotheby’s, on this outstanding achievement, not forgetting the successful bidder. I recognize this record as the world’s most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at live auction (although history books should record the HK$4 million hammer price). Furthermore, I wager that only The Macallan can potentially break this record at present.

London Whisky Auction Nets $405,000 For Charities

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Ian Buxton Energetic bidding by some enthusiastic collectors saw just 55 lots of rare whiskies raise over $400,000 at an auction in London’s Apothecaries Hall on October 17. Records were repeatedly broken as generous bidding drew applause from an audience of senior whisky executives, top retailers, collectors, and a few writers (who were applauding more than bidding, such were the prices).

The event was organized by the Worshipful Company of Distillers in aid of four drinks trade and related charities. Founded in 1638 as a trade guild for distillers in the City of London, today the Worshipful Company embraces all sectors of the UK’s distilling industry and devotes much of its work to charitable giving. The auction, the first of its kind, was the vision of this year’s Master of the Company, Brian Morrison—formerly of Morrison Bowmore and today chairman of the Scottish Liqueur Center—who donated many of the lots from his private stocks.

All the lots had been donated and auctioneering services were provided pro bono by Christie’s. Thus the hammer price reflects the actual price paid by the buyer and 100% of the proceeds will be received by the charities.

Notable successes on the evening were:

  • The Dalmore 1964 One of One, created specifically for the Auction, which sold for £28,000. This is the most expensive Dalmore ever sold at live auction and the second most expensive bottle of whisky auctioned in 2013.
  • The Hazelwood set comprising bottlings released by William Grant & Sons to celebrate Janet Sheed Robert’s 90th, 100th, 105th and 110th birthdays sold for £31,000.
  • The Johnnie Walker Director’s Blend Series, donated by Diageo and comprising the entire set of six unavailable bottlings sold for £23,000.
  • The most expensive Glenury-Royal ever auctioned at £2,600.
  • The most expensive bottle of Bladnoch ever auctioned at £1,100
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The Bowmore 1964

 

Among the bidders were U.S. collector Mahesh Patel; leading UK retailer and collector Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange; and, bidding enthusiastically and successfully by telephone, representatives of UK specialist chain The Whisky Shop. Also present was Diageo’s recent CEO Paul Walsh, who acquired a rare vintage bottle of Mortlach single malt dating from the 1920s or 30s for a relatively modest £3,000.

Cheapest lot of the evening was a group of 3 bottles from various retirement dinners for Allied Distillers’ Directors which made £190. Elsewhere a charity premium was evident with bidders clearly in a generous mood—as an example, a Kilchoman Inaugural Release which might elsewhere fetch £90-120 was knocked down at £200. Many of the lots exceeded their estimates, often by a substantial margin.

But the main drama of the evening came with the final lot. Donated by Morrison Bowmore, this was a completely unique Bowmore 1964 (48 year old, 41.2% abv) created specifically for the auction. Packaged in a silver-mounted, hand-blown bottle and individually crafted Scottish oak cabinet, this was estimated to reach £30,000. In the event, furious bidding pushed the price to £50,000 (where it paused to accept a round of applause) but was finally knocked down for the record price of £61,000. It will find a new home in Mahesh Patel’s growing collection of fine and rare whiskies. It was a busy evening for Patel who, by my count, acquired twelve lots including the three top-priced items, spending close to $250,000 during the evening.

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Brian Morrison

According to the auctioneers, the Bowmore 1964 was 2013’s most expensive bottle of whisky, the second most expensive ever sold at live auction in history, and the most expensive Bowmore ever sold at live auction.

Both the Morrison Bowmore executives present (who snapped up some lesser lots for their corporate archives) and Brian Morrison for the Worshipful Company of Distillers were naturally in buoyant mood afterwards. Morrison himself was at pains to acknowledge the generosity of both donors and bidders.

“As a Livery Company, charity is at the heart of what we are about,” he told me afterwards. “This evening was a long held ambition of ours and I can honestly say I am humbled by the response of our industry, both in terms of donations and the bidding. Last night will live long in the memory of The Worshipful Company of Distillers.”

Does this evening represent a high point in whisky auction prices? While my own views on “investment” in whisky have been well aired on this site (and have not changed), the key elements here are the charity factor; the prestige associations of the evening and the unique nature of many of the lots. There is perhaps little to be learned from this glittering event, other than the pleasant conclusion that the licensed trade in general and the whisky industry and its followers in particular can be notably generous when the occasion arises. And that is something we can all celebrate.

Great whiskies, great event, for a great cause.

