We often talk about price and value as being very separate animals.
Price is whatever anyone wants to ask for a ‘thing’. An asking price can be as wholly realistic or as flamboyantly outlandish as the seller of that particular thing decides. If the price is right, the thing sells – if the price is low, the thing sells fast – but if the price is too high, the poor thing sits on a shelf gathering dust. Value, on the other hand, is what the thing is actually worth.
That’s part of the beauty of the secondary (auction) market; it highlights true value and provides an open market test of worth.
Take, for instance, the relatively recent release of the revised Mortlach range. A controversial 50cl bottle size and ambitious pricing raised eyebrows. The 25 year old range topper costs £600 per bottle, or £840 per 70cl equivalent. For a new-start luxury malt brand to position itself above the combined prowess of the mighty Macallan (£680 per 70cl 25 yr old) and Dalmore (£600 per 70cl 25 yr old) takes some confidence.
It was interesting to see where the open market priced the Mortlach in the recent Whisky Auctioneer sale. Its retail price might be viewed as a little ‘toppy’, so how does its true open market value compare to the 25 year old Macallan and Dalmore?
The Macallan 25 sells for £600 per bottle at auction.
The Dalmore 25 sells for £410 per bottle at auction.
The Mortlach achieved £275 (£385 per 70cl equivalent).
From a sellers perspective, that places the Mortlach 25 into a very rare group of bottles indeed. Those who lose >50% in value when switched from the primary to the secondary market. We highlighted a recent Glenturret which saw a massive loss too, the Mortlach is almost on the same level. Taking into account sellers fees and VAT yields a 59.7% primary-to-secondary market loss. Not one for the collector/investors. That said, we do still see older OB and IB Mortlach performing exceptionally well. A trend we expect to continue if not accelerate.
Loss making primary market bottles aside; the recent Whisky Auctioneer sale would be best described as a continuation of a (mainly) very positive theme. In many cases demand for the usual suspects took to new highs while other bottles continued to fall.
The Port Ellen official releases performed amazingly well with new records for the 5th, 6th and 8th releases. £950, £1,150 and £945 (respectively) took these bottles soaring past respective low values of £150, £140 and £170 in 2009. While average Indie per-bottle prices are still some way under the OB’s, massive demand took many IB’s to new heights. Both the Signatory port wood finishes hit new records with the first edition hitting £480 (£90 low point in 2008) and the second edition taking £575 (£80 low point in 2008).
Bottles from silent siblings Millburn and Glen Flagler also fetched impressive numbers. A Douglas Laing bottled 1969 36 year old Millburn achieved £425 and a 1974 31 year old from Cadenheads took £345. Signatory’s 1970 23 year old Glen Flagler made £600, up from a previous £420 best.
Continuing a different theme; Karuizawa values softened further. Good examples of this swift descent from previous peaks as high as Mount Asama itself were –
1977 (from cask 7026) sold for £2,100 down from a June peak of £2,900.
1981 (from cask 8461) ‘en soi’ sold for £2,000 down from a £2,600 peak in April.
1981 (from cask 152) sold for £1,800 down from its £2,400 peak in September.
Again, taken from their original retail prices, these sale values are far from catastrophic; however, bottles purchased at auction earlier this year look like losses will be further extended.
Our final distillery this week is Glenfarclas. Producers of some of the best spirit on earth; ‘probably Speysides finest’ as they have been known (who the hell am I to disagree to be fair) look like a long due upshift in values is on the cards. More recent contemporary releases are remaining relatively stable, however, values for older vintages are hardening. A bottle of Signatory bottled 40 year old from 1958 achieved £1,260 up significantly on its 2014 high of £800. A bottle of the OB 1959 vintage fetched £850, again, a significant uplift on its previous £600 record.
Compare values for similar old vintages from other well-known distilleries and it’s not difficult to see why interest is now shifting to Glenfarclas. Prices in the current market look very favourable from a quality and age perspective.
December promises the highest ever number of bottles to hit the open market. As widely discussed, the end of 2014 had a supply led slowdown in values. Right now, this year looks to be bucking the trend.
In what is set to be the biggest whisky auctioneering month on record, can demand continue to outpace supply?
