Tag Archives: Highland Park

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.

Now and Then – Sherry Bombs.

The Past, the Present and the Future.

Slightly back to front, I’m going to start with the results before we get into some more detail. We recently blindly assessed some of the worlds largest and most influential single malt brands… Can their current entry level bottles keep up with discontinued past versions?



The second ‘Now and Then’ was once again hosted by the whisky guru and raconteur Mr Charlie MacLean. For those unfamiliar with the Now and Then club, we meet now and then, and we compare/contrast whisky from now and then.


Bacon sarnies, coffee and great conversations kicked us off in high spirits and we were delighted to welcome Gavin Smith to his first session – The full quintet was together for the first time.


IMG_6065Sherry bomb sampling of 6 highly respected distilleries was the tough ask of the day.

We chose the above distilleries for their strong sherry bias, past and/or present. All are strong brands with a pedigree of unquestionable quality…. But that was then and this is now!

IMG_6064Before some in-depth analysis of the scores we pose the hypothesis – OLDER BOTTLINGS ARE BETTER!

Some personal musings and opinions close to my heart as to why this hypothesis might be true –

AGE: Is the average age of whisky in the old bottles higher than the contemporary bottlings?  Stock management is tricky when demand is outstripping supply. In days of yore (the 1970s, 80s and 90s) there was maybe a little less pressure on stocks and a master distiller or whisky maker could be a bit more flexible with the casks he/she selected for vatting, marrying and bottling.

I can clearly recall at Macallan we had large stocks of whisky from 1979 and 1980 which allowed our 10 and 12 year old whiskies, in the early to mid-1990s, to have the inclusion of older liquid. In percentage terms the amount of older whisky added was small but it none the less increased maturity, quality and richness.  It allowed me to balance out any younger, rougher, less mature stock even though that whisky was technically of the right age.

When Macallan was acquired by Highland Distillers in summer 1996 we began to look at the average age of all Macallan bottlings and compare them with Highland Park…..and guess what we found! The HP 12 was an average age of 16.7 years and Macallan 12 was around 12.5 to 13 years of age. No wonder HP 12 was winning so many awards back then. The folks at HP had it easy. I would have loved to make the Macallan 12 with spirit of an average (so there was some really old stuff going in!) age of 16.7 years old!

WOOD: More sherry influence in the old bottles and less in new releases? Have the casks changed? Has the process of “designing” the wood and setting in place acorn to cask supply chains reduced the quality of the wood? Is the wine/sherry seasoning delivering what is required? If I were heading up some of these large brand owning companies today I would worry much less about distillery efficiencies of mashing, fermentation and distillation (which has been done to death over recent decades and continues to lead to operational efficiency creep and spirit standardisation) and focus more, much more, on the “right first time” wood supply efficiency and effectiveness.

It seems to me to be crazy that production managers are held to account for minor efficiency enhancements but the same is not done to those employees sourcing the wood.  Research continues to suggest that the wood can contribute around 80 % of a mature whiskies character – I bet not even 8% of a companies operations research budget goes in to wood supply chain improvements!

The key here is the wood extractive potential and for European oak sherry casks you need lots of tannin potential to drive spices in to the spirit, sherry to add dried fruit flavours and then time and oxidation to shape, transform and mellow the whisky and add fragrance, orange and oak notes.

Of course, if we did an American white oak tasting we would be looking for vanillin and lactone extractives – caramel, toffee, crème brule, vanilla, fresh fruits and lemon citrus notes.

PROCESS: Barley varieties, slower malting, gentler mashing, more complex fermentation, direct fired stills and different cut points? All factors which to a greater or lesser degree change a new-make’s character. We know this but believe age and wood will have far more of a contributory influence.

BOTTLE AGEING: How does the spirit change in the glass over time? Chemically speaking, it must. Does significant bottle ageing change a spirit for the better, softening, rounding out and harmonising flavours? We believe it does.

All simple hypotheses (and opinion); none of which would be easy to prove one way or the other.

But what did the results say?

