It’s not hard to find whisky.
To slake one’s thirst, one can partake of the numerous good quality blends or entry-level single malts, which come at fantastic price-to-value ratios. If one desires to delight in the taste of malt without dipping too deep into the purse, then this is certainly one of the best ways to do it. For those who want more out of their whiskies, there are also high quality drams available as official releases. One can find most of these whiskies stocked at speciality liquor stores or online.
For those looking for something quite special, there are whisky auctions.
Fine and rare
Auctions are simply another way of matching consumers to sellers – what is commonly referred to as a secondary market. The difference, of course, is that one mostly (though not always) buys whisky from another consumer, and not the distiller or its distributors. This allows for collectors to buy (and sell) fine and rare malts that have long disappeared from the shelves. Decades-old whiskies from decades past might appear for sale. Bottles with yellowed labels and antique lettering, curiousities and collectables all.
Some of these are older expressions from whiskymakers who are still around today. Long-time whisky connoisseurs pining for the good old days might, for instance, find an old sherried whisky. Whiskies that might have extremely limited releases might also appear, particularly collectors’ editions and single-cask bottlings.
When one is lucky, one might also find whiskies from distilleries like Port Ellen and Brora, who are, of course, no longer around to sell us their stock. Our friends at Diageo have bought up much of the stock from the deceased distilleries, and is slowly releasing them to the world. Some of these are part of the Casks of Distinction series- rarities intended as investments for a select group of Diageo clients. These whiskies are sometimes sold as single casks, making any malts drawn from them unique and irreplicable.
Recently, a 1972 Brora bottle drawn from the Casks of Distinction was put up for auction at Bonham’s in Hong Kong. The whisky, aged for 44 years in an ex-sherry butt, was purchased by an unnamed buyer for £14,500. One can certainly see why- it’s the oldest official bottle of Brora whisky ever released and the only bottle to have been drawn from the cask. For those who are slightly masochistic, it was described as “a massive, brooding and drying old Brora that is seemingly made of smoke, oak, pepper, dark fruit all encrusted in sea-salt then wrapped in seaweed and oilskins”.
Not just for millionaires
That is not to say that auctions are the realm of unicorns and blue moons. Even more common expressions might be put up for auction- people might simply be selling part of their collections off. It is therefore possible to get a good deal on a whisky that’s available in stores- perhaps one not available in your region of the world.
None can say what the final price of an auctioned whisky will be; that is, after all, the whole point of an auction. One can choose how much to bid; it is up to him to decide on what the value of the whisky is to him. It is an elegant way to allow the person who values something most and can afford it to obtain the whisky of his dreams. The producers and merchants do not set the price, but the buyer. That being said, many whiskies are being bought for investment purposes, and a market rife with speculation leads to eye-popping prices.
Going about it
Sadly, while auctions are fairly commonplace in the UK, there are few, if any auctions being run in Singapore, as far as we know. If one desires to participate, then it is a matter of travelling (Hong Kong is the most accessible for us), or bidding through a website. A glance at the landscape shows a vibrant online auction scene, and plenty of auctions running regularly- some even weekly. One should note that the buyer’s premium (the auction house’s fee), duties and taxes have to be paid when buying whiskies overseas.
One last thing, though. Be particularly careful when buying whisky at auctions. Buyers are not protected by the reputation of the liquor store or distillery. There are a fair number of rogues selling cheap knock-offs as rare whiskies. Watch out for tampered labelling, refilled and re-sealed bottles, misleading pictures.