Looking Back

Looking Back

Jonny McCormick sums up an excellent year
Last year was a year of huge opportunities for speculative whisky drinkers as greater number of people around the planet engaged in buying their whisky at auction. The Whisky Magazine Index (WMI) has tracked a greater number of whisky auctions than ever with the commercial auction houses handling in excess of 10,000 eligible bottles with a combined hammer price of more than £2 million. Established houses like McTear’s, Glasgow expanded from quarterly sales to 10 sales a year, Bonham’s dazzled with stellar line-ups of the most wanted malts around the world and Christies in London quietly staged a couple of small sales dominated by The Macallan which achieved some recordbreaking prices for their highlyprized lots. The smaller players made their presence felt by attracting terrific quality whiskies and innovating on commission and service; Mulberry Bank Auctions, Glasgow showed great potential for 2012 with their pre-sale tastings of old-school whiskies coupled with Angus MacRaild’s alluring sale catalogue which combined delectable tasting notes with each bottle description.Thirty Scotch whisky brands secured well-earned positions in the top 25 WMI rankings across the year although the year-on-year rankings clearly marked the stand-out companies that have been most popular at auction. The Macallan bagged another year at the head of the chart as the world’s most collectible single malt whisky, increasing its presence in the marketplace by nearly 70 per cent more bottles than 2010. The total spend on The Macallan was only a fraction smaller than the year before without the help of any bottles selling for half a million dollars. In contrast, the number of bottles of rare Bowmore for sale was flat but prices grew particularly for the top-end releases. One brand which grew strongly was The Glenlivet which broke into the top three helped by a trio of bottles ranked amongst the most expensive bottles of the year. Elsewhere, Glenfiddich captured the attention with the auction of the first bottle of Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve 1955. It will be interesting to watch what price the remaining bottles achieve after the benchmark £38,000 paid in December. At the topend of the market, 78 individual lots achieved a hammer price of £2,000 or more (a third more than the year before). More than half of these were The Macallans, 16 were from Bowmore, five each from The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, two from Glenfarclas and individual bottles from Ardbeg, The Balvenie, The Dalmore, Highland Park, Mortlach, Port Ellen and Springbank.Bonham’s sold the most bottles in this price range (22 in Edinburgh, 15 in Hong Kong and 14 in New York), Christies sold 15 of them in London whilst McTear’s brought the hammer down on a dozen in Glasgow. Unsurprisingly, Speyside was the most abundant region at auction and also commanded the highest average prices even though most regions could not match the 2010 average prices.Independents’ products, in particular those from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Douglas Laing and Co. were sought after like never before and although many selfdeprecating bottlers shrugged at the unintended soaring value of their old releases, many buyers were choosing to spend their money acquiring interesting independently bottled whiskies from stock distilled in the 1960s and 1970s than more contemporary releases. Islay malts from Lagavulin and Caol Ila bottled by The Syndicate were sold in good volumes accounting for much of the ranking boost for these malts.If the speed of sale were any guide to future value then count yourself lucky if you tucked away a bottle of Highland Park Earl Haakon 18 Years Old, Port Ellen 11th release or The Balvenie Tun 1401 (though surely the distillery-only Batch 1 was the one to invest in?) The marriage of The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge was accompanied by a shower of commemorative bottles, each with an associated twist on the reasons for their cask selection.The editions that stand out as keepers were The Macallan Royal Marriage and I liked the approach of the Port Ellen 1982 Royal Wedding Reserve by The Whisky Exchange. It was also a good year for the new kids on the block with releases including the Glenglassaugh First Cask 2008 release, the Inaugural Kilchoman 100% Islay and the Abhainn Dearg 2008 First Bottling. Other worthy new additions to any collection with an eye to future value included Ardbeg Alligator Committee Reserve, Diageo Special Releases Brora 32 Years Old, Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival 18 Years Old and one could also consider the Glenfarclas 175th Anniversary Chairman’s Reserve, Highland Park 1978 and the Talisker 1975 34 Years Old.The whisky auction market is buoyant and here’s to all the highs and lows of 2012.Happy Bidding
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