Weekly Auction Watch – 7th July 2015

Are Bottles from Silent Stills Vanishing?

Scotch Whisky Auctions (SWA) first sale of quarter three 2015 highlighted a particularly revealing trend. For some time now we’ve had it in mind that the number of bottles appearing at auction from silent distilleries is in decline. Until now It’s been more of an anecdotal thought; as usual, we’ve tried to put some numbers behind the hypothesis. Individual bottle values seem to be increasing for most, if not all, silent distilleries. So before we come onto the usual winners and not-so-winners from the recent SWA we take a look at open market supply for silent stills.

The charts below illustrate some single month analysis over the last three years for the number of bottles from silent stills hitting the hammer. This is purely from Scotch Whisky Auctions and shows full-sized bottles (and 50cl) only, so excludes 20cl and miniatures.

Are bottles from silent distilleries set to become extinct?
Are bottles from silent distilleries set to become extinct?

We suspected a decline would be evident; however, we had no idea it would be so severe. Over a two-year period the % of bottles from silent stills compared to ‘all lots sold’ has fallen from almost 5.8% in July 2013 to almost 3.7% in July 2015. I find that quite staggering… more than 1% per year. In part, this goes some way to highlighting why bottles from silent stills feature record prices so frequently.

The question is – Are they being kept/collected or are they being consumed?

If they are being preserved to be re-sold in future months/years, once prices reach a certain level, we may see this trend reverse (at least stabilise). If they’re being drunk, effectively reducing the target pool of available stock, values should continue to increase… in some cases that increase could be somewhat rapid.

Demand continues at all-time highs, so with stock levels exiting the market at this rate, now might just be the time to buy those missing bottles from one’s collection. Official Port Ellen and Brora prices have remained relatively static for some time and have re-traced from previous high points… but for how long?

Silence, it appears, is indeed golden!

The recent SWA sale had many new records for bottles from both open and closed distilleries.

The recent up-trend for older discontinued bottles of Macallan accelerated as we saw a bottle of 1968 vintage 18-year-old break £1,000 for the first time. £1,150 took the bottle past its previous high of £950 and left its 2008 low-point of £240 way in the distance. The red-label US export Cask Strength bottling managed to squeeze £400 for the first time, some £60 over its previous high and a highland-mile away from its £120 low in 2010.

Older collectable Macallan maintains collectors credentials
Older collectable Macallan maintains collectors credentials

There was no let-up in demand for Macallan’s halo bottles as the 1951 (one of 632 bottles released – NOT the Fine and Rare bottle it’s frequently confused with) fetched £8,600. While this is an equal record, the bottle hasn’t seen that kind of price since February 2014. With a 2011 all-time low of £1,600, a clear £7000 increase in value is somewhat impressive.  The 1961 (again NOT the Fine and Rare bottle it’s frequently confused with) managed £7,000, its second best ever.

More modern contemporary Macallan saw some small but none the less important rises with the 2011 Royal Marriage taking £1,100 – £1,200 and the Coronation twin set managing £780 – Have we now tested the bottom for the Royal trilogy? Unfortunately, other limited editions fared less favourably with both Ghillies Dram and the Burns decanter selling well under recent trading levels.

Rarities took some of the limelight with older aged/vintage bottles remaining gilt-edged. Dalmore’s 45 year old Aurora achieved a new record £3,900. If this was bought as a ‘drinker’ it’s utterly sublime; one of the few whiskies which is scorched into my memory…. At £3,900 it’s not cheap… and nor should it be!

Older vintages, older age statements and true rarities flourish
Older vintages, older age statements and true rarities flourish

Ardbeg’s 1975 single cask (1375) sold for £1,250 and £1,150, both new record prices. £400 would have taken this bottle at its lowest price way back in 2008.

Often overlooked, this bottle of GT doubles in value
Often overlooked, this bottle of GT doubles in value

The often overlooked Glenturret saw a doubling in value for its 1980’s bottled 21-year-old crystal decanter. A little over a year ago it sold for £200 which now looks good value next to the £400 it fetched here.

Circling back to silent stills, a bottle of Banff 1976/2008 Connoisseurs Choice fetched £220 which is more than three times its 2010 price of £60. Again, from Gordon and MacPhail, a bottle of 1968/2006 Glenlochy hit £320, £100 ahead of its last UK sale price in 2013.

Declining supply pushes prices north
Declining supply pushes prices north

Not everything flew to heady new heights.

£250 ask. £75 paid!
£250 ask. £75 paid!

It’s always interesting when a completely new bottle hits the market, especially one with no obvious previous retail price history (gifts etc). A bottle of Hazelburn ‘Warehouse Dinner’ 17 yr old sat resolute with a stiff reserve of £250… There it sat for the duration…and remained unsold. I would imagine the reason for that is one sold a few days earlier for a scant £75, clearly setting pricing well below that required from the vendor.

Some of the well known past collectables seemed to languish further. Relatively recently, the Royal Lochnagar Roseisle Maltings bottle could command as much as £400 at auction. Recent years have seen the value of this bottle continually erode .

Roseisle Maltings Royal Lochnagar loses 66% of value
Roseisle Maltings Royal Lochnagar loses 66% of value

While the most recent bottle at this SWA sale had someones signature on it, it still only managed £135. That’s a 66% drop in value since 2011.

From our perspective, this clearly shows new and existing buyers are focused on different types of collectables.

Polarisation of the market continues…

All bottle images courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions.

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