Tag Archives: Bonhams

Rare Whisky Review – 24th June 2016

As the rare whisky auction market in the UK has exploded over recent years, it’s become increasingly challenging to regularly feature coverage for each auction-house. We’ve taken the decision to produce a more holistic rare whisky review rather than a weekly auction watch featuring just one auction-house. While we plan on focussing on the secondary market, we’ll also feature important primary market releases and our opinion on pricing, value and market impact too.

We’ll ultimately be producing fewer reports but we hope our readers continue to enjoy our market commentary. We welcome feedback, suggestions and recommendations for future content.

Secondary Market – June 2016

Macallan are experiencing a sea-change in both demand and pricing for their, among others, classic 18 and 25 year olds. The increases through 2016 have been utterly mesmerising; almost unlike anything we’ve seen before. The 18 year olds have seen a 34.13% increase through 2016 and the 25 year olds by 26.14%.

Macallan Indices for 18 and 25 year olds

Scotch Whisky Auctions June sale pushed certain values further with a notable 1963 Macallan vintage (pre the more traditional 18 year olds) fetching a huge £2400. Buoyancy remained but looked to stabilise a little more for many other bottles of vintage 18’s as they continued to trade at the top of the market. The below Rare Whisky extract shows the volume and annual average value for the Macallan 1972 18 year old.

Macallan 18 1972 Volume vs Value

Bottles are vanishing from the market and values are soaring. A robust correlation?

Contemporary Macallan bottles continue to underperform the broader market.

William Grant’s highly collectable Hazelwood Reserve (the first of the five bottle set commemorating respective birthdays of Janet Sheed Roberts) has always been the most desirable of the set. This was last sold at auction in the UK for £420. That price seemed a distant memory as the current market fetched £2200.

The index below shows the combined performance of the five bottles.

Hazelwood Index Jun 2016

The impact of this recent sale is clearly evident but the remaining four bottles continue their negative trajectory. We suggest this particular bottle was bought by a collector looking to complete the set. As this is the most challenging bottle to acquire, for a completist collector price is often not the biggest barrier… simply finding one is!

Old 1980’s Lagavulin had more or less doubled in value over the last 3 years. £920 was paid for a poor fill level White Horse 1980’s bottle. These old gems are becoming less frequently seen in the market. Are the remaining bottles being hoarded or are they being drunk? The answer to that in some respects will define future values. These old, hard to find discontinued releases, look to provide further value to the collector and investor; but is there value to be had out of the current retail/primary market? We look at that a little later.

SWA High Performers
Stellar performers from the recent June Scotch Whisky Auction

Illustrating how influential and important the secondary market has become, some of the largest rare whisky retailers have now established auction based routes to market. The Whisky Exchange’s online auction – Whisky.Auction is one of those. Showing continued heightened demand for the rarest of examples, a bottle of Port Ellen 2008 Feis Ile sold for £3,700 in their June auction far exceeding its previous £3,400 record.

Bonhams June auction brought two notable rarities under the hammer. One of the 77 bottles of Dalmore Candela fetched a record £13,000, significantly up on its 2014 previous best of £10,600. The second bottle was interestingly a blend rather than a malt when an early 1900’s bottle of Johnnie Walker managed a very respectable £6000.

Whisky Auctioneer’s most recent auction ended on the 30th of May and was a generally buoyant affair. That said, a bottle of the 1953 Glenfarclas Wealth Solutions bottle came well down from its October 2015 high of £5,200. This bottle settled well below previous sales when it finally sold for £3,900 (broadly in line with its 2013 prices).

Glenfarclas 1953 Wealth Solns
Not a particularly good solution for one’s wealth if you bought at the peak

Tobermory isn’t necessarily the distillery most associated with collecting and investing, Tobermory 1972 33 year oldhowever, further cementing the underpinning of the whole market by liquid quality, a bottle of 1972 33 year old Tobermory sold for £735. We were fortunate enough to be able to sample this bottle on a recent treasure hunting trip and we were both bowled over by this exceptional spirit.

Final mention has to go to Whisky-online Auctions superb £8,200 result for a bottle of 1967 ‘Largiemeanoch’ – which is Gaelic for stunning sherry cask Bowmore! This bottle appeared expensive when it first sold in the UK for £2,350 in 2012, a price now dwarfed by recent market performance.

