Rare Whisky Review by Andy Simpson – September 29, 2016
We finished the last rare whisky review with the following statement – “…Although in the current market, a bargain seems increasingly unlikely”. A statement which currently resonates through the very fabric of the rare whisky auction market.
Never before have we witnessed such fevered buying at almost any price for rarities from high demand brands. We’re going to be taking an in-depth look at Macallan in our 2016 full year report in around four months’ time but the vintage 18 year olds look like they will have virtually doubled in value throughout 2016. We just haven’t seen anything like this type of growth before.
That said, there’s plenty of time for 2016 to unleash a nasty sting, we saw that in 2014 and (we’re assuming) with the vast majority of the forex related gains under our belts, things could ease in the final quarter of 2016. As, when, and indeed, if we see that happen we’ll report it, however, until then, we’re looking at an exceptionally positive landscape for the world of rare whisky…
Three of the most collected brands. Demand remains vast
With a scant 77 bottles released a few years ago, Dalmore’s Candela has taken its time to increase in value until it breached £10,000 in 2014. Prior to that, it was hovering around the £6,000 – £8,000 price point for years. Dalmore gets a bit of a bashing occasionally – we hear things like “the price has been Dalmorized” when something might be a little racy in the bang for your buck department… or “it’s just got a load of the black sludge in it” (meaning e150a colouring) and there might, who knows (certainly not us), be an element of truth in there somewhere. But one thing’s for certain, old Dalmore’s just a thing of wonder. Be it an older bottling such as the late 1950’s distilled twenty-year-old bottled in 1978 or an old aged liquid like Candela, these things are fabulous to drink… and clearly collect. Two bottles of Candela hit the market earlier this month at Scotch Whisky Auctions and Whisky-Online Auctions. The respective hammer prices were £15,000 and £14,600; both comfortably exceeding Bonhams previous £13,000 record set earlier this year.
Scotch Whisky Auctions continued to roll out the big guns and the records fell. A 1937 50 year old Balvenie managed £15,000. In August 2010, I remember bidding on two of these at Bonhams in Edinburgh. I was bidding against my arch-auction-nemesis from Italy who has particularly deep pockets, so I bailed out and lost the bottles for £3,600 and £3,800. Maybe I should have pushed further.
£8,400 took a bottle of Macallan 1946 Select Reserve to a new record, edging past its previous best of £7,600.
If we index these three bottles to take a look at their combined growth, as is common with high value rarities, we see periods of stability (where there are no sales due to simple scarcity) followed by significant positive step changes. A 300% increase in value since December 2008 is very impressive.
Scotch performed admirably, but Japan needs to feature too. The two big Japanese bottles at SWA were the 35-year-old Yamazaki which, at £16,000, was not just the most expensive bottle of the auction, it was the most expensive bottle of the month. Not quite in the ‘Yama-35’ league but the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask fetched a whopping £3,600. Look back at early 2014 and these were selling for around £100 per bottle… then a man in a hat with scary eyes wrote nice things about it and BOOM! Madness.
Taking a quick look at the first eight official Port Ellen releases and we see every bottle closing out September with a value in excess of £1,000. It’s the first time that’s happened so we’re expecting to see significant gains in the Port Ellen index when it’s published tomorrow.
The First release seems to have reached a (temporary?) glass ceiling of £2,200 with the other releases playing catch up. Whisky Auctioneer took the 3rd, 6th and 7th releases to £1,300 per bottle; all new record prices for these bottles and the first time the 7th release has pushed through the £1k barrier.
Desirable bottle of the month from a personal perspective has to go to the Whisky-Online Auctions bottle of 12-year-old Laphroaig at 80 proof by Cadenheads. At £4,300 it was no-where near the most expensive bottle of the auction, but it was a new record price for the bottle and marks this as the fourth most expensive 12-year-old on record. The most expensive 12-year-old is the £12,100 (which has also sold for £7,600, £5,000 and £4,800) Port Ellen Queens Visit, followed by £8,200 for both the James MacArthur’s cask strength Port Ellen and the Bowmore Lagiemeanoch 1967 12-year-old.
While the current market looks exceptional, it is still possible to buy the wrong bottles. In 2013 a bottle of SMWS bottled Tomintoul, cask 89.1, sold for £500. Earlier this year, a bottle managed just £155. That’s a 69% hammer price to hammer price, buy/sell loss… add in auctioneers’ commissions and the loss is a punishing 78%.
Get it wrong, and like any investment, you can lose your shirt.
The big one this month is the Diageo Special Releases. All bottles and prices for the 2016 release can be seen here. As we had to politely decline attending the tasting this year, we’re not in a position of knowledge with this years releases. If we do get to try them, we’ll post up our thoughts on quality vs price.
It’s interesting to look at what these bottles represent now they’re in their 16th year. Put pricing aside and they are probably the most eagerly anticipated new releases on the Scotch calendar. The 2001 first annual releases numbered just three products – Two Talisker’s and the aforementioned Port Ellen 1st release. Bringing it right up to date, including 2016’s releases, there have been 143 different products. That’d be some collection in its own right.
The profile below shows what distilleries have been bottled in what years.
Interesting to see there are still five operational distilleries with no special release – Blair Athol, Glenlossie, Inchgower, Roseisle and Teaninich are devoid of an annual release. Surely we have to see something from Roseisle? If we don’t see any releases from the other four, I don’t think many people would lose that much sleep over it to be fair.
We can see grain featuring more frequently now as Cambus, Port Dundas and Caledonian have all been released. Might we see a Cameron Bridge? North British would be unlikely as it’s a joint venture with fellow distillers Edrington.
Noting the amount of time since their closure, if I were a betting man, it looks unlikely that we’ll see anything much from Diageo’s many silent distilleries other than Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank possibly (but for how long?). Could we now start to assume that the brand owner is out? Quality probably wasn’t there with any remaining stocks so the last few casks have been blended away? It looks probable. At the end of the day, Diageo are a blending company, so it makes sense anything from a sub-optimal-single-malt perspective has been used in a blend.
The 1995 to 2005 Rare Malts Selection releases featured many of the more obscure silent stills – Glenlochy, Banff, Glen Albyn, Millburn, Glen Mhor and Hillside (Glenesk) featured. Can we now assume they were to be the final OB’s from these lost distilleries?
That circles me nicely back to the importance of the secondary market. If you must have an official bottle(s) from many of these silent stills, it’s looking more and more like auction will be the only way to get them. As knowledge/awareness of whisky auctions builds among the ever growing number of connoisseurs, collectors and investors, the secondary market looks set to grow… as do prices.
Until next time, slainte.
Andy and David.
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