How many of you reading this have been at one stage of their career have been an apprentice? I remember when I started out in the aviation industry I used to be a technician that serviced or repaired a lot of the black boxes that came out of aircraft. For those of you who don’t know, nearly all aircraft electronics boxes are black – only the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder are orange. Ironic that they are known as the black box!
The company I worked for was based in Thornliebank, Glasgow, but had an outpost at Aberdeen Airport where about 8 of us worked. Every so often, we’d get a visit from somebody in head office to see how things were going, and as the apprentice I would get appraised as to how I was progressing within the training syllabus. In an industry littered with acronyms there was always space for one or two more mnemonics, especially when training. Of course, many trainees in the engineering trades may have heard of the 7 P’s – Perfect Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, but the one that is relevant to this article was a play on the word ‘Assume’.
The aviation trade discourages people assuming things, or not reading the manuals. Failure to read a manual by an engineer once saw a pilot sucked out of the aircraft windscreen due to the screws that were replaced being the wrong size. (Look at Wikipedia article on BA flight 5390if you have a couple of minutes). So it was little surprise that I was told by the training manager that “To assume makes up an ASS out of U and ME“. I did listen, but how I wished I had applied it a bit more thoroughly in this story I am away to tell you. Especially in the ASS region – my ass in particular.
Eventually I found the aviation industry was not for me and started working offshore a couple of years after successfully completing my apprenticeship. I thought I would do this for a couple of years to be able to afford a flat in Aberdeen, but after that purchase and nearly 25 years on, not much has changed apart from more belly, less hair and still having to go to work on a ship. Anyhow, after buying my first flat, it wasn’t uncommon for me to sit on the toilet reading magazines as when not offshore there was rarely anything to be in a hurry for. In my bathroom I had repurposed some vegetable racks for storing magazines and assorted cleaning accessories. It was here here disaster was to strike.
I had finished my constitutional, and as I do love my bum in an Andrex way, I reached down to get the moist toilet tissue. Being Aberdonian I was too tight to get the proper box for the wipes, so I had mine in the packet sitting next to the toilet on the magazine rack. I fished a wipe out, did the needful swipe between the cheeks and that is where I found out something was wrong. Very wrong. You see, in my absent minded haste not to put down the magazine and look as to what I was doing, I had inadvertently picked up a Flash antibacterial wipe instead. That is definitely not suitable for sensitive skin. I must admit to it being a bit nippy on my keekywinker for an hour or two. but on a positive note it highlighted the need to strain a little less in the future and for the rest of the morning when I broke wind, it had a note of pine freshness about it.
Translating this to whisky, if you are using auctions, you have to be careful about what you are ordering. It is all to easy to get caught up in the moment, especially as an auction closes and last minute panic bidding mode kicks in. You really need to be sure what you are trying to capture is exactly what you want, and you have to have your eyes wide open. You cannot afford to assume a single thing.
And unfortunately that’s similar to what happened to my friend Nick. The first I knew about it was when I got a message asking for advice. I initially thought it was advice for his blog, Whisky, Aye! which is worth a read, especially if you appreciate a dog as a whisky companion. But no, this wasn’t the case and it was a sorry tale I know well from personal experience. He was on the search for a Hazelburn 8 year old first edition. He put in a bid on a bottle which while wasn’t a lot of cash, it would have resulted in him winning a bottle he didn’t want. The error was caused by the incorrect title being applied on the auction entry – the bottle in question wasn’t a first edition but the second. If you knew exactly what you were looking for then it was clear that something wasn’t right though it is easy to get caught out. Oops.
Sometimes during the prep for large auctions, the entry may be copied and pasted to save the auctioneers the time of researching the same bottles time and time again. While the bottle on the picture was correct, the heading wasn’t. But Nick didn’t notice until too late. It’s unfortunate, but at the bottom of each entry is the disclaimer as in the screenshot below:-
An email was sent to see if the bid could be cancelled. To be fair to Nick, the mistake was the fault of the auctioneers, but in fairness to the auctioneer, they would have been justified by telling him that he should have checked as pointed out by their statement. However, fate intervened and Nick was outbid. Result – problem solved. Hopefully a happy result for everybody involved, but especially Nick.
To their credit, the auctioneer did say when they contacted Nick after the auction had ended that they would double check with the winning bidder to make sure that they were aware it wasn’t a 1st Edition as titled. Now that’s quality service from Scotch Whisky Auctions. Another Glasgow based whisky auctioneer could learn from this as they still have not responded to a query about excessive shipping charges.
In auctions you need to be sure of what you are bidding on. This could have had a much different ending had the bottle been more expensive and the error wasn’t noticed until DHL delivered it. By that time it’s probably too late. Then you’ve the hassle of returning it to auction or drinking it, depending if you can afford to. But Nick isn’t the first one to have done this by not double checking, as I’ve fallen foul of it too, although in my case it was bottles I wanted, but the condition was sub-par. And twice I’ve had to suck it up when they arrived. Not the end of the world, as this is why you don’t over pay. I’ll hold onto the sub par condition ones as they will eventually be worth a good bit more than I paid.
And to make Nick feel even more warm and fluffy, I made a similar mistake to him at the same auction, as I bid on a lot with a damaged box. I never looked all the way down the page either. Ah well. I’ve hopefully sourced a new carton already. From Nick thankfully! Not checking carefully is an easy enough mistake to make, but don’t let a lack of attention rush you into an unforced error.
So, top tips for this week is to check, check and check again at what you are bidding for at auction, and keep your toilet wipes well away from your cleaning products. That’s a sheriff’s badge that will never be shiny, so don’t try.
It has always been my intention to keep this blog entirely non-political. I’ll try to keep it this way, however there is an elephant in the room. Usually when I hear this cliche I get up to leave but it isn’t me this time.
Brexit. The gift that keeps giving ‘Benefits’ that nobody wants, and that has fallen firmly on our lap as people are now discovering they have to pay extra fees to import whisky from the UK, although this is happening both ways for UK citizens using European auction sites.
What alerted me to this was a tweet, in which a bidder from the Irish Republic won goods at an auction to the tune of £79. Plus fees, that’s going to be around €105. He now has to pay €94.25 in taxes and shipping charges, almost as much as the cost of the produce he won.
Sadly this isn’t the only case. Another WhiskyTwitter user from France had a similar had a similar surprise in an event that will no doubt have been repeated several times over.
You don’t have to be a genius to realise that quite simply people within Europe are going to stop using UK auction sites. While I do not believe that this will cause a big problem for the bigger auction sites, it may certainly cause issues for the smaller ones. But there are a couple of greater implications for UK auction users.
Less people bidding in the auction could mean less demand for bottles. Less demand could mean falling prices. Ok for buyers, but poorer for sellers. Your little nest egg of bottles if they aren’t in demand may probably lose value.
Less EU people using UK auction sites will potentially mean less chance of seeing rarer bottles.
I use a European auction site, whiskyauction.com. I’ve been very happy with the service and to be honest I’ll still use them as there is one or two bottles I still seek. But what is in the back of my mind is that I cannot bid as high as I might for a UK auction as the spectre of shipping charges is going to be always present at the back of my mind.
Brexit has been proven to have been a self inflicted shotgun blast to both feet as the realist so called ‘Remoaners’ have been sadly proved right. With US tariffs of 25% still hanging over the UK whisky industry, now is not a happy time. If lockdowns continue and the economy stutters, people are not going to have the money to invest or buy luxury goods such as whisky, compounding the problem. If there is a rush to sell to realise cash but no buyers, then there is a problem. However this could be the reset the secondary market needs. There is a glass lake creaking on shelves throughout the UK; will Brexit be the dam-busting bomb that deluges the market?
I have to apologise from the very start of this article. Of course that is not like me at all, no Sir-ee! Mainly because the title of this article is from the a song on the Cypress Hill Album ‘Black Sunday’. Ok, wrong day I suppose for what I had in mind for this article. And while it is NOT like me, I actually own this album and listen to it on a rare occasion and enjoy it. You can’t listen to shoegaze all the time (apparently). What is at least accurate to some degree in my opinion is the topic today does have a slight whiff of insanity about it, although probably of a type we may not be aware of and suffer from in varying degrees. It’s about how we allow ourselves to become blind to the obvious.
Once again my conscience has been pricked to write an article in defence of a body of people that have been undera silent attack for quite some time and since March 2020 this has been intensified. Unfortunately it is whisky drinkers that seem to be the people who allow it to happen, albeit not doing the attacking themselves. Given how friendly the whisky community is, I’m surprised that there seems to be little promotion and concern to people that are vital to our hobby, passion, or more to the point – obsession.