Old, rare and high quality whiskies continue to be the subject of desire to a growing international audience. This sustained demand is pushing prices ever higher. While demand remains as it is and supply (of the right bottles) is relatively low in the grand scheme of things, this continued buoyancy looks set to continue.

Some of the exceptional increases we’ve seen over recent months would appear to need to cool down a little. We can’t physically see the Macallan 18 year olds progress on the same trajectory. We envisage a cooling is required in certain areas of the market to restore balance; however, we don’t expect a significant re-trace… equally we never say never.

Primary Market/Retail Releases.

Continuing Lagavulin’s 200th birthday celebrations, a new 25 year old has been released. 8,000 bottles (slightly fewer than the 2002 release’s 9,000) wholly matured in sherry casks will cost £799 per bottle. Does that represent value to the collector and investor?


Firstly, the dedicated Lagavulin collector will undoubtedly need to buy this bottle but we see little immediate reward for the investor. The 2002 release 25 year old sells on the secondary market for around £500 – £600.

While, to some degree, we’re not speaking from a position of absolute knowledge as we haven’t yet tried the liquid (but we will be), we suspect a similar auction price-point could be achieved in the short to medium term e.g. a 20% loss over retail price. If the liquid is utterly stellar, secondary market prices could be a little higher.

From a pure pricing perspective, at £799, the Lagavulin has positioned itself above virtually every other 25 out there. The current 25 year old Macallan sherry oak can be found for the same price. Dalmore’s pricing was decreed as outrageous when their recent 25 year old hit the market for £600 (that now sells at auction for around £400).

Both Highland Park and Glendronach (Grandeur) can be found for around, or under, the £350 price point. Two worthy drams in anyone’s book.

Looking at some others – Glenmorangie can be found at £250, Glenfiddich is £299 and Diageo stablemate Talisker is a mere snip (it actually really is) at £230.

OR how about half a case of Glenfarclas 25 year old (£120 per bottle) for more or less the same price?

We’re not saying the pricing is wrong, bad, good, superb or indifferent, just interesting. Once we’ve tried the liquid we’ll be able to comment with absolute knowledge.

Until next time, slainte.

Andy and David.

Weekly Auction Watch – 4th March 2016

Bulls ride the market through Bonhams as new record prices are set for many rare bottles of Scotch.

Over recent months, even years, traditional whisky auction houses have appeared to be gradually withering on the vine.

The onslaught of on-line auctioneers has managed to turn a small niche part of the broader whisky market into what’s now almost a replacement for the traditional rare whisky retailer. Bigger, better, faster, slicker, quicker (most of the time) on-line whisky auctions have been squeezing traditional auctioneers out of the market.

However; showing there’s still room in the market for all, Bonhams recent sale was an absolute belter.

Okay, so there weren’t thousands of bottles on offer, but what there was, was in some cases, quite incredible… and most bottles sold right at the top end of their recent trading range or set new records. Get the right bottles on the shelf and there’s still massive demand… even with 25% plus VAT buyer’s premium to pay.

Bonhams has traditionally been a hot-house for Macallan, so we’ll start with the king of collectables.

Macallan Records

The first of the Macallan replica series, the 1874, has fetched £470 previously. It’s never broken through £500, let alone the £600 it managed on the day. I find these bottles fascinating… Facsimile’s of fakes. Does that make them the whisky world’s first double fake? Or something…

Just about everything else from Macallan made a new record along the way. Modern Macallan’s have slumped in value over recent years, so it was impressive to see a Diamond Jubilee bottle make a record equalling £1,300 – A price unseen since August 2013.

Someone far wiser (or is that wizened?!.. probably both) than I recently said, over a rather good 1966 Glenugie, “1966 was a good year for eeeeeverything”. It certainly was for Macallan, whose 1966/1984 18 year old nudged through £1,000 to hit a record £1,100. Between 2008 – 2010 these were being scooped up for as little as £270 – £280.

Ardbeg Connoisseurs Choice RecordsSome Ardbeg 1970’s vintage Connoisseurs Choice bottles made impressive numbers. Twin lots of 1974/1992 took £350 and £400 per bottle, way past their 2009 record low of £160 and a brace of 1979/1991’s took a record £325 per bottle.Bruichladdich Centenary 15 yo

While it could still easily be a dead-cat-bounce, Bruichladdich’s recent improvement in form continued with a 15 year old Centenary decanter tipping the scales at £280. 2009 saw a record low of just £80.

Teaninich 1957Rarely mentioned, Teaninich took a new record of £550 for a 1957 Cadenheads dumpy bottle. With spirit distilled pre the 1970 expansion being from the now demolished ‘old’ or ‘b’ side, this is in effect whisky from a silent distillery; one closed in the early/mid 1980’s slump alongside fellow highlander Brora.

From a low-performers perspective, a bottle of Fettercairn 40 year old sold for just £450, its lowest ever. Interestingly, and maybe part of the reason for its decline; I recall trying this dram but I can’t remember what it was like… A forgettable 40 year old?Fettercairn 40

The first of three big-guns rolled into town with a 50 year old Glenfiddich taking £12,000; not a record but £1,000 over its previous price of £11,000.

Bowmore Largiemeanoch 1967The second was a bottle of Bowmore 1967 Largiemeanoch, pronounced correctly in Gaelic is simply ‘L‘ (it is in these pages anyway!). The first time L sold on the open market it fetched an impressive £2,350. That gradually increased to a £3,200 record price paid in 2014. L’s absence on the open market clearly made the collectors hearts grow fonder as it took a weighty £5,500 at this auction.Glenrothes 1946

Finally, a hugely impressive 1946 20 year old Glenrothes fetched £4,800. It’s the first time we’ve seen this bottle at auction so it was great to see it sell for a significant amount.

With far more buoyancy than we’ve observed over recent sales, it was great to see Bonhams bring some stunning bottles to market in the UK… More please!


Images courtesy of Bonhams

Was Bonhams Plagued by Fake Macallan? Weekly Auction Watch – 25th March 2015

Over the years, I’ve been stopped by the police and breathalysed… maybe twice. Had I failed to give a sample of breath at the roadside, I would have committed an offence. I would have been banned from driving and no doubt given a hefty financial penalty too… The assumption of non-compliance is clearly guilt. I agree with this stance.

Working within an industry where a ‘normal’ day could be sampling up to 200 separate single casks of Scotch, I ensure whenever I get in a car, I’m in no way impinged by what I do for a living… AND before Mrs S. asks… No. I do not drink for a living!

So by virtue of non-compliance, guilt is assumed.

Bonhams recent whisky auction had a multitude of rare and old vintage Macallan in it. I had more than one tip-off that many of these were potentially fake.

Would they be auctioned? Would some of these potential fakes come to market from one of the most respected whisky auction houses?

Pleasingly, but equally concerning, on the day of the auction, many of these lots were withdrawn from sale……

Some of the many withdrawn lots
Are all these fake? Some of the many withdrawn lots

I wrote to Martin Green (Bonhams whisky specialist) who put me straight in touch with Bonhams PR department. The initial response received was “If questions are raised about any lot – for whatever reason – we always withdraw it as a matter of course for further investigation. That is what we did in this case”.

It appears there was just cause for concern and there were so many bottles withdrawn.

After further email correspondence with Bonhams, the quote – “We have conducted further investigations and as a result will not be offering the bottles in a future sale” seems to confirm, something was wrong. While there was no 100% concrete “these are fakes” quoted by Bonhams, by way of in effect not giving a sample of breath, does one assume guilt. By guilt, I mean do we assume these are fake? The non-inclusion of these bottles in future auctions shows Bonhams are clearly concerned about the provenance of these old Macallan’s.

What we also don’t know is if these bottles have been returned to the vendor? Will they see the light of auction again? Sent to a less thorough/less well known auction-house to be sold to unsuspecting buyers? Who knows but one thing’s certain, extreme vigilance is needed at the moment, especially when buying old Macallan bottles.

Putting the possible fake Macallan’s aside, Bonhams did have some great bottles feature in their recent sale.

19th century Linkwood
19th century Linkwood

The very first lot was an impressive old 1898 Linkwood. Selling for £2,000 it looked like good value for the buyer being such an ancient relic of a bottle.

A bottle of Rare Malts Selection Blair Athol hit a record £300, way past its 2008 price of just £80 and almost double its recent trading range of £150 – £160.

Dalmore’s recent good form continued with £600 being the new record for a bottle of 30 year old Stillman’s Dram. A previous high-price of £280 shows this as a significant new peak.

Much interest was seen at the top end of the market where a bottle of 50 year old Macallan Lalique sold for £17,000. The last time this sold in the UK (in 2010) it fetched £6,200. Five years later and it’s pushing almost three times that.

50 year old Macallan Lalique decanter (this one was real!)
50 year old Macallan Lalique decanter (this one was real!)

1968 appears to have been a good year for Balvenie. Two bottles of that vintage from cask number 7296 sold for £1,300 each. Back in 2008, these were selling for £260 per bottle.

Further cementing the collectors credentials of independently bottled silent stills, a Millburn Signatory ‘Silent Stills’ fetched £420, way over its previous best £280. Completing the trio of closed Inverness distilleries; bottles (again Signatory Silent Stills) from Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn both sold for £380 each. Not quite records for either bottle but right at the top of their current trading range.

Silent Stills Inverness trilogy. Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor and Millburn
Silent Stills Inverness trilogy. Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor and Millburn

These pages are usually the preserve of some of the rarest bottles of single malt, however, a real showstopper of a blend sold for an incredible £5,500. The early 20th century Johnnie Walker ‘Old Highland Whisky’ is a true piece of history and well deserving of its impressive selling price.

Early 20th century Johnnie Walker. A true piece of Scotch history
Early 20th century Johnnie Walker. A true piece of Scotch history

Again, the best performances were seen by the oldest bottles or bottles from silent distilleries… and as for those potentially fake Macallan’s I think vigilance is key.

Who knows if/when they will emerge on the open market again….

Until next time.



All images courtesy of Bonhams

McTears Versus Bonhams…. Then Versus the Rest!

McTears Wages War on Bonhams… The Gavel is your Weapon of Choice Sir!

Not only did Bonhams and McTears hold their respective whisky auctions on the same day this month; they appear to have subsequently progressed from a bit of competition to all-out war through their respective marketing departments.

The question posed by McTears is “Why Sell Whisky Anywhere Else?”

The advert below was issued by McTears following their recent auction. I think it’s a great piece of marketing to be fair – Disruptive, factual and to the point. So could, or indeed would, Bonhams respond?

McTears Ad

Fair play to them, they did. With this –

Bonhams Ad

Glenfiddich 50

The first thing we need to do is compare apples with apples. Bonhams always quote their achieved sale prices including 25% buyers premium. The £20,000 quoted for the above 50 year old Glenfiiddich would have actually been  a hammer price of £16,000 less fees and commission to the seller. McTears haven’t done this; they have, far more fairly in my view, purely reported the hammer price.

I also think it’s a bit like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face by purposely holding significant whisky auctions on the same day. Commission bids aside, surely both auctioneers want the biggest captive audience possible. Maybe a truce not war on this occasion could have yielded better results for both respective auctions?

By comparing apples with apples we can actually see which is the ‘best’ auction-house for sellers; which one obtains the highest hammer price with the lowest sellers commission. In todays auction-rich environment it would be unfair to exclude on-line auctioneers from this exercise. So let’s compare some numbers from Bonhams, McTears, Scotch Whisky Auctions, Whisky-Online Auctions and relative newcomer Whisky Auctioneer.

Let’s take a look at a small parcel of regularly traded but heavily desirable bottles to see which auctioneer obtains the highest hammer price and the highest net gain to a seller. I’ve used the most recent sales result from each auctioneer for – Port Ellen 1st Release, Macallan Private Eye, Ardbeg Lord of the Isles, Bunnahabhain Auld Acquaintance, Highland Park Bicentenary and Glenmorangie Culloden.

In doing this, I’ve assumed Bonhams (as they don’t publish the information) sellers commission at 15% plus VAT plus their 1.5% (plus VAT again) loss and damage warranty fee, so a gross deduction of 19.8%. For McTears it’s 15% plus VAT, for Scotch Whisky Auctions and Whisky-Online Auctions it’s 10% plus VAT and for Whisky Auctioneer it’s 5% plus VAT. I’ve excluded any listing fees or reserve fees which are around £3 – £4 each per bottle depending on the auctioneer but they make little difference to the end result.

