We’re moving all future blog posts to the RW101 website blog.
Early trade shows Port Ellen and Black Bowmore surging.
You can read RW101 Rare Whisky Analyst – Jamie Timoney’s – first post of 2018 here.
Secondary Market – September 2016
We finished the last rare whisky review with the following statement – “…Although in the current market, a bargain seems increasingly unlikely”. A statement which currently resonates through the very fabric of the rare whisky auction market.
Never before have we witnessed such fevered buying at almost any price for rarities from high demand brands. We’re going to be taking an in-depth look at Macallan in our 2016 full year report in around four months’ time but the vintage 18 year olds look like they will have virtually doubled in value throughout 2016. We just haven’t seen anything like this type of growth before.
That said, there’s plenty of time for 2016 to unleash a nasty sting, we saw that in 2014 and (we’re assuming) with the vast majority of the forex related gains under our belts, things could ease in the final quarter of 2016. As, when, and indeed, if we see that happen we’ll report it, however, until then, we’re looking at an exceptionally positive landscape for the world of rare whisky…
Big Brand Demand
With a scant 77 bottles released a few years ago, Dalmore’s Candela has taken its time to increase in value until it breached £10,000 in 2014. Prior to that, it was hovering around the £6,000 – £8,000 price point for years. Dalmore gets a bit of a bashing occasionally – we hear things like “the price has been Dalmorized” when something might be a little racy in the bang for your buck department… or “it’s just got a load of the black sludge in it” (meaning e150a colouring) and there might, who knows (certainly not us), be an element of truth in there somewhere. But one thing’s for certain, old Dalmore’s just a thing of wonder. Be it an older bottling such as the late 1950’s distilled twenty-year-old bottled in 1978 or an old aged liquid like Candela, these things are fabulous to drink… and clearly collect. Two bottles of Candela hit the market earlier this month at Scotch Whisky Auctions and Whisky-Online Auctions. The respective hammer prices were £15,000 and £14,600; both comfortably exceeding Bonhams previous £13,000 record set earlier this year.
Scotch Whisky Auctions continued to roll out the big guns and the records fell. A 1937 50 year old Balvenie managed £15,000. In August 2010, I remember bidding on two of these at Bonhams in Edinburgh. I was bidding against my arch-auction-nemesis from Italy who has particularly deep pockets, so I bailed out and lost the bottles for £3,600 and £3,800. Maybe I should have pushed further.
£8,400 took a bottle of Macallan 1946 Select Reserve to a new record, edging past its previous best of £7,600.
If we index these three bottles to take a look at their combined growth, as is common with high value rarities, we see periods of stability (where there are no sales due to simple scarcity) followed by significant positive step changes. A 300% increase in value since December 2008 is very impressive.
Scotch performed admirably, but Japan needs to feature too. The two big Japanese bottles at SWA were the 35-year-old Yamazaki which, at £16,000, was not just the most expensive bottle of the auction, it was the most expensive bottle of the month. Not quite in the ‘Yama-35’ league but the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask fetched a whopping £3,600. Look back at early 2014 and these were selling for around £100 per bottle… then a man in a hat with scary eyes wrote nice things about it and BOOM! Madness.
Port Ellen Prowess
Taking a quick look at the first eight official Port Ellen releases and we see every bottle closing out September with a value in excess of £1,000. It’s the first time that’s happened so we’re expecting to see significant gains in the Port Ellen index when it’s published tomorrow.
The First release seems to have reached a (temporary?) glass ceiling of £2,200 with the other releases playing catch up. Whisky Auctioneer took the 3rd, 6th and 7th releases to £1,300 per bottle; all new record prices for these bottles and the first time the 7th release has pushed through the £1k barrier.
£4,300 for 12-Year-old Scotch
Desirable bottle of the month from a personal perspective has to go to the Whisky-Online Auctions bottle of 12-year-old Laphroaig at 80 proof by Cadenheads. At £4,300 it was no-where near the most expensive bottle of the auction, but it was a new record price for the bottle and marks this as the fourth most expensive 12-year-old on record. The most expensive 12-year-old is the £12,100 (which has also sold for £7,600, £5,000 and £4,800) Port Ellen Queens Visit, followed by £8,200 for both the James MacArthur’s cask strength Port Ellen and the Bowmore Lagiemeanoch 1967 12-year-old.
Caution Still Required in Bullish Market
While the current market looks exceptional, it is still possible to buy the wrong bottles. In 2013 a bottle of SMWS bottled Tomintoul, cask 89.1, sold for £500. Earlier this year, a bottle managed just £155. That’s a 69% hammer price to hammer price, buy/sell loss… add in auctioneers’ commissions and the loss is a punishing 78%.