Monday, November 26th, 2012

On Sunday, December 2nd, there will be a special whisky tasting and auction in New York City to benefit something near and dear to me and my family: those individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy. The event is being organized by Robin Robinson, U.S. Brand Ambassador for Compass Box Whisky. (Well done, Robin!)

Rather than reinvent the wheel here with all the particulars, NYCWhisky has done a great job summarizing the particulars of the event here. Have a look.

Attend if you can. Even if you can’t, consider buying a ticket anyway, just to support the cause if you feel motivated to do so. I did. I also donated a special bottle from my own stash to help with the relief efforts.

There are people who lost everything, are still homeless, and need our help.

17 bottles of bourbon; $4,000 for charity

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

The Bonhams auction is over, and my donation of all 17 vintages of Evan Williams Single Barrel bottlings sold as one lot for $4,000. That’s far above the estimate of $800-$1,000. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I’m giving the entire proceeds to charity.

I want to tell you where the money is going. I cannot find the words to describe the damage that Hurricane Sandy has inflicted on all those who have homes at the Jersey Shore. I am among the victims, but at least for me it’s not my primary residence. There are, and will continue to be, people who have no place to live, no power, no water, no heat, and no food. I’m not sure exactly how I am going to distribute it yet (I want to avoid as much red tape as possible so it quickly gets into the hands of the people who need it), but that’s where the money is going.

Bid on some great whiskies for charity

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

This Sunday, Bonhams will be conducting a whisky auction in New York City. You can find the catalog of whiskies here.

You may remember that I posted I’m auctioning my entire collection of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintages. I have a bottle from each of the 17 vintage, many of them Barrel No. 1 and signed by (Master Distillers) Parker Beam or his son Craig Beam. I’m donating 100% of the proceeds to charity. (I’m letting my wife Amy pick the charity, since she has to put up with me and my crazy passion for whisky.) It’s Lot No. 369. Estimated range is $800-$1,000.

A fine gentleman, seeing my post about donating my Evan Williams vintages, is following suit by donating four bottles of A. H. Hirsch 16 year old bourbons from the long-gone Michter’s distillery. (Lots 388-391.) Each bottle is its own lot, with a range of $400-600.

Finally, for those with a little more pocket change than I have, you can also bid on Lot No. 84: the Bowmore 1957 Vintage, 54 year old. All the proceeds are going to charity. It’s range is set at $160,000-$190,000. Seriously, if you have a lot of disposable income, why don’t you buy this great bottle of scotch instead of the new yacht? A yacht costs a lot of money to maintain, and you need someplace big to story it. This Bowmore requires no maintenance other than a little dusting and drinking and can be stored in a liquor cabinet or display case. And it’s for charity.

 

I’m auctioning my Evan Williams Single Barrel collection for charity

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Okay, one more post before I leave for vacation…

People close to me know that I’m a purger, not a hoarder. I try to follow the philosophy that less is more.

So, it’s a bit atypical for me that I have the entire collection of Evan Williams Single Barrel bottlings. I have one bottle from every vintage released for the past 17 years. The majority of them are from Barrel No. 1, and a large percentage are signed by either Parker or Craig Beam. (And some by both!)

When these bottlings first came out, I regularly went out and bought them. They were good, and they were affordable.  Several years later, I realized that I still had one bottle from each year’s release–unopened!

By this time, Heaven Hill began sending me a review bottle. I told them about my accidental collection, so they were kind enough to send me an extra bottle for my collection. Most times, either Craig or Parker would sign it before the sent it to me. (Each year, I would offer to pay, but they always refused.)

And so, here I am, seventeen years into this accidental fortune. Like I mentioned above, I’m not a hoarder. So what should I do with it? Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is that I could drink it! But these whiskeys are too special for me to drink randomly. I also thought about lining them all up, inviting about 40 special guests, and having a really fun tasting some night.

But, the fact is, many of these bottles were gifts thanks to the kindness of my friends at Heaven Hill. My feeling is that I should not benefit or profit in any way from them. That includes my drinking them, even if I share them.

What I decided to do was auction the complete set at the Bonhams auction in New York City on October 28th and donate the proceeds to charity. I haven’t informed Heaven Hill yet, but I would also like their input on the charity that’s picked.

So, if you feel like you missed the boat on these excellent Evan Williams Single Barrel offerings, here’s your chance. I have tasted them all over the past 17 years. Most of these bottlings are excellent, and some were awarded our “Whiskey of the Year.”

Maybe you can get a bunch of friends to go in with you on the bidding? Great whiskeys, and for a great cause!

Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Celebration and Auction

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I couldn’t make it to this event, but I heard it was a great time and all for a good cause. It’s nice to see the whisky companies using these rare old whiskies for charitable endeavors. If we can’t afford to taste the whisky, at least we know it’s being put to good use. 

Last evening a gala was held on Liberty Island, New York to celebrate 125 years of Glenfiddich. Actor Adrian Grenier hosted the charitable event along with Glenfiddich’s malt master, Brian Kinsman. An auction was held to benefit SHFT Initiatives which promotes sustainability issues through the intersection of commerce, art and design, and communication. Sold at the auction was a bottle of the 55 year old Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve, one of only eleven bottles available in the world. The hammer price was a record breaking $94,000. This now stands as the most expensive bottle of single malt scotch whisky sold at auction, according to the press release.

This commemorative bottling was created to honor the 110th birthday of Janet Sheed Roberts, the granddaughter of William Grant, Glenfiddich’s founder.

Left to right: Actor Adrian Grenier, Christie’s vice president Rachel Orkin-Ramney, and Mahesh Patel following Patel’s purchase of Glenfiddich’s Janet Sheed Reserve for $94,000.

Whisky as an investment: are we in a bubble?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

The cover story for the new issue of Whisky Advocate (pictured below) is on whisky auctions and whisky collecting. We like to show both sides of a story. Ian Buxton has a feature in this issue that takes a more contrarian approach to auctions and collecting, discussing a whisky’s “soul.” Below, in this guest blog post, he goes into even more detail.

Read what he has to say below. Do you agree with him? Disagree with him? And why?

 

WHISKY  ‘INVESTMENT’

By Ian Buxton

Can one invest in whisky?  And, if yes, should you?

There’s certainly a lot of excited chatter about this right now, perhaps a measure of the troubled economic times in which we live.  The idea seems to be creeping into the popular imagination that picking the right bottle is a worthwhile, not to say near essential part of your financial planning.

We can argue about the figures.  Elsewhere I’ve taken exception to sloppy journalism and the casual quotation of potential investment gains that ignore transaction costs – and can thus never be achieved in real life.  Call me old-fashioned but I believe readers should be able to trust what they read and citing illusory and unattainable rates of return is misleading at best.

What’s more, simple common sense suggests that returns of over 100% in just two or three years are never going to be sustained in anything but a feverish bubble. When you appreciate that those figures are being most enthusiastically trumpeted by people with a vested interest, such as distillers with a brand to promote, retailers with stock to move or auction houses keen to drum up business you might just want to look twice before committing your 401(k) pot.

But there’s a more fundamental philosophical point that the money men, with their hard, cold souls don’t seem to get: if the whisky you buy is just for investment, then – since it’s never going to be opened – the bottle may as well contain cold tea.  Today whisky; tomorrow pork belly futures.

Whisky is a drink, but it is more than that.  It is a metaphor for the spirit and soul of the people and place that produced it. The distillers of Scotland express part of the austere, Calvinist personality of their land; in Kentucky (as for Rabbie Burns) “freedom and whisky gang  the’gither” and for the brave new distillers in Brittany, France it encapsulates their Breton identity and culture, even their language.

Buying and hoarding bottles like some latter-day Ebenezer Scrooge while poring over spreadsheets to measure RoI and capital growth tears out whisky’s heart and spirit; confounds its generosity and desecrates the memory, skill and craftsmanship of the people who made it. And, call me a romantic, but that’s just wrong.

If you love whisky, set it free.  Mark my words: this ‘investment’ bubble will end badly and people – and whisky – are going to get hurt.

Bonhams New York City whisky auction slated for December 8th

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

One week from today, Bonhams will once again host a whisky auction here in New York. Those of you who are looking for that special whisky might have a chance to procure it in time for the holidays.

Looking at the catalog (which you can peruse here), I see some great whiskies being auctioned again, like this 1979 vintage release of The Macallan Gran Reserva (pictured on right).

This time, in addition to single malt scotch, there’s a greater emphasis on whiskies from other countries, including bourbon, Irish, Japanese, and Canadian whisky. For example, bourbon enthusiasts will drool at the 9-bottle case of Very Old Fitzgerald 8 year old bourbon distilled in 1948 at the defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery (pictured below).

I realize that many of you don’t have the means to buy some of these rare whiskies. For those of you who do, this is a great opportunity to perhaps procure that special whisky you’ve been looking for. And, to be honest, there are many lots of grouped “regular priced” whiskies that, depending on the bidding, might proved to be a bargain–even with the fees that are tacked on.

Regardless, it’s worth a look at the catalog, even if it’s only a stroll down memory lane for you.

Do you participate in whisky auctions?

Wednesday, 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?