It’s Dram Stupidity

Why Silly Season now seems to be year long

For those of us lucky enough to be born Scottish and or live in Scotland, you need to have a sense of humour about the weather. It seems that we only have two seasons a year – summer and winter. Only summer seems to last for two weeks and those two weeks may not coincide with actual summer months. There’s been a few occasions when I’ve been walking around in March in short sleeves. Mind you in Aberdeen there are a few people who dress with barely enough clothes to stave off hypothermia then remove a couple of layers for a night out. The Norwegians have a saying that goes along the lines of that there is no such thing as bad weather, only a poor choice of clothing. Appropriate enough, as I type, I am actually in Norwegian waters on a Norwegian crewed vessel within sight of the Norwegian mainland.

Weather here has been changeable and we’ve had some spectacular weather, but now we’ve got misty gloom and have had for a couple of days. Guess the Norwegians have similar seasons to the Scottish, including the season that seems to be getting year long in the whisky world – silly season. This is not the sole preserve of the whisky world and can be widespread in many situations, but once again I see the usual stupidity over prices being paid for bottles. Interestingly enough it is for a Norwegian whisky.

The whisky in question is the first release of Bivrost Niflheim, a single malt whisky from the Aurora Spirit distillery in Lyngen, Northern Norway. It is the world’s most northerly distillery at present although with whisky superlatives there is always a chance that could be surpassed. The first 20 bottles are available for sale in the current Whisky Auctioneer auction. This isn’t the first time that Whisky Auctioneer have exclusively sold first produce from a distillery – they have also had similar auctions for the Israeli Milk and Honey Distillery and also the Strathearn Distillery in Perthshire.

I’d like to draw your attention to the price currently being bid for the bottle one of the Norwegian whisky. It’s currently at the time of writing £6400 plus auction fees. Out of the 20 bottles at auction, 7 of them have broken the £1000 barrier, and the cheapest bid is currently £500. Forgive me for perhaps stating the obvious, but have people lost their marbles?

Lets look at the whisky in question – No Age Statement, only 50cl. The cheapest this whisky will be is £1 per millilitre. Thats a lot of money for a whisky of only 3 years old. I suppose that is fine for a collectors item, but very expensive for a drinking whisky and I’d wonder how much the price will mature in the secondary market. It all depends on the success of the distillery I would bet. I can tell you I paid £800 for two bottles of the first release of Strathearn’s spirit in the auction that Whisky Auctioneer ran in 2016. Strathearn has gone on to be quietly successful, being sold to Douglas Laing in 2019. Where it goes from there and whether or not my bottles go up in value remains to be seen, but I only pay at auction what I can afford to lose. The good news is that following their sale, Strathearn is likely only to go up in value. But will Bivrost Niflheim do the same?

Now let me suggest something to you. There is a certain kudos to having the first bottle from a release and a greater kudos to having the first bottle from the first release. But £6400 worth? The jury might be out on that one though I’d imagine it’s not. I know that for that money I’d much rather pay that for a decent Macallan knowing full well that I would get more enjoyment out of that than a whisky that few will know the actual taste and quality of.

And here is my kicker – will further releases taste any different to these 20 bottles in such a way that would make the £6400 taste like a bargain? I’d proffer not. I’m going to suggest that people are paying over the odds for a bottle that may cost £100 realistically, and for a three year old whisky I’d also suggest even that is an overpayment.

Fear Of Missing Out or showing who has the largest testicles in the collecting world is what is driving these prices. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to disrespect both Aurora Spirit or Whisky Auctioneer. Their whisky is one I would be very happy to try and I do plan to buy a bottle from this distillery on account that I spend a lot of time in Norway. Plus it’s about time I looked to whisky outside Scotland I think. For the past 5 years I’ve done a lot of business from Whisky Auctioneer and find them a very decent company to deal with. For both companies, this auction is a great way to generate business and publicity – WA definitely needs positive support given their recent drama with the Perfect Collection Auction being disrupted by cyber attack.

With a certain amount of hindsight bearing in mind I have bought bottles at these sorts of auctions, these events only generate a little bit of price blindness which must please both the distilleries and auctioneers. However, what may be impulse bidding with the heart and not the head can be bad for the buyer and the subsequent secondary market price. I doubt the prices will go on to match the current level of bidding.

Let’s look on the other side. Small distilleries with a great product will generate hype. Daftmill being a great case in point. As much as it is a good dram, is it worth the prices now being seen on the secondary market? I don’t personally think so. The Cuthberts want it to be drunk and enjoyed, but often those paying silly prices on the auction sites are forcing reasonably priced first releases out of the hands of drinkers.

In my closing opinion for this article, I believe there is a bubble that is waiting to be burst and some people will be affected. The hype in the market will fuel a monster that will one day implode. As silly season seems to be a year round thing, this may come sooner than some people think.

(to be continued……)

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