The Warm Glow Of Whisky
By Eva-Luise Schwarz
‘My God, so much I like to drink Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whiskey.’ – Igor Stravinsky
The July auction at McTear’s Auctioneers in Scotland was a thriving affair, with hammer prices totalling £92,000 plus for a sale of just under 500 lots of rare and collectable whisky.
The bottles mainly came from individuals—many of them passed down from elderly relatives, as was the case with the Pattisons. The story of the Pattison’s Crisis is notorious among the Scotch whisky industry. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Pattison brothers, who were part owners of the Glenfarclas distillery, spent thousands of pounds on their thriving business—a pyramid scheme that collapsed after only a few years, with the Pattisons ending up in prison. What remained was their whisky, which provided stock for 20 years to come. Pattisons ‘The Royal Golden Perfection’ Scotch Whisky was auctioned in July 2011, the label bearing the motto ‘animo non astutia’ (by courage not by craft). It reached £1900 at auction.
Other bottles are from people who have collected with a view to investing, and they brought them to the market simply because it’s a good time. Stephen McGinty, whisky expert at McTear’s, thinks whisky is definitely a collector’s dream: ‘The whisky market in general is looking good at the moment. If you have an unusual item, you cannot really go wrong. In the past few years we have bought items from New York and from Japan, but recently we are becoming more aware of an emerging Indian market, as the Indian middle classes are drinking more whisky, which is boosting the collecting market.’
As well as being a good time to sell, it is also a good time to be holding on to your whisky rarities. For several reasons, whisky is a safer bet than wine. With whisky, a single bottle can be of great value, often because only a hundred bottles have ever been produced. McGinty says: ‘The smaller the quantity, the higher the likelihood of the bottles increasing in value in the medium term. Also, the spirit in wine decreases and the wine vintages can become declassified. But whisky will stay more or less the same in 20-30 years’ time.’ Furthermore, unlike wine, the storage for whisky is easy and uncomplicated.
Another success story at McTear’s auction in July was that of the now closed Brora whisky distillery. The auction lot consisted of a 30-year-old single malt whisky, 70cl, 52.4% volume, and a 25-year-old single malt whisky, 70cl, 56.3%. Both bottles are in tubed packaging, an important factor for whisky connoisseurs, because with a rarity like that, there can be a decrease in value if it isn’t in its original packaging. What makes a bottle even more collectable is when it doesn’t have a bottle number, something most unusual. In the case of Brora, the distillery produced rare malts in very small and limited editions—and as they are no longer produced, the potential for investment is huge. Therefore it is no wonder that it exceeded its estimate of £100-£200 when it reached £340 at auction.
‘Whisky is a safer bet than wine. With whisky, a single bottle can be of great value, often because only a hundred bottles have ever been produced.’
McGinty asserts that collecting whisky is a thriving business: ‘People are getting to the stage where they almost collect a complete set. With the desire to make the set complete, collectors are eager to pay extra to complete it, and then take the complete set to the market.’
Good prices were also reached by Ardbeg distillery, pre-dating the Glenmorangie ownership. The 10-year old single Islay malt whisky, 70cl., 46% volume, comes in a carton, together with a 17-year-old single Islay malt whisky, 70cl., 40% volume. As a result of management changes, there are fewer and fewer of these rarities, increasing the bottles’ collectable value. The two Ardbeg bottles reached the high end of their estimate at £120.
‘The concept of collecting whisky to invest is a reasonably recent one,’ says McGinty, ‘certainly within my lifetime, whereas previously it was just bought and drunk.’
Earlier this year Macallan, who has a history of producing royal wedding whiskies, released The Royal Marriage in time for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, featuring an exceptional single malt whisky taken from two casks. Both were filled on April 29, one in 1996 and one in 1999—producing a limited edition with only 1,000 bottles. Half of the bottles were sold online, while the other 500 bottles were made available to be bought directly in person. McTear’s Auctions offered one of these bottles at auction recently. McGinty says: ‘Since these bottles were only distributed within the UK, American collectors were highly interested, and the bottle from the auction was the only one they could get hold of. This is how Macallan doubled its money.’
In the long-term, the finite quantity and the non-deteriorating quality will promise whisky collectors a glowing future. Cheers!