As usual we scored each whisky out of 10, meaning each whisky could achieve a maximum 50 points. We (Charles MacLean, Darren Leitch, Gavin Smith, Andy Simpson and I (David Robertson)) nosed and tasted the whiskies blind, in clear rather than blue glass and compared old v new for the following major brands –


Now (purchased July 2015)                     Then (1970s, 1980s & 1990s bottlings)

The Macallan Gold                                      The Macallan 10 yo, 1990s

Balvenie 12 yo Double Wood                      Balvenie 10 yo Founders Reserve 1990s

Glendronach 12 yo                                      Glendronach 12 yo 1980s

Glenfarclas 15 yo                                        Glenfarclas 15 yo 1970s

Highland Park 12 yo                                    Highland Park 12 yo 1980s

Aberlour 10 yo                                             Aberlour 8 yo 1970

As with our first session all about old vs new blends, this isn’t going to be a traditional write up of tasting notes, it’s going to be a little more focussed on the stats.

Single Malts are en-vogue.  Auctions continue to gather pace and achieved prices remain very bullish. So, time to see what all the fuss is about with old, sherry cask matured whiskies from some of the most sought after distillers.

The Final Scores.


As seen earlier but worthy of comment –

The top 3 whiskies were Macallan 10 (old), Balvenie 10 (old) and Glendronach 12 (new).  So what can we learn from this?  Many of our clients and ‘the noise in the pipes’ we hear, suggests Macallan is losing its sherry style and that Glendronach is the new sherry bomb on the block. Our results certaintly agree with that. Macallan old greatly outscores Macallan new 38 points to 21.  Glendronach new outscores its own old by 33 to 30 and is the only instance where the new whisky was rated more highly that its older twin – well done Billy Walker and team for the continued focus on high quality sherry wood!

Turning to Balvenie we see old scored 35 to new of 31 – both delicious whiskies.  Interestingly Balvenie’s combined old and new scores were the highest at 66 points, just shading Glendronach’s total at 63.


Apart from Glendronach, the panel preferred the older variants from the other 5 distillers.   Is this proof that older bottlings are better than their younger twins of today…we say yes, but it depends on the brand.

Brand Analysis – Variance in Scores: New to Old


Macallan shows the greatest difference in score followed by Glenfarclas and then Highland Park.  Aberlour and Balvenie are pretty close with the old variants being slightly preferred overall by the panel.   Glendronach bucks the trend, with the new variant outscoring the old variant by 3 points.

Positives & Negatives – We had to at least do some tasting notes!

Top 3 whiskies

Macallan Old 38 pts – rich, dried fruits, spices, orange

Balvenie Old 35 pts –  subtly sweet, honey, fruits, vanilla

Glendronach New 33 pts – fruity, apple, pears, malted barley

Bottom 3 whiskies

Glenfarclas New 15 pts – sweet and sour, caramel, toffee, odd

Macallan New 21 pts – sweet, vanilla, tropical fruit, waxy, slightly sour

Highland Park New 25 pts – sweet, herbal, floral, light smoke

Overall Brand Scores.

When both old and new are combined we get a view of brand quality.   It was thought that Glenfarclas with its 15 yo entry would score highest and have the advantage of age.  That was not the case, the new 15 yo GF was the lowest scoring whisky with only 15 points – an average per taster of 3 points!  WOW, this is serious.  Especially as The Whisky Exchange has this bottling as one of its favourites. We can only assume batch variation is the culprit here.

TWE Glenfarclas 15

Has the mighty independent force of will from the Grant family maybe not got as many brilliant sherry casks as had been thought!

Highland Park was second last with a total of 59 points, only 2 behind Macallan – are Edrington struggling to keep pace with demand and is quality of wood purchase and thus bottlings suffering?  Do they need to get Billy Walker to source their sherry casks?

The other three distillers all scored in excess of 60 points.

Personal Scores – THE HIGHS AND LOWS


Gavin was the most generous awarding a total of 83 marks and was the most easy to please and found 5 whiskies worthy of 8 points, averaging 6.92 points per sample.

Charlie had the nose that seemed least excited and only awarded 59 points across all the samples, averaging 4.92 points per whisky with a spread of 8 to 2 points.

Darren, Andy and I awarded 64, 75 and 70 points respectively and were close to the average.

The Favourites.

So, which whiskies did each panel member want to take home!

