Auction News: Collecting Irish whiskey history

Auction News: Collecting Irish whiskey history

Joe Wilson, head curator and spirits specialist at Whisky Auctioneer, muses on how, beyond the dazzle and marketing fluff, some bottles really are liquid history.

Auction News | 06 Apr 2023 | By Joe Wilson

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It is safe to say that the Irish whiskey industry is enjoying a significant renaissance at the moment. Having suffered a severe downturn in its fortunes in the mid-20th century that eventually saw the island confined to just two distilleries, the latter decades witnessed the beginning of a rewilding of the Irish whiskey landscape that has culminated in the vast array of independent and craft producers we find today.

There are distinct parallels between the Irish and the American whiskey industries, the latter of which has also seen a resurgence in recent decades. Notably, these transatlantic counterparts both have unique distilling practices with their own distinct styles, each of which has tended to remember brand names above those of the distilleries that made them.

The result of this is that their resurgence is hallmarked by a revivalism that has seen every new name, like Teeling or Waterford, accompanied by the resurrection of those such as Egan, Dunville and J.J. Corry. The reappearance of brands like these not only demonstrates the impressive, continued rise of the Irish whiskey category but is an important reminder that, while it feels new and exciting, it is in fact built on centuries of heritage and tradition.

Our March 2023 auction provides an ideal platform to look back at this through the lens of one of its biggest names, Jameson. As the beating heart of the industry that sustained the rich vein of Irish whiskey history through its mid-century nadir, the importance of the rise of the Dublin-born brand can never be understated. Our sale this month features five incredible early examples of John Jameson & Son whiskey in its 10-year-old and ‘3 star’ 7-year-old expressions, all bottled in the 1910s through 1930s.

It’s important to note that, prior to 1963, all Jameson was provided in-cask to merchants along with a license to bottle and sell it using the official branding. The bottles therefore form plot points on a map that displays the significant reach and domestic influence of the brand at the time, with the examples in our sale occupying every corner of the Irish mainland to the south and west of the Bow Street distillery in Dublin.

The varied collection of stated bottlers also makes them artefacts of the wider social and economic history of Ireland’s whiskey merchants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each is a key that unlocks its own story, and our auction features bottles from a beloved long-lost pub in Galway, a Dublin wine and spirits shop that once feuded with Hennessy over the name of its brandy, and the early origins of an Enniscorthy-based company that is now one of Ireland’s foremost blending and bottling services.

History-in-a-bottle is a somewhat hackneyed phrase when dealing with old and rare whiskies, but there are occasions such as this where its use is merited. There is a risk that ubiquity can obscure the complex and winding road that successful brands like Jameson have travelled to reach their modern-day status. Taking time to look beyond the dazzle, particularly opportunities to look as far as 100 years ago or more, will reward the curious with so much more than just whiskey.

Whisky Auctioneer's March auction ends Monday 10 April from 7pm BST.

About Whisky Auctioneer

Whisky Auctioneer is one of the global market leaders and trusted authorities on the buying and selling of whisky and spirits at auction. Founded in 2013 and located in Perth, Whisky Auctioneer utilises its expertise and knowledge combined with its auction platform, to increase interest and passion in the whisky and spirits community.

Whisky Auctioneer endeavours to make the market more accessible for buyers and sellers of any background and geography. Its monthly global auctions feature some of the most comprehensive selections of old, rare and collectible whiskies and spirits available online.

Whisky Auctioneer became the first online auction house to sell a million-pound bottle and outperformed the nearest traditional auction house by 200 per cent in value from spirits sales in 2020, showcasing the move that whisky collectors, investors and drinkers have already made online and firmly establishing their leading position within the modern secondary whisky market.

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