The challenge on Tuesday night (and early Wednesday morning if we’re being totally honest) was to wear this year’s Diageo Special releases…
For next year’s challenge I apparently have to abseil down Drummuir Castle while nosing the samples!?!? Thanks must go to Eli Larson from Diageo for that gem, thanks very much pal!
Anyway, daft stuff aside (and there was plenty), we got to test-drive this years bottles at Drummuir Castle (Diageo’s impressive fortress of solitude… or maybe Greyskull others may pose?) in the heart of Speyside. There are plenty of other articles out there now about detailed liquid profiles, so we’re looking at reviewing them with collecting/investing in mind.
That said, it would be plain rude not to at least briefly mention the liquid – That is what it’s all about of course. So, in order of preference and scored out of 10, they’re listed below. The way we (granted very rarely) score is that 5 is in the middle, therefore that’s a perfectly drinkable malt. These bottles should not feel offended by being a 5, that’s a good enough score for a good enough whisky. Most of your decent common-or-garden house malts are in and around the 5 mark from our perspective. 1 is undrinkable and 10 is the best thing we’ve ever nosed/tasted. Separately, I nosed a 22-year-old single sherry cask from Speyside Distillery on the way to the Diageo event… it got 1! It’s the first whisky this year to make me physically jerk my nose away from the glass… think molasses sweetened liquified rubber bands. Anyway; the legendary lowest score of 0.0 is solely reserved for Loch Dhu… it just has to be. Fact. Full-stop. The end.
Pittyvaich 25 yr old: Scores 4 – Actually below par for this one. It’s closed and un-revealing. You want it to give more but it doesn’t. A chastity belt of a whisky!!
Dalwhinnie 25 yr old: Scores 5 – My notes just say “is okay” … and it is.
Caol Ila 17 yr old: Scores 5 – Not blown away, but fine – average. Probably just prefer this to the Dalwhinnie but it’s close.
Cally (the) 40 yr old Grain: Scores 6 – You’d certainly not kick it out of the drinks cupboard but it’s really bourbon style sweet.
Lagavulin 12 yr old: Scores 7 – Nice juice. You know what to expect. You pretty much get what you expect.
Brora 37 yr old: Scores 8 – A mighty fine dram. Not the winner. Very much lighter, almost fresher than some of the previous 30 year olds. Amazing none the less.
Port Ellen 32 yr old: Scores 8 – Another top drawer contender from the Port. Really quite coal-smoky/tarry, especially with water.
Dailuaine 34 yr old: Scores 8 – Happily sit and drink this until the cows come home. Just lovely. Best of the 8’s, just edges it on the Brora and Port Ellen.
Clynelish Select Reserve: Scores 8.5 – My personal favourite. Loved it. Complex and multidimensional.
That’s the liquid – Least best was the Pittyvaich, best best was the Clyne-hellishly-good. It’s all personal though, I know others who really liked the Caol Ila and weren’t so keen on the Clynelish.
From a collector/investor perspective, we need to factor in some other variables. Some may be familiar with the Rare Whisky 101 DCI (Drink/Collect/Invest) model published in our 2014 annual review. This will evolve over time, but we’re going to start scoring bottles based upon those three criteria.
To explain – Take the Dalwhinnie 25-year-old – From a ‘D’ perspective, it’s already been given a 5 out of 10. The ‘C’ element is going to take into account its appeal to a broad collector base… is the distillery desirable, is the bottling limited, if so how limited, etc. We’ll award the Dalwhinnie a 3 out of 10 for that. It is limited, it’s a mid-old-ager but it has limited appeal to collectors. Finally, the ‘I’ investor dynamic takes into account the most important investment principles – point of entry and point of exit. Is it expensive for what it is? If it is, it scores low, if not it scores higher. And does it have the potential to increase in value over time? The Dalwhinnie will score a 2 out of 10 here. Historically, Dalwhinnie has been a poor performer at auction with values frequently falling significantly lower than RRP’s. Our Dalwhinnie 25-year-old therefore scores a total of 10 out of 30 represented by (D:5/C:3/I:2). If you want to buy it, it’s a clear drinker, not one for a hold. Not really even a long-term hold as there are far better things out there from a collector/investor perspective for £250.
