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Why Aren't All Expensive Whisky Bottles Worth Investing In?

Updated: Apr 2

why aren't all whiskies collectables cover

Investing in whisky has become a trend. For the first time, people with no previous interest in whisky purchase bottles and casks for investment. It all makes sense because whisky is more precious than petrol. After multiple years of safekeeping, a person can make a good profit. But just like any other luxury good or piece of art, not all items are worth investing in.

Regarding whisky, some distillery names are more valued by collectors than others. However, this does not mean that all whisky released under the famous name is collectable, no matter what the distillery itself might claim. Also, just because something is marketed as rare, it does not mean it is collectable.

To expand the collectability of whiskies in the highly competitive market, many brands have teamed up with artists, sculptors, and visual artists to create unforgettable presentations. Sometimes, this has led to the focus of the release shifting from the whisky itself to the extravagant extras. On many occasions, the whisky might never be consumed, leading to a debate about whether the bottled whisky was intended for drinking in the first place or if the limited bottling was released only with a collector in mind.

The value of things is affected by what people are willing to pay for it - its perceived value. Some distilleries control their status by releasing limited expressions with a relatively high suggested retail price because they can and will most likely sell out. Others might give their product a dead-end price, which is deemed too high and will not go up over the years because it does not attract any buyers - even with a possible collectability factor. Sometimes, they undersell their products, leaving the most money to be made from the bottling to the secondary market.

For many people, the easiest way to resell their collection is through the multiple online whisky auction sites and auction houses, where the return is only sometimes what they had hoped for. With the possibility of setting a minimum reserve for items, many over-evaluate the current go-for price of products, leaving lots unsold. Just because an item is sold in retail at a specific price does not mean the price is the same on the secondary market.

Many newcomers to whisky seem to think that immediately selling bottles after purchasing is the best approach. While this might be true for releases like Pappy Van Winkle and some Japanese whiskies, most of the time, the actual value of the whisky is realised after years of safekeeping.

The current auction market benefits buyers more often than sellers. Even though some bottlings are still reaching high prices at auctions, other famously collectable releases can be bought significantly below their expected market price—in some cases, the price is at its lowest to date. This raises the question of whether it is worth investing in bottlings that go high on retail but are incredibly cheap to purchase at auctions.


Our Six Examples of Whiskies in Auctions

Expensive whiskies auction timelines

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

For this article, we have scoured online auction sites to determine the changing secondary market prices for six limited-release whisky bottlings. We have also included their original and current retail prices for reference, but please note that the straight line only represents the linear increase in the price - not the actual way the price has increased.

On occasion, due to the high volume, we've had to reduce the number of bottles sold at auctions in our timelines, selecting the most significant price changes that best reflect the going rates.

We have included data from the following auction sites: (W.A), Bonham's (BON), Whisky Hammer (WH), Whisky Auctioneer (W-Au), Whisky Online Auction (WOA) and Scotch Whisky Auctions (SWA).

If you are looking to sell a bottle of whisky, it is worth researching different online sites for the current market price since some sites reach better prices than others. Also, staying up to trends is essential, and you should consider holding on to the bottle for a little bit longer if the price is not what you expected. Alternatively, select a reasonable reserve that reflects your item's current market price to ensure you do not undersell. But remember, the secondary market price is not the same as the item's retail price.

Ultimately, the money to be made depends on the price at which it was first purchased compared to the selling price. Investing in whisky, like investing in other luxury goods or stocks, is about seeing the product's potential for future success.


Black Bowmore 1964 First Release

In 1993, the Bowmore distillery in Islay released an iconic bottling priced at just £80. Back then, this was considered an expensive whisky, like nothing anyone had seen before, but whisky collecting wasn't as popular as it is today. However, those who kept the bottle intact have seen it become a great investment.

The retail price of the first edition of Black Bowmore has soared from its release to the current retail price by 34275%, which, if the price change were linear, would be 1106% per year.

The whisky now fetches around £27,500 at retail but is sold for much less on the secondary market. It might be a good time to consider stocking up for an investment.

Black Bowmore 1964 First Release auction timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Port Ellen 1979 First Release

Released in 2001 as part of Diageo's Special Releases, this bottling of Port Ellen has been popular with whisky collectors in the past. Many times seen as one of the first collectable whiskies, it might be surprising that the bottling has never really reached its retail price on auctions.

The retail price of the first edition of Port Ellen has increased by 285% from the time of release to the current price, which, if the price change were linear, would be 12% per year.

Due to the recent reopening of the Port Ellen distillery in Islay, there is a high possibility that whisky distilled in the old distillery that closed in 1983 may become highly sought after again. However, with the current auction success (or lack thereof), bottles of Port Ellen can be obtained at more reasonable prices - way under its retail price.

Port Ellen 1979 First release recent auction success timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Highland Park 1960 50-year-old First Release

In 2010, the first edition of the Highland Park 50-year-old was released with a suggested retail price of £10,500. It featured an eye-catching design by jewellery designer Maeve Gillies from MaeVona. It is still considered one of the most stunning whisky decanters ever released, setting a new precedent for future luxury whisky releases.

The first edition of 50-year-old Highland Park has increased by 233% from the time of release to the current retail price, which, if the price change were linear, would be 17% per year. It currently retails at around £35,000.

Unfortunately, this collector's item has been underselling in auctions for the past five years despite its well-known distillery name, old whisky, and overall collectability factor.

Highland Park 1960 50-year-old First Release auction price timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Royal Salute 1953 50-year-old Blended Scotch Whisky

Royal Salute blended whisky was first released in 1953 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. This particular 2003 bottling was aged 50 years, and only 255 bottles were produced. Its retail price has increased by 92% from its release to the current price of £25,000, equating to a linear increase of 4% per year. The last bottle was sold on the secondary market for a mere £3,100.

Royal Salute 1953 50-year-old Blended Scotch Whisky auction price timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Macallan M 1824 Series First Release

The Macallan M is an excellent example of a limited bottling released yearly. Despite being from a highly collectable Scottish distillery, the release number or bottle count doesn't seem to affect its retail price. It remains consistent whether it's the first release or the most recent.

Currently priced at around £5,400, the Macallan M has increased by 52% from its original retail price, with a steady linear 5% annual increase. However, its value on the secondary market has never quite met the hype. That said, the price for the first release has recently risen to its highest to date.

When it comes to bottlings like the Macallan M, which does not have an age statement, Macallan has been criticised for not being transparent about its products. While many other producers offer detailed information about their whiskies, Macallan only provides minimal information, like the cask types, for its non-age statement releases - leaving people wondering if they are getting their money's worth.

Macallan M 1824 Series First Release auction timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Tullibardine 1952 60-year-old

The Tullibardine 1952, released in 2012 after 60 years of ageing, is a prime example of an extremely old whisky from a lesser-known distillery released with a dead-end price. Over 12 years of availability, the retail price of £20,000 for the bottling has remained unchanged.

Despite being this list's rarest bottling by release size and age, its rarity and presentation have not boosted its value. In auctions, the price has never come close to the retail price, and there is declining interest in it. While the Tullibardine 60-year-old is an impressive bottling, it is not a whisky to be collected for future financial success.

Tullibardine 1952 60yo auction price timeline

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark. Please also make sure to check out our other informative articles listed below.


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