Independent whisky shops have had a tough time of it for some time now. This is something I raised on my blog Facebook page back in March of this year, going as far to break my anonymity and release a couple of videos. Use the Facebook links below to navigate to the page if you want to see the videos. In most cases these smaller retailers cannot compete with online retailers such as Amazon and don’t have the collective buying power of chains like The Whisky Shop, Oddbins or Majestic to name one or two. And you can forget any hope of being able to complete with any of the supermarkets.
What triggered this was the amount of people who seemed to be upset that there seemed to be not very many Black Friday deals on Amazon this year. I’m not having a go – in full disclosure I’ve bought booze from Amazon when I’ve seen a bargain, but usually it is when I cannot get a bottle anywhere else at that time. An Old Pultney 17 was my first bottle that I did this with just after it was discontinued and latterly when Glengoyne 18 was slashed to £70, though that was just before the change of packaging and it was bought for stash. Maybe for later of course…
In a quick moment of research, certainly here in the UK are a myriad of places that do online only retailing. Drink Supermarket, Master Of Malt, Drinks Direct, 31 Dover, and Spirit Store are just a handful and I’d be sure that this would be replicated overseas where specialist whisky retailers may be thin on the ground. Even Whisky Exchange which does have a couple of shops probably makes the vast majority of its profits from online trading.
Look. I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad about seeking a bargain. It’s been a tough year for everybody with many people locked down for long periods of time; people losing their freedom, contact with family and friends, their jobs; people possibly losing a lot more. And I can hardly hold the moral high ground as I have made the occasional purchases from some of these retailers, especially Master Of Malt as the Drinks By The Dram give me a chance to taste older or more expensive whiskies without having to cough up for a full bottle. However let’s look at this from a slightly different perspective.
While online shopping may be very convenient and cheap (as an Aberdonian I can assure you this is very close to my heart!), let’s look at some very plain to see facts that often get ignored and I see no evidence to the contrary that we seem to be suffering selective blindness to these issues. Amazon does not need your money. Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s do not need your booze money. Let’s face it, despite the fun of #WhiskySanta, a company giving away £250,000 of drink does not need your booze money. However the hypocrite in me is very happy to promote the company by making my #WhiskySanta wishes. If they are generous enough to ‘pay’ quarter of a million quid for over a month of free social media advertising I’m taking my chance. You can bet your bottom dollar that an independent retailer of Whisk(e)y would probably wet themselves if they thought they could make £250,000 of profit, let alone be able to afford to give it away. And they certainly do need your custom.
Speaking of local experience here in the Highlands, I can think of at least 4 local-ish (50 miles away still counts as local!) independent whisky retailers that have suffered the double whammy COVID has delivered. Not only were they forced to close their businesses when COVID first took hold, the businesses concerned were also in tourist areas, so once they’ve been allowed to open, there’s a lack of the normal crowds to sell to. I’m thinking of shops in Aberlour, Dufftown, Tomintoul, Pitlochry, Tyndrum, Inverary and Skye to name a few. The cancellation of the Spirit Of Speyside festival this year hit our region hard and without the same footfall, the whisky retailers in the area have had to rely on online sales to generate income. It doesn’t mean independent whisky retailers in large towns and cities aren’t suffering too – at least they have more chance of local footfall than one in the middle of the Cairngorms.
The majority of independent retailers have not got the same profit margins to reduce stock prices and remain viable. Some are forced to deal with wholesalers as they cannot buy directly with the distilleries or bottlers, further reducing competitiveness with online only businesses. To be fair to Amazon, there is plenty of independent traders use Amazon market place, but this is still not perfect as this still involves selling fees that further reduce margins. And therein could be the reason that there wasn’t so many Black Friday deals – perhaps the majority of them in the past have been supplied not from Amazon but small traders. They certainly cannot afford to be giving massive discounts at the moment.
The greatest benefit to dealing directly with an independent trader is that you’ll receive something that you’ll never get online – by buying over the phone or in person you’ll receive a personal service. Think about this when you next shop with an independent whisky retailer. They can tell you what is new. They usually have a great knowledge of the whiskies they sell. If you can visit one, you may get to try before you buy; something that has often seen me buy more than expecting to. You can build a relationship where the retailer may be privy to information that maybe of interest to you and they may tell you first, or at least keep a hard to find bottle back for you. At least one Whisky Twitterer has said he enjoys this type of situation and I have also found myself in this pleasant position too.
This whole subject brings me back to a similar situation in a different retail environment; music. As I alluded to at the start of this article, I’m heavily into music, especially indie / shoegaze / post rock. There used to be a shop in Aberdeen called One-Up, of which I was a very regular customer. I always used them as the chances of finding something new, exciting and possibly undiscovered was high. But the ultimate draw was the service. The staff were excellent and one in particular, the well known shoegazer in local circles, Yogi Duncan used to recommend bands and albums to me so I could listen to it before making a decision. This was music I’d never have heard otherwise and would not be likely to see the suggestion on iTunes. You just don’t get that specialist service online and are at the mercy of an algorithm to suggest what you might like in the future. Just because some tracking cookie sees I’ve bought one album, doesn’t mean I’ll like the whole genre though it’s certainly cheaper to take a risk on a £10 CD than a £70 bottle of whisky.
It came to pass that CD buying fell out of fashion. People turned to downloads and with large overheads compared to online sales and a desire of one of the business partners to retire meant on the 18th of January 2013, One-Up closed for good. Since that store has gone, I’ve gradually fallen out of buying music. Perhaps it’s my age having an influence as well, but in the past 2 years I’ve found myself downloading more and more; my once proud music CD collection all but stagnated. For me nearly 8 years on, I and many others from the North East of Scotland still mourn the loss of One-Up
Regardless of my feeling, while digital retailing doesn’t mean we’ll fall out of love with whisky (goodness no!) it does mean we risk slowly falling out of touch with a more intimate way of connecting with the industry. If we only see what is advertised on line or by who we follow on social media, to me it just becomes a cacophony of marketing noise and other people’s opinion. The lack of personal contact within the whisky retail industry really means to me we are all perhaps following around on each other’s coat tails and are at the mercy of anonymous algorithms and advertising budgets which pigeon-hole us and see us getting targeted into purchasing blandness.
Let’s be clear however, as there is more we can do. It isn’t just spending our hard earned cash at independent whisky retailers that helps. Many of us on social media have our own blogs. Why not give one of the independent retailers a shout out on your blog? Review a bottle bought from them. Better still, if they bottle their own or have exclusive bottles to their shop, review one. I recently did, and the email that I received from the owner was one of pure gratitude. Not just because I genuinely enjoyed the whisky he had bottled, but because as an independent retailer in an area highly dependent on tourism it had been a tough year and he was over the moon to see his products promoted in such a way.
My blog is tiny and insignificant. However due to my review of his whisky, I know of 25 confirmed bottle sales as a direct result of what I said. Maybe only 4% of the bottling run, but that is sales that put money into a local business and a local economy; not into the bottomless pockets of CEO’s who don’t care a jot about whisky but just want your cash. If you don’t spend your whisky money at Amazon or get a Black Friday deal from an online only retailer, they aren’t that likely to go bust. Of course not everybody has the funds to avoid being frugal when it comes to whisky purchases, this year especially. The Mr Grumpy in me understands the situation and there is nothing wrong with that. Note: I’ve seen some whisky cheaper in an independent shop than on Amazon. Some retailers do promotions on free shipping if spending over a threshold amount. Shop wisely.
2020 has a lot of negative things to look back on. Don’t let it be the beginning of the end for a friendly independent whisky shop. Perhaps make an effort to reduce or let go of our building dependence on cheap online only sales. Once lockdown is finished, be sure to pop into one of the independent spirit retailers close to you. They’ll thank you for it.
Feedback is welcome on this subject. My aim isn’t to offend but highlight the smaller businesses that struggling on an already uneven playing field. What’s your opinion?
After One Up closed, Yogi Duncan was working in an Oddbins in Aberdeen. He could have become my shoegaze, wine and whisky guru, but sadly I left Aberdeen the same year as the lights went out at One Up forever. Then the nearest independent music shop was Imperial Records in Inverness, but sadly this closed the following year in 2014. Another store with a stunning customer service lost to the digital shopping paradigm, a service made more special due to the owner Mark and I having some great conversations based on initially realising a shared love of the music of Galaxie 500.
Whether or not you want to, it is pretty hard to escape the fact that the world of whisky is expanding beyond all expectations. We don’t even need to stop at whisky, for there is still a lot of expansion in other distilled spirits such as premium rums and craft gins and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. More and more people are getting in on the concept of collecting. I’ve been asked by quite a few people recently about collecting and its enough to make it worthwhile to write another article on it. I’ve already written extensively on this in the past, but I feel now it is appropriate to bring you a more up to date article which encompasses some of the experiences that I have had as well as conversations I have had with various people within the whisky industry.
