In search of liquid gold! Whisky, wine and port auctions in Lichfield

NEAT, as a highball or in a cocktail, our love of whisky is far from on the rocks, writes Robert French.

But whichever way you opt to quaff, another option for the forward-thinking is not to drink it at all. Straight up!

There’s a world of whisky out there which may never see the inside of a glass – or, if it does, will form a very pricey tipple indeed.

Wealth reports regularly show the golden spirit on or around the top of the Luxury Investment Index and in some circles it has become quite the status symbol.

In October 2019, a bottle of The Macallan 1926, a ‘Fine and Rare’ 60-year-old from the hallowed cask 263 and one of only 40 bottles ever produced, set a new world record after selling for £1.5 million at Sotheby’s.

In effect, it values one shot of the Scotch as costing the same as a Porsche!

More recently, The Macallan Red Collection – a rare set of six whiskies, including two of the distillery’s oldest at 74 and 78 years old – sold at £756,400 at Sotheby’s in November 2020, with proceeds going to food charity City Harvest London.

Wine and whisky specialist Robert French raises a glass to the quintessential consumable collectable.

The ultimate long-term tipple – as exciting to keep as it is to drink.

But aside from these lofty highs, there’s a wealth of whisky worth cashing in right now.

Scotch squirrelled away in the 1970s could be worth four figures today.

While top-end rare whisky prices have risen by as much as 400 per cent in the last decade, demand is strong across the board and spirits, wine and port sections in our auctions regularly achieve a 100 per cent selling rate.

But how do you know there’s a whisky windfall hiding away unopened in the back of your drinks cupboard?

Ones to watch out for include Scottish single malts such as The Macallan, Clynelish, Benromach, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Glenlugie, Brora, Bowmore and Ben Wyvis.

A bottle of The Macallan 25th anniversary (pictured top) fetched £2,700 with Richard Winterton Auctioneers in 2019 and we sold a bottle of Bowmore Bicentenary 1779-1979 Islay single malt for £2,600 in 2020.

And last year a bottle of Laphroaig malt whisky – a rare example from a limited amount exported to America in the late 1950s, pictured below – made £3,300.

Also highly collectable is unusual whisky such as Loch Dhu, also known as ‘The Black Whisky’. Very different to the golden tones classically associated with Scotch, this very distinctive single malt gets its signature colour from maturing in double-charred casks and regularly sells at auction for £200.

The most coveted whiskies come from low-yielding batches; others to collect include product from distilleries no longer producing – so-called ‘silent’ or ‘lost’ distilleries such as Glen Mhor, St Magdalene and Ladyburn.

A project to reopen one such lost distillery, the renowned Port Ellen, is still ongoing and if and when production recommences, it will be a most eagerly sought spirit indeed.

We’ve found ourselves firmly footed north of the border today talking Scotch but there is of course a whole catalogue of fine whiskey – note the ‘e’ in the spelling – from Ireland and America with bourbon booming – despite a 25 per cent tariff on imports, it’s estimated that one in 12 bottles of whisky sold in the UK is American whiskey with Jack Daniels still being number one.

Crafted from corn mash as opposed to Scotch, which is made from malted barley and water, other popular brands of bourbon include Stagg, Old Forester, Benheim and Woodford Reserve.

A bottle of Bowmore Bicentenary single malt sold for £2,600.

Japanese whisky – note we are now back to spelling without the ‘e’! – has its own proud heritage and traditions, offering innovative and complex flavours garnering huge respect and credibility in the whisky world from distilleries such as Yamazaki, Hakusku and Nikka.

These, too, can be smart investments as well as delicious drinks.

In August 2020, a bottle of 55-year-old Yamazaki sold for HK$6.2 million – equivalent to more than £605,200 – establishing a new world record for Japanese whisky at auction.

If you believe some of the reports in the press, up to a quarter of us started drinking more during lockdown, while alcohol sales in general have risen by nearly a third.

With many distilleries temporarily closing due to Covid and production slowing, casks produced in 2020 could prove highly sought-after – although that, of course, will not be proven for many years to come.

While for many gin remains the ‘in’ spirit, it’s one to drink now rather than an investment. Fine wines, whisky and port will always be the ones to watch – with the latter becoming increasingly popular at auction.

Warres, Graham’s, Niepoort and Quinta do Noval are all names to look out for, with good years including 1966, 1977, 1983, 1985, 1992, 1995, 2003 and 2007.

You won’t be drinking it for many years but 2015 was also a good year and is possibly one to look at for an investment.

For it’s worth remembering that whereas whisky only matures in the cask – once it is bottled it will taste exactly the same, provided it has been stored correctly, even after many, many years – port, like fine wine, will continue to mature in the bottle for half a century or more if stored correctly.

So, to drink or not to drink? That could indeed be the million dollar question!

If you have a mystery bottle, do get in touch for a free valuation and together we can see if you’ve struck liquid gold.

For free valuations of whisky, wine, port, spirits and cigars, email rob@richardwinterton or call 01543 251081 to book an appointment at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Fradley Park, WS13 8NF. You can also see Robert French at The Tamworth Auction Rooms at 34-25 Church Street, B79 7BX – call 01827 217746 to book.

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