The fifth edition of Fine Spirits Auction was the perfect illustration of the duality of France’s spirits auction market and its ability to be both a mecca for pure investors and a hotbed of opportunities for well-informed enthusiasts and budding collectors.
The September 2021 sale revealed an increase in the gaps within categories and spirits types (in terms of values and bidding intensity), as well as a slight polarization of buyer profiles.
When it came to bids, the leading five spirits set themselves clearly apart. There were fierce battles for two Japanese whiskies, two rums, and one American whiskey, closely followed in sixth place by another Japanese whisky.
Karuizawa was once again the most popular and sought-after distillery. Most of the 15 bottles of Karuizawa up for auction exceeded their top estimates. The seven highest sale prices for FSA #5 all went to bottles of Karuizawa and the distillery represented over 30% of the total value of the fifth edition, despite only covering 2.5% of the total number of lots on offer. This comes as no surprise, however, as these bottlings are far from outsiders and instead safe bets highly prized by today’s investors.
Covering 9% of all lots up for auction, the rum category generated almost 12% of the total value in bids for FSA #5. These were mainly driven by the Demerara family, with Caroni heading the pack (with over a quarter of the number of rum lots), also unsurprisingly, as the distillery is now closed and investors have been flocking to the brand for several years now. A clear trend is emerging in French rum, with three distilleries systematically attracting the most attention, La Favorite, Rhum J.M and Neisson. Bally and Saint James receive their highest bids for their limited bottlings and cuvées and vintage single casks. French rum as a category generated 27% of the value of all rums sold and represented 30% of rum lots.
Making up for less than 3% of all lots available, the American whiskey category produced 4% of the total value of bids in FSA #5. All lots in the category found a buyer. In this sale, American whiskeys reached a total of 93% of their high estimates and have cemented their place as a healthy category for both buyers and sellers, with a very wide range of prices, from very accessible to very exclusive bottlings, and from collectables to more speculative investments.
The latest sale was fairly representative in terms of the different positions, profiles, motivations and objectives found on the platform during Fine Spirits Auction sales.
Although sellers’ motivations are clear—to sell bottles and stock at the best prices—buyers’ motivations are more varied. Bottles are purchased either to enjoy, to gift, as part of a collection or as an investment. Collecting and investing in bottles often ultimately has the same goal: resale. In the first case, buyers think in the long term, whereas buyers in the second case are generally more focused on the short term. Collecting also offers the possibility of tasting or gifting the bottle at any moment. A clear emotional aspect—or at least a material or sensory interest (flavours and aromas that reflect an era of production)—is associated with purchases. There is also a lot of interplay between these different objectives. It is, for example, fairly common for consumers to become collectors, then, due to the increased value of their bottles, investors. The reverse is rarer.
Overall, among the very comprehensive selection of bottles up for auction in FSA #5 (more than 650 lots in total), buyers were able to find a wealth of opportunities matching their profile.