Gav loved Old Mac, Old Glendronach, New Glendronach, Balvenie New and Aberlour Old – scoring them all 8/10.

Darren was a bit more discriminating, awarding 8/10 just once and lusted after the new Glendronach.

Charlie, tough (as old boots) and hard to impress, liked the old Balvenie and gifted it 8/10.

Andy with a 9/10 demanded the old Aberlour.

I thought 2 whiskies worthy of the magic full marks of 10 – Macallan old and Balvenie old – maybe my nose can still recognise that delicious old sherry style after all and I fondly recall working as a car park attendant at Glenfiddich/Balvenie in summer 1986 and the access I got to the old founders reserve.

The not-so-goods.

The lowest scores were given by Gav, Darren, Charlie and Andy to the new Glenfarclas 15 with 5, 2, 2 and 2 points respectively.

I was the outlier, scoring the current Glenfarclas 4/10 but I found the old Glendronach a little less pleasing and scored it 3/10.

Apart from Glendronach the findings here echo what we saw in our blends assessment.

Maybe Billy Walker should be made COO for Sherry Wood supplies to the industry – he seems to be getting it right more than some of the much, much bigger guys!

So what?  Where can you go to get these great old variants?  Auctions is one key place and we have found that prices for these old bottlings range from £60 to £120.   Interestingly, the new variants range in price from £25 to £45. The Aberlour 10 year old looks to be best bang-for-buck and is frequently discounted to around £20 per bottle.

Next time we’re together we move onto the Islands. I can bat the ball back to Andy and set him the challenge of an Islay Now and Then.  And after that, we will look to do some ex bourbon matured malts – with some of The Glens – Morangie, Livet, Fiddich, Grant, Rothes.

The difference between old and new bottlings of the blends was significantly more heavily weighted towards the older variant. With malts, it seems the scores are somewhat closer. The new blends achieved just 58% of the score of the old versions where the new malts achieved 78%… the quality of blends looks to have slipped more than malts… or do blends continue to ‘marry’ in the bottle far more than malts?

As the ex-Master Distiller from the (past?) king of sherry, The Macallan, it has been a fascinating tasting and report to compile! Please email in your comments and questions.  We’d love to hear your thoughts.



Weekly Auction Watch – 12th Aug 2015

The 21st (really? Almost two years!) Whiskyauctioneer sale ended last week and brought with it a whole host of record prices, some were particularly strong. Amid solid demand, the secondary rare whisky market (for the right bottles), looked well and truly governed by the bulls.

The first-release phenomena stood out with the sale of a full set of An Cnoc Peter Arkle bottles. The first release (fourth bottle along in the image) achieved £138, it’s first time over £100 but the rest of the collection dipped.

Not necessarily the rarest bottles in the world but An Cnoc's Arkle first release performs well
Not necessarily the rarest bottles in the world but An Cnoc’s Arkle first release performs well

Tipped as ‘buys’ previously, many independently bottled Ardbeg values drifted further north. As LVMH continue their strict cask control regime (I’ve tried to buy some, it didn’t work out well!) the number of remaining casks in the market out-with LVMH control continues to wither on the vine. Diminishing supply and no let-up from an army of keen fans should see these bottles continue to perform.

Local (to RW101 anyway) hero Balblair's 1989 vintage
Local (to RW101 anyway) hero Balblair’s 1989 vintage

Our local distillery and frequent source of great juice, Balblair, saw the first release 1989 vintage peak at £127 (first release standing out again). Just £25 took this at auction in 2010.

Surfing on Atlantic wave sized peaks and troughs, as is now common with the distillery, Bruichladdich had an interesting set of results. The trilogy of Blacker Still, Redder Still and Golder Still saw Blacker selling for £370; way under its record £600. Redder sold for £350, just off its previous best £410 and Golder advanced significantly to sell for a heady £330. In 2011 Golder sold for a mere £78, well under its original retail price.

