Why Scotch Whisky Auctions Are Breaking Records

The average price of rare bottles sold on the secondary market is now over $400 and some are selling for millions.

Photo: Andrew Milligan - PA Images/Getty Images

If you've been paying even casual attention to the rare whisky auction market recently, you've likely noticed that prices have gone through the roof. "Why would I be paying attention to the rare Scotch whiskey auction market?" you might ask. With the number of mind-boggling, record-breaking sales recently, it's actually been hard not to: In May, two rare bottles of The Macallan broke the record price for a 750-milliliter bottle when they each sold for over a million dollars in the same auction. Last month, even a miniature bottle of The Macallan 1937 sold for more than an iPhone X.

Now, new numbers from broker and investment analyst Rare Whisky 101 show just how much the rare Scotch market has skyrocketed. According to the group's 2018 Half Year Report, the dollar value of whisky sold at auction is already up 46% from where it was last year. Meanwhile, the average price per bottle is getting further out most people's price range: It's up nearly 15% from last year, hitting a record price of $417. Potentially even more amazing is the five-year growth: Since the first half of 2013, the Scotch whisky auction market has grown by 732% in value and 563% in volume.

"Scotch whisky as an asset has continued to perform extremely well within a volatile global economy," Rare Whisky 101 cofounder Andy Simpson was quoted as saying. "However, while we're seeing an impressive increase in the number of bottles traded at auction, the increase in value is nothing short of phenomenal."

A number of factors have been driving up growth in recent years. Whiskey, in general, has seen renewed interest worldwide, in part due to the booming craft spirits industry. Japanese whiskey is probably also playing a part in this growth: A shortage in many coveted Japanese brands has driven up prices, likely leading to a bit of a rising tides phenomenon.

But a huge part of the explosion can be traced right back to The Macallan which had some extremely rare bottles all come to the market around the same time, breaking records and further stoking demand. A remarkable 34% of money spent on rare whiskey on the secondary market comes from the Speyside distillery, more than the next nine brands combined — all while its share of volume has remained relatively steady at right around 13%.

"The Macallan is renowned for its outstanding quality and unique offerings of the rarest and most unique expressions ever created," Samantha Leotta, Brand Director at The Macallan, told us via email. "In May 2018, two bottles of the 1926 Macallan single malt were auctioned at Bonhams Hong Kong for US$1,014,422 and US$1,100,197, setting a world record for the most expensive single bottle of whisky ever sold at auction. This cements Macallan's position as the most collectible single-malt whisky in the world and a ground-breaking moment for the whisky community."

She also suggested that 2018's amazing Scotch run isn't over year: "This autumn Sotheby's New York will also be auctioning off one of The Macallan 1926 60 Year Old (Peter Blake Label) with an estimated value of US$500,000 to US$700,000." Scotch collectors, time to liquidate all your assets!

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