Karuizawa is the hip collectible whisky of the moment. Bonhams, Hong Kong had amassed such a jaw-dropping selection from the closed Japanese distillery for its exceptional sale in August that it wasn’t just a question of whether it would break into the top ten, but how high it could get. This issue’s interim chart dates from mid-August as the results of the month end sales were pending as we went to press, but by then Karuizawa had already jumped the trading activity of Ardbeg, itself well known as a cult, collectible whisky. The average trading price of Karuizawa rose to £1,204 this month, whilst Ardbeg fell slightly to £455 after enjoying a ten month run in third place. Karuizawa becomes only the eighth whisky brand ever to secure a top three ranking in the WMI.
Bear in mind that the substantial gains made by Bowmore at the Distiller’s Charity Auction in October 2013 will be wiped from the index after 12 months. Fewer prestige bottles of Bowmore (itself owned by Japanese company Suntory), coupled with an anticipated rush of Karuizawa bottlings from Number One Drinks to be sold at Bonhams, Hong Kong in November could see the closed Japanese distillery challenge for second place by the end of the year.
News broke that Bonhams, New York had cancelled their planned whisky auction in October citing an inability to meet profit targets and no further US whisky auctions have been scheduled (their Edinburgh and Hong Kong operations are unaffected by this news). Skinner, Inc in Boston were quick to step in, however, hiring ex-Bonhams whisky specialist Joe Hyman to help develop their whisky and rare spirits sales. So meanwhile, who was selling whisky?
Taylor’s Auctions in Montrose have made a name for themselves in offering a terrific range of affordable whiskies with the majority of lots selling for under £150. Every now and again, they work in some magic and produce a magnificent rarity like their 1960s Talisker High Strength Pure Malt whisky that took £900 in July.
Nobody seemed to get a summer break at McTear’s, as they worked hard to deliver two quality auctions in Glasgow. The earliest of the Ardbeg Kildalton Project bottles began to trickle through, with £440 paid in July, though prices have since drifted down. Glenfarclas was the only other brand not to relinquish places in the top twenty brands and actually made traction over Talisker to reclaim 16th. McTear’s listed two 2008 bottlings of the Glenfarclas 1952 Family Cask III release from cask 1713 which made £1,600 and £1,700 a piece. Their August sale followed this up with a very special bottle of Glenfarclas indeed. An exceedingly rare bottle of Cask 1.1 bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society back in August 1983 was presented and the hammer fell at a significant £1,800. Wonderfully, it was not the only ‘point one’ Society casks on offer; a bottle of Cask 4.1 (Highland Park) made £700, Cask 21.1 (Glenglassaugh) took £420, Cask 121.1 (Arran) put away £110, and Cask 125.1 (Glenmorangie) peaked at £300. The vogue for collectible Japanese whiskies ensured some very strong prices for some of their inaugural Society bottlings: Cask 116.1 (Yoichi) hit £360, Cask 119.1 (Yamazaki) rose to £600, and Cask 120.1 (Hakushu) banked £500.
Have you noticed that Black Bowmore has become conspicuously scarce these days? To date, only eight bottles of the legendary 1964 trilogy from the 1990s have been sold at live auction this year. Scrutinising the archives of the WMI tells us that 21 bottles sold through 2012, but only 13 bottles in 2013. It’s certainly on the endangered list. McTear’s have handled five of the eight bottles over 2014, and they achieved £3,800 for a First Edition bottled 21 years ago, and £3,600 for a Second Edition in July, but this paucity of supply is likely to keep pushing prices towards the £4,000–£5,000 mark. There will be few opportunities if you want to collect the full set.
Did you know?
Yamazaki looks poised to be second Japanese whisky to break into the elite of the WMI top 25. The single malt from Suntory reached 29th in the rankings after first breaking into the top 50 in June. Bonhams handling of two bottles of the 50 Years Old through Hong Kong this summer netted over £30,000 to the index, boosting its status. Factor in some greater trading in old vintages, matched with further activity in November’s Hong Kong sale, and we might witness a further single malt Scotch brand exiting the top flight.