Blacker, Redder and Golder Still values yo-yo
Blacker, Redder and Golder Still values yo-yo
What goes up can also come down
What goes up can also come down

Previously one of the most sought after collectable Bruichladdich’s was ‘The Rocket’ or WMDI – Whisky of Mass Distinction (followed by the far more common WMDII – Yellow Submarine). As far back as 2008 WMDI was selling for £180 – £200; more recent sales have been as much as £270 and £310. In common with Bruichladdichs yo-yo-esque auction performance one sold for an all-time low of £175 (it also subsequently sold for less than that but more on that next week). Unless Bruichladdich is being bought as a drink or as a collectable, we’re advising to wait on the side-lines as an investment; certainly until values stabilise and this extreme volatility settles.

Silent Stills proved yet again they’re still attracting some serious competition.

Released in 2003, the Glen Flagler / Killyloch pairing performed impresively. As the only official bottling from Killyloch, this 1967 vintage sailed through its previous £1,550 record and sold for £1,850. While the Glen Flagler failed to achieve an outright new record, (£1,150 was bid in September 2013) it out-performed its current £550 – £750 trading range and set a second best price of £1,000.

Glen Flagler/Killyloch pair see surge in demand
Glen Flagler/Killyloch pair see surge in demand

Other record silent still sales were achieved by –

Cadenheads 1978 vintage Coleburn which sold for £305 (£75 low-point in 2011).

Cadenheads 1977 vintage Pittyvaich which sold for £450 (£220 low-point in 2013).

Signatory 1990 vintage Rosebank which sold for £260 (£125 low-point in 2014).

Against The Grain 1982 vintage Glen Mhor sold for £133 (£52 low-point in 2009).

Many silent stills bottles lead the market
Many silent stills bottles lead the market

Featured almost every week now, recent increased demand for Highland Park saw one of the Bicentenary Repatriation bottles achieve £799, sailing past current trading range of £350 – £450. A very respectable gain over its £250 original retail price.

Legendary Laga shines
Legendary Laga shines

Lagavulin’s 2007 released 21-year-old just pipped its previous best of £880 when one sold for £893.

While the volume end of the market continues to falter (but provides opportunities for missed bottles to be picked up at fair prices) the rarer end of the market maintains its buoyancy.

Until next time.



All images courtesy of Whisky Auctioneer

Weekly Auction Watch – 16th July 2015

Vintage Macallan Values Continue to Harden.

Building on last weeks positive outcome for Macallan, older vintage bottles appear to be shifting north; in some cases rapidly. It’s no secret secondary market values for Macallan had a relatively tough time throughout 2014. With a cross-brand all-bottle decline of 7.43%, the king of collectables took a relatively wide-reaching correction in investment terms.

Throughout 2015, certainly for discontinued older vintage bottles, things appear far more buoyant. A hardening in prices continued at the recent Whisky Auctioneer sale.

Four 25-year-old Anniversary Malt’s were sold with two achieving outright new records and the other two trading at the top end of recent prices.

Macallan Anniversary Malts continue upside
Macallan Anniversary Malts continue upside
  • The 1957/1983 vintage fetched a record £2,200; just £600 would have secured this bottle in 2010.
  • The 1968/1993 vintage fetched £1,300, not a record but way ahead of its previous most recent £950.
  • The 1971/1997 vintage fetched £1,200, again not a record but significantly above its recent £900 trading level.
  • The 1974/1999 vintage fetched £1,020, just £20 over its previous record price, but a record none the less.

On a more contemporary basis, while the ‘M’ decanter only managed £2,150, the Queens Diamond Jubilee cemented recent gains and settled around £1,120 per bottle – well up on the previous £750 – £850 prices achieved.

One for drinking
One for drinking

The Macallan ‘M’ decanter is an interesting concept. Unlike some bottles of Macallan, It wasn’t released with the collectors market in mind; it was released solely as a showcase for top of the range Macallan as a drink. I recently spoke to a business associate who asked my opinion on buying ‘M’ as an investment. My answer was to spend his money elsewhere and not to go near M as a collectable or investment… “Too late” came the unfortunate cry. It transpires he’s already bought four bottles! With a lot of patience it might claw back its losses… especially it it’s discontinued at some point in the future.