Get it wrong, and like any investment, you can lose your shirt.
Retail Releases – Diageo Special Release Analysis
The big one this month is the Diageo Special Releases. All bottles and prices for the 2016 release can be seen here. As we had to politely decline attending the tasting this year, we’re not in a position of knowledge with this years releases. If we do get to try them, we’ll post up our thoughts on quality vs price.
It’s interesting to look at what these bottles represent now they’re in their 16th year. Put pricing aside and they are probably the most eagerly anticipated new releases on the Scotch calendar. The 2001 first annual releases numbered just three products – Two Talisker’s and the aforementioned Port Ellen 1st release. Bringing it right up to date, including 2016’s releases, there have been 143 different products. That’d be some collection in its own right.
The profile below shows what distilleries have been bottled in what years.
Interesting to see there are still five operational distilleries with no special release – Blair Athol, Glenlossie, Inchgower, Roseisle and Teaninich are devoid of an annual release. Surely we have to see something from Roseisle? If we don’t see any releases from the other four, I don’t think many people would lose that much sleep over it to be fair.
We can see grain featuring more frequently now as Cambus, Port Dundas and Caledonian have all been released. Might we see a Cameron Bridge? North British would be unlikely as it’s a joint venture with fellow distillers Edrington.
Noting the amount of time since their closure, if I were a betting man, it looks unlikely that we’ll see anything much from Diageo’s many silent distilleries other than Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank possibly (but for how long?). Could we now start to assume that the brand owner is out? Quality probably wasn’t there with any remaining stocks so the last few casks have been blended away? It looks probable. At the end of the day, Diageo are a blending company, so it makes sense anything from a sub-optimal-single-malt perspective has been used in a blend.
The 1995 to 2005 Rare Malts Selection releases featured many of the more obscure silent stills – Glenlochy, Banff, Glen Albyn, Millburn, Glen Mhor and Hillside (Glenesk) featured. Can we now assume they were to be the final OB’s from these lost distilleries?
That circles me nicely back to the importance of the secondary market. If you must have an official bottle(s) from many of these silent stills, it’s looking more and more like auction will be the only way to get them. As knowledge/awareness of whisky auctions builds among the ever growing number of connoisseurs, collectors and investors, the secondary market looks set to grow… as do prices.
Until next time, slainte.
Andy and David.
Secondary Market – July 2016
July saw Macallan’s 55 year old Lalique decanter set a new UK record price for the whole brand. Whisky-Online Auctions took a mighty £25,100 for this 55 year old ‘Macallan in Lalique’ second release. Back in 2010, the price of this was £5,400. As recently as 2012 one sold for £7,800. As the sixth and final Lalique decanter has now been announced and this series is complete, we should expect values to remain firm. This is also the most expensive bottle at auction in the UK since the £27,200 Springbank 1919 which sold in March 2015 (again by heavyweight price-busters Whisky-Online Auctions).
Laphroaig’s 30 year old Cairdeas managed £1,200, it’s first time through the £1,000 price point. With a 2010 record low of £345, this is further evidence that older age statements remain in exceptionally strong demand.
A few days earlier, Scotch Whisky Auctions took a bottle of 50 year old Glenury Royal to a new record of £4,300. Until as recently as 2012, this Diageo Special Release had failed to top £1,000; a seemingly distant price in light of the current market. The last twelve UK auction sales are listed under the image and, while somewhat spiky, the trend is very definitely going one way.
That up-trend continues across most silent stills with values towards the top end or above recent trade. While short term gains are imminently possible, especially in today’s market, we still maintain whisky should be viewed as a 10 to 20 year investment. Scotch Whisky Auctions £500 hammer price for a 1966 Connoisseurs Choice 20 year old showed that 100% gains are achievable in one year! May 2015 saw this bottle fetch £250, exactly half of its sale value earlier this month. Amazing.
Lagavulin’s first 21 year old 2007 Special Release managed to achieve a new record of £920. This could make the £800 ask for the new 25 year old, soon to be released, 200th anniversary bottle look like good value providing the liquid is exemplary. Just don’t expect overnight gains, it’s taken the 21 year old almost ten years to get to this level.
McTears haven’t featured heavily in these pages recently, but their July auction had one particular star performer. The second 1994 release (not the first release as originally mentioned) of the original Black Bowmore’s managed a tremendous £6,000 on the nose. Its previous best was £4,800 earlier this year and in 2010 it was still selling for £1,600. This highlights the almost mythical allure these bottles conjure among admirers. Charting the performance of the first three Black Bowmore releases over just the last three years shows a 97.7% increase in value.