It’s a little ambiguous but then so it scoring a whisky on its flavours and aromas. What we’re trying to do is answer one of our most frequently asked questions of “what should I be collecting?”
The other 8 bottles look like this –
DCI RATED IN ASCENDING ORDER –
40 yr old Grain – The Cally: (D:6 C:1 I:1) = 8/30
£750 per bottle. 5,060 bottles.
I really think this will struggle to sell. The price is just too high for a single grain. The whole single grain category has failed to capture the collectors market. Drink it, fair enough if it’s your style but don’t expect this to do anything other than bomb from a secondary market perspective. If you want to spend £750 on a bottle of Scotch for investment, go buy 5 or 6 bottles of Rosebank at auction. Don’t give this a second glance unless you’re simply admiring the packaging… which is actually very cool.
Caol Ila 17: (D:5 C:3 I:1) = 9/30
£90 per bottle. Limited release.
Highland style Caol Ila has not fared well at auction to date. It does have a fan-base as a liquid; however, all but the rarest of Caol Ila bottles do little from an investor’s perspective. Low interest for collectors but good pricing will, to some degree, appeal to generalist bottle collectors.
VERY good liquid. VERY high price. NAS. Last years release has appeared at auction and sells for c£300 per bottle. Expect the same losses to be crystallised from this years. Take advantage of that, buy this at auction and just drink it. The limited nature of the bottle at less than 3,000 means it has some appeal to a collector but anyone wanting to tuck this away expecting future gains should be prepared to hand it to their grand-children in 50 years.
Pittyvaich: (D:4 C:6 I:5) = 15
£250 per bottle. 5,922 bottles.
A relatively voluminous release but very keenly priced. The first rule of investing in whisky is that the whisky should be superb quality. That falls down here. That said, there is a certain appeal noting what you’re getting is a relatively old whisky from a silent distillery. At this price, that can’t be overlooked. There are utterly miserable bottles of Port Ellen out there from indie bottlers which still fetch the same market value as good-un’s.
12 yr old Lagavulin: (D:7 C:7 I:5) = 19/30
£80 per bottle. Limited release.
Accessible pricing and high demand will see this suited to many Islay / Lagavulin collectors. Early releases of the 12-year-old cask strength are performing reasonably well at auction but a lengthy wait is required. Don’t expect instant gains but a solid bet at the price. There are many Lagavulin collectors who will ‘need’ this to maintain the completeness of a collection so expect demand to be strong.
34 yr old Dailuaine: (D:8 C:6 I:7) = 21/30
£380 per bottle. 2,952 bottles.
Above average prospects for this relatively unknown brand. Attractive pricing and the high quality of liquid make it a compelling proposition to all three buyer-types. Depending what Diageo do with the brand moving forward will have an effect on values. £380 for ANY 34-year-old in this day is great value. One I’ll personally be buying to open and enjoy… If I can find one! It’s just one point short of pipping the Port Ellen but we actually see this as a stronger pure investment than the Port Ellen becasue the price is excellent for the quality and age of the liquid.
Port Ellen: (D:8 C:9 I:5) = 22/30
£2,400 per bottle. 2,964 bottles.
The last two years have seen these iconic bottles fail to sell out in their usual record time. £2,400 is a massive amount of money for a 70cl bottle of drink which is what it is when all’s said and done. To counter that, we’ve said it before, but the annual PE releases were vastly under-priced until recently. There needed to be an element of correction from a retail / primary market perspective. The rate of acceleration of those increases has been the main shock to the system. Still one of the most collected distilleries, but pricing has massively pared back these bottles as an investment. Are they going to be worth £5,000 in two or three or even 10 years? We think not but we’ve been wrong before. The key risk at this price is that many will be used to keep a complete collection complete, few will be buying two to drink one/keep one so supply won’t necessarily be taken out of the market.
Brora: (D:8 C:8 I:8) = 24/30
£1,300 per bottle. 2,976 bottles.
