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Wine & Whisky Sale Preview: Collectable Whisky

3rd September 2019.

The market for collectable whisky has been growing apace in recent years. Whilst the spirit has held a long-established place as a high-end product, celebrity endorsements and associations with other luxury brands have opened the market to a broader spectrum of buyers. Distilleries have responded to the demand for collectable, scarce bottles by producing limited editions (many of which are numbered) in appealing packaging. As collectors compete for prized bottles, prices of whisky on the secondary auction market are rising.

Macallan continues to dominate the field of collectable whiskies. A name synonymous with exceptional quality, the Speyside distillery has strived to create the finest single malts and since the 1980s has grown to be one of the top global whisky brands. A growing number of collectors and investors, particularly in the United States and in Asia, have inflated prices for Macallan at auction to a record level. Exceptional and rare bottles can fetch tens of thousands of pounds, but the majority of bottles on the open auction market fall within the £1,000-£5,000 range. Some of the most sought-after bottles of Macallan at auction are those the distillery produced as limited editions to mark special events, and one of the most in-demand limited editions is the Macallan Private Eye. Released in 1996 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the famous magazine, the edition consisted of 5,000 individually numbered bottles and adorned with a label designed by cartoonist and illustrator Ralph Steadman. Despite the whisky not being from a particular vintage or even the age being declared, such is the demand from collectors that it can sell for in the region of £3,000 at auction, having been originally retailed at only £36. A bottle (number 2281 of 5000) is being sold in the 27th September Wine & Whisky Sale at Tennants Auctioneers with an estimate of £2,500-3,000 plus buyer’s premium.

Now smaller distilleries are seeing a growing following of collectors, with whiskies such as Ardbeg and Bruichladdich now achieving almost cult status. Bruichladdich, which is based on Islay in the Hebrides, is growing a reputation for producing collectable cask-strength limited editions with attractive labelling. Relatively modest in price in comparison with the likes of Macallan, most bottles sell for around £100. The September auction, however, sees the sale of a Sherry Edition Series 2 Pedro Ximinez, distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2009, which is estimated to sell for £200-300 plus buyer’s premium.

Ardbeg, a fellow Islay distillery, has been ahead of the curve, having produced numerous limited editions over the years. Indeed, they even experimented with maturing whisky at zero gravity by sending small quantities into space. This led to the production of the Ardbeg ‘Galileo’ edition, a bottle of which is up for sale with an estimate of £120-180. The more desirable bottlings of Ardbeg sell in the mid to high hundreds, however, certain rare releases, such as their ‘Lord of the Isles’ edition can reach into the thousands for a single bottle. An example of Ardbeg limited 1977 Edition Islay Single Malt is on offer in the sale with an estimate of £400-500 plus buyer’s premium.

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