What is collectible?
This is all down to personal preference. We all have different things that excite us in the whisky world. Some people only collect from one distillery, some people may only collect certain vintages, certain age statements. We’ve all heard of the generous father who gave his son a bottle of 18 year old Macallan for his birthday, allowing his son to sell it and use the profit to help him move onto the property ladder, there really is no limit on what is and isn’t collectable, but you have to look at why you are collecting and this will determine what will be suitable for you to collect.
This is a question I put to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. Andy has been a whisky collector as long as he has been legally allowed to be, as well as being a collector, he is a broker, valuer and consultant to the Scotch Whisky Industry. Andy and I had some very interesting conversations over our joy of whisky collecting and seeing as I was going to have to rebuild my collection slightly, I thought it made sense to ask Andy what would be appropriate to collect in the future.
“There are three properties to collectible whiskies” Andy explained to me over the phone. “which are desirability, collectability and investability.” He went onto explain how every bottle will have different amounts of each property, and where it has good levels of all three, then that is where you have a suitable bottle.
Desirability. Does the bottle have a physical property that makes people want to own it? Is it a whisky with an in demand flavour profile? Does it have attractive packaging?
Collectability Is it a rare release? Is it from an in demand distillery or bottler? Is it part of a set that you already own? Is it discontinued or from a silent distillery?
Investability This can be a product of the desirability and collectability. This is because if a whisky is rare and in demand, then the chances of it being investment grade are high. However, true investment grade whisky is likely to beyond the means of most people reading my blog. We are looking at items like Macallan where some bottles easily reach into five figures. Investability (which isn’t really a word in the English dictionary) is not likely to occur from a bottle that can be bought in your local supermarket. You are looking to source bottles at specialist whisky shops, distilleries or auctions to get a better chance of making a profit.
If you are considering whisky that has all of these attributes then you have a bottle that is likely to be in demand.
What sort of collector am I?
I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of collectors are people who perhaps just collected a bottle here and there, perhaps to drink, perhaps to save for a rainy day. Few might go down the investment route from the beginning. Has it been that people have got the idea that is often fuelled by the media and the producers themselves that whisky is a premium investment option? Just because something appeared on the Knight Frank index does not mean it will continue to do so.
The types of collector fall into a handful of very easy categories. 1/ Drinkers – Those who want to collect to have a good stash of a favourite dram on standby. 2/ Hobbyists. Those who take pride in owning bottles. 3/ Investors. Those who are buying whisky in order to realise profit, expecting their whisky to go up in value. 4/ Flippers. Those who take advantage of new releases to sell quickly after release to those who either can’t wait for a bottle or aren’t able to get a bottle.
Of course there can be blurring of the borders between the four types of collector. I don’t know if a flipper actually counts as a collector as some don’t even touch the bottle they buy, often getting retailers to send straight to the auctioneers. Personally, I’m a bit of the first three types. I have whisky in store that I know I plan to drink, whisky I’ve wanted to own because I like the presentation and whisky I have bought deliberately as an investment.
For those who drink or those who collect just to own bottles they admire, then what they choose to collect is entirely personal and dependent on their own tastes. However if you want to collect to realise a profit, no matter how small, there are guidelines that you would be well advised to stick to.
1. Have a collection policy or an aim.
This might not be particularly obvious, but if you want to maximise profits, then you have to target what you want to collect. In the start of my collecting journey, I initially started collecting bottles from distilleries that could be seen on my journey between home and Aberdeen. As this passes through Speyside, that encompassed many distilleries. I didn’t just collect any bottles, I collected those that were limited edition. Let’s face it, a standard 12 year old Glenfiddich unless its ancient is never going to realise much value.
I moved onto collecting Flora and Fauna bottlings. It’s advisable if you are going to collect a certain type of bottle, then attempt to get the whole collection. When the time comes to sell, you will be able to attract two types of buyers; those who want the whole collection or those who wish to a bottle at a time. Make sure however you are aware of the likely cost of all the collection before you start. For instance, many Flora and Fauna bottles cost around under £200. However, rarer bottles like the white cap first editions often go for over £400. The holy grail of the collection is the Speyburn, which was only made for one batch according to legend. This bottle has started regularly achieving hammer prices of over £2000.
2. Buy bottles that are likely to realise an increase in value
There is absolutely no sense in buying bottles for investment just because they are available. They have to be able to realise an increase in value and realistically you need to be buying bottles that will be in demand in the future. Bottles that would come under this criteria are most normally limited editions with low numbers released. There is a problem with the title ‘Limited Edition’ as in a lot of cases it isn’t really rare at all.
Realistically speaking, if you can buy it off the shelves of your supermarket, then it is generally not going to be a bottle that will be collectable. There are some exceptions, but you will have to generally keep hold of the bottle for many decades to realise a decent increase in value.
Unfortunately, many bottles increase in value not due to the whisky inside of them, but due to the brand. The whisky inside them may not be the best example of what that distillery can produce, but the demand is there. Distilleries such as Macallan, Ardbeg, Highland Park and Glenmorangie spring to mind. It is pretty hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, but you have to buy the right one. The quality of the whisky in a 1980’s distilled 10 year old is far superior to some of the Double Oak and Triple Oak expressions available now in my opinion so it pays to do your research. Not that any are bad whiskies, it’s all a matter of relativity and personal opinion. And while I did say it was hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, it is possible and I personally know of one person who has lost £100 on a higher value release. It’s not me I hasten to add, although the person in question is quite open about it.
Bottles that are likely to go up in value are those from silent distilleries, bottles that were popular and discontinued, single cask bottles from an in demand distillery. Cask strength editions are quite worthy as well, but you have to keep an eye on how many are produced. Something like Glenfarclas 105 will not go up in value, as it is a core range and many thousands have been produced, however a limited run of a cask strength bottle such as a Glenfarclas family cask will most likely increase in value, or a bottle such as a festival release with limited numbers.
Also popular are the bottles from first releases from new distilleries. However buying these on the secondary market soon after release usually means the price has been distorted by flippers, so it is always better to buy straight from the initial point of sale.
3. Know of the potential value of the bottle before you buy.
Yes, it is nice to get your hands on a rare Glenugie, the Peterhead distillery that was the first distillery to close as part of the 1983 mass cull of distilleries due to a surplus of production. However when buying such a bottle, it is always better to get it straight from a retailer on the primary market. If you buy such bottles on the secondary market, such as from an online auction or whisky broker, then you have to be aware of the going price for the bottles. While you may be happy in paying £400 for the bottle at auction, it’s not really a good investment if the ceiling for that bottle is £450. A closed distillery may not be the best example, as eventually supply will run out at some point, but the same goes for any bottle. Look at those people paying over £2000 for a Macallan Genesis – the market price has seen a lot of these bottles sell now for around £1400 at auction. Yes, given time the price will probably go back up again, but that depends on how demand continues for them. If you overpay, then you have to hold onto the bottle for longer to realise a profit, or stand to make a loss.
It’s worth pointing out that in some cases, original bottlings often are more profitable than independent bottlers, but this is not always the case. Buying a whisky bottled by Signatory, Gordon & Macphail, Cadenhead, Adelphi, James Eadie, That Boutique-y Whisky Company amongst others can realise good prices. Certainly an Invergordon 42 year old whisky from TBWC I’ve been chasing has certainly increased in value, and I know from the bidding action it is very much in demand. I think the original release price for Batch 15 was in the region of £115. I had to pay close to £200 once auction fees were considered. However, I have tasted it in the past and it is a great dram, making a good explanation for why the price has gone up.
4. Know your potential buyer
When buying, think about who is likely to buy what you are selling. This is why gimmicks like the Game Of Thrones whisky wasn’t really a good investment. Apart from those complete sets flipped just after release, it is rare to see a complete set break even. It is unlikely to ever make much of a profit if any at all. Limited editions tied to a TV show are unlikely to make money as they are normally manufactured in large amounts.
‘Limited Edition’ is often a misnomer, as something produced in its hundreds of thousands, but only made available for a 6 months or so is still technically a limited edition. You need to see my article on Game Of Thrones whisky to understand that the only people likely to buy this are fans of the show. And they’ll already have a set or two. With no real auction demand, unfortunately you are stuck with it or will not be able to sell for any profit. Remember most auctioneers take between 5 and 10% on the hammer price which when Game of Thrones has already got a hammer price well under the original RRP makes the blow a little bit harder.
This is why I always advise do not buy anything you are not prepared to drink. Buying bottles like Macallan, Ardbeg and Highland Park may have higher prices, but there is a healthy secondary market for these bottles, as people buy them to drink, especially whisky bars in Asia who’s clientele are demanding rare whisky and are prepared to pay for it.