Recent price increases (which were needed, it was far too cheap a few years ago) have prevented this being an outright 10 from a collector/investor perspective. But it’s Brora, stocks are thin on the ground, time is running out for the highland heavyweight collectable. Full set collectors will need this. From an investment perspective, don’t expect instant gains, the pricing has removed any likelihood of that. But, given time, we still see this as the pick of this years bottles. We could actually argue it’s still under-priced for what it is.
From a pricing perspective, there are bottles here which represent true value, there are bottles we think are particularly good value (the Brora, the Dailuaine and the Pittyvaich) and also bottles we see as poor value (mainly the Cally). We have to also take a view on the rest of the market. The recent release of 25-year-old Littlemill for £2,000 moves the phrase ‘aggressively priced’ to ‘we actually don’t want to sell this to anyone with a modicum of common sense’. The price for the Littlemill is perceived as so immensely high that I’m hearing of retailers refusing to stock it. If customers pro-actively request a bottle then one can be sourced, but they won’t physically stock it or actively market it… when retailers show a new product the door, you know there’s a problem.
I absolutely must thank Diageo for their amazing hospitality on the evening, it would be utterly rude not to do so; it’s amazing to be able to try all the special releases in one fell swoop. However, this isn’t meant to advertise or promote these bottles, merely assist in answering a question we get asked many, many times.
Interestingly, the Dailuaine is the one to sell out in record time this year, it’s disappeared from a number of retailers already. The big guns are still on the shelves demonstrating the need for a careful balance of price, quality and age/NAS. I wonder how many bottles of Littlemill 25 have sold?
The increased (and massively premature when you have an excitable four year old) visibility of chocolate Santas, holly adorned tubes of sweets and various other absurdly early Christmas related merchandise means one certainty… We’re in the final quarter of the year. Q4’s typically the busiest time of the year from a volume-of-bottles perspective – It can also be a volatile period from a value-of-bottles perspective. Q4’s first Scotch Whisky Auctions sale showed little of that volatility; values look to be holding steady with continued upwards bias for many bottles.
Worthy of mention, fifteen of the top twenty most expensive bottles of the auction were from Karuizawa. Scotch did, however, punch a little above its weight from a value perspective with 26.6% of the value of the top 20 – slightly ahead of its 25% volume.
With rarity in part driving the price of the most expensive bottle; one of just 68 bottles from Karuizawa’s cask 8333 managed a staggering £9,000.
The most expensive bottle of Scotch at the auction is quite possibly one of the most hideously packaged ever. Awful/cronky packaging aside (irrespective of looks, try opening one of the bloody things!), the Glenfiddich 38 year old ‘Ultimate’ hit an impressive £5,200.
The fourth overall most expensive bottle and the second most expensive Scotch is the first record-breaker this week. The 1953 58 year old Glenfarclas fetched £5,200 comfortably moving past its previous £4,450 record.
Much comment and the expected cries of outlandish pricing accompanied the recent launch of Bowmore’s NAS Mizunara Cask Finish. As the first bottle hit the open market and managed £1,200 (almost double its £650 retail price), it looks like demand comfortably exceeded the price tag. That said, we could see classic new release curve at play (first sales go high then settle as supply increases over time) so buyer-beware at these heady prices. With 2,000 bottles released, many will be drawn into the secondary market over time. Patience, again, could well be rewarded as open market supply naturally increases.
This weeks final bottle from a currently producing distillery is the Rebus bottling from Highland Park. Values in general for Highland park remained static or slightly lower than recent highs. It was pleasing to see the Rebus bottle manage a record £2,600; more than three times its all-time low of £800.
Silent stills maintain buoyancy.
Dallas ‘Dhon’t’ put a lacklustre past performance well behind it and very much became ‘Dallas-don’t-mind-if-I-Dhu’ as new record prices were achieved for virtually every bottle sold. A brace of Signatory Cask Strength bottles on 1975 and 1979 vintages achieved £300 and £270 respectively (up from £210 and £160 respectively). A 1971 vintage Connoisseurs Choice edged up from its previous £150 to settle at £190.
Again, from Signatory, a bottle of Glenlochy 1980 30 year old hit £250 up from a previous sale of £190. Glenury Royal also had a good auction with the OB’s at the top of their current trading range and a Blackadder bottled 1973 34 year old taking £340; up from just £165 last year.