Away from Macallan…

Twice the price over just 12 months
Twice the price over just 12 months

Bottles from silent distilleries maintained their current positive price trajectory with Rosebank looking especially favourable. A bottle of 1967 vintage 26-year-old bottled by Signatory stormed in at £750; more than doubling its 2014 price of £350. The 1979 vintage 20-year-old Rosebank from The Rare Malts Selection range hit £450, not quite an absolute record (£660 was the ‘spiky’ price paid for a bottle in 2013) but way ahead of its £80 price tag in 2010.

Showing you don’t have to pay many hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of pounds to get on the silent stills ladder, a bottle of Inverleven (a distillery within a distillery) 1985/1999 by Gordon and MacPhail achieved £84; more than doubling its 2011 price of £40.

Glenlivet 1955
1955 Glenlivet

While many official bottles from Glenlivet continue to decline in value, the older vintage releases from Gordon and MacPhail are moving well. £675 took a 1955/2001 bottle, pushing it well ahead of its previous £450.

In my view, Glenlivet OB values will continue to fall. In terms of buying quality drinking stock on the secondary market, if the new Founders Reserve is anything to go by (tried it, left it, won’t return to it), we’ll see further polarisation between modern OB’s and discontinued IB’s.

Digressing slightly, the interesting conundrum for the Glenlivet Founders Reserve will be to see if it manages to recruit volumes of ‘new-to-category’ drinkers without turning away more seasoned whisky consumers. I fear the bigger challenge may be to get any new recruits to return for a second go…. who knows, I could be utterly wrong and it gets judged the best thing in the world at some award or another.

Back to the numbers and the current surge in Highland Park prices remains unchanged. Earl Haakon hit its highest price since November 2014 and a bottle of 1974 vintage (cask 11501, Viking Cinderella) sold for £750. £410 was the previous price paid for this bottle earlier in 2015.

Highland Park 1974 and Earl Haakon
Highland Park 1974 and Earl Haakon

Showing how rarities often make huge step-change leaps in value when they are rarely seen on the market, a bottle of Connoisseurs Choice 1957 Longmorn 25-year-old sold for £525. That was merely its second time at auction in the UK, on its first outing in 2008 it made £220.

Finally this week, it almost looks like Glenfiddich is giving its gilt-edged sibling Balvenie a bloody nose in the collectors stakes. The Glenfiddich 1958 sold for £4,400, way ahead of its previous £2,350 and even way ahead of the £2,750 it costs in travel retail.

Glenfiddich 1958 and 1972
Glenfiddich 1958 and 1972
Glenfiddich 1958 current retail price. Cheaper than buying at auction
Glenfiddich 1958 current retail price. Cheaper than buying at auction

At these prices it might not remain in travel retail for much longer. A bottle of 1972 vintage (from cask 16032) managed to take £900 on the nose, almost doubling its 2013 price of £460.

All in all, a good auction with some very impressive results.

Until next time.



Images courtesy of Whiskyauctioneer.com

Weekly Auction Watch 17th June 2015

The very first distillery ‘rank’ for collectors/investors was the quarter one 2010 premier of the, as was, Whisky Highland Index. It looked like this – not great but it did the job!

The very first Whisky Highland Index - March 2010
The very first Whisky Highland Index – March 2010

The reason for sharing this utterly out of date data is not one of nostalgia, it’s all to do with Highland Park. The Orkney heavyweight was number three in the index, literally 0.05 of a point behind Ardbeg and yielding number one place to the might of The Macallan. At the time, massive demand was driving Highland Park to an impressive top three position.

When the final Whisky Highland Index was published (Before RW101 took the reins) exactly four years later, Highland Park had slumped to number 17. The top spot remained occupied by the same Spey-banker but positions two and three were now taken by silent icons Port Ellen and Brora. Time, trends and demand had changed, leaving Highland Park out in the cold.

With the recent separation of the distillery rankings into the RW101 collectors index and investors index (collectors index in effect measures overall volumes and the investors index measures value changes), Highland Park remains heavily traded sitting at number six in the collectors index. The Investors Index tells a different story as the brand languishes in 44th place, quite surprising for such an iconic distillery. Even more surprising is that Highland Park has slipped 11 places since the end of 2014 when they occupied 33rd position. There are various reasons for the significant changes, but now’s not the time to have that debate.