This is also the risk in single cask bottlings. You need somebody to want the single cask whisky you have as there can be duds going about that haven’t been well received, but this can be mitigated by buying from an in-demand distillery. It’s hard for me to suggest individual distilleries, but I myself have usually restricted myself to single cask bottlings from GlenAllachie, GlenDronach, Invergordon, Glentauchers, Dailuaine, Benrinnes and Tamdhu. I have other single casks, but these for me are the brands I like.
5. Don’t overstretch.
It goes without saying that you should not overstretch. If you are a low grade investor, the best advice I can give you is set a budget for what you are prepared to spend to collect. Perhaps a monthly budget – you don’t have to spend it all in one go, but perhaps roll it over to another month. What ever you do, it is important not to spend more than you are prepared to drink, as there is a possibility that the situation may happen. With that in mind, it is also helpful if you collect stuff that you would enjoy drinking – if you don’t like peaty whisky, then there is no sense in collecting Ardbeg for example. Just in case, you understand! It all depends whether or not you are prepared to take the risk.
6. Speculate to accumulate.
As with any investment, you have to consider what bottles give most value. I’ll put it here that if you are only going to collect bottles at £30ish then the chances of any sort of profit are minimal. They are not extinguished, but from my experience the more you can spend on a bottle, the more it is likely to have a chance in going up in value. I can give three examples to show relative profits.
Aberlour 10 – decent enough whisky. Can be bought for £35-45. I am aware that it is getting discontinued in favour of a 12 year old expression. This whisky is mass produced, and while a decent whisky there will be a lot of this hanging around in people’s drink cabinets. It’s a simple yet pretty good value Speyside whisky. However, it is highly unlikely in the period of 10 years to double in value.
Old Pulteney 17 – Another mass produced whisky, but perhaps not as much as the Aberlour above. This was discontinued in 2018. It was reviewed by American YouTube vBloggers Scotch 4 Dummies as potentially the best Old Pulteney ever. Cost used to be £74ish. I’ve just had a look on Amazon, and the cheapest new one they are advertising is £203. It can be had a lot cheaper elsewhere, but the thing is that editon was a very popular whisky. Just looking at one auction site, the price has peaked at £110, yet averages at £85. It has only been discontinued for two years, so many of the people buying it are likely still to be drinking it. Once supply narrows down, this will be a good whisky from an old era. The price is likely only to do one thing.
Bruichladdich Octomore X4+10 – Now we look at a whisky that was a limited release. £150 on release and only 3000 produced. Sold out instantly. This is a quadruple distilled whisky at 70% and ten years old. However it was only in a 50cl bottle. However just looking at one auction site, this peaked at £281 some three months after release and now sells for anywhere between £210 and £250. Even at the lower value, thats £60 in less than a year on an initial investment of £150. As these get drunk, the value will only go up, but will reach a ceiling value of which I estimate to be in the £300 – £350 range maximum. I own two, and I can guarantee one will be getting cracked open.
Can you see the pattern? The more that gets spent on a whisky, the potential to realise an in value increases also. In my experience if you spend below £100 a bottle as an investment, you are unlikely to see great profits and it may only hold its value. Factor in selling costs and you may only break even. However, if you are collecting as a hobby because owning certain whiskies or brands gives you an amount of pleasure and pride, then profit is not your main motive so you should not expect to make any. Harsh, but fair as you’ve received value in the pride factor and not the monetary factor.
7. Be aware what is getting relabelled.
For those who want to collect a specific whisky, they are more likely to be looking for all variants of it. So when a distillery is rebranding, people will want the new style in their collection. Doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive whisky. Example – GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh were all sold by Billy Walker to Brown Foreman. While there has not been a rebranding of all the whisky (BenRiach recently has undergone a rebrand), there has been subtle changes to the bottles, such as the new Master Blender signature changing to Rachael Barrie instead of Billy Walker. This gives the bottling a distinct ‘marker’ of when it was produced, therefore collectors in the future will easily be able to tell the era the bottle was from.
Another distillery that has rebranded, Glengoyne, recently had it’s 18 yr old expression for sale on Amazon for £20 less than normal retail, possibly in an effort to sell old stock. That is good for drinkers (cheap drink!) but is also good for collectors who have more margin to realise a profit should they ever sell.
This is why with intelligent buying, you don’t have to go for the expensive whisky. It can be enough to buy an affordable bottle and just wait for a rebrand or a recipe change. An example is GlenDronach 15 Revival. The original recipe had to be discontinued for three years due to lack of sufficient stock to make up the malt. Three years later, it reappeared and has since undergone another recipe change according to my sources. The original bottles have increased
8. Be aware what is getting released or discontinued.
First bottlings from any distillery are usually a safe bet, especially if in limited numbers. Be careful if you are buying them on the secondary market as you may be overpaying, Similarly be aware of what is getting discontinued.
It can help being on the mailing lists of distilleries to see when new releases are coming. Often that gives you access to any ballots for limited releases or first chances to purchase. I used to be on the mailing list for a few distilleries, such as Macallan and Ardbeg, but have now decided to cut back as I am no longer really interested in these brands enough to be on their marketing lists.
9.Make sure you have a place to keep your collection
It’s all well and good collecting whisky. But if you are not drinking it, or not drinking it quick enough, then you will have to ensure that you have somewhere to keep it. If you are collecting for investment, then you need to make sure that it is in a place that keeps your bottles in prime condition. I’ve written on this extensively here and here (click on links) but to quickly summarise it needs to be somewhere not exposed to constant light and the temperature has to remain stable and not at extremes – lofts, attics and garages are not good places. I personally have a storage locker, but that comes with its own risks – see here
10.Make sure it is covered.
Again, I have gone into this in detail before here and here, but regardless of where you keep your collection, make sure that it is covered under insurance. Keep an eye on the values of any high value bottles as they may go up and exceed the single item limit on your house insurance. Having large amounts of bottles in your house may also compromise your house insurance too if there was a fire. Best look into specialist insurance. This is a given if you are using a storage facility – get professional whisky insurance and don’t rely on the insurance offered. There are normally limits on alcohol pay outs -my first storage location limited me to £10K.
11.Keep an eye on the value of your collection.
You need to keep an eye on the value of your collection for a few reasons. Firstly and most importantly is for insurance purposes. This will make sure you have adequate cover for your collection.
Keep a regular check on what the more expensive bottles in your collection are doing at auction. These are the bottles that you stand to make the most profit on if bought at the right price, but equally could be the bottles you lose most on. You may find that the price is dropping as a bottle is going out of favour and it may be a good time to sell. However, don’t let one or two auctions be the decider – use a service like Rare Whisky 101 to check every so often to see the average prices. Investment in whisky bottles is best played out over the long term, similar to any investment, so it is sometimes better to hold your nerve.
If collecting to realise profit, then you have to keep an eye on how to sell it. There are limited options as it is illegal to sell alcohol without a licence, therefore you have to use an auctioneer or a broker. These often come with charges or commission, so you have to factor this into your final profit or loss.
Auctions are a risk as you need somebody to want to buy your bottle for it to sell. Ideally you want two or three people to want to buy it, as a bidding war often results in a better price for you. But here’s the hint why you don’t really collect stuff off the supermarket shelves – its been made in its thousands, supply is likely plentiful on the secondary market, therefore people don’t have to have bidding wars.
The other risk in selling is that you have to ensure that you are not selling in quantities regularly enough that could attract the attentions of the authorities. You may be selling in such a way the tax authorities may deem you as a trader. This could have legal as well as tax implications. Advice I have been given in the past is that if not selling everything at once is sell in larger tranches.
You have to be aware that selling bottles of whisky, this can expose you to tax liablity, especially Capital Gains tax if you reside in the UK. This is because unlike casks of whisky, bottles are not seen as a depreciating asset and therefore can be used in any tax liability. Of course, this depends on how you sell it as you will also need to avoid being seen as a trader too if conducting frequent sales. A reputable whisky broker will be able to advise you.
l would like to point out that this is not an exhaustive list. If you decide to collect for profit, then all I can really say is do not spend more money than you can afford to lose or drink. It’s a hobby, do not let it be your downfall. If you want to make bigger levels of profit for less work, I’d consider cask purchase ONLY THROUGH A REPUTABLE DEALER and not through any of these advertised investment schemes. Cask investment also potentially comes with some large tax costs and you need to have a plan on what to do once the cask reaches maturity. Essentially the only way to make profits is to sell in bond.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that collecting in whisky is becoming more and more popular. However I feel in the UK that we are potentially in the path of a perfect storm that may crash bottle auction prices and also affect the industry as a whole. Back in the 1980’s the whisky industry severely constricted due to oversupply. Whisky distilleries were shut wholesale, some never to reopen. The term coined for the period I’ve often seen as the ‘Whisky Loch’. Well, I feel we are reaching a point that we now have a Glass Loch building in the cupboards across the UK. Supply has never been so good, and with many new distilleries coming online, people are seeing bottle collecting as an easy way to make money.