Port Ellen’s official bottles maintained their current up-trend with the first release making a record £2,200. The 2008 Feis Ile bottle hit a joint £3,400 high; an acceptable seven year increase from its original £100 selling price. That was one queue worth getting up at four o’clock in the morning for!
With a little over two months left until Christmas, it would be hard to second guess the market at the year end. Last year showed us November and December can be tough months if supply goes through the roof… Right now though, things continue to look very positive.
“Where do I start?… How do I begin to build a whisky collection with one eye on it being an investment?” This is the single most frequent question we get asked. One day, maybe we’ll get the time to publish something a little more comprehensive for those new to the wonderful, delicious, often daunting world of the whisky collector.
Until then, taking a detailed look at one of the most buoyant auctions we’ve seen this year gives some clear direction of where target acquisitions should be focussed in the current market. Scotch Whisky Auctions September sale showed values for the right bottles are climbing… in some cases, rather rapidly.
So what are the themes and trends?
Forget ‘flavour led propositions’, ‘blank canvass allowing creativity’ and the rest of the NAS sales/marketing messages around old being UN-important. At the non-collectable end of the market, we get all that, the industry needs to continue and it can’t throw big ages around willy-nilly anymore. Elsewhere, age matters and it matters more than ever; so does vintage (date distilled) with older being better… From a collector/investor perspective these two dynamics are crucial. Some NAS bottles have been proved popular, and profitable, for collectors but their numbers are small.
Taking a look at some of the bottles from last weeks SWA, specifically from Gordon & MacPhail, and the results are impressive.
Bottles distilled in 1954, 1955 and 1956 flew to new heights with a 1954/2003 Strathisla achieving £640 (£220 in 2010), the 1955/2005 Secret Stills Talisker topped £1,000 for the first time at £1,150 (again, just £220 in 2010) and the 1956/2006 Glen Grant nailed £600 up from an all-time low of £190 in 2013. At these prices for bottles at c48-50 years old, we still see legs in buying.
Older indie Springbanks also had a good auction with two notable bottles – The 1965 34 year old by Murray McDavid sold for £1,250, making its 2011 price of £300 look tiny. A Signatory bottled 1969, again 34 years old, made £620… With a 2011 price of £120, that’s some up-shift.
For balance and showing every coin has a flip side, the big-fail with a big-age was the Glenfarclas 60-year-old which didn’t hit reserve. Expectations can sometimes become a little too stretching…
ICONIC COLLECTABLES FROM ICONIC DISTILLERIES.
Not necessarily with vast old ages, or vintages stretching back to the 1950’s, iconic limited releases from the most iconic of distilleries offer serious targets for collectors and drinkers with deep pockets. Current less valuable releases from Ardbeg, while almost traded to death, show nothing like the gains of older discontinued bottles –
A bottle of single cask Ardbeg Feis 2010, 1995 vintage (cask 2761) sold for £490 up from its previous £430 sale. Moving the vintage further back, a bottle of 1976 Ardbeg (cask 2392) achieved £1,750 up from £1,400 in May. The now almost legendary Ardbeg 1974 Provenance (4th release) hit £1,650 up from £1,300. Showing the increasing importance and value placed on indie bottles, a Douglas Laing bottled 1973 29-year-old Ardbeg fetched a massive £1,700 up from £540 in April 2014.
Following August’s 2.17% increase in the Port Ellen Index, the OB’s appear to be on the move again in September. The third release was the only OB to fetch a new record price when it burst through the £1,000 barrier and settled on £1,100. The rest of the pack performed towards the top end of their trading range further recouping losses after tumbling from 2014 highs.
Combining a massive age statement and a silent still was more than enough to propel the Glenury Royal 50-year-old through a previous best of £3,000 to settle on £3,300. £820 took this bottle at its lowest in 2012.
Staying silent but changing continents, Karuizawa does look to be softening as previously reported, particularly for more frequently traded bottles. A bottle of the 1983 30-year-old (cask 8606) sold for £1,750 down from £2,400, a Geisha label 1983 vintage (cask 2656) managed £2,400, easing down from £2,800 and a bottle of cask strength 3rd release came down from £450 to £410… Let’s be fair though, taken in perspective, it’s still no disaster!