Why such HP sauce related detail?

They had an absolute belter of an auction at the recent Scotch Whisky Auctions (SWA) sale. Putting aside the usual massively traded bottles such as Freya and co, the vast majority of the rarer bottles performed exceptionally.

Older vintage Highland Park bottles excel.
Older vintage Highland Park bottles excel.

The 1967 vintage release fetched £500 for the first time ever, exceeding its previous record by £40. Two 1973 vintages hit new highs as the 30 year old (cask 11207) held £540, up from just £160 in 2010, and the Travel Retail 37 year old achieved £820.

From memory, when Highland Park released the final Ambassador’s Cask that was around the time I really stopped collecting the brand so it was great to see the first release perform so well. A bottle of the first Ambassador’s Cask sold for £620; more than doubling its previous result.

Another one of the lovely old single cask releases (cask #45, 528 bottles, 1984 vintage) achieved £440, massively outstripping its previous best of £185.

It wasn’t just OB’s which took the limelight, a bottle of the Dragon 1961 vintage sailed up to £1,000, the first time this bottle’s seen the heady heights of four figures.

Record price breaking Highland Park rarities
Record price breaking Highland Park rarities

The surprise low-point was a bottle of the ultra-rare (just 89 bottles) Queen of the South which sold for £280. This saw £410 last October and even £275 in 2008 just after its release.

On the other side of the coin, almost in rebellion to Highland Park’s frothy market antics, Balvenie had a relatively tough time. Over-supply didn’t appear to be to blame either; however, most bottles (especially the Tun 1401’s) were significantly off their recent pace… A sign of things to come? Is the worm turning for golden balls-venie?

Silent distilleries saw plenty of action with new record prices for many bottles sold.

Rosebank 25
Rosebank 25
PE Feis 2008
PE Feis 2008

The big-bottle was a Port Ellen 2008 Feis Ile which sailed through its previous best to finish on £3,300. Another official release record from drinks behemoth Diageo was the £580 paid (each) for brace of Rosebank 25 year olds. Great yields against an original retail price of £125.

In many cases Indie bottles from silent stills took recent good form to a new level. The Glenugie 1977 Oloroso cask from Signatory went for £300; an incredible £50 took this in 2011. Douglas Laing’s 1979 22 year old Lochside sold for £175, almost doubling its 2012 price of £90. Gordon and MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice bottles saw some good action when a 1969 Convalmore sold for £270 and a 1981 North Port achieved £165, both new all-time highs.

Independent bottles from  silent distilleries remain on form
Independent bottles from silent distilleries remain on form

Finishing this week back in the land of the living and Dalmore’s 1981 Matusalem Sherry Finesse sold for an amazing £1,350. That’s almost £1,000 ahead of its relatively recent prices. The infrequently mentioned Dalwhinnie saw the 1973 29 year old Special Release from 2003 sell for £270, a clear £200 (or 286%) ahead of its paltry 2009 price of just £70.

Impressive performances from older Dalmore and Dalwhinnie bottles
Impressive performances from older Dalmore and Dalwhinnie bottles

Buoyancy persists in general as we head into the traditionally more challenging peak summer months.

Until next time.



All images courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions

Weekly Auction Watch 28th May 2015

The divide between online whisky auctioneers and traditional auction houses became increasingly apparent at the recent Mulberry Bank auction in Glasgow.

As the ever growing number of lots appearing through online re-sellers continues to thrive with, in some cases 100% lot-sold rates, Mulberry Bank looked to be somewhat incongruously out on a limb.

The chart below shows some basic analysis of the lot-sold ratio for this weeks auction at Mulberry Bank.

Unsold Lot Rate Mulberry Bank 26th May 2015

Previous unsold lot rates have been sat around 50%, however, 62% looks to be almost terminal. I haven’t done the research but I’d maybe wager proper cash (possibly even as much as a whole ten pounds!) that this is the largest unsold lot rate for any dedicated whisky auction. I’m no KPMG business analyst but this looks unsustainable in its current guise. I doff my hat off to Mulberry’s recent reduction in premiums for whisky sales. On the face of it though, this looks to have had little or no effect.

