Balvenie’s old golden-balls lost their lustre recently. We reported a steep decline in values across the board in our 2015 annual review. Two short years ago, it seemed the collector’s darling could do no wrong – Recently, the question I was asked “could Balvenie challenge the mighty Macallan for the collector’s crown?” rapidly became “When will Balvenie values stop falling?”
Before we move onto a broader review of Scotch Whisky Auctions recent offering, March’s Whisky Auctioneer sale saw a stunning collection of Balvenie single cask bottles. Proving there’s still a significant market for the right bottles from one of Dufftown’s leading distilleries, every single bottle took a new record… in some cases massively. So the oldest vintage single casks are still in heavy demand but are the ‘limited releases’ recovering? Scotch Whisky Auctions first sale of quarter two looked positive for Balvenie… Are those golden balls being polished again for another challenge to Macallan’s collector prowess?
The first release of Balvenie Rose managed to hammer home £1400. In 2009 a mere £126 took this bottle and as recently as 2012 one sold for £240. Following a fallow period, Tun 1401 batch 1 values moved up another gear when, for the first time ever, one managed to exceed £3,000, taking an impressive £3,200. It’s just staggering to think that these were selling at the distillery in 2010 for £150 per bottle.
To add balance, there always has to be a yin for one’s yang and that’s no different for Balvenie. Tun 1401’s replacement – Tun 1509 – still hasn’t captured the hearts and minds of the collectors. Batch #1 continues to sell at auction for less than it original retail price.
Why? Too many bottles and too much money came the cry. Simple.
Extreme break-outs of current trading levels weren’t the exclusive preserve of Balvenie at Scotch Whisky Auctions. Fellow Macallan-worrier, Glendronach, saw their most expensive sale at auction to date with a bottle from cask number 13 of the famed ANA 1968’s. The last time this sold at auction in the UK was for £1,550. In June 2012 one sold for a low-point of £320. £2,600 is the current price. Absolutely amazing gains.
Demonstrating the halo-effect perfectly, a bottle of Dalmore’s 1978 vintage, Sherry Finesse, sold for £1,550, a significant margin ahead of its last sale of £490 last year. The reason? The 1978 vintage Constellation sold for £3,800 earlier this year. Compare the two and, whether you see value in the Constellation collection or not, the earlier release looks like good value.
Ardbeg’s Lord of the Isles was another standout performer with two bottles selling for £1,050 and two bottles selling for £1,100. Recent bottles have been selling for around the £550 – £600 mark so this is a significant removal from the current pattern.
Following recent price advances, the tall-necks of Tain, Glenmorangie moved further up the value chain. The fabulous ice-cream accompanying Sonnalta PX saw £230 and £240 achieved. Not outright new records, but significantly above values for the past 12 months. Sonny PX might currently be a tad expensive to buy purely for your Mr Whippy, but (when it was cheap) this stuff really does go well poured on ice cream… as does PX itself. Another one of Glenmorangie’s finest bottles, the 1975 vintage Cote De Nuits took to new highs when two bottles sold for £740 and £820.
Amid an advancing market for Scotch, Karuizawa remains a significant risk to those who plan on buying for investment. Earlier this year, a bottle of the second release Ghost/Rouge cask series sold for £17,500. It’s about as rare as it gets with just 22 bottles, but £17,500 is a chunk of change to take from even the wealthiest of spare-change-spirit-slush-funds. Clearly too much for the market to repeat, a bottle sold for almost half that amount… £9,000 sealed the deal. Let’s be fair here, £9,000 is still a whopping price to pay/receive for this bottle, but vast elements of unpredictability and volatility continue to hound Karuizawa… Never catch a falling knife!
In summary, SWA’s early April auction confirmed values are increasing. In some cases rapidly. In some cases too rapidly. If momentum continues over the next few months, maybe we’re moving through a period of market correction where values will progress to another level? But if demand slips, or market conditions change, some of these increases could simply be unwanted spikes. It’ll certainly be interesting to see if some of these prices can be maintained.
Images courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions