Tag Archives: Bowmore

Rare Whisky Review – August 2016

When we finally close out August, we’ll have seen one of the largest (if not the single largest) open market volume months ever. Supply has been astounding, not just with three thousand bottles of whatever Ardbeg released on their last ‘day’, but with some massive malts; many of the kings of collectables emerged, and boy did they fly. We’re primarily going to focus on just two iconic collectors distilleries this month.

Bowmore and Macallan.

Starting with Bowmore; we’re witnessing some exceptional increases in value for certain bottles from this classic collectors distillery. Currency fluctuations can be held responsible for an element of these increases; however, before the significant weakening of Sterling, we had already witnessed exceptional buoyancy in the rare whisky market despite any forex related movement.

Whisky-Online Auctions (W-OA) started August with a record price for the 1955 40 year old. Always re-assuringly expensive, even as far back as 2008 these were selling for over £3,000. £6,200 took the bottle on this occasion. London based Whisky.Auction took a 30 year old ‘Sea Dragon’ ceramic to £1,550, just surpassing its previous best of £1,500. Crazy to think that even as recently as 2011 these sea dragon ceramics could be bought at auction for around £250.

Bowmore 1984Turning to Whisky Auctioneer and a bottle of White Bowmore managed a superb £5,100, way past its 2012 low-point of £1,700. Whisky Auctioneer also took a bottle of the 1965 vintage ‘Premier Range’ to £6,100; exactly £1,000 past its previous best of £5,100.

 

At the slightly less racy end of the market, also at Whisky Auctioneer, two bottles of the 1984 ‘Vintage Distillation’ sold for £312 (another sold for £271) a clear record for this bottle. This bottle was selling for £60 in 2012, therefore crystallising a four year gain of 420%.

Scotch Whisky Auctions August sale further illustrated the stiff demand for Bowmore. One of the 70cl variant bottles of the 1964 38 year old Bourbon Cask bottling achieved £4,300, comfortably exceeding a previous best of £3,600. The exceptionally rare Fecchio & Frassa Bicentenary bottle at 98.8 proof managed £2,800, £300 past its previous best.

As one of the classic-collectable distilleries, Bowmore rarities will inevitably remain sought after and August prices have confirmed that. But moving away from Islay and onto the mainland we find a distillery which is not just a ‘classic-collectable’ but arguably the king of collectables – Macallan had some stunning performances this month.

Scotch Whisky Auctions took a bottle of Private eye to £2,100.

Macallan Private Eye
£35 in 1996. £2,100 in 2016

I remember complaining bitterly at paying a hefty (it was then) £260 price-tag for a bottle some years ago but that seems almost a moot price-point now. I know I’ve mentioned this previously but I still find it incredible these originally retailed for £35 in 1996. The mini’s were even given away free with bottles of 10 year old at one point. Long gone are those days.

Virtually every vintage 18 year old bottling is now becoming a prize for the wealthy drinker/collector/investor. Prices are continuing to march north at a rapid pace. We do fear there will be a cooling at some point so unless these are being bought to drink, we urge extreme caution if buying at todays heated prices as an investment. Gap filling a collection? We completely understand that, but prices are looking ‘toppy’ right now.

Whisky Auctioneer sold a 1969 vintage 18 year old for £1,600 and the 1976’s are now around the £1,150 mark. For the first time, more than £1,000 was paid for the 1978 and 1979 vintages.

Just-Whisky brought some incredible bottles to market in their August sale. Little more than a week had passed since Whisky Auctioneer set a new £16,300 record for the 1949 vintage Millennium decanter when Just-whisky moved one for £17,675.

Macallan 1949 Millennium
Not to be confused with sherry…

When you next see my Co-Director, David, be sure and ask him about the time his very generous wife accidentally made what is possibly the worlds most expensive trifle with the Macallan Millennium liquid…

This month is to remain dominated by Bowmore and Macallan, however there are a couple of other record prices which can’t go without mention. Scotch Whisky Auctions £13,000 price for a bottle of Dalmore 1926 50 year old and what is surely the most expensive 20cl baby-bottle ever… A 20 cl variant Mortlach 70 year old by Gordon and MacPhail rocketed to £12,000…

Mortlach 1938 70 20 cl
The most expensive 20cl bottle ever.

I can’t help but wonder if the buyer in some way misread it and thought they were getting a full-sized bottle for a bargain.

Although in the current market, “a bargain” seems increasingly unlikely…

Until next time, slainte.

Andy and David.

Rare Whisky Review – July 2016

Secondary Market – July 2016

July saw Macallan’s 55 year old Lalique decanter set a new UK record price for the whole brand. Whisky-Online Auctions took a mighty £25,100 for this 55 year old ‘Macallan in Lalique’ second release. Back in 2010, the price of this was £5,400. As recently as 2012 one sold for £7,800. As the sixth and final Lalique decanter has now been announced and this series is complete, we should expect values to remain firm. This is also the most expensive bottle at auction in the UK since the £27,200 Springbank 1919 which sold in March 2015 (again by heavyweight price-busters Whisky-Online Auctions).

Macallan in Lalique 55
At £25,100 this is the most expensive Macallan to sell at auction in the UK

Laphroaig’s 30 year old Cairdeas managed £1,200, it’s first time through the £1,000 price point. With a 2010 record low of £345, this is further evidence that older age statements remain in exceptionally strong demand.

A few days earlier, Scotch Whisky Auctions took a bottle of 50 year old Glenury Royal to a new record of £4,300. Until as recently as 2012, this Diageo Special Release had failed to top £1,000; a seemingly distant price in light of the current market. The last twelve UK auction sales are listed under the image and, while somewhat spiky, the trend is very definitely going one way.

Glenury Royal 50 Image and Investment Profile

Millburn 1966 20 yr old ConnoisseursThat up-trend continues across most silent stills with values towards the top end or above recent trade. While short term gains are imminently possible, especially in today’s market, we still maintain whisky should be viewed as a 10 to 20 year investment. Scotch Whisky Auctions £500 hammer price for a 1966 Connoisseurs Choice 20 year old showed that 100% gains are achievable in one year! May 2015 saw this bottle fetch £250, exactly half of its sale value earlier this month. Amazing.

Lagavulin’s first 21 year old 2007 Special Release managed to achieve a new record of £920. This could make the £800 ask for the new 25 year old, soon to be released, 200th anniversary bottle look like good value providing the liquid is exemplary. Just don’t expect overnight gains, it’s taken the 21 year old almost ten years to get to this level.

McTears haven’t featured heavily in these pages recently, but their July auction had one particular star performer. The second 1994 release (not the first release as originally mentioned) of the original Black Bowmore’s managed a tremendous £6,000 on the nose. Its previous best was £4,800 earlier this year and in 2010 it was still selling for £1,600. This highlights the almost mythical allure these bottles conjure among admirers. Charting the performance of the first three Black Bowmore releases over just the last three years shows a 97.7% increase in value.

Black Bowmore Index

 

Primary/Retail Releases.

Throughout the vast, frequently eclectic, world of whisky, there have been certain constants. Reminders that no-matter what else is going on there are some things you can turn to in wide eyed expectation and get a warm fuzzy feeling. Lagavulin 16 year old is one of those things, the consistently great Aberlour A’Bunadh is another and Macallan 18 year old carrying a vintage year of distillation is another.

Since the 1983 bottling of the 1965 vintage, the Macallan 18 year old was to become one of the most spectacularly sought after vintage vertical collections. Prior to the inception of the 18 year old as part of Macallan’s core offering, the often referred to ‘gold label’ bottles can be sourced all the way back to 1940’s vintages.

These vintages are one of the most extensive historical lenses to how a brand has changed in both its flavour and it image over the last fifty or so years. Birthday’s, death-day’s, weddings anniversaries and more special occasions than one can shake an Elchies Estate stick at have been marked by these iconic bottles.

… But no more.

2015 saw the final ‘vintage’ Macallan 18. That was the 1997 (technically still not a single vintage but we’ll let that slide for posterity). From this year many will have already noticed a change. Date distilled now becomes year of release. This in effect leaves an 18 year gap where no special occasions can be referenced by date (1998 – 2015 inclusive). This subtle change sees the vintage-stated Macallan 18 year olds pass into history…

So this –

Mac 18 1997

Becomes this –

Mac 18 2016

Interestingly, the death of this longstanding vintage vertical brings with it certain opportunities for collectors. Firstly, make sure the final 1997 vintage is snapped up if a full collection is the aim. Secondly, now vintage bottles are dead, prices should start to move for the more recent purple box variants when stagnation has previously been the trend. Couple the cessation of one bottling type with the fact that 2016 is the first ‘Annual Release’ 18 year old and we all know what happens to first release prices. A real shame, and the end of an era on one hand, but an exciting annual release programme on the other.

Until next time, slainte.

Andy and David.

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?

Lagavulin-whisky_Lagavulin-25-Year-1200x675

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 – 12th May 2016

Sometimes packaging delights us; sometimes it turns us off; sometimes it sadly becomes more of a focus than the liquid it’s intended to position, enhance and display… Rarely does it confuse. But that’s where Gordon and MacPhail’s Mortlach 75 year old packaging has left me – utterly confused.

Mortlach 75
The oldest Scotch in the world

I’m not saying it’s bad per se, just a little left of field, a bit odd and probably not that sensible if the truth be told.

The recent Whisky Auctioneer whisky sale saw a bottle of the oldest Scotch in the world sell for the not insignificant sum of £17,800. Included in the sale was the leather travel/presentation bag. I have nothing against leather travel bags, I’ve owned one for many years and it’s been a welcome companion on many a trip… But would I stuff nearly twenty grands worth of Scotch and crystal decanter inside it and haul it over my shoulder? The concept seems about as sensible as popping into Lady Gaga’s meat dress and wandering round the Maasai Mara shouting “here Lion, Lion… here boy”. Maybe the inside of the bag has significant steel and Kevlar reinforcement? At least it’s different! Odd… granted, but different.

Mortlach bag
Makes traveling with you twenty grand bottle of Scotch a breeze!

Anyway, moving from packaging to prices as is more the focus here; there were some huge new records achieved at last week’s Whisky Auctioneer sale.

Macallan – A market divided.

Macallan 18 Year Old 1970's

As auction values for more modern releases and many Macallan ‘drinkers’ splutter and falter like an asthmatic steam train ascending Everest, many are becoming available at auction for significantly less that you’d pay at retail (Rare Cask for £135 at auction). On the flip side of this crumbling coin is the golden face of the ‘old’ bottles. The older vintage 18 and 25 year old’s are absolutely flying. Values are increasing at an unprecedented rate. The 18’s have already increased by 24.69% this year and the 25 year old’s have increased by 19.35%. April’s Rare Whisky 101 month-end charts were off the scale and that growth looks to be accelerating. As with the vast Karuizawa gains seen through early 2015, we’re wondering if the market is becoming overheated. Certainly, the pace of these increases cannot be maintained. Three of the 18 year olds sold at this auction achieved fresh new records – the 1970 hit £1,050, a bottle of 1974 sold for £975 and the 1978 made £825. All were selling for around a third of those prices as recently as 2013.

Islay continues to ride high.

Yet again, older rarer bottles from Islay made big money. I remember being sat in the auction room at Bonhams (Edinburgh) in 2010 and chatting in hushed tones to a friend as the auction moved along. Almost exactly when I’d finished talking, the hammer fell on a bottle I couldn’t believe I missed. £120 took a bottle of 1972 27 year old Bowmore… A snip… and I missed it because I was chewing the fat over Lyne arm angles, secondary fermentation or some other utterly geeky stuff. Like my old school reports – pay more attention! Especially noting that bottle sold for £858 at last week’s Whisky Auctioneer sale.

White Horse bottled Lagavulin seems to be in ever increasing demand. £230 took a bottle to nearly double its recent trading range… Maybe there’s panic in them there hills? Might 16 turn to eight then turns to NAS?! I suspect not to be fair, but who knows. A bottle of Murray McDavid bottled 1979 Lagavulin also shone through as a clear winner managing £1,000 for the first time. Until the end of 2013 this bottle had never sold for more than £200 at auction.

Bruichladdich saw a bottle of its 40 year old make the most expensive bottle of ‘Laddie at auction in the UK. A respect-worthy £1750 took it past a previous best of £1550.

From a silent stills perspective. The big movement was seen from independent bottlers. A brace of 1972 vintage Brora’s from Douglas Laing went expectedly berserk. The Old and Rare 29 year old managed £2,350, massively ahead of its previous UK sale price of £500 (that was expensive in 2010!) and the 30 year old bottled for The Whisky Shop hit £1,426, not a record but a superb price noting it was lacking its card tube.

Brora 1972's
A brace of big Brora ’72’s

Port Ellen had a noticeable lack of bottles at auction but a Connoisseurs Choice 1982/2007 stood out when it fetched £410.

All told, last week’s Whisky Auctioneer sale was as buoyant as they come. We’re just keeping a close eye on the rapidly heating vintage Macallan market. For those with a few stashed away, values are clearly increasing; however, I’m not so sure I’d be entering the market in a hurry right now. As always, time will tell.

 

Images courtesy of Whisky Auctioneer.

Weekly Auction Watch – 2nd Nov 2015

October departed quicker than a bottle of Loch Dhu down a drain. An immensely busy month for RW101 saw our weekly updates turn monthly. There are huge levels of activity in many areas of the market right now, which in itself is exceptionally exciting… Volatility and extended losses for some and immense upwards pressure on values for others.

November’s first dedicated whisky sale saw a bumper 2,800 lots go under the e-hammer at Scotch Whisky Auctions. In last months SWA sale, fifteen out of the top twenty most expensive bottles were from Karuizawa; Scotch took just five. This month, Scotland gained a little ground holding onto seven out of the top twenty. That said, the price difference between the most expensive bottle of Karuizawa and the most expensive bottle of Scotch was vast: £9,000 took the first bottle (of just 50 released) on the open market from Karuizawa’s cask number 3557. Laphroaig’s 1960 vintage 40 year old was capable of just £4,000 – Incidentally, that’s the first time this bottle’s hit £4,000, having a previous record of £3,800.

Over £16,000 right here... Just these three!
Over £16,000 right here… Just these three!

The second most expensive bottle of Scotch was also a record breaker. One of the ultra-rare 1973 28 year old Talisker’s shot to a record £3,200, comfortably exceeding its previous best of £2,500.

Ardbeg demonstrated the ongoing trend of market polarisation as a bottle of the highly desirable Lord of the Isles took an all-time second best price of £820. Languishing at the other end of the spectrum, the Kildalton Project bottle struggled to fetch its original retail price of £120… After fees and taxes the result is clearly a steep net loss.

Clynelish 12
Just £120 in 2009

Featured in our previous auction update, “buyer beware at these heady prices” was our closing remark about Bowmore’s Mizunara cask finish when the first bottle to hit the market achieved £1,200. One short month later and we’re looking at a 25% auction-to-auction loss following a £900 sale. Still more than its original retail price but classic new-release-curve at play.

Further highlighting bottles released years/decades ago containing legacy-liquid are still hugely sought after, a bottle of early 1980’s bottled Clynelish 12 year old sold for a record £560. Way back in 2009, a paltry £120 would have secured one of these.

From a collector/investor perspective, Dalmore values continue to harden. As much as Dalmore has become famous (infamous) for their recent seemingly excessive pricing, their long extinct bottles and older vintages keep stepping up in value. A bottle of exceptionally rare 12-year-old from the 1970’s at 75 degrees proof achieved £640, way ahead of its £260 Low in 2010. Along with that, a wonderful old bottle of 20-year-old hit £740 – not an outright record (£785) but way ahead of the £450 paid in 2010.

Long extinct releases and older vintages underpin Dalmore as a collectable
Long extinct releases and older vintages underpin Dalmore as a collectable

While we didn’t run the numbers, anecdotally, there appeared to be a continuation in the trend for declining stock from silent distilleries. There just isn’t much floating around the auction-ether anymore.

Be it the above mentioned stress on supply or a renewed level of demand, following an extended period of volatility, Brora OB values seem to be settling towards the higher end of their trading range. No outright records were set but there was evident pressure on the prices paid.

Mirroring the above apparent stress in supply, one of just two bottles from silent lowlander, St Magdalene, (a 1965/1993 Connoisseurs Choice) fetched an almost inevitable new record £320. The other, a bottle of the 19-year-old Rare Malts Selection, fetched £520. Not a record but towards the top end of its trading range, especially noting the borderline fill level. In 2008 you’d have picked this bottle up for £100.

St Mag - Just two bottles out of over 2,800 at this auction
St Mag represented by Just two bottles at this auction

All-told, a buoyant start to what it traditionally the highest volume month of the year. Whether that trend continues is anybody’s guess…

Until next time.

Slainte,

Andy

All images courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions

Bottled Icons – Black Bowmore

BOTTLED ICONS – BLACK BOWMORE

1 – THE LEGACY – GAVIN D SMITH

 

Every now and again a whisky is launched which becomes an almost instant classic. Mention the name alone and the eyes of investors and collectors light up with eager recognition. Such a whisky is Black Bowmore, initially marketed in 1993, with further releases following during the next two years.

Here we ask members of the Bowmore team to reveal some of the background to this epic bottling.

Who decided on the name?

The expression really named itself; being sherry matured and so unusually dark it was only natural that it should be called Black Bowmore.

Had Bowmore always been aware this was likely to be great whisky and earmarked these casks accordingly?

All the casks in Bowmore’s legendary No. 1 Vaults were, and continue to be, regularly checked. The Black Bowmore casks would have been selected for bottling accordingly, and although it is unlikely that anyone at the time could have predicted it would become so iconic, we knew that it was a truly great whisky.

No 1 Vaults

So just what is it about the Black Bowmore that makes it such a classic?

  1. Distilled in 1964 at Bowmore, Islay’s first single malt distillery and one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, the spirit was filled into oak casks which had previously been used for maturing rich, sweet Oloroso sherry.
  2. The casks were transferred to the distillery’s No.1 Vaults, Scotland’s oldest maturation warehouse located below sea level on the shores of Loch Indaal, to mature in a truly unique atmosphere.
  3. The young spirit developed into one of the most incredible whiskies ever produced in Scotland with an aroma that is incomparable; rich, sherry, cocoa, dark cherries, toffee, chocolate orange and mature oak.
  4. On the palate, the concentration of flavours is inimitable, gently rolling over the tongue like waves to the shore.
  5. Of the 5,812 bottles produced, very few exist today and have become extremely collectible.

 

What are the main influences on its character?

The main influences on the character of Black Bowmore are the new-make spirit matured in first-fill sherry casks and the maturation process in Bowmore’s legendary No.1 vaults. Being matured below sea level produces a perfect recipe of balance and richness, peat smoke and fruit.

Was there anything special about the casks used?

The casks used to produce Black Bowmore are perfect examples of the exceptional quality sherry casks selected by Bowmore to be ideally suited for long maturation.

Was the distillery using a lot of first-fill oloroso casks at the time, or would this have been really unusual?

Sherry filling was used in a higher proportion during the 1960s, and this was a style known to suit Bowmore, however Black Bowmore is proof of the quality of the wooden casks and conditions in our No.1 Vaults.

I understand you replace the wax capsule for buyers if it is cracked. How many times have you done that?

We don’t replace the wax, however we do re-seal with a spun capsule if the wax has broken off.  We have probably replaced only two or three over the years.

Did Bowmore ever expect Black Bowmore to become so iconic and increase so dramatically in value and collectible status?

It was understood at the time of release that Black Bowmore was an exceptional whisky; however no one could have predicted such a stratospheric rise in collectability. Black Bowmore remains one of the most iconic expressions to come out of our distillery.

What were Bowmore’s original tasting notes?

Tasting notes on the back of the original Black Bowmore bottle read ‘Remarkably complex, yet mellow, Black Bowmore is a superb example of an Islay whisky matured in sherry butts.’


2 – THE INVESTMENT? – ANDY SIMPSON

I recall way back in 2011, I think… maybe 2012… I had what could be called an interesting conversation with Mark Gillespie from Whiskycast about the whole topic of investing in bottles of whisky.

Mark appeared to be strongly against whisky being used as an investment which is great; as always, whisky has the ability to generate passion among its fans and also healthy debate.

So why reference a conversation which happened some four years ago?

We had a very specific conversation about Black Bowmore and the relative price consistency the bottles had been achieving at auction. If something has a completely consistent price it’ll never make it as an investment and, almost like clockwork, the first three Black Bowmore’s had been selling for around £1,600 each. In-fact throughout the latter part of 2010 and into early 2011 the first three releases could be picked up for exactly that – £4,800 for the trilogy.

Wind the clock forward a few short years and let’s take a look the state of play now.

IF you’d bought these three icons of whisky at what appeared to be the capped max price of £4,800, would that price-ceiling turn out to be made of impermeable stuff or would it subsequently prove to be glass? Let’s not forget these bottles originally retailed for around £100 per bottle so the increase-over-retail price was already vast. Could these bottles physically extend further gains or were they already exhausted?

An understatement would be to say they’ve done okay! In-fact they’ve performed remarkably well. The chart below shows their performance since 2008. The early years of the chart clearly illustrate the lacklustre performance and near stagnation before we started to see positive momentum.

Black Bowmore Index

Rather than vast spikes in their performance, it’s encouraging to see the rate of more recent growth is relatively consistent. Natural peaks and troughs give way to a fairly regular pattern of increasing values.

While these are not the best performers in absolute terms, an almost tripling in price over the last four years from an index value of 106.19 at the end of May 2011 to 294.25 at present is clearly impressive.

Had the set of three bottles been purchased in 2011 for £4,800 they would now be worth £13,300. That’s £8,500 ahead of their 2011 auction price and an almost unbelievable £13,000 increase in value from their original retail price.

With this level of increase over recent years, is there any scope for future growth? That’s clearly impossible to answer; however, the current high demand for Black Bowmore doesn’t look like it will abate any-time soon. In fact general Bowmore values have been hardening rapidly over recent months meaning the likelihood of plummeting values for these three icons looks slim (never say never though).

We frequently talk of the right and wrong bottles from a collectors/investors perspective; in our view the first three Black Bowmore’s don’t get much more right! Pure bottled icons.

Our hearty thanks go to Morrison Bowmore Distillers for their contribution, their images … and of course for releasing such exceptional Scotch!

Black Bowmore 1

Feis Ile Bottles – Collectable or not?

Like a swarm of wasps round a spilled Jack ‘n Coke on a hot day, the coming months are set to see the many whisky-auctioneers of the world flooded by limited bottles from this years Islay Festival. There’s almost an underground competition to see which auctioneer can get the first bottles onto the open market such is demand for these releases.

For those collectors who can’t attend the annual Feis Ile (or maybe just don’t do queues), auctions are a viable means of acquiring these desirable bottles.

But how do they perform as an investment?

Some of the older releases are collectable icons now, the 2008 Feis Ile Port Ellen sold for £100 to the lucky few who secured a bottle on the day. It now sells for around £3,000 at auction, a truly staggering result. Can the more recent, increasingly voluminous bottlings compete as a viable liquid commodity? Over the years I’ve spoken to many Feis-goers who would pay for their annual peat-land-pilgrimage by selling the bottled spoils of their trip after the event.

It’s one thing buying a bottle for £100 upon its release and selling for £3,000, but as an investment are these bottles worth buying on the secondary market? If so, which distilleries are the ones to go for?

The chart below shows the UK auction performance from the start of June 2012 to the end of May 2015 for ALL Feis Ile bottles sold. Such is the impact and value of the Port Ellen release we’ve included a separate line with that bottle removed from the index. Over the three year term measured, all Feis Ile bottles have increased by 45.27%; without the Port Ellen that’s reduced to 37.41%.

All Bottle Feis Ile Index

The current average price of all Feis Ile bottles is £304.40 which is taken back to £262.40 without the Port Ellen. As a full and expansive collection, it has to be said the Feis releases are not the best performing of bottles; however 45% over three years is still impressive and outperforms banks, Gold, wine and a host of other investments.

Feis Ile Bottles by Distillery.

In order to have some element of fairness around this we’ve taken four years releases, 2009 – 2012 inclusive, and measured these separately (noting Kilchoman released their first Feis bottle in 2010 we’re measuring three releases for them). This also gives a reasonably good period of time for measurement, if we took it right up to 2014, we’d only be looking at 12 months performance and as we all know, whisky should be viewed as a long term investment. We also created two separate indices for Bowmore, one measuring the lower priced more voluminous releases and another for the very rare more expensive editions.

We had an opinion about which distillery(ies) would be the best performers. Prior to running the numbers we were very much of the opinion we’d see Lagavulin/Bowmore right at the top and Kilchoman/Bruichladdich at the bottom. The actual numbers are rather less obvious and proved to be something of a surprise.

The chart below indexes the bottom four performing distilleries/bottle groups.

Worst Perfroming Feis Ile by Distillery

Bowmore Rarities = +13.68%

Kilchoman = -2.12%

Caol Ila = -13.31%

Bunnahabhain = -16.95%

Bunnahabhain has seen something of a rapid slide since last years Feis. In May 2014 Bunnahabhain Feis bottles were up some 19.55% (index 119.55). Over the past 12 months values have plummeted by more than 30% to their current level. The trigger point in time is very definite, it’s on-the-nose of last years Feis Ile, so what happened? Were 2014’s bottles just too expensive causing an element of collectors turning away from the brand? Did the quality of the liquid slip significantly? Whatever the reason, Bunnahabhain’s bottles have seen a step change shift into the red.

No Bruichladdich at the bottom then? Recent prices for virtually all bottles of Bruichladdich have slumped, with even the most sought after bottles tumbling in value. A good example is PC5 which used to sell for as much as £460 and now sells for £200 – £220 having lost over 50% from its peak price.

The chart below indexes the top five distilleries/bottle groups.

Top Performing Feil Ile by distillery

Bruichladdich = +53.67%

Laphroaig = +44.75%

Bowmore = +29.37%

Ardbeg = +28.86%

Lagavulin = +26.85%

In a quite unexpected final result, somewhat akin to the recent UK general election, Bruichladdich’s bottles have out-performed the rest by a significant margin.

Average UK Auction Prices.

Average prices per bottle per distillery/bottle group look more or less where expected. The rare Bowmore bottles take top spot with many other distilleries hovering around the £100 price point.

Average Feis Ile bottle price by distillery

The interesting thing this allows is a number of assumptions; the rare Bowmore’s use up a lot of capital for a relatively small return, or they have historically. Conversely Bruichladdich uses far less capital and is apparently making the greatest gains, although I would still urge huge caution here.

In reality, for those with a keen interest in the value of their collections from a keep or drink perspective, I’d be selecting some of the rarities and older single casks while they’re still appearing on the market reasonably frequently. This final chart shows the top 10 performing bottles from the various Feis Ile releases.

Top 10 Feis Ile Release Index

Now the Feis is a relatively large scale event, the volume of collectable bottles increases yearly. Where we might have previously seen a single cask from a distillery, in order to give as many folk as possible the chance to try the liquid, we now see thousands of bottles… which is a good thing.