Aside from the above softening, prices still remain generally high for Karuizawa. Certain rarer bottles did experience gains with some of the infrequently seen NOH and Samurai bottles leading any significant increases.
The whole secondary market remains exceptionally active. 2014 saw the last three months of the year flatten out. September doesn’t look like the beginning of an early year-end re-trace for 2015, far from it, values appear to be firming up. But as Q4 approaches should we be bracing for a dip?
We’ve said it before and we still maintain – we don’t believe in bubbles. Not with a physical asset anyway. The reason we don’t believe in bubbles is they burst instantly and leave absolutely nothing… With a bubble, everything is gone in an instant.
Could that happen with whisky?
No, you’ll always have a bottle… More importantly (unless the broader economy implodes and we all go back to cooking on an open fire), do we see Port Ellen 1st release ever settling back to £100 a bottle or a Connoisseurs Choice Kinclaith 1966 ever being sold for its original retail price of £19.74? Again, simply no – no we do not.
BUT… do we believe in overheated markets being the subject of a significant correction, protracted slump or even a crash? Absolutely, we have to. Glenmorangie values almost halved within three months through late 2010/early 2011. Their values have now just clawed back their losses to reach pre-crash levels; it’s taken five years for a full recovery.
Over recent months, Karuizawa values have increased at a rate the broader whisky market has never seen. The Rare Whisky 101 Kauizawa Index was established on the first of July 2013, so it’s our most recent index. Exactly one year later, the index had increased from its base of 100.00 points to 146.83. That 46.83% increase outstripped Scotch, nothing could compete; but equally that would pale into insignificance compared to the gains we would see over the subsequent 12 months. 146.83 points on the first of July 2014 became a staggering 384.61 twelve months later on the first of July 2015. That’s a 161.94% increase. The index peaked at 399.32 at the end of July this year.
From a broader pure cost perspective, two years ago, the single cask 1980’s vintages were selling for between £600 and £800 per bottle (We’re not going to look at original retail prices because, quite frankly, it all gets a bit silly). In many cases these prices are now in the region of £2,500.
All this comes at a time when a bottle of 1960 vintage Karuizawa takes the record for the most expensive bottle of Japanese whisky ever sold (Bonhams Hong Kong £77,000). We would like to see a bottle sold at auction in the UK to see how values compare… But even in Hong Kong, hammer prices for certain bottles eased back from previous highs. The 1967 (cask 6426) sold for c£15,000 in May and made c£12,000 at the August sale.
The market looks overheated. £2,500 for a bottle of ANYTHING is a massive price to pay. Bottles of 1950 vintage Macallan can still be obtained on the open market for that amount. Karuizawa almost defies logic in terms of the prices being paid.
Scant surprise, one may argue, that we’ve now seen a drop in value through just one month by an eye-watering 7.41%. That brings the Karuizawa Index down from its peak 399.32 at the end of July to 369.73 on the 31st of August.
It doesn’t look like over-supply’s the culprit – The last six months have seen the number of bottles sold at auction in the UK remain relatively low and August even took a notable step back from July’s high (number of bottles sold – March 70, April 70, May 50, June 41, July 87, August 57).
7.41% is a steep drop in one month, so should we be worried? In our opinion we should realistically expect to see a continued short-term decline in values (at best a period of stability). We’re not expecting anything like the sort of 50% losses Glenmorangie suffered in 2010, however, we do see the current market as being in need of a natural correction before a more uniform pattern of growth is established. As a positive counterbalance to that, we need not forget that Karuizawa is almost gone from the cask and much of the (earlier releases anyway) bottled stock has been drunk.
Rarity and quality will absolutely continue to play a vital role in values – and Karuizawa has both in spades.
While it’s clearly impossible to know exactly how this will play out in the long run, we would certainly advise caution for those buying at the moment (particularly as an investment).
As Karuizawa experiences its most significant drop to date, how has the rest of the market performed?
