In 2019, Bonhams set a world record for their sale of a 30-year whisky sherry hogshead cask from the Macallan Distillery.
The cask, which contained 261 bottles, was sold for £444,000 (US$572,000) setting a record at the time for a per bottle price of £1,700 (US$2,200).
In 2021, a cask of the same Macallan 1991 set a new record at a Bonhams’ rare and old whisky auction. In an odd turn, the cask sold for exactly the same amount £444,000 (US$572,000).
However, it is expected to yield only 202 bottles of whisky, putting the per bottle price at around £2,035 (US$2,800), a new world record.
What Was the Whisky Being Sold?
The 2021 auction was for a cask of Macallan distilled in 1991. The whisky was then re-racked in 2017 into a cask previously used to store sherry. The use of sherry casks is a longstanding tradition in the whisky industry.
Ageing the whisky in sherry casks adds a level of sweetness to the whisky, as well as additional notes of clove, stone fruit and tannins.
Given the popularity of the Macallan distillery and the hugely increased global
interest in the rare and old whisky market, whisky casks making it to 30 years old or above have become exceedingly rare.
What Does This Tell Us About the Whisky Market?
This record-setting sale demonstrates a number of positives and trends in the
current whisky market. Firstly, the cask was sold in Hong Kong during a fine and rare whisky auction that also included a number of rare, and now sold out, lots of Japanese Yamazaki and Karuizawa whisky.
While we don’t have any information about the buyer, the fact that the sale was made in Hong Kong, and presence and popularity of the Yamazaki and Karuizawa lots and the fact that another Bonhams’ auction set a world record for the sale of a Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series to an Asian female collector, highlights the importance of Asian collectors to the whisky market.
Secondly, this record-setting sale now joins a number of record-setting sales in the last few years.
We’ve already mentioned the Full Card Series auction and there was, of course, the 2019 sale of The Macallan Fine and Rare 60-Year-Old for a staggering $14 million (US1.9 million).
These sales more than demonstrate the attractiveness of whisky as an investment and the sheer buying power being brought to bear in the secondary market.
This most recent Bonhams’ sale also demonstrates the benefits of investing in cask whiskies.
The Benefits of Investing in Cask Whiskies
The general image of whisky investment is one dominated by single bottle auctions. However, from an investment perspective, it makes far more sense to invest in a whisky before it has been bottled.
Here are a few reasons why:
- Maturation – Right up until the moment it is bottled, a whisky continues to mature, adding value over time. While bottles of whisky gain value over time due to rarity and the fact that they are a consumable, cask whiskies gain all the same benefits, plus the value of continued ageing.
- Physical asset – Unlike stocks and shares, cask whiskies are tangible assets, not impacted by economic conditions in the same way. While Covid might have crashed the stock markets, the whisky market survived remarkably unscathed as savvy investors turned to whisky as a safe investment.
- Provenance – Every cask of Scotch whisky is held under lock and key in an HMRC bonded warehouse in Scotland. This makes establishing the provenance of rare and valuable cask whiskies remarkably easy compared to bottles of whisky or other consumables.
- Liquidity – As you can see from the sales above, there is a hugely active secondary market for rare and old whisky, with casks being snapped up for record amounts by investors all over the world.
An Excellent Investment Opportunity
Over the past decade, fine whisky has grown to be a powerhouse commodity investment, and, judging by the recent run of record-high auction sales, that trend looks set to continue well into the future.