Despite Diageo’s gift-at-the-Feis Lagavulin pricing, I still suspect these older, rarer releases will be where the future gains are seen.

Weekly Whisky Auction Watch – 19th May 2015

The early 1980’s… Average UK house prices were around £25,000, Macallan’s 1928 Anniversary Malt was retailing for £50 per bottle and the Scotch whisky industry was heading for meltdown. Over-production followed by severe global recession brought with it the rationalisation of an industry we know and love today.

One of the best known casualties was Port Ellen.

The early 1980’s… Relative unknown indie bottler James MacArthur released an innocuous, plain and inconspicuous bottle of 12 year old whisky from Port Ellen. The cost of which would have been infinitesimally small in todays world. Port Ellen was blend fodder, not the iconic collectable and (at risk of being hung, drawn, quartered, minced and fed to voracious red bellied Piranha by the anti-whisky-investment-league) valuable commodity it is today.

Port Ellen James MacArthur's 12 year old
£8,200 on the hammer

Assume a cost of £30 per bottle (it was probably far less) and push forward the clock to now. That £30 bottle has increased by a quite frankly ridiculous 27,000% to its current value of £8,200. That was the price paid for one of these rarities at the recent Whisky-Online Auctions (W-OA) sale which makes it both the most expensive bottle of Port Ellen and the most expensive bottle of 12 year old Scotch ever sold at auction.

Why? Clearly rarity plays a factor as does the distillery of origin but overarchingly it’s reputedly amazing whisky… No bullshit, just great Scotch (now there’s a marketing strapline I’d like to see!).

Laphroaig 12 Cad c1970Ardbeg 10 late 1970's

Port Ellen wasn’t the only Islay show stopper at the recent W-OA sale. A late 1970’s bottled Ardbeg 10 year old achieved £1,550 and an exceptional old Cadeneheads 12 year old Laphroaig fetched £3,600. Bowmore’s 1957 38 year old achieved £4,100 leaving its 2010 price of £1,000 as a distant memory.

Bowmore 1957

One of the other highlights of the auction was a very well kept collection of older Connoisseurs Choice bottles (cream and brown labels). While the fill levels were expectedly variable, the general condition of the bottles was excellent. Many sold for record prices including –

Ardbeg 1974 13 year old – £430, up from £380 in 2012

Dallas Dhu 1968 14 year old – £280, up from £95 in 2009

Glenkinchie 1964 19 year old – £260, up from £127 in 2012

Glenlossie 1968 14 year old – £250, up from £100 in 2013

Imperial 1969 14 year old – £160, up from £100 in 2013

Brackla 1969 14 year old – £160, up from £90 in 2009

Increasingly collectable. 1980's bottled Connoisseurs Choice
Increasingly collectable. 1980’s bottled Connoisseurs Choice

Couple the north highland seaside town of Brora with the Rare Malts Selection series and you’re almost guaranteed exceptional results. An incredibly rare 60.02% ABV variant of the legendary Brora 1972 22 year old fetched £3,200, doubling its 2012 price of £1,600. A bottle of 1975 20 year old Brora achieved £650, more than doubling its last UK auction outing of £300. Cross the road, literally, to the very much alive and kicking Clynelish and the ultra rare 1972 22 year old bottled at 58.64% sold for £825, way up from the £323 paid in 2011… 1972 was a good vintage in Brora!

Significant growth for Rare Malts Brora and Clynelish
Significant growth for Rare Malts Brora and Clynelish

Moving back down to the eastern flanks of Speyside and Ardmore’s highly sought after ‘Pure Malt Whisky’ 15 year old Ardmore 15 year oldpushed through £1,000 for the first time when the hammer fell at £1,050. In 2011 just £550 would have taken the bottle.

Having looked at some of the positives, we should always look at the not-so-positives. Someone recently asked me “Andy, just between us, what’s the worst whisky you’ve ever tried?” The answer galvanised me to mention this weeks final bottle. While in my opinion it’s not the worst ever, so far this year I’d have to say my least favourite dram is Inchmurrin 12 year old. Clearly taste is completely subjective but I couldn’t finish a glass of it recently. From the same distillery and showing not every bottle distilled in the 1960’s will increase in value, a bottle of Inchmurrin 1966 sold for £110; exactly half its previous UK auction price of £220 (2013).

50% loss
50% loss

While the weather in the Highlands has been far from spring-like with four degrees centigrade and sleet at the weekend, the rare whisky market continues with a warm glow. Let’s hope it doesn’t become too overheated come summer.

Until next time.

Slainte,

Andy

Images courtesy of Whisky-Online Auctions.

Weekly Auction Watch – 7th April 2015

An £11,400 loss on the sale of one bottle of whisky.

Take into account 10% plus VAT sellers commission and the retail to auction crystallised loss is £13,212, or -49.86%.

That was the state of play at the recent Whisky-Online Auctions sale for a bottle of the 2014 release Balvenie 50 year old. The retail price for one of 128 bottles from cask number 4570 is £26,500… the hammer fell at just £15,100.

How to lose over £10,000 in one trade for one bottle.
How to lose over £10,000 in one trade for one bottle.

Why sell such a recently released high end rarity at auction? There’s probably a whole host of reasons from a sellers perspective and one could speculate all day; unwanted gift? Just need the cash? Whatever. Speculation aside, one of the great things about an auction is it shows the true market value for something. I’ve been asked many times if I think the new Balvenie 50’s are a good investment, my answer’s always been no. Certainly not in the short to medium term; long term, possibly; with the lack of old stock at the moment anything’s a definite maybe. A collectors piece? Absolutely… This is without question a halo bottle in any Balvenie collection. If you must have every bottle of Balvenie then you have to get one of these. I hope there’s a very happy Balvenie collector out there… or maybe a happy Balvenie drinker?!

So the Balvenie sold for 56.98% of its current retail price (hammer price compared to VAT inclusive retail price). In a very different area of the market, lower down the value chain, we saw a bottle sell for 600% more than its current retail price.

Whisky-Online Auctions brought the first bottles of Ardbeg Perpetuum to market.

These first three bottles sold for £490, £410 and £400 per bottle. With a current retail price of £70 (and only available from the distillery), I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – patience is key when buying if you have future gains at all in mind.

Ardbeg's Marketing team rejected this bottle label as it may have just been a little too obvious.
Ardbeg’s Marketing team rejected this bottle label as it may have just been a little too obvious.

As an example, listed among the first few sales of last years (£120 per bottle) Ardbeg Kildalton, highs of £470, £460 and £450 were observed. Currently, the bottle’s selling for around £125 – £140 at auction.

With 12,000 bottles of Perpetuum for sale, rest assured the auction market will be flooded after this years Feis Ile. If you can’t get one on Islay in person, give it six or twelve months, let the dust to settle, and pick one up at a slightly less aggressive price.

Among the highs and the lows, the usual mix of rarities, collectors bottles and good old drinkers prevailed throughout one of Whisky-Online Auctions usual high quality sales.

In what looks to be a run-up to the aforementioned Feis Ile 2015, Islay in general had a great auction.

Laphroaig are moving through a real sea-change in prices for their older discontinued bottles. With its 2009 – £400 low-point long in the past, a bottle of 1980 27 year old (Oloroso) managed a huge new record of £1,450. The 2006 Feis Ile bottle settled on a record £400, more than doubling its 2013 low of £165.

Laphhroaig collectible pace-setters
Collectible pace-setters from Laphroaig

Bowmore saw its 4th release of Black Bowmore fetch £5,900. With a previous auction sale price of £2,700 in 2013 ‘big’ Bowmore’s still pull the crowds. The original Black Bormore first release sold for £4,600, some £400 off its current record but way ahead of its 2010 low of £1,600. Bowmore’s 1972 27 year old also hit a new high when it achieved £700. The most recent price for the 1972 27 year old was £480 and its all-time low was just £120 in 2010.

A brace of Bowmore's Black
A brace of Bowmore’s Black

As a collection, many bottles from the Rare Malts Selection have shown signs of values moving north.

The standout at this auction was a bottle of 1972 23 year old Clynelish which sold for an amazing £825; more than double its previous auction price of £350.

Clynelish Rare Malt outperforms the market

Fellow northern highlander, Glenmorangie, saw a bottle of ‘Traditional’ sell for £135… in 2011 one sold for just £30. Showing how polarised the market is right now, a bottle of Glenmorangie Grand Slam Dram sold for £32.50, its lowest price on record.

With so much chaff and distraction in the market from a new release perspective it was pleasing to see continued buoyancy on the secondary market. Full details will be published in our Monthly Market Watch, however, the first quarter of 2015 looks to have been a success for whisky as an alternative investment. The two core indices for rare whisky, the Rare Whisky Icon100 index and the Rare Whisky Apex1000 index, are both meaningfully up by 7.24% and 4.36% respectively.

One shouldn’t count one’s early Easter chickens just yet but the entry into 2015 has been far more positive than the exit from 2014.

Until next time.

Slainte,

Andy

Images courtesy of Whisky-Online Auctions