Whisky Auction Comparison

Whisky Auction Comparison Data

The results speak for themselves.

Bonhams performs the worst on both a hammer price and a net proceeds basis with McTears very slightly ahead on both. Then the digital auctioneers show how an online offering with reduced costs can really benefit customers.

The difference between the top result from Whisky Auctioneer and the worst result from Bonhams is a staggering £1,779. There’s a £1,697 difference between the best performer and McTears.

Clearly this isn’t the full picture. Certain auctioneers sometimes get the best prices for slightly different bottles. Bonhams has obtained great results for top end Macallan and some exceptionally rare old indie bottles. McTears has the current record for Black Bowmore and does very well with their multitude of bundled lots (granted more from a buyers perspective). Whisky-Online Auctions specialise in the old and very rare for which they get exceptional prices (you just don’t see these rarities sold at other auction houses to get a direct comparison). Scotch Whisky Auctions regularly obtain the best prices in the market for a huge variety of bottles. If Whisky Auctioneer have a desire to become bigger, which we have to assume they do, that will come with additional cost (people, premises, rent, rates and the cost of bottle acquisition don’t come cheap). Can current commission rates be maintained? Having asked this question directly to Whisky Auctioneer, the desire, certainly for the foreseeable future, is to maintain the current commission structure.

So back to the question McTears ask us on their marketing material – “Why Sell Whisky Anywhere Else?”

I for one can think of 1,697 reasons as highlighted above!

Until next week.



Bloodbath at Bonhams as Bears Take Control.

Weekly Auction Watch

9th October 2014

Bloodbath at Bonhams

Bonhams recent whisky auction on the 1st of October marked the start of a months lead up to Halloween. Some of the sales results were indeed the preserve of nightmares as the festival of Samhain got well underway in Edinburgh.

The leading bottles of the sale in the publicity material focussed on two veritable heavyweights – The Macallan 62 year old Lalique and the 70 year old Mortlach. If your publicity is directed at two big bottles like this, it’s always a good thing to see them hit the reserve and fly out of the door…. Neither of these did.

The horrors persisted as even the hardiest of bears moved aside to let the ghouls and demons take control of murdering the market –

A bottle of Ardbeg 1976 (cask 2390) sold for £920. Its previous sale was £1,750 yielding a 47% drop in value.

A 1954 Glenfarclas Family Casks bottle (cask 1260) achieved just £700 at Bonhams while later in the day one sold for £1,850 at Whisky-Online Auctions. I guess that’s good from a Bonhams buyers perspective, not so good if you’re the seller.

The gavel, or rusted blood stained axe in this case, hit just £950 for a bottle of 40 year old Glenlivet Atlantic. Its previous sale was £1,750 in August of this year – A 46% step-down in value with one slash of the axe…

On the flip side of this bed of nails, it wasn’t all gore and misery. There were some good results for certain bottles. Some of the bundled lots went for sky-high prices, in many cases far exceeding the value of the constituent bottles. A brace of Bruichladdich Valinches were good examples – A bottle each of the 2009 and 2010 Feis Ile releases sold for an exceptional £420. The most recent single sale values of these are £71 and £65 respectively.

A stunning example of an old 75 proof, lever cap Lagavulin made a heady £2,500, exceeding its previous best of £1,900 in 2011. As I was told just the other night ‘There ain’t no foolin’ with the Lagavoolin’.

Cask number 26.1 by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society sold for £1,800. Distillery number 26 is Clynelish, so why so much for a Clynelish? Because it’s ‘old’ Clynelish distilled in 1965 before the current distillery had been established…. That makes it Brora as we now know and love. The previous record for this bottle was £1,550.

The vast majority of Macallan values were either around current market values or slightly lower (lower mainly for the 18 year olds). That said, a bottle of 1974 Speymalt by Gordon & MacPhail showed impressive growth when it sold for £390. The low point for this bottle was £123 in 2011.

Older Laphroaig continued to see huge demand as a bottle of the 1980 27 year old Oloroso matured (972 bottles) sold for £850, more than doubling its 2009 hammer price of £400.

So like the gore soaked blade of Jason’s Machete there were many up’s and down’s…. some blood was spilled but there were some hero’s too. Interesting times for whisky values….

Until next week.