The August Rare Whisky 101 indices ranked in order of increase/decrease are –
Without exception The Negative indices continued to slide, further polarising the market. The Neg1000 moved down 0.68%, the Neg250 retraced 0.83% and the Neg100 hit a new low of just 31.98 points as it fell 0.56%.
The other notable performance was the official Brora index which fell 6.04% through August. The Brora index peaked at 396.63 points in February 2014 and currently stands at 332.15, yielding a peak-to-present-day loss of 16.26%.
The Macallan 25-year-old Anniversary Malts took a slight decline through August with the 18-year-old’s remaining flat at zero growth. The remaining indices look relatively stable. Encouragingly, the benchmark Icon100 increased 1.47% and the Apex 1000 moved up by 1.66%.
As we move rapidly towards the early winter months of 2015, we head into what is traditionally the busiest time of the year. Supply usually peaks in October/November and with more bottles sure to go under the hammer than ever before, we find ourselves asking what might happen if there’s a Karuizawa late-year sell-off? Can demand keep pace if volumes do rapidly increase or will we see extended losses? We can’t forecast the answer but we will certainly report the results.
The first whisky auction of August (Scotch Whisky Auctions) highlighted the continuing demand for Japanese whisky, predominantly Karuizawa.
Fifteen of the twenty most expensive lots were from this now legendary, closed Japanese distillery with Scotch accounting for just five. In value terms the top twenty lots fetched £66,400, of which £51,900 was from Karuizawa – 78% of the top 20 by value was Karuizawa… Demand is clearly vast. The most expensive bottle of the whole auction was a 1995 vintage 18 year old Karuizawa. Just 22 bottles kicks the rarity ball right out of the park with this one…. But £11,000! Incredible.
In more general terms, while there were a number of new record prices these were for exceptional rarities; more current voluminous releases under-performed.
The above image was used in one of our previous posts, however, to be perpetually traded is certainly correct in this case with a staggering 47 bottles of Ardbeg Perpetuum Distillery release making it to auction. Again, showing patience is key when buying a relatively high volume limited release, the first three bottles to hit auction in the UK (at the same time) sold for £400, £410 and £490; an average of £433. With a current average of c£155, that’s an auction to auction loss of 64.2% since launch. Will this bottle ever recover to previous levels? Not for a long time, if ever.
Macallan’s Folio 1, Archival Series pared back its recent performance as two bottles sold for £210 each. With a high of £425 just two months ago, this is another clear reason not to get carried away with bidding on the first bottles to hit auction. More positively, three Burns decanters all sold for prices far in excess of recent sales – £2,000 to £2,300 took the bottles way ahead of the previous £1,200 – £1,500 trading range.
Mortlach’s G&M bottled 1957 50 year old (514 bottles – first fill sherry) last sold for £320 in 2013. Almost three times that was paid when £900 sealed the bidding here.
Staying with sherried Scotch, the current go-to provider of sherry-bombs, Glendronach, had an impressive set of results. The highly regarded 1968 25 year old achieved a record £760. In 2009/10 these were selling for £150 – £180. Batch two of Grandeur, a 31 year old, fetched £600 far surpassing its previous £410 record.
Both Port Ellen and Brora performed broadly in line with current values. No record prices were achieved; if anything Brora prices stepped back a little. The most significant increases are currently being seen for both distilleries through indie bottles rather than the official bottles. There were, however, some signs of upwards pressure on OB Port Ellen’s, a signal of another up-shift ahead?
With just 54 bottles released, it was little surprise to see the Douglas Laing bottled 1968 34 year old Glenury Royal achieve a record £660. £490 was the previous high for this bottle.
Also bottled by Doulas Laing, a bottle of Millburn 1976 25 year old achieved £230 comfortably exceeding its previous 2014 price of £175.
A bottle of Rare Malts Selection 19 year old St. Magdalene fetched a record £620. In 2008 this was selling for just £100. The previous record for this bottle was £520.
We’ve previously advised collectors keen on selling not to do so in the summer months. History shows us summer month sales can take a dip in hammer price terms. Whether that had anything to do with the distinctly average performance of many bottles can be debated; however, the more voluminous releases took a clear dip… But with 47 bottles of the same thing in one auction we should really expect nothing else.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Buoyancy persists in general as we head into the traditionally more challenging peak summer months.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Growing Volatility for Officially Bottled Port Ellen.