However, I feel the dam holding back the Glass Loch is on shaky foundations. While auction prices are healthy at the moment, the global economy may not be. Without taking the political view but based on fact, the UK economy is in a very precarious position, caused by the Coronavirus and the potential effects of Brexit. Should the economy fail and there is mass unemployment or raised taxes, there will be a pinch on the pockets of the public. People will then see their whisky for what it is – a luxury. Faced with having to make mortgage payments, I predict that a good many people will be selling parts of their collections or even in their entirety. This will have the result of potentially lowering secondary prices.
This has two outcomes for us as collectors and investors. Falling auction prices mean availability of bottles at reasonable prices goes up. Any investment in whisky should always be seen as a long term strategy. Buying cheap now at auction could realise great benefits in the future. But in the second outcome it also potentially means that our collections go down in value too. Hold your nerve as long as possible. Those people who do will benefit, as the lowering of prices will also potentially mean more of those collected bottles get drunk or end up in the hands of those who will drink them. A shortening of supply means when the market swings back the other way, our bottles will be that little bit rarer. And worth more.
Please realise that I am not a professional and am only writing this based on my experience as a collector myself and what I have seen in market performance within the secondary market. I cannot reiterate enough that you must only purchase what you can afford to drink or are comfortable to lose.
Last bits of advice? Collecting for personal enjoyment or profit can give immense levels of satisfaction. You can learn lots about the whisky industry as you research your bottles. Have fun but remember that when the fun stops, stop.
And don’t forget to open a bottle in the stash every now and again. Collecting without tasting is a bit soulless.
Taste Review #66 – SMWS 38.24 Princess Street Gardens in Summer (Caperdonich 26 year old)
I’m not a big fan of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I guess it’s because the tight Aberdonian in me sees no point in joining a society just to get independent bottles. Every pound wasted in membership fees is money that could have gone on bottles. Add in the fact that I’d rarely be able to take advantage of the facilities then it’s almost a no-brainer that I’m never likely to be a member. There is another issue. Any out-turns are limited and usually snapped up straightaway so availability isn’t great either. You can see that there isn’t a lot to attract me to membership.
But…. (and there is always a but) the SMWS has always reliably released decent bottlings. The few that I have tried have been really good, and I’d never write off buying one at auction should the price be right. Unfortunately due to lack of availability, it is rarely right.
Those who have been reading my reviews know that I have a predilection towards unicorn drams will not be surprised that this week is another one that has been bottled by the SMWS. While Caperdonich isn’t rare by any standard, it is a distillery that has been consigned to the history books as it was demolished in 2011, making remaining supply finite which means at some point it will get rarer.
Caperdonich was built at the wrong time; 1898 wasn’t a good year for the Scottish Whisky Industry thanks to those Pattison rogues whose forgery pretty much collapsed the industry. The distillery was built as a sister plant to the Glen Grant distillery in the Speyside village of Rothes, yet closed in 1902. The malting floor, kilns and. warehouses were kept in use and it wasn’t until 1965 that the stills started to wake from their slumber. A whisky boom started that saw Glen Grant rise in popularity in Italy and Caperdonich was activated to help provide spirit, but times had moved on and so had U.K. law which forbade two separate distilleries sharing a name. Caperdonich is named after its water supply.
In 1977, the distillery was sold to Seagrams and by 2001 it was then sold to Pernod Ricard. Sadly by 2002 the distillery had been mothballed and demolition started in 2010. It’s not all bad news, as Forsyths expanded their company on the site of the old distillery. If that name isn’t familiar to you, then I can tell you that they are the company responsible for the manufacture of a good deal of the stills currently used in the Scotch Whisky industry.
Caperdonich is slowly starting to gain a premium on prices and it now is the time to try it before the price gets out of reach of the enthusiast drinker. I was lucky and spotted this cheeky little sample at auction and snapped it up pronto. Let’s see what I thought.
Region – Speyside Age – 26 y.o Strength – 51.2% Colour – Yellow Gold
Light malt, creamy, pineapple, dried out lawn, caramel, puff pastries. Almonds. A smell that reminds me of a dusty dunnage warehouse.
Sweet. vanilla custard slices, tropical fruit salad with apricot, apple, warming spices after the arrival. Still getting the impression of that warehouse. Adding water gave a bit more of a citrus prominence
Spicy polished wood, black currants, hints of cocoa with a pleasant slightly tart taste in the mouth with a medium length finish.
I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed and thankfully I got exactly what I expected. A very easy to drink cask strength whisky that gave a pleasant experience of a light, old style malt from a different era. From the experience I’ve had just now I’d definitely look forward to trying other Caperdonich drams and for a moment I wondered if my position on the SMWS should change.
Don’t worry, the tight Aberdonian in me will ensure I keep my money in my pocket considering how many other independent bottlings of Caperdonich are available. Original bottles are also available occasionally at the Aberlour, Glenlivet, Scapa and Strathisla distilleries, as I’m sure that Pernod Ricard still have a sizeable stock remaining. You can find it bottled as part of the distillery reserve collection and should my memory serve me correctly I paid around £75 for a 500ml bottle.
My 25ml nip was not cheap. It was almost £44 after auction fees etc were added. Let’s face it though, you may pay more in a bar to drink the same dram. The price certainly brings tears to a glass eye, but the experience made it more than worthwhile.
Keep an eye on the internet for cheaper Caperdonich whisky – they can vary in price at auction for £100 – £300 per bottle but often more. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Of course, your local friendly specialist whisky retailer may be able to advise you of the retail availability of bottles.
We all know that whisky is an excellent drink to use for a celebration and in Scotland it is very commonly used as such. Events such as the birth of a child have a social celebration known as a ‘Head Wetting’ which is where the birth is celebrated by the father going out with friends for a night out to commemorate the new born. I wonder how many heads are sore the next day when a crying baby may be the last thing that you’d appreciate with a hangover!
An alternative route to celebrate an occasion is to perhaps seek out a special whisky and open the bottle and have a more restrained night (in or out). This was the route I initially took when my daughter was born. 10 years prior I had paid a visit to Glenmorangie distillery and bought two of the Truffle Oak finishes for £150 each. The partner I had at the time and myself were considering the possibility of a child and I thought one of the bottles would be appropriate for a head wetting. However, it was not to be, and the bottles went into the back of my drinks cabinet waiting for that special occasion.
Fast forward 10 years, and my wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby daughter and the subject of a head wetting came up. I thought about the Truffle Oak Glenmorangie bottles, and how I would love to try one. This was also about the time I had decided to start collecting bottles more seriously so I could perhaps have a little nest egg for the little one when she was older. A quick look on the internet for retail and auction prices for these bottles showed that I was not going to be opening the Glenmorangie, but instead picked a Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine instead. These were the days when you could pick up a retail one for under £200 and auction prices were even lower. It was my first time tasting this bottling, and I suppose the fact that I used it as my head wetting whisky makes it that little bit more special, and not just the fact that it has a tie in with my day job.
Now that we are thinking of picking a whisky to celebrate a pivotal moment in our lives such as a childbirth or a similar occasion, I have been looking for a decent bottle that marked my date or year of birth. I do have a couple from my year of birth, but the vintage bottlings for me just aren’t the same, so I am constantly on the look out for a whisky that was distilled or bottled on my actual day of birth, but this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. So, I have to make do with bottles that were either distilled or bottled on one of my birthdays, and I have been a little more successful in this endeavour.
It was a visit to the GlenDronach distillery in early summer last year that achieved my first bottle – I was driving and couldn’t drink, so had to sit out the end of the tour tasting, but the guide then pointed out that their hand filled bottle was distilled on what I quickly worked out to be my 19th Birthday. This 26 year old bottle was quickly snapped up and I even got a wee sample to try. Driving away from the distillery I had calculated that I had shot my bolt a bit early. My birthday was in 4 days time, the date the whisky turned 27 years old. I managed to sneak away to get another bottle which was bottled and distilled on my birthday. I would imagine there are very few bottles like that available and it joins the Glenmorangie Truffle Oaks in my remote storage where I can’t be tempted to open it.
It was a Facebook messenger conversation a couple of months ago that made me think of this once more. One of my former work colleagues had asked me about the possibility of getting a bottle of whisky that had the date of his son’s birthday on it. Now, I made him aware that the chances of me being able to find one were as likely as trying to find a drop of wine in the North Sea (not quite what I said, but a lot more acceptable for public consumption!) but I’d have a go. An initial search on the internet was unsuccessful, but I told him to leave it with me and I’d have a go. Challenge accepted!