Throughout the vast, frequently eclectic, world of whisky, there have been certain constants. Reminders that no-matter what else is going on there are some things you can turn to in wide eyed expectation and get a warm fuzzy feeling. Lagavulin 16 year old is one of those things, the consistently great Aberlour A’Bunadh is another and Macallan 18 year old carrying a vintage year of distillation is another.
Since the 1983 bottling of the 1965 vintage, the Macallan 18 year old was to become one of the most spectacularly sought after vintage vertical collections. Prior to the inception of the 18 year old as part of Macallan’s core offering, the often referred to ‘gold label’ bottles can be sourced all the way back to 1940’s vintages.
These vintages are one of the most extensive historical lenses to how a brand has changed in both its flavour and it image over the last fifty or so years. Birthday’s, death-day’s, weddings anniversaries and more special occasions than one can shake an Elchies Estate stick at have been marked by these iconic bottles.
… But no more.
2015 saw the final ‘vintage’ Macallan 18. That was the 1997 (technically still not a single vintage but we’ll let that slide for posterity). From this year many will have already noticed a change. Date distilled now becomes year of release. This in effect leaves an 18 year gap where no special occasions can be referenced by date (1998 – 2015 inclusive). This subtle change sees the vintage-stated Macallan 18 year olds pass into history…
So this –
Becomes this –
Interestingly, the death of this longstanding vintage vertical brings with it certain opportunities for collectors. Firstly, make sure the final 1997 vintage is snapped up if a full collection is the aim. Secondly, now vintage bottles are dead, prices should start to move for the more recent purple box variants when stagnation has previously been the trend. Couple the cessation of one bottling type with the fact that 2016 is the first ‘Annual Release’ 18 year old and we all know what happens to first release prices. A real shame, and the end of an era on one hand, but an exciting annual release programme on the other.
Until next time, slainte.
Andy and David.
It is with great sadness that we move into May’s round of whisky auctions. Scotch Whisky Auctions opened the new month’s bidding with nothing less than devastating news that Loch Dhu, Black Whisky, appears to have increased in value and moved to a new higher trading level.
Sadness aside, sellers around the world are rejoicing at being able to find an alternative means of disposal for these dangerous bottles. SEWPA’s (Scottish Environment Whisky Protection Agency) recent ruling unilaterally banned Loch Dhu from being poured down the drain after it was found to be highly toxic to aquatic organisms… in fact any organisms. Until now, desperate whisky collectors had hidden the bottles away, afraid the very blackness of Loch Dhu’s foul soul would invade the rest of their collection. With bottles selling for £100 – £120 (up from previous trading range £65 – £80) collectors can now offload the pressure of ownership to those more interested in weapons of mass dhu-structiveness.
More sensibly, away from the black sludge, rare whisky prices advanced again, taking many bottles to new record highs.
Not the most obvious collector’s choice, Strathmill, saw a bottle of Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask 1962, 42 year old sell for £460. Its previous record was £360 in 2015 with a low point of £120 in 2010.
Having been lucky enough to be able to visit Islay last week to celebrate Lagavulin’s 200th birthday, it seems only fitting to mention the new record prices paid for a 2011 Jazz Festival bottling. £600 was the winning bid, just exceeding a slightly lower priced bottle at £560. Impressive results for a bottle which originally retailed for £80.
Fellow, Islay distilleries Ardbeg and Bowmore also saw record results.
Ardbeg’s fourth release of the 1974 vintage Provenance breached the £2,000 mark for the first time when one sold for £2,100. Alongside the Provenance, a bottle of the mighty Ardbeg 1965 took £6,600, a comfortable new record.
A bottle of the 1968 37 year old from Bowmore also sailed through £2,000 for the first time. £2,600 took the bottle on this occasion which is 465% ahead of its record low £460 in 2009.
Representation from silent stills was relatively thin on the ground but for those making it to auction, values looked buoyant. Port Ellen’s first release took £1,900, not an outright record but well ahead of recent sales. A bottle of 1982/2000 Connoisseurs Choice from Brora managed to add £20 onto its previous £310 record and a 2004 Diageo Special Release Linlithgow (St. Magdalene) 30 year old soared to £760.
With a packed auction schedule in May, supply, again, looks high. At the moment, a certain element of positive momentum looks to be in control of the broader market… The first four months of the year have seen impressive results. If the rest of the year can keep pace, 2016 could well be a record breaker.
Images courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions
Bull’s March through March in Whisky Fuelled Stampede
Following February’s gargantuan supply, the number of bottles sold on the open market in March cooled to a slightly less heady 4,798.
While volumes dipped, values did the opposite. March saw frankly incredible increases in some of the Rare Whisky indices. Increases which cannot be sustained in the medium to long term; none the less, if you’re a whisky collector with an eye on the value of your collection then this is one of the rosiest months/quarters on record.
But before we head to the indices –
Bottle(s) of the Month
March’s big bottle of Scotch was brought to market by Blackpool based auctioneer, Whisky-Online Auctions. Their record setting Port Ellen Queens Visit 12 year old set a new record for the most expensive bottle from the deceased Islay distillery when it fetched £12,100.
£12,100 is no drop in the ocean for one single solitary bottle of Scotch, however, it was a bottle of Japanese whisky which made the months most expensive bottle. Dunfermline based auction house Just-Whisky managed to bring one of only 24 bottles of the Karuizawa 5th Ghost to auction which made an exceptional £15,025. The 1964 Wealth Solutions bottle came a close second place at £14,000, albeit significantly down from its £19,000 high in September last year.
The Month/Quarter in Focus
Following the arrival of spring (someone please tell that to whoever’s in charge of the weather in Scotland), the closing out of March also signalled the end of quarter one. A quarter which has seen the continuation of recent increases in value for old/rare/collectable bottles of Scotch.
Ranked in order of year to date performance and with Q1 2015’s results as a comparison, the indices are as follows –
Respective Quarter- Q1 2016 Q1 2015
Macallan 25 Index 18.30% -0.50%
Macallan 18 Index 18.28% -0.16%
Rare Malts Index 12.76% 4.99%
Icon 100 Index 11.60% 7.24%
Apex 1000 Index 5.13% 4.36%
Brora Index 3.65% -2.76%
Vintage 50 Index 1.33% -2.04%
Karuizawa Index -1.28% 21.00%
Port Ellen Index -6.66% 5.58%
The two benchmark indices, the Apex1000 (tracks the best performing 1000 bottles of Scotch) and the Icon100 (tracks a fixed basket of regularly traded collectables) have made good progress. Both indices are ahead of 2015’s performance over the same period.
Macallan and Karuizawa almost completely traded places with the immensely collectable vintage Macallan 18 and 25 year olds almost neck and neck leading the performance tables.
Karuizawa has further stabilised as would be expected following recent meteoric rises.
Amid continued descent, the Port Ellen index remains the sick parrot in intensive care. Bottles of 1st release were, at one time, regularly managing £1,800 – £1,900, a figure which is now more like £1,500 – £1,600. Have the official releases become an icon for overly rapid retail price hikes resulting in brand aversion? We will inevitably see a bottom for what was 2015’s key performer, that’s a certainty. But when it hits, the question becomes will it recover or will it see the ‘flat-line of Karuizawa’? There will always be value in Port Ellen and we’ve seen many Rapid recoveries over the years but the fact remains, Islay’s best loved pile of rubble wants to stay in the red.
As to Macallans recent surge for older, rarer collectable bottles; to some degree increasing scarcity of supply is at work. Throughout quarter one 2015, there were a total of 9,378 bottles of Scotch sold on the open market. In 2016 that figure has soared to 14,033, an increase of 49.64% year on year. Over the same time-frame, there were 47 bottles of 1960’s and 1970’s vintage Macallan 18 year olds sold in 2015. In 2016, that’s reduced to 41, a 12.77% decline.
In common with a whole host of bottles showing the most significant increases, general supply’s up but rarities and ultra-desirables are disappearing. A trend we expect to continue.
Bottle images courtesy of Whisky-Online Auctions and Just-Whisky
2016 has already seen significant increases in price for certain bottles of Scotch. As we move towards the end of Q1, that up-trend shows no immediate signs of let-up.
Further buoyancy at Scotch Whisky Auctions recent sale served to cement the positive market sentiment.
Age, vintage and rarity continue to be driving forces behind the best performers.
Ardbeg’s ever increasingly scarce single casks remained under extreme pressure. One of 453 bottles released from cask 1378, a 1975 vintage released in 2006, fetched £1,150. Just £360 took this bottle in 2009. Younger single casks also shone with a bottle of the 2000 vintage from cask 368 taking a massive £700. With a previous record of £410 in 2015, this looks like a one off spike but is impressive none the less.
Adding at least some balance to proceedings, heading down in value was a bottle of Auriverdes ‘bloggers-bullion’ gold bottle. At £1,000 it’s now worth just less than 50% of its first recorded sale of £2,100. Losses aside, £1,000’s still not a drop in the ocean for a free press release bottle.
At 40 years old, the 1966 distilled Jura was limited to just 98 bottles and is rarely seen at auction. At this kind of age and with exceptional rarity it’s no surprise to see the bottle hit a new record. In 2008 a bottle sold for £700. In today’s market the value of this scarce bottle has increased by 257% to £2,500.
While many of the more familiar releases languished or slipped in value, top end Glenmorangie’s performed well. Throughout 2010 and 2011 Glenmorangie values crashed. We’ve spoken about this frequently as values literally halved over a period of just three short months. While prices have remained depressed for certain limited editions, the older aged/vintage releases have recovered and in some cases excelled.
A bottle of 1981 Sauternes finish fetched a frighteningly low £120 in the depths of the ‘Morangie-massacre – Putting those fallow times well and truly behind it now, one sold for a record £720, a bottle of the duty free exclusive 1975/2002 ascended to £430 (Mid-crash this was sat at £122) and topping this heady trio was a bottle of Malaga finish 30 year old which managed £820 (again, just £120 took this bottle mid-crash). Hindsight is 20:20, we all know that; BUT… but, if you’d bought these three bottles in 2011, right at the peak of ‘Morangie-misery, they would have cost £362. In today’s market they would be worth £1,970, a 444% increase.
Old vintages also continue to shine. With an all-time low of £150, a G&M bottled 1957 vintage Tamdhu sold for a record £640. The previous record for this bottle was a mere £260 in 2014.
With a notable absence of any sort of volume for older vintages, it was scant surprise to see a new record for a 1970/1988 Macallan 18 year old: £920 sealed the bidding, well ahead of its previous best £750. Showing a recovery and renewed demand for rarities, the first release Easter Elchies Cask Selection closed out at £1,100, not an outright record but good progress, especially considering its 2008 release price of £105.
Silent stills were, again, visible by their absence. Dipping numbers on the open market are pushing prices ever higher.
I remember being beaten at auction in 2011 for a bottle of Brora Silent Stills 1983 18 year old. The enemy (the other bidder) took the price up to £310… there were only two of us bidding by that point… I thought he’d leave at just over £300 so I pushed on to £320. The enemy’s hand went straight back in the air and I remember thinking this is going to go silly. So I let the enemy have it for £330. Maybe I should have taken it a little further as one sold for a mighty £920.
Of the few silent stills present, other record performances were seen for –
In general, I don’t remember seeing such a buoyant start to the year as we’ve seen in 2016. There will be some spikes in-and-among the numbers and some bottles will naturally cool back down… That said, we do still see a continued hardening of prices for the oldest, rarest examples of the best whiskies. Get ‘em while you can?!
Photo’s courtesy of Scotch Whisky Auctions
Bulls ride the market through Bonhams as new record prices are set for many rare bottles of Scotch.
Over recent months, even years, traditional whisky auction houses have appeared to be gradually withering on the vine.
The onslaught of on-line auctioneers has managed to turn a small niche part of the broader whisky market into what’s now almost a replacement for the traditional rare whisky retailer. Bigger, better, faster, slicker, quicker (most of the time) on-line whisky auctions have been squeezing traditional auctioneers out of the market.
However; showing there’s still room in the market for all, Bonhams recent sale was an absolute belter.
Okay, so there weren’t thousands of bottles on offer, but what there was, was in some cases, quite incredible… and most bottles sold right at the top end of their recent trading range or set new records. Get the right bottles on the shelf and there’s still massive demand… even with 25% plus VAT buyer’s premium to pay.
Bonhams has traditionally been a hot-house for Macallan, so we’ll start with the king of collectables.
The first of the Macallan replica series, the 1874, has fetched £470 previously. It’s never broken through £500, let alone the £600 it managed on the day. I find these bottles fascinating… Facsimile’s of fakes. Does that make them the whisky world’s first double fake? Or something…
Just about everything else from Macallan made a new record along the way. Modern Macallan’s have slumped in value over recent years, so it was impressive to see a Diamond Jubilee bottle make a record equalling £1,300 – A price unseen since August 2013.
Someone far wiser (or is that wizened?!.. probably both) than I recently said, over a rather good 1966 Glenugie, “1966 was a good year for eeeeeverything”. It certainly was for Macallan, whose 1966/1984 18 year old nudged through £1,000 to hit a record £1,100. Between 2008 – 2010 these were being scooped up for as little as £270 – £280.
Some Ardbeg 1970’s vintage Connoisseurs Choice bottles made impressive numbers. Twin lots of 1974/1992 took £350 and £400 per bottle, way past their 2009 record low of £160 and a brace of 1979/1991’s took a record £325 per bottle.
While it could still easily be a dead-cat-bounce, Bruichladdich’s recent improvement in form continued with a 15 year old Centenary decanter tipping the scales at £280. 2009 saw a record low of just £80.
Rarely mentioned, Teaninich took a new record of £550 for a 1957 Cadenheads dumpy bottle. With spirit distilled pre the 1970 expansion being from the now demolished ‘old’ or ‘b’ side, this is in effect whisky from a silent distillery; one closed in the early/mid 1980’s slump alongside fellow highlander Brora.
From a low-performers perspective, a bottle of Fettercairn 40 year old sold for just £450, its lowest ever. Interestingly, and maybe part of the reason for its decline; I recall trying this dram but I can’t remember what it was like… A forgettable 40 year old?
The first of three big-guns rolled into town with a 50 year old Glenfiddich taking £12,000; not a record but £1,000 over its previous price of £11,000.
The second was a bottle of Bowmore 1967 Largiemeanoch, pronounced correctly in Gaelic is simply ‘L‘ (it is in these pages anyway!). The first time L sold on the open market it fetched an impressive £2,350. That gradually increased to a £3,200 record price paid in 2014. L’s absence on the open market clearly made the collectors hearts grow fonder as it took a weighty £5,500 at this auction.
Finally, a hugely impressive 1946 20 year old Glenrothes fetched £4,800. It’s the first time we’ve seen this bottle at auction so it was great to see it sell for a significant amount.
With far more buoyancy than we’ve observed over recent sales, it was great to see Bonhams bring some stunning bottles to market in the UK… More please!
Images courtesy of Bonhams
What a month February turned out to be!
5,467 bottles (full sized bottles, single lots of single malt) were sold at auction in the UK, that’s the highest volume of bottles seen on the open market in one month. Monthly volumes have never quite managed to break through the 5,000 bottle barrier… as an indication of how vast last month was, February 2015 saw 2,690 bottles sold. To a large degree, this supply-glut was down to Scotch Whisky Auctions zero seller’s commission offer which gave a boost to the figures. Include memorabilia, blends, bundled lots, grains, mini’s and everything else sold through whisky auctioneers in the UK and, in total, there were 9,587 separate lots to bid on!
Bottle of the Month…
…Goes to McTears Auctioneers in Glasgow for bringing to market the only bottle ever produced of a 60 year old Dalmore for Drew Sinclair’s 60th birthday. A 1939 60 year old and just one bottle in existence… it doesn’t get much more desirable than that. Interesting to see a top end Dalmore in a little more sedate packaging too. At £7,500 it’s not the most expensive Dalmore ever, and while it’s a rather odd thing to say at this price point, it actually looks like good value for whoever bought it.
The Month in Focus
Scotch is an interesting investment proposition. It’s beautifully simple in its supply/demand driven environment.
Supply goes up – Demand stays the same or falls = Values soften.
Supply goes down – Demand stays the same or increases = Values harden.
Following January’s rather buoyant start to the year, in light of February’s massive increase in supply, we were bracing for an almost unilateral dip in values.
With the exception of one major index (Port Ellen) we witnessed some of the single largest ‘in-month’ increases we’ve ever seen.
The broadest measure of how Scotch is performing on the open market is the Apex1000 index.
December 2015 saw the index step back ‘in-month’ at the year-end by -0.02%; we know a massive supply month can directly impact value growth, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen this. While -0.02% is no crash, it’s still not the right direction for values.
Contrary to expectations, the Apex1000 increased by a significant 1.73% in February. It would seem that while supply is increasing it’s being continually outpaced by demand. Looking at a year on year comparison, February 2015 saw the Apex1000 increase by 1.53%… but with fewer than half the number of bottles on the market.
Conversely, the Negative1000 index, which tracks the 1,000 worst performing bottles, continued to fall, losing 0.68% in the month to rest at a record low 53.81 (the index started at 100 in 2008).
Ranked in order of performance, February’s indices look like this –
Historically, rather more sedate than other indices, the Rare Malts Selection Index took the reins with a 6.27% increase. Impressive, but we’re not convinced these gains will be cemented. Late 2015’s December-dip saw 2.34% wiped off a full collection of Rare Malts, so we could be seeing a natural correction.
Below is an extract from our 2014 full year investment report talking about Macallan’s 25 year old Anniversary Malts and the earlier release 18 year olds. Respectively, these indices moved up by 3.77% and 3.57% throughout the whole of 2014.
Current sentiment would appear far more positive for these stunning older bottles as they took to incredible gains last month. Increases throughout February alone out-stripped performances for the whole of 2014.
Karuizawa values stabilised during February as the index increased by a fractional 0.40%. Have we reached an equilibrium for Karuizawa values? We’re not so sure…
Then there was poor old Port Ellen!
A far cry away from the Port Ellen Index’s Feb 2015 all-time high closing position of 456.77 points; twelve months later and we see almost 12% wiped off the value of a collection of Port Ellen OB’s (releases 1 – 8 incl). Values moved north throughout the whole of 2015 by over 23% but, even removing some of the price spikes, like the one in Feb 2015 (full collections being completed maybe?) and the chart suggests we might have reached the top of the current cycle. Could values plateau or even cool a little for the most iconic of silent distilleries?
Aside from Port Ellen’s erratic behaviour and a lacklustre performance by the Vintage 50 index, general values advanced impressively amid the challenges of our largest volume month on record and continued turmoil in other markets.
Bonhams – Hong Kong – had a massive 38.5% unsold lot rate at their recent whisky auction. Just 61.5% of lots sold on the day.
Conversely, Whisky-Online Auctions has an unsold lot rate of 0%. Zero percent! They have a no-reserve policy; and in the current buoyant market, that seems good practice. If the market softens, that good old reserve-price comfort blanket may well get dusted off, but for now it’s almost surplus to requirement.
I’d view Bonhams 61.5% lot-sold-rate (LSR) as a pretty disappointing performance from arguably one of the world’s most significant whisky auctioneers. So what happened?
Before we get into some cold hard facts about the winners and the not-so-winners from a brand perspective; in our opinion we suspect part of that poor performance is that we’re seeing a gradual homogenisation of global market pricing. Estimates, in some instances, were massively over UK values. Many of these bottles failed to sell. The rough rule of thumb used to be that auction sales values in HK were roughly double what they were in the UK. That really no longer applies. In-fact some sales prices, even for the mighty Karuizawa, were actually lower than prices in the UK. As the burgeoning UK internet-auction scene has become a truly world wide web, are we now seeing the creation of a level playing field… from a pricing perspective at least?
From a regional secondary-market brand perspective, (putting aside pricing differences and over-estimation), there are some clear trends emerging for popular bottles/distilleries.
Taking 61.5% as the average LSR let’s take a look at which brands are like a summer in Hong Kong… That’ll be hot then!
The highest LSR was Glenmorangie with 100%. Good old Tain titans, the 16 men pull out a perfect score (when is a lady ever going to permeate that most elusive of men’s clubs!?!?!). A whole two out of two bottles sold… so from that basis the data set is hardly revealing. Conversely, Bruichladdich saw three bottles at auction and took a big fat ‘oh’. Zero percent sold… Great bottles too, shame. Overpriced. No demand?
The two big guns were clearly Karuizawa and Macallan. East versus west in a sherry bomb barrage of superb open-market liquid.
Karuizawa reigned supreme with a market leading 89.7% LSR as 52 out of 58 bottles hammered-out successfully. Craigellachies finest, Macallan, managed a LSR of just 51.2% as 21 out of 41 bottles hit reserve. While the LSR was impressive, many Karuizawa prices fell in HK as they have in the UK… apart from that bottle (the 1960 50 year old), which again highlighted the krazy world of the professional Karuizawa collector. I am minded to think of the Pepsi-Max in sunny Blackpool whenever I delve into Karuizawa prices!
Staying with the sherried theme, the increasingly in-demand Glendronach took an 80% LSR as 4 out of 5 bottles sold. Not a conclusive victory at these miniscule levels, but none-the-less an interesting fact.
Closest to Karuizawa and just above Glendronach, from a Scotch perspective, came Highland Park with an impressive 87.5% LSR: 7 out of 8 bottles found new homes. It has to be pointed out that the bottles were exceptional rarities so it was scant surprise competition was particularly stiff. Springbank then came in with a convincing 66.7% LSR as 8 out of 12 bottles sold.
From this we know that Karuizawa is as popular in HK as it is in the UK but irrespective of the number of bottles sold, prices still softened. In some cases we saw bottles sell for less than they do in the UK. Have Karuizawa prices paved the way for harmonisation of values world-wide?
Particularly different to the UK, some of our silent stills appear like they have yet to appeal to the eastern hearts, minds and palates (or maybe they were simply too expensive?). Port Ellen had a good selection of 40 bottles at the auction but could manage a LSR of just 35% when 14 sold. Brora fared even worse with just 3 of 14 bottles taking flight, giving a 21.4% LSR. Rosebank, saw a little more action as 4 of 10 bottles moved. Whether estimates were simply too high (they were certainly eye watering from a UK viewpoint) or the frenzy for silent stills is yet to infect HK who knows?
A fascinating auction and one which suggests values are aligning globally. Worthy of note; just under a year ago, in the February 2015 HK Bonhams auction, Macallan had an 85.3% LSR when 29 out of 34 lots sold.
Changing trends ahead?
Or simply aligning prices?
Three of us recently found ourselves leaving Easter Elchies House under the shadow of vast looming cranes… the sort used to move big bits of shiny new distillery.
Having just tried the NAS Archival Series, Folio 1 (ASF1 from here-on in) in a nosing, we decided to make a purchase from the distillery shop… Macallan have been wisely releasing ASF1 in small, almost weekly, batches at the distillery to avoid the rabid Craigellachie-contagion known as Mac-madness, which usually accompanies a distillery only release.
There were just two bottles left with more to be released at a later date.
One metal presentation box had a broken hinge (those hinges need sorting for future releases) but the other was in tip-top condition. Safe in the knowledge my bottle would be opened and consumed, I volunteered to take the broken packaging.
“WHAT, are you absolutely sure” was the cry from the Mac-colleague in the shop. “But, these are designed for collectors; you want a broken one?!”… An interesting retort. Clearly I was buying the bottle for the liquid on this occasion; the packaging went where packaging usually goes, nice as it is. But there-in lies an interesting concept: A bottle designed for ‘the collectors’. I actually applaud Macallan for being open about this. There’s so much bullshit flying round at the moment, so for someone to actually say, “know what, we had collectors in mind too when we bottled this” is refreshingly open. Being an almost life-long whisky collector I felt strangely included.
That does then beg the question of whether collector focussed releases contain lower quality liquid in the understanding that many will be left unopened? We shall see…
Macallan Archival Series, Folio 1 – DCI (Drink, Collect, Invest) Rated
(D)rink : 7.5/10
There’s an immediate hit of meaty, slightly rubbery sulphur on the nose which I’m not keen on but can see many will like this character. That flashes off quickly in the glass. What’s underneath is actually really good Macallan. It’s not Macallan of old and it’s not going to compete with such as the early 1970’s 18 year olds but it’s not meant to. The dominant character is medium rich autumnal fruit and oak. It’s not Chrimble-cake in a glass, rather more subtle. The nose is more expressive than the palate which could benefit from a little more oomph. There’s something I’ve just realised: This is the first bottle of Macallan I’ve bought on a retail basis, I think, since 2012 when I fell out of love with a bottle of Macallan Gold (I remember describing it as 2012’s most disappointing dram). So, as a liquid, ASF1 is good. We’ll come onto price later as here’s not quite the place.
(C)ollect : 8.5/10
It’s Macallan. There are 2,000 bottles of it and it’s eye-catchingly, shelf stealingly packaged… and again, it’s Macallan!
Just on that, the packaging won’t be to everyones preference, it is massively bulky and heavy. Like fellow Edrington sibling Highland Park’s Valhalla series, it’ll eat shelf space. Can’t remember where I heard this but I’m sure I recall mention that there could be 24 releases under the Archival series. That gives longevity to a collector… maybe too much? Being this is the first release, it’ll always be in demand. A smaller release, higher ABV and/or an age statement/vintage would have seen a higher collectors score.
(I)nvest : 8/10
At £195 per bottle, it isn’t the first release of Bowmore Devil’s Casks in terms of a pricing-gift (see how long that lasted though!), so gains are not going to be on that scale. Nor are they going to be on the same scale as the discontinued Easter Elchies single casks. That said, the first bottles to hit the open market moved for c£400. New-release-curve then kicked in and prices currently hover around the £250 – £280 mark. Another worthy note is a bottle recently sold through an online whisky retailer for £540, further highlighting demand. We’ve also seen the concept of a shiny new series of bottles come to absolutely nothing (Balvenie’s Craftsmen series had just one release, the Cooper) which, if ASF1 were to be the sole bottling, would place it in the same investment league as many singular limited releases – Woodland, Ghillies Dram, Re-Awakening etc – but if the series is to be continued, the first bottle should still be worth buying at today’s auction prices.
DCI Score 24/30
Rated buy: But heavily dependent on the continuation of the series and also to some degree the general health of Macallan as a brand. A must-have for the Macallan collector and still at a broadly accesible price. More heavily weighted towards the collector but, given patience, investors should see steady gains. It’s way above average as a drinker’s dram from a quality perspective. If you’re passing, there might be the odd one still kicking round at the distillery.