Following April’s record month for the highest number of bottles sold on the open market (4,309), May cooled significantly at 3,304. That’s still a 6.37% year-on-year increase but 27.92% less than last months performance.
Strong demand and further hardening of values in certain areas of the market was ever more apparent throughout May. Conversely, ever increasing polarisation forced other brands/bottles deeper into negative territory.
Particularly striking was the extreme volatility currently being experienced in the Port Ellen Index. The Rare Whisky Port Ellen Index (RWPEI – covering releases 1 to 8 inclusive) re-traced by -0.94% during May. Not in itself a disaster; however, three month yields for this index currently stand at -20.33%.
Does this signify a marked change in the market for Port Ellen? Increasing volatility and a three month loss of 20%+ warranted further research.
The chart below shows the (OB) Port Ellen Index alongside a selection of independent bottles (20 bottles were randomly selected which have regular sales on the open market).
Taken over three months, the official bottles have moved from an index score of 456.77 to 363.90. The independent bottles have moved from 288.71 to 313.59.
Official Bottles DOWN 20.33%
Independent Bottles UP 8.62%
There are a number of reasons for this stark contrast. As we’ve highlighted in previous updates, the most prominent reason is the erosion of perceived primary market value for the official releases. Secondary market buyers are turning away from the OB’s to pursue better value among the IB’s. The average price of the OB’s remains significantly higher at £809.70 versus £302.50 for the IB’s.
To a lesser degree, Brora mirrors this trend. The Brora OB Index was the worst performing Rare Whisky index throughout May losing 2.89% (three month numbers see an increase of 2.15%).
The Rare Whisky 101 composite index May changes ranked in order of increase/decrease are –
Japan remains an almost permanent fixture at number one. Following April’s 26% increase for the Karuizawa Index, a rather more sedate but still impressive 11% uplift was observed in May. We sit on the fence in terms of future gains for Karuizawa. Such rapid increases generally suggest there will be an equally rapid re-trace (or at best a period of stability); however, the lack of available product and ever increasing demand could equally mean continued upside.
The benchmark Icon100 index showed a small loss for the month, closing down 0.49%. A decline in through-the-month sales for many of the bottles resulted in this relative stagnation. 14/100 bottles increased in value, 74/100 bottles remained static and 12/100 bottles decreased.
The Rare Malts Selection Index took a marked 5.53% uplift. Very positive in isolation, this should be viewed as something of a spike driven by a small number of rarities which sold for huge record amounts. That said ‘a rising tide floats all boats’ and we’re starting to see some of the less desirable bottles in the series move up alongside the ‘big’ bottles. The average per-bottle price of a full-house of the RMS series at the end of 2014 was £375.80; that now stands at £417.10.
In common with previous months, Macallan 18 and 25 year olds saw values harden. In contrast to this performance, we’re seeing increasing stress for recent releases. The separation in performance for older discontinued Macallan bottles bearing an age statement/vintage, (hypothetically) appears to be a driving force in the ever widening divide with the poor performing non-aged contemporary releases. Further detailed analysis is required to prove/disprove the collectability of aged/vintaged Macallan vs non-aged. Perception as to the quality of the liquid, however personal and ambiguous, also has to be a factor. We plan to fully review this later in the year.
Aside from the composite indices above, the rare whisky market in general appeared positive. The Apex1000, Apex250 and Apex100 indices were up 1.50%, 2.40% and 0.86% respectively. The negative indices continued to remain at all-time lows.
As we move to the half year review stage at the end of June, the sheer number of auctions selling rare whisky throughout the month is vast; we’re expecting record/near-record volumes to be seen. These volumes could have a marked effect on the perceived value (or lack of it) for certain brands and certain bottles.
We look forward to sharing the results in due course.
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.
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!).
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.
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
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!
Moving back down to the eastern flanks of Speyside and Ardmore’s highly sought after ‘Pure Malt Whisky’ 15 year old pushed 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).
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.
Images courtesy of Whisky-Online Auctions.
Cutting to the heart of the Scotch Whisky industry.