I’m now going to be writing this article so you can see what I tried and how I was eventually successful. Just to warn you, it took a month and while I did achieve my aim, it was not without it’s frustrations.
A simple Google search will just throw up too many random results. You will easily find the vintage year, and you might even be lucky enough to get the correct month, but if this is going to be a momento of a birth, it isn’t close enough. The vast majority of vintage whisky just has a year on it, so to achieve the correct date we will have to look at three main types of bottlings to secure a victory – Hand Fills, Single Casks and Special Editions. Because most bottles are filled with whisky that is the result of a marriage of casks, you will never be able to achieve a date of distillation. I think that this is important, as the date of the birth will coincide with the date of the whisky creation, which for me gives a more powerful symbolism to the bottle.
To find hand fill bottles with a specific date, the easiest way to achieve this if you ever want to have a bottle of whisky bottled on the date of your offspring’s birth is to get a friend to visit a distillery and purchase a handfilled bottle on the day that your child is born. I would suggest it may not be polite for you to do this when your significant other is going through labour and may create considerable friction in your relationship. There is no way that I would try that, although I was close enough to a distillery on the date of my daughter’s birth!
With hand filled bottles, I would suggest that there is a slight drawback to know that somebody else bottled it, so loses it’s personal touch to the special event that you are trying to commemorate, but that all depends on how special you want this to be. By far the easiest bottles to find are those from single casks, where it is easier to find a larger availability of dates, and certainly easier to search for.
If you think a single cask bottle would be appropriate, then you have to ask yourself will it be drunk? Of course, it depends on whether or not you are giving it to somebody or keeping it for yourself. But to help you search I found it is easier to look at distilleries that are consistently producing good single cask produce. What you may find that if you can get a date that is within a couple of days of your requirements, it is a case of being patient. Sometimes distilleries go through a run of bottling single casks. I found this to be true of GlenAllachie as one of my early targets to source a bottle for my colleague, but could only get within 2 or three days and not the actual date – close but no cigar.
Since these bottles were unlikely to be found at retail, I decided to hit the auctions. The simplest way to search was to look for a particular vintage year. If there was too many results, I found I got mixed returns by using different date formats in the search boxes of the auctioneers. You have to be persistent in trying everything. You also need to be smart about filtering your search results – being Aberdonian I always search for the low prices first as why would you want to pay more than you had to?
To cut a long story short, eventually I got a hit on a bottle from the Arran Distillery. This took me about 3 weeks searching every now and again when I had a spare moment. Initially I found a bottling from the day before the required date, but when I realised the date I needed was a Friday, then I found other bottles of the same whisky from the following week so then I was certain there would likely be similar bottling on the date required. Some further persistence paid off and within a couple of hours found the bottle I needed.
Let’s just say I hadn’t found THE bottle, but only had identified the edition I needed to find in the auctions or rare whisky shops. But if you have been paying attention to what I write, you will know that if something has been in an auction once, then it will turn up eventually in the future. You hope that it is not an in-demand bottle or that you don’t get somebody else bidding against you which will possibly force the price up. And it is here you have to make a difficult decision – how much do you pay for the bottle you are searching for? How important is the significance of the date?
Well, I took the common sense approach – I looked closely at the bottle – it had condition warnings about the state of the outer packaging, and what wasn’t noted was slight damage to the front label. The next thing you have to consider is how many of them were produced?.l Because this was a wine cask finish in a single cask, just over three hundred were available on the date I required. Researching the prices of other auctions revealed a hammer price between £85 and £150, but I didn’t do a thorough search, as it was only to give me an idea. Using my usual auction strategies, I obtained the bottle for a hammer price of £65 which adding the usual fees and P&P came to £85.
Whilst this is not a whisky that was distilled on the date required, given that this was over 14 years ago and the amount of releases since then, it was going to be like searching the world for a specific grain of sand. We can choose to look at it from the sense that the bottled product was created on the same day, and hopefully that has enough significance for the recipient whether it gets opened or kept in a cupboard for a wee while longer.
Of course, when thinking of celebrating significant birthdays, if you are close enough to a distillery that does hand fill, I would suggest taking a trip there with the intended recipient to commemorate not only the day, but a proper day out making memories. In the case of my colleague, this is what I suggested happens for his child’s 18th and 21st birthdays. Will these bottles be worth anything financially? Only if somebody else wants the same date, Indeed my GlenDronach handfill is making about £60-£70 more than I paid for it at auction, but then factor in the fees, then no, it’s not making a lot more, but time will tell. There will be a demand for vintage whisky in the future, but whether or not sherried whiskies are popular in the future remains to be seen. Vintage GlenDronach frequently does well at auction so not too worried.
I haven’t mentioned much about the third type of bottle – special editions. These will be rarer and therefore harder to find, especially for a specific date. And we know what this is likely to do for prices but regardless we have to know what the prices are so we aren’t overpaying.
Lastly, sometimes it is just down to luck. You just need to keep your eyes open when looking around distilleries, especially for single cask releases. Independent bottlers are also often good for detailing dates such as Signatory vintage. It is just a case of looking around.
Of course, you could always have a cask filled on that very date, but that’s an entirely different kettle of fish, and I’d advise you to look at my articles on cask purchase before proceeding down a very expensive route if you hope to taste it.
I hope this has given you a few pointers. Funnily enough as I was writing this article, somebody contacted me about this very issue, although they were looking for vintage Macallan. Talk about good timing! Cone time I will be looking for a vintage whisky for my daughters birth date, but as she’s not even four yet, there may be some time to go yet before anything is released.
For a few years now I have been a regular user of on-line whisky auctions to start boosting my collection, as well as selling some of my bottles that I have no further need to keep. Recently I have spent some time selling around 40 miniatures at auction and was very happy at the price that I received. I also was selling my Macallan Folio 5, which I needed to get rid of on account of the amount released – it didn’t have the rarity value that I desire to enable to keep it. Of course, I then had to contend with the flippers and those also offloading their Macallan purchases that didn’t meet their expectations.
Throughout this article, I am not going to mention any auctioneers by name, however I will give the websites of the auctioneers that I use for buying, selling or both.
While on-line auctions offer a relatively easy way of buying and selling there are a few things that you need to be aware of that can catch you out. This is in particularly true when you are trying to sell something at the same time as a lot of other people. Unfortunately this was the problem that I had when selling my Macallan, and it isn’t just the auction you are taking part in – there are often two or three on-line auctions running at the same time. Of course many of those in the market will often see the way prices are going between the auctions and will bid accordingly – if they get outbid on one auction site, it is no problem just to start bidding on another site.
In my case, I wanted to offload my Macallan as soon as possible, so I had to pick an auctioneer that was going to hold an auction soonest and that I was able to get the bottle submitted in time. One thing you have to consider is that some auctioneers have better exposure than others, but the flip side is that those auctioneers are also more likely to have more submissions of the same article when it comes to trying to offload a sought after release. One thing that counted against me was that one of the biggest auctions was taking place when my auction started, and it had 200 Macallan Folio 5 for sale. It goes without saying that the more there is of something available, this then suppresses the price somewhat, but the good thing is that for Macallan Folio Editions, the demand is there, so you shouldn’t suffer. Perhaps I should have put that in italics, as there are no guarantees.
If you are worried about the price that you may receive back for any sales, the important thing is to place a reserve on it. This usually costs an extra £4 – £7 depending on auctioneer. I cannot stress this enough – perhaps it is better not to sell something that doesn’t make it’s reserve, and gives you the chance to either re-submit it to another auction or perhaps keep to sell another day. It gives me no pleasure to report that one of my friends in the whisky community went to sell his Macallan Easter Elchies Black 2019 and the auctioneers recommended no reserve. To my friends dismay, there was 90 other bottles in the same auction and as a result lost around £100. So, if you need a return – set a reserve.
Setting a reserve is something I think is also being used by some to manipulate the market, especially in the case of new releases. Many auctioneers do not let you set a reserve above Recommended Retail Price (RRP) for 6 months after a new release in an attempt to help stop the flippers setting high reserves to guarantee them a return which in my view is greedy, immoral and detrimental to a whisky release where people see pound signs instead of the liquid in the bottle. Admittedly, the best this can do is just kick the can down the road in limiting the prices, and anybody is free to bid above the RRP, but at least limiting reserves helps others. One auctioneer that I deal with has said they use common sense and don’t limit any reserves but it’s on a case-by-case basis. If it’s not unreasonable, you’ll get a higher than RRP reserve.
