Drams under the hammer: December 2021

Drams under the hammer: December 2021

What to watch in the auction world this month

Auction News | 03 Dec 2021 | By Beatrix Swanson

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Coming up….

Whisky.Auction presents

Isabel Graham-Yooll, auction director at Whisky.Auction, selects three drams – exclusively for Whisky Magazine – to look out for in the current auction, which is live until Tuesday, 7 December.

There is the common perception among sellers that the best time to auction bottles is just before Christmas. I would quickly debunk this theory, but the truth is a little more complicated than that. Importantly, there is no evidence that whisky enthusiasts buy seasonally from specialist whisky auctions in the same way that last-minute gifters snap up whisky from retailers.

What is true is that there are always a greater number of bottles submitted to auction in the months leading up to the holiday season. It’s also true that prices tend to creep a little higher at this time of year, but then that is to be expected in what has been an extended buoyant market for old and rare whiskies. Most importantly, though, we have found that hammer prices achieved in November and December set the base level for the early months of the coming year.

This auction, we are blessed with some wonderful whisky rarities. Here are just three of my favourites…

John Jameson & Son's Redbreast 12 Years Old, bottled in the 1930s by W & A Gilbey

If you look closely, you'll notice that this Redbreast has two names on its label: John Jameson & Sons, and W & A Gilbey – so what's the story?

From the late 1800s, Gilbey's, a well-known sherry importer, supplied casks and bonding facilities for Jameson, and at one time held 0.7 million gallons of maturing Jameson stock in its warehouses. So, this bottle contains spirit distilled by Jameson & Sons which was matured and bottled by W & A Gilbey. By 1912, Gilbey was advertising 'Redbreast J.J. Liqueur Whiskey 12 Years Old’. The name was chosen by Gilbey's chairman, a keen ornithologist, in honour of the robin redbreast.

This seller's grandfather was a publican and undertaker in Ireland. The pub was in the family from the late 19th century right up until the 1960s. This bottle originally stood in the bar. Its seller is not a whisky drinker, and would like it to go to a home where it will be appreciated.

1970s Ardbeg 10 Years Old

These white-label 'Old Islay Malt' expressions are rarely found in such good condition – if they are found at all – and we have acquired four bottles from a single superb consignment.

It's a beautiful Ardbeg – earthy and peaty, herbaceous and medicinal, with a hint of old rope too, it has retained plenty of punch and character, even after 40-odd years in bottle, due to its ABV of 46%.

Time for some maths: as this Ardbeg was at least 10 years old when it was bottled in the 1970s, what you'll be tasting is malt that was distilled in the 1960s, or even earlier. That’s truly special.

Old Glen Moray

Top tip: if you're a fan of single malt from the 1960s and you're looking for a bargain, then Glen Moray is one distillery to watch out for. It tends to achieve lower prices than its better-known Speyside neighbours, and you can pick up a long-aged bottling for a song. In our live auction this month, we have two Glen Morays from the 1960s; one was distilled in 1966, the other in 1967, and both bottles are in excellent condition. Furthermore, both expressions have achieved high ratings from critics.

At Whisky.Auction, we are finding that the more old and rare Glen Moray we taste, the more we are becoming convinced that it has been unfairly overlooked by whisky enthusiasts. So while The Macallan and The Balvenie earn plaudits, the humble Glen Moray struggles even to get noticed.

This is at least partly due to the necessary business decision made in the 2000s by Glen Moray’s then-owner, Glenmorangie Ltd, to position it as an entry-level single malt (and selling it for the same price as a good blend). Another reason is that Glen Moray was mostly used as an excellent malt for blends.

The two bottlings of Glen Moray we have here are single-vintage expressions, and both were made with barley malted at the distillery – this once-common practice has all but disappeared now that malting can easily, and more efficiently, be outsourced. They were respectively matured for 25 and 26 years and eventually bottled in the early 1990s. The most important thing about them, though, is that they are genuinely lovely drinking whiskies, so if you're looking for a fleshy, fruity, floral classic, perhaps with a hint of honey and black pepper, then here it is.

Cocktail Classic

Photo: Christie's Images Ltd

A signed limited edition of Harry Craddock's The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), with the iconic, vivid Art Deco illustrations by Gilbert Rumbold, will go to auction at Christie's in London on 15 December as part of the next 'Valuable Books and Manuscripts' sale. Harry Craddock was one of the most famous bartenders of the 1920s and 1930s, and is credited with creating a number of cocktails, such as the White Lady (and documenting many more, such as last week's Cocktail of the Week).

Springbank leads Christie’s auction

Much has been ado at the major London auction house over the past day or so, with the latest ‘Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits’ auction ending today. A bottle of Springbank 1919 50 Years Old, leading the auction in the spirits category and estimated at £200,000–280,00, will go under the hammer later this afternoon. This is the fourth of only 24 bottles taken from this vintage cask, which once held the record for most expensive whisky in the world.

Noah May, head of the Christie’s wine & spirits department, said, “We are honoured to collaborate with Le Clos [a luxury retailer at Dubai International Airport which owns one of the world’s greatest collections of whisky] to offer a bottle of Springbank 1919 50 Years Old, one of the rarest whiskies ever to be bottled, into a buoyant market, where sophisticated collectors can be observed competing for the rarest items.”

Further whisky highlights of the auction include a collection of Macallans covering the years 1954 to 1986, a complete collection of annual releases from Brora, and several rare Samaroli bottles.

What you've missed…

World’s Oldest Japanese Single Malt

Photo: Whisky Hammer

The Yamazaki 55 Years Old that went under the hammer at Aberdeenshire auction house Whisky Hammer last month, achieving a hammer price of £380,000, is the oldest Japanese single malt in existence.

The bottle, a product of Japan’s first commercial whisky distillery, is drawn from a marriage of two casks: a 1960 vintage aged in a mizunara oak cask, and 1964 vintage aged in a white oak cask, both managed by Suntory founder, Shinjiro Torii.

Only 200 bottles of this historic release were produced. The first 100 were sold through a bottle lottery held solely in Japan in June 2020, leaving a mere 100 for the global release in 2021.

Shinji Fukuyo, current and fifth master blender at Yamazaki distillery, said of this release, "I often view other extra-aged whiskies as art, but I consider Yamazaki 55 to be more like a Buddhist statue – calm and mysterious, requiring time to truly enjoy the inner beauty.”

Irish Whisk(e)y sets record

The first bottle of Scotts Irish Whisky (yes, there’s no e – they’re sticking with tradition), a new distillery in County Fermanagh, sold at an auction at the London Irish Centre for £11,000. This makes it the most expensive first bottle of Irish whiskey ever sold in Europe – the previous record holder was Teeling Whiskey’s Celebratory Single Pot Still, which went for £10,000 three years ago.

Fermanagh man Conal Treacy, who owns the distillery, was delighted at this result: “It was fantastic. ...The London Irish Centre do so much for the community here in London, and we were also delighted to see the reaction to our whisky from the people present at the launch. We are a local company with big ambitions, and it was great to get off to this start.”

The distillery’s limited-edition first batch of 3,000 bottles is now available from its website.

Whisky Auctioneer's November Auction News

The 2021 Summit of Collectability

Fresh from Whisky Auctioneer’s first ‘Summit of Collectability’, expert Joe Wilson offered thoughts on the enduring power of the collector to shape the whisky world in his November Auction News for Whisky Magazine.

This article is sponsored by Whisky Auctioneer and is created in partnership with the team at Whisky Magazine. This sponsorship does not influence Whisky Magazine's coverage of auctions and Whisky Auctioneer do not have input on editorial decisions.

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