Over the past few years, Spirits have made a great effort to reclaim their “stool” at the bar. From the rise of local distilleries like Few and Letherbee to the increase in mixologists per capita, Spirits are back and in a BIG way.
In our business in particular, the last 12 months have seen a considerable rise in interest for collectible Spirits. Some of this interest has been transparent, as increased interest for rare Bourbon compelled us to include lots of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve at past auctions. But some of this interest has been less obvious to collectors, as sales in our retail business grew substantially for Scotch, Japanese Whiskey and other Spirits categories.
With this in mind, we thought it would be appropriate to highlight a few of the important Spirits categories. Additionally, we also wanted to provide some education by highlighting some rare bottles for collectors to pursue.
This category should be least surprising and last year was another prominent year for rare Scotch sales. To quote my favorite movie, “Any scotch will do, as long as it’s not a blend, of course. Single malt, Glen Livet, Glen Galley, perhaps, any Glen.” (Swingers, 1996). Last year, for example, we saw tremendous demand for “the Glens of the World” at retail – Glen Grant, Glenfarclas, Glen Moray, to name a few. Here are a few notable retail sales:
- 1949 Glen Grant Single Malt Scotch Whisky Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail ($1,800)
- 1954 Glenfarclas Single Malt Scotch Whisky, The Family Casks, 444 Sherry Butt Distillery Bottled ($1,500)
- 1959 Glen Moray 40 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, w/5cL sample miniature Distillery Bottled ($1,500)
“The Glens of the World” are some of the more commons names you will hear discussed for collectible Spirits because a) they tend to be more available and b) the tend to more affordable relative to other collectible Scotch.
The big name in collectible Scotch is, of course, Macallan. Macallan is one of the largest single malt producer in the world, with an estimated 500,000 cases released annually. But when we refer to collectible Macallan, we are not referring to the 12 Year Single Malt you will find at every liquor store in America, rather the limited releases that have set records prices at auction. In early 2014, for example, a rare Macallan “M” whisky (six-liter) sold for an astounding $628,205 at auction in Hong Kong. This was certainly the exception to the norm but Macallan Single Malts of 50 years in age or more have regularly fetched tens of thousands at auction, per bottle, especially ones contained in special decanters like the Lalique.
Again, less of a surprise here but Bourbon really is the hot Spirit right now. Over the past few auctions, we have seen demand for Bourbons, particularly Pappy Van Winkle, skyrocket. In our most recent auction in March, for example, we hammered eight bottles of the rare, NV Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23yr Straight Bourbon Whiskey (various bottling dates) for an average hammer price of $1,650 per bottle. Many attribute this hysteria for Pappy to the reported whiskey theft of 2013, but there is certainly is a growing need for a second-hand market for these whiskeys.
But Pappy is just one of many Bourbons that are currently popular with collectors: A.H. Hirsch Reserve, George T. Stagg and special anniversary editions from major distillers are a few others. These Bourbons certainly represent a more affordable alternative to Pappy. For example, at our March Sale, 4 bottles of NV George T. Stagg Straight Bourbon Whiskey from various bottlings (2005-2010) hammered at $1,100. There is simply more opportunity in the retail space for collectors interested in trying new whiskeys at relatively affordable prices. My favorite value currently at HDH retail is the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon,
It is very uncommon to see Japanese Whiskey at auction but its popularity with buyers has grown over time. Despite being a mere infant in the Spirits world (less than 100 years of experience), Japanese Whiskey producers in this region have demonstrated a great ability to make desirable whiskeys crafted in the Scottish style. Some of the high-end bottles that have garnered high retail prices come from the Hakushu, Hibiki, Karuizawa, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru and Yamazaki distilleries.Several of these distilleries fall under the ownership of Japan’s biggest whiskey players, Suntory and Nikka, who control much of the industry. The portfolio for many of these single malts parallel the industry structure that we see for Scotch, with 12yr, 18yr, 25yr and some older releases. Not surprisingly, as age increases, prices rise and availability shrinks for each bottle on the market.
Perhaps the most interesting Japanese whiskey on the market comes from the Karuizawa distillery, which has developed a large cult following over the years. Unfortunately, the distillery halted production in 2000 and closed its doors in 2011, which has been a large driver of price increases in past years. When in operation, the distillery produced small batches of whiskeys made of 100% Golden Promise barley and later aged in fine sherry casks. These whiskeys are also featured beautiful artwork on every bottle, which varied across releases. Artwork examples include images of sumo wrestlers, baseball references, wildlife and musicians. These factors, in addition the quality of the whiskeys, have led to high prices for these collectibles.
Despite being hundreds of years old, Chartreuse Liqueurs have a much smaller following than other Spirits. Chartreuse monks started making the “Elixir of Life” in 1737 using plants, herbs and other spices. And while the original concoction was developed for medical purposes (a not uncommon story), it has nevertheless been re-purposed for its hints of anise, thyme, honey and other unique flavors.
While both Green Chartreuse V.E.P. and Yellow Chartreuse V.E.P. score well with critics (2007 and 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition Gold), neither command outrageous prices on the market. The true collectible Chartreuse are old vintages. Last year, for example, we received three bottles of Chartreuse Jaune, a yellow Chartreuse, from the 1961, 1965 and 1967 vintages that were purchased rapidly at retail for $450 / bottle. The Chartreuse Verte, similarly, also draws appeal at auction and in retail. In 2011, for example, a bottle of 1930 Chartreuse Verte sold for $1700 at a New York auction – and it was only 100mL! That may be the most expensive airplane bottle ever.
Eau-de-vie, which literally translates into “water of life” is colorless fruit brandy produced around the world in many forms. From German Schnapps to Hungarian Pálinka, eau-de-vie comes in many different forms and packs in an enormous amount of flavor into every bottle. Take my favorite pear brandy, for example, straight from California’s St. George Spirits distillery located near Oakland. To make a single 750mL bottle of their brandy they use 30 pounds of fruit in production offering a richness of bouquet and finish. The resulting product is like drinkings the essence of the fruit itself.
Collectible eau-de-vie is very difficult to find and thus very expensive. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Marc de Bourgogne is one example of a highly-sought eau-de-vie, which is made from distilling the pips and skins in the press after grape juice extraction. In past auctions, Marc de Bourgogne has sold in the range of $500 – $1,000 per bottle, depending on the vintage and in December, 2011 two bottles of the 1978 vintage hammered for $2,200 ($500 above the high estimate). Other interesting Spirits to consider include old vintages of Eau de Vie de Marc des Hospices de Beaune Maison Vedrenne, Mouton Rothschild Marc d’Aquitaine Eau de Vie and Fine Eau de Vie des Côtes du Rhône, Chapoutier.
We would love to hear your thoughts about Spirits you have collected and if you have had the opportunity to try any of the Spirits discussed above.