Of the 137 lots actually sold, did we see significant volumes of new records? Did whatever sold set the world on fire?

No. Sadly not.

The chart below highlights some analysis of the sold lots in terms of how they performed to their estimates. These are grouped into five broad categories: Sold under lower estimate, sold at exactly lower estimate, sold between lower and higher estimate, sold at exactly higher estimate and sold over higher estimate.

Sold Lot Analysis Mulberry Bank 26th May 2015

Of all sold lots, almost two thirds went for their low estimate or below. Just 36% of all sold lots fetched an amount over the low estimate. Slightly separately, but interesting none the less, many of the 14 lots which sold for over their higher estimate were old Rum’s… Does this hail The Rum Investor!? Not for my palate but then that’s a purely personal thing.

As is usual here, when we see something out of the ordinary, the next question simply becomes – why?

From my perspective, and straying away from pure numbers and fact into the grey world of opinion, there were two main reasons.

Firstly, I don’t believe in estimates in the current market. If you want to sell with an overly ambitious estimate then don’t sell. I believe estimates allow auctioneers to push a vendor over the line who doesn’t really, really want to sell (saying that, for certain bottles, the right estimates can protect unique rarities for being under-sold). In todays buoyant global market, the main reasons something doesn’t achieve its true open market value are that –

(a) It’s Fake (or perceived to be)

(b) It’s over estimated/aggressively reserved

(c) It’s being sold by an auctioneer who doesn’t specialise in whisky (which doesn’t apply to Mulberry).

Other than that, with the odd slightly outlandish peak or trough, bottles tend to sell for what would be expected. At the moment I see more unexpected peaks than troughs… the market is demand led and demand is high.

In my opinion this recent auction started to blur the line between auction and retail. It you ask a firm price for something it’s surely not a true open market? If an auctioneer has confidence in the provenance and rarity of their bottles, sellers should be equally confident in them achieving todays open market value.

Following on from that, some of the bottles simply were over-estimated and therefore destined not to sell from the word go. A small sample of (over)estimated prices vs most recent auction sales is as follows –

Glendronach 1989 22 yr old 600 bottles cask 5475 – Mulberry Bank est £230 – £300.

– Sold for £110 Jun 2014.

Ben Wyvis Final Resurrection 27 year old – Mulberry Bank est £650 – £850

– Sold for £510 Apr 2015 and £500 Dec 2014.

Ardbeg Kildalton 2014 – Mulberry Bank est £200 – £250.

– Selling for £130 – £160 in the current market.

Ardbeg Galileo – Mulberry Bank est £150 – £200

– Selling for around £120 in the current market.

Bowmore Legend Donnachie Mhor  – Mulberry Bank est £80 – £120

– Currently sells for £40 – £60.

Highland Park 2000’s discontinued bottle – Mulberry Bank est £100 – £140

– Sells for around £40.

Secondly, and while I appreciate a host of people at Mulberry will have worked massively hard to land this auction, there just wasn’t much there of interest. One significant new record was achieved which I’ll mention later; however, other than providing for those with a rum-sweet tooth, there really wasn’t a great deal to float ones whisky boat. The mainstay of the Macallan’s either had poor fill levels or damaged/stained labels and most everything else was just pretty standard. The lack of rarities will, in my opinion, significantly reduce demand… a vicious circle.

Nothing of interest = No demand.

No demand = Nothing of interest coming through.

I maintain my stance that on-line is the way forward for whisky auctions (easier, faster, quicker, slicker, cheaper etc). To that degree I also find myself asking why Mulberry have a ‘real’ auction at all as anything unsold goes into an online auction anyway.

Why not just have an online auction in the first place?… But then it’s with The Saleroom.com so an additional 3% in fees are payable for winning bids. Circles are not just vicious but also frequently hard to break.

Finishing on a high note though, lot number one, a bottle of highly desirable and very limited Highland Park 27 year old sold for £1,800. The last time this sold at auction in the UK it achieved £650, so in common with these uber-collectables a significant premium was realised.

…if only Mulberry could secure more bottles like that!

Until next time.



Highland Park Valhalla Collection – Collectable or not?

When Highland Park released the first of the Valhalla collection it was greeted with wildly conflicting reactions. Many disliked the packaging… and the price… and even the whisky.