Not all auctioneers are the same, and when thinking about the reserves I have seen on other auctions for Macallan Folio 5, one around the same time had a bid on it for £600 and still had not reached the reserve price. In my opinion, the auctioneer is assisting the flippers, and it’s a bit unfair to those who value the whisky over the profit. What was not understandable is that there were several others available in the same auction – so why would somebody bid on one bottle way over the price of others that were available in the same auction that were a lot cheaper. If there is a bottle I want in an auction, and there is more than one available, I bid one, then if I get outbid, I then bid on a cheaper one. I personally think there is more behind the bidding of a bottle that seems to have had more bidding action than others, but we will deal with it later.
Some auctioneers publish reserve prices, and I think that is a good idea, as you know straight away what is expected, and you can tell if somebody has overvalued the whisky. If the reserve is hidden, then you should only bid to a level that you are comfortable with and don’t be tempted to incrementally bid to find out what the reserve is as you may be stuck with a bottle you can’t afford or may be overpaying for.
And this is a really important point. Generally speaking in a conventional auction, you can see who you are bidding against, as there will be an assistant on a phone or at a computer terminal. With an on-line auction you don’t have that facility. Sniping a bid (bidding at the last moment) has been eliminated by on-line auction by any bidding automatically extending the auction, but shill bidding I think is also prevalent as well. While auctioneers say that they are on the lookout, sometimes the bidding patterns don’t make sense, when people are bidding on one item, when there is another one equally as good but a lot cheaper. My whisky auction insider says there is very little that can be done to detect this, as it will only really show up if using the same hub. If your friend or family relative is bidding from another location, there is pretty much no way of telling.
One other hazard of on-line auctions is that you are physically unable to check the merchandise. If you have any doubt at all, make sure that you contact the auctioneer – they will supply extra photos on request, and if it is practicable they may allow an in-person visit to inspect the item. Not so handy for those of us who live in the more remote areas. You need to be sure you understand what you are buying.
I cannot recommend this enough, and be aware of what you are buying. RESEARCH! Know the price for a given condition. I’ve seen many auctioneers optimistically list lots as rare, but they aren’t. A quick look through other auction sites will reveal how often these turn up. I was recently given a wee task to source a bottle with a specific distillation date as a birth date. This wasn’t the easiest to find, and certainly getting harder to source, but does this make it more expensive? No – it doesn’t. If one shows up at auction then you can bet your bottom dollar another one will eventually. Set your price as to what you want to pay and wait.
Deciding your price is crucial. By all means do not bid your maximum price straight away, as often people will keep bidding until they outbid you. Best put a lower maximum in, and as soon as you are outbid, bid again. That way you may be able to pay less than the maximum you were prepared to as some people give up when they see somebody consistently upbidding them.
One thing my auction insider let me know is that they are presented with a large amount of fakes. OK, perhaps not masses, but the percentage is higher than you might expect. I have one bottle that I bought at auction for £35 that was part of my bargain basement hoovering towards the end of an auction to buy a whisky from the 50’s or 60’s. I had to query it, as the volume and strength were not printed on the bottle, and the label felt wrong. While the auctioneer assured me that this bottle was not a fake, I have my doubts, therefore will not be drinking it, but use it as a show piece. Do not assume that the auctioneer has spotted a fake, as it isn’t always apparent, and if they are handling hundreds or thousands of bottles for one auction, there is the chance one may slip through. It is also wrong to assume it is high value bottles that are the ones being faked – those are the ones that are checked more closely. It will be the cheaper ones that may suffer from counterfeiting more often than not.
The archive at Macallan distillery when it opened in 2018 was found to contain suspicious bottles. If they can’t tell, what chance have you got?
My last point is that beware of auction hype. One auctioneer had a superlative auction of a private collection that was to be broken up. Yes, there was some spectacular bottles there, but they were in the minority. A lot of bottles were missing boxes or had low fill levels. Just because it was part of an extensive collection does not make that worth any more. In all it was quite disappointing, Due to the Coronavirus, I am not sure if the second part will go ahead as planned in April 2020, but we will wait and see. Given the quality of the first half, I am a bit underwhelmed. If you have done your research, you will know what it’s worth, and bid accordingly – don’t get carried away and overpay, unless it’s a must-have for your collection, though even then exercise a wee bit of caution.
But for all the pros and cons of on-line auctions, I have bought older bottlings a lot cheaper than I would have got them retail. I have been able to complete collections that would otherwise be impossible, and I have been able to drink some unusual and rarer whiskies. You just have to keep your head when everybody around you in the auction seem to be losing theirs.
There is a list of on-line whisky auction sites I use or regularly browse below.
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The more regular of my readers will appreciate that I do tend to use a lot of miniature bottles for my reviews. This is due to a certain amount of expediency because of my work away from home and being away for more than half the year gives me limited time to drink full bottles. I have to say that I end up giving a lot of it away to my friends (you know who you are!) in order to kill bottles so I can move on to open something different.
The problem with this is that I am an inveterate bottle chaser, and this week was no different. My final sales of miniatures happened this week, and I managed to get some more decorative cask ends for the Strathspey hotel my wife runs. However, for me an online whisky auction is pretty much like doing your shopping at Aldi’s in as much as you can go for milk and bread, yet walk out with a 4″ grinder and a car tool kit as well. I ended up perusing the other miniatures for sale and came across a set of 4 miniatures at a relatively cheap price. The bait was in the trap, and the bottle chaser was sniffing around.
The drams in question were older bottlings from the Gordon & Macphail ‘Connoisseurs Collection’. Gordon & Macphail have had some great bottlings in the past and I already have a few of their miniatures in my collection, though these are unicorn drams that I wish to taste and possibly review the experience for you in the future. The drams I won this time are.
I was after the Coleburn and the Speyburn and in the end with auction fees I paid about £27 for all 4. However there was a big drawback – the fill levels were low. But does this mean I have been foolish or ripped off? I don’t think so, and I’ll spend the next few paragraphs explaining why I feel I haven’t been either of these and why perhaps you should take a chance.
Firstly, a rip off in an auction is not possible. In fact a rip off can only happen if you were sold something and you what you received was something that did not meet defined expectations. An auction house clearly shows the bottles on sale and will provide more on request. If you were prepared to pay the price with as much information as provided, then you have not been ripped off – you’ve just made a mistake.
Have I been foolish? Perhaps, but that is a matter of opinion. These drams could cost hundreds to buy as an individual full size bottles. I am going to be able to taste rarer drams for a fraction of that. If I was to find these drams in a whisky bar, I could imagine to pay £25+ for a dram for each one of these. It is worth saying that each of these drams have at least 25ml in them, some close to full. So potentially I have £100+ worth of drinking whisky.
Of course, with low fill levels, there are some drawbacks to this, and I have to acknowledge this. If the fluid level is low, then this means that whisky has evaporated out. I find that miniatures are particularly susceptible to this, and is one of the reasons I never recommend people collect miniatures unless they are aware of its risks and they are stored properly. Of course some people do collect these, but it’s not my thing. The risk of evaporation for me is too high and I personally feel I’d rather drink the miniatures.
One big problem with evaporation is that our largest concern should be that alcohol evaporates quicker than water, so there is a good chance that these drams which were bottled at 40% will not be at 40% when I try them. But that is a risk that I take, and while I am well aware that I will not get the full flavour that I would have got had it been fresh, I will still get an idea of what it would have been like.
As with any proposition I put to you, this needs some sort of perspective. While I know that my bottles are compromised, what about that £30+ nip you buy in a whisky bar? Once the seal is popped, that bottle is on countdown as oxidisation and evaporation takes place. Certainly the whisky bars I see don’t gas their whiskies once they have been opened. That means in the case of the more premium but less popular whiskies, you’ll never be getting a fresh like new dram. You’ll never know how much of the fill level is due to evaporation. Let’s extrapolate that thought by remembering that the lower the fill level goes, the evaporation rate increases. My gamble with the miniatures doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, does it?
The above thought was one I have had for some time. I remember last year when I visited a bar that sold a 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip. Once opened, the evaporation and oxidisation processes have started. I wouldn’t imagine at that price it will be a quick seller, therefore is the person getting the last dram truly getting the value of such a whisky?
As I have said in my title, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. By taking a chance in spending some money, you can also taste rarer or older drams. By all means, you know they will not be perfect, but neither is that bottle of Macallan somebody has that’s been hiding at the back of the cabinet and was opened in 1983 to celebrate Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup. And has now been saved to drink only at special occasions. As an Aberdonian I can say that perhaps you’ll be waiting another decade to see silverware at Pittodrie….. There’s a good chance your whisky will have gone to the angels by that time.