I remember my reaction when I first saw Thor in all its glory; I really REALLY disliked it. I also remember my wife’s reaction when she first saw it, she thought it was amazing, cool and contemporary. It got my wife talking about whisky… which was great as she hates the stuff (other than 1979 Balblair!), all I usually get is “not another bottle(s) of that stuff, how much have you spent now!”. Hat’s off to HP for getting a rare positive whisky-response from Mrs S!

From my perspective, as a long-standing Highland Park collector, it was ultimately the packaging which stopped me from opening my wallet to give the moths their annual dusting down. I wasn’t overly keen on the liquid either, but again that’s a purely personal thing, I know many who rate it highly.

Thor stayed on the shelves for some time and secondary market values moved lower than its original £120 retail price. For many months is was a complete flat-liner, dead as the proverbial Dodo.

Three years later and the series finale, Odin, is a resounding retail success selling out in record time in the UK (HP tell me it’s still to be released in certain markets). As a set, is it collectable and what’s happening to secondary market values now the primary market has been all but expunged of the Norse Gods and their ‘big’ packaging?

In terms of a starting point –

1. Thor - Copy

Thor = 23,000 bottles released and cost £120.

2. Loki - CopyLoki = 21,000 bottles released and cost £120.

3. Freya - Copy

Freya = 19,000 bottles released and cost £140.

4. Odin - CopyOdin = 17,000 bottles released and cost £180.

These are clearly limited but not that limited. If there had been 1,000 bottles it would have sold in a heartbeat. That said, at the other end of the scale, we should also not forget there were 60,000 Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix’s released and they’ve moved from a £50 retail price to £220 – £250 at auction.

The chart below shows the separate indexing of the first three releases.

Valhalla Collection Separate

Following Loki’s release, other than a spike and re-trace for Thor, there was still very little activity. Then the collection took off, or rather Thor did, with some exceptional spikes which defy rationality. Thor peaked at £600 in April 2014, some 400% over its retail price, it’s since settled down to around £310 (although the recent Scotch Whisky Auction saw c£370 per bottle). Unlike some collections/bottles which have a very uniform/smooth growth curve, the Valhalla collection is very spiky with huge peaks and correspondingly large troughs, which, over time should smooth out as supply hardens.

Taken as a pure figure against original RRP’s, the first three releases cost a combined £380. In todays market they’re worth £780, a 105.26% increase in value. With the first UK auction sale of Odin for £360 earlier this month, it looks like these bottles could have legs.

Looking at the first three releases as a combined index since May last year gives a little more indication as to the short term picture.

Valhalla Collection Combined

Cutting out Thor’s previous spikes, the trend-line looks relatively stable with more recent positive movement. I see this growth trend continuing for the set. The rate of growth should also increase as more bottles are consumed and fewer become traded.

The first three releases also haven’t had the classic ‘new release curve’ style volatility (where the first few bottles at auction achieve huge prices which quickly cool as more supply emerges). That suggests demand was far less frantic than for the likes of the Macallan Royal Marriage etc.

One of the reasons I see a continuing up-trend is that we are very definitely seeing classic new release curve action with Odin. The first UK sale achieved double its retail price. The next tranche of bottles on the open market are already at £250 – £270 (there are 14 of them at Just-Whisky right now). This shows demand for the ‘set-completing’ Odin is significantly greater than for the first three. Odin’s fewer bottles released will also contribute to this demand.

In the short term, for those wanting Odin on the secondary market, patience is usually rewarded. We could see huge numbers of bottles hitting auction over the coming months. That in turn should soften prices. A bottle of Thor sold for just £90 as recently as December 2013.

As the Valhalla series has drawn to a close the question becomes, what next? We’ve had the Magnus trilogy and the Valhalla collection. My well-travelled co-director David snapped this on his travels recently. Is this destined to be the next Highland Park trilogy?

I’m sure the marketing team at Edrington could have some fun creating Ymir’s Sweat…

Next HP Collection

Originally, following Thor’s release, I didn’t think the Valhalla collection would perform to any great degree on the secondary market. It appears this master-class in modern marketing has proved me wrong!