As usual, exercise some restraint when looking at bottles that are less than perfect. There will be a point when it will not be worth what the auction value is. Only pay what you can afford to drink, with an eye onto how much liquid is left in the bottle. Research what other similar bottles are selling for. And as usual, my best tip is to keep an eye on the assorted miniature collections in online auctions. Sometimes a unicorn whisky can be hiding in amongst others, as I found with my G&M Royal Brackla. You can always do what I did and sell the remainder of the miniatures again at auction and make enough money back to effectively make the unicorn you’ve hunted free. Fortune favours the brave!
At the present moment as I write this, I’m in the middle of auction fever. I currently have 5 lots at auction and by time I publish this it will be 6. Of these, 5 are miniatures and one is my Macallan Folio 5. Unfortunately when browsing the auctions something came up that is part of a collection that I have and is rare. So rare I’ve only seen one at auction in 6 years, and I doubted if it actually existed, but when it came up it was plainly obvious that I had to have it. The bottle in question was a Dailuaine Flora and Fauna bottle with the white cap.
For days it sat at just over £100. Then just before the end of the auction, it went up to £380. That was about the amount I thought it was worth despite the rarity, but even after the end timer for the auction started it continued to rise. And rise. And rise. And yours truly continued to chase it.
It was once it breached the £500 barrier that I questioned myself, how badly do I need this? I had convinced myself I did need this, but doubts crawled up into my mind. There is hardly any of these bottles around – anybody can replace a capsule on a bottle to make something look rarer. Whilst it looked like a genuine capsule, there were crinkles on it which made me doubt. Indeed, a look on the same auctioneers website from the previous auction revealed a Mortlach 16 Flora and Fauna with a completely incorrect capsule which means that bottle was definitely suspect.
Don’t believe fakes make it to auction? Well just last week I was speaking to somebody who worked at a very reputable online auctioneer who assured me they used to see tons of fakes being brought in to attempt to enter the auction. And it’s a sad fact that some of them sneak through – and that isn’t limited to online auctions either.
We come to the bitter truth. I have paid more than a Flora and Fauna bottle but that is because I was chasing it, and I ended up slightly overpaying. The trouble with online auctions is that you never see who you are bidding against. I’d worked out there was probably at least 2 other people interested in that bottle, and the price could have skyrocketed had I continued. I pulled out at £600, with my tail between my legs. The bottle eventually sold at £750, which confirmed my suspicion that there was at least 2 other bidders.
I was disappointed. Gutted. But remember my advice that I have given to you in the past – auction prices do not include fees. So at £750 hammer price, if the person was a UK buyer, the true cost was £840 before shipping costs. Even writing this the morning after, I still don’t feel I dodged a bullet. It has to be looked at in the cold light of day – that would be £840 I would never drink. It would sit in my locker and probably not make any money. And would I get joy out of it? Certainly not 840 quids worth.
So, I placed a cheeky bid on a 24 year old Invergordon and retreated upstairs leaving my phone downstairs so I couldn’t do any consolation buying. I did some ironing instead and watched some programmes about Scotland I had saved on my Sky box. Unfortunately I couldn’t have a dram as drink-ironing could have disastrous consequences, and having some shortbread to complete the Scottish feeling? My clothes need to be crease and crumb free so that was ruled out too.
No matter how much you want a bottle, you have to know its true worth. Even if it’s worth more to you than its actual value as a commodity, sometimes you just have to walk away and remember – if one has shown up then another one will. In both cases when I bought a rarer white cap Flora and Fauna, another one turned up at the next months auction as perhaps people see how much these are selling for and decide to cash in. So fingers crossed.
Being a bottle chaser is a blessing and a curse. You can achieve a fantastic collection, but at what cost? In the cold light of the day, if you are not drinking it but collecting as you hope it to be worth something, you have to keep the emotions in check. Out of the 17 white cap Flora and Fauna collection, I have 15. That’s better than probably 99.9% than others who have the same set.
By all means, if this is what you want to achieve, you have to hold your nerve, but be careful you don’t ridiculously overpay. There is no shame in losing your bottle at all if it prevents you being ripped off.
That leaves me with a closing thought. That do you think my wife would be more shocked at? The fact I was prepared to pay so much for a Dailuaine or that I actually did some ironing?
Oct 2022 postscript. In June 2021 I eventually found both a Caol Ila and Dailuaine white cap Flora and Fauna. The combined cost was still less than the Dailuaine I missed out on.
This week is going to be much better than last week. Because I am writing my Saturday article on Monday, this will mean that I have no confession on Friday that I have nothing prepared. In fact, the way I feel now, that confession would be much better. Indeed I’d rather just not give you all a Saturday article and admit failure than give up the source of my shame.
For this, it grinds my insides even more than telling you that since my wee accident with the garage door, to this point not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips. It’s kind of ironic that a chap who writes a whisky blog and collects bottles has become temporarily tee-total. I have to confide that my whisky sin is worse than that.
It is an old proverb that says that confession is good for the soul, but this time I have my doubts, for the evidence of my shame will be on the internet, not just here but on another site for all to see, only you won’t know which one as there are some details that you just don’t need to know.
I’ve become a hypocrite.
Now that the truth is out, I can continue along the same theme as my article from last week in which my Macallan Folio 5 arrived. With the news so much more had been released than the 2000 per edition previously, it wasn’t going to meet my expectations. As I said last week, my intention had been to swap for a Folio 4, and maybe sell in the long run, but with Macallan reportedly releasing 18,000 more Folio 5 than Folio 4, the price of the former will never achieve the price of the latter.
Of course, I could always sell it on without a profit, but just cover my costs, but I do have a small amount of morality left, and I couldn’t sell my bottle to somebody knowing that even though they were just paying essentially what I paid, the price of the bottle is likely to fall below even that. That’s just taking advantage of people.
Lastly, I could always drink it. But I’m sorry, no Macallan NAS at £250 is worth that. Plus, when we take in consideration the excessive packaging, that alone must take up at least £20 from the RRP, and once drunk, what do I do with it? I’m not a Macallan collector in that way at all.
Even if I sell it to another punter who will drink it, I’m not sure my conscience will let me sleep at night knowing that I’ve met somebody face to face, or even a follower of my blog to sell them a whisky which in a couple of months will be a lot cheaper. That’s not how I roll.
So, with morals securely stored in a dark place, I made contact with an auctioneer to arrange pick up of my box. We had a nice chat about Macallan (Whisky Geek Scotty was in check this time!) which in my opinion could summarise the conversation by saying Macallan have definitely made an impact to the secondary prices of a few of their recent releases.
Indeed, the auctioneer made a very good point about how Macallan really should look into their application of the ballot system and how it really should be for known amount of limited bottles, something buyers of Edition 5 and Easter Elchies 2019 are probably thinking too. I’ve an article about that written, but will give it a break with the Macallan writing after today. Just to give your senses a rest if nothing else.
In all fairness, I should have seen the warning signs and not just blindly entered the ballot. No evidence of the likely age and no numbers of Folio 5 released. Plus there was a commitment to buy if you won the ballot, unlike the Easter Elchies 2018, which gladly at £750 they did give you a little breathing space.
The conclusion? I’m glad it’s going but I do hope that I recover most of my money from it, if not make a small profit. As from the comments from last weeks article, take the money and spend it on something you’d really enjoy drinking. That’s a great point, and already something has already popped up. Not telling you what it is, as you may outbid me.
As an aside to this article, my dealings with the auctioneer revealed that I could not set a reserve higher than the RRP. This is a great move as it helps limit the rip off profiteering that some online auctioneers facilitate. Of course, the price may go higher, but that is because of what people are willing to pay rather than people being taken advantage of through limited availability and the crazy prices some of the greedy, impatient or ill-informed are prepared to pay.
And these people all do exist. A quick look at an online auction reveals just under 120 bottles of Folio 5 available. Some ill-informed person has already bid £560, yet still hasn’t met the reserve, which means the auctioneer is essentially helping the greedy.
On the other side, there is bottles there still for sale under RRP but there is just over a day to go as I publish this and these may well make a profit yet. But seeing this gives me squeaky bum time, though it reinforces my belief that the price will plummet. Indeed, out of 118 bottles, 42 will still fail to make a profit going by current bids and not including the cost of getting them to the auction house.
Perhaps Macallan planned this mass release deliberately to ensure more whisky gets drunk, and I have to grudgingly doff my cap to them, but given the demand for the brand world wide, I am still sure if they were open about the amount produced it would sell out. Either way, do they care about the secondary market? They sell their product anyway, and surely that is all that matters? This is part of the Macallan article I am attempting to write, but my keyboard just defaults to ‘rant lock’ and I don’t fancy libelling anybody.
With that, it’s now time to go and think about what dram for later on. After all it’s Saturday night!