Since the launch of the first edition of Fine Spirits Auction exactly one year ago, the percentage of expressions submitted that were bottled in the last 20 years rather than the last century has grown significantly. Since the trend was first observed, it has become well-established and is now accepted as fact. One attested to by the selection of lots on offer in this seventh edition.
So it is that we present our very first collection submitted by a private individual (450 lots of some 300 different products), composed solely of bottlings from the 21st century. This collection appears alongside various other lots from all over France, many of which are from the same period. Only a few exceptions confirm the rule.
Both the action and the results in this edition of Fine Spirits Auction are likely to attract the attention of a huge number of collectors and investors who, like the owner of this private collection, are interested in the market for collectable rums and whiskies from the last 20 years. Although not exhaustive, the collection covers the major trends, highlights and evolutions that have driven and carried the French market over the last 15 to 20 years.
The collection is characterized by:
1 - A significant proportion of distilleries established in the early 2000s, whose products first became available at the end of the same decade, including Octomore, Mars, Chichibu, Kavalan, Kilchoman, Ballechin, Port Charlotte and Kavalan. Making the most of circumstances over which they had no control—such as the emergence of a new generation of consumers, their forebears’ introduction of versions with no age statements, technological advances and new means of communication—these distilleries successful completed a move that would have been deemed madness in the 1990s, introducing one or several very young expressions of their whiskies, and in doing so won the loyalty of a curious clientèle capable of generating “buzz”.
2 - The focus on a new generation of whisky-makers and independent bottlers, highly characteristic of the period at start of the new millennium, such as Elixir Distillers and its Elements of Islay range and brand Port Askaig. Or indeed Compass Box and its elegant blends with no age statement produced in micro batches.
3 - A significant number of Japanese whiskies. This category quickly captured the public’s attention, thanks both to historic distilleries such as Yamazaki and Yoichi, and to closed distilleries such as Hanyu and Karuizawa.
4 - A bias in favour of independent rum bottlers, such as Samaroli, Velier and That Boutique Y. Rum’s recognition as a premium product in its own right rather than simply an ingredient in cocktails was another key development that emerged at the start of the century. The immediate consequence was the emergence of the market for collectable rums, characterized by independent bottlings and a strong interest in the selections, even those from little-known distilleries, made by these independent bottlers, such as Foursquare, Hampden and, more recently, the Haitian Clairins.
5 - A selection of legendary distilleries that successfully reinvented themselves, such as Ardbeg, a textbook example of a distillery which completed a full 180, swapping its 10, 17 and 25 year old versions and vintage single casks (that had helped establish the distillery’s name among collectors in the 1990s) with no-age-statement Special Editions. This strategy enabled the distillery to rejuvenate its image and attract new consumers and collectors. In a completely different vein, Glendronach caught the market completely off-guard and embarked on a mission of bold bottlings, featuring 100% sherry casks, vintage single casks and aged versions of its malt. This was quite a risk, but one that really paid off!
The collection is of its time and shows just how different the bottlings in the 21st century have been than from those of the 20th century while nonetheless meeting the number one objective of securing customer loyalty. It is also a collection that shows “time” has lost its traditional position as the most important factor in a bottle’s price. These days, bottles can become collectables as soon as they are released, and some even before, so high are enthusiasts’ expectations. It is no longer rare to see a whisky’s value increase two or even three-fold just a few days or weeks after its release, a phenomenon that in the past would have taken years. Now more than ever the collectables market is subject to the laws of supply and demand, and, where the 20th century was the century of abundance, the 21st seems set to be a century of rarity.
We were lucky enough to be able to speak to the seller about their collection.
Initially a wine enthusiast, the seller developed an interest in spirits in the early 2000s. Indeed, it was La Maison du Whisky’s collections that helped them learn more about the subject, introducing them to products beyond the great classics and off the beaten track. They soon gravitated towards independent bottlers, favouring these bottlings over official releases. Their favourite bottlers? Our private collector specifically mentioned the Scottish independent bottler Signatory Vintage, as well as Berry Bros and the Italian bottler Hidden Spirits. When it comes to rum, which has been a more recent discovery, they confessed to having a particular soft spot for the Italian bottler Velier, first for the now-legendary bottlings from British Guiana, the black bottles, Enmore, Blairmont and Uitvlugt, and then for Caroni.
The collection was put together through various tastings, notably at trade shows. The bottles have of course all been kept in ideal storage conditions (upright and out of the light). And, although the collection available in this auction features a wealth of truly incredible spirits, the seller has nonetheless kept back many for their own tasting pleasure so they can be shared and passed on.
In addition to this collection, a few geat gems from the last century have slipped into this auction’s selection:
In 1993, Morrison Bowmore released the very first edition of a trilogy dedicated to the year 1964 from the famous distillery of Bowmore. These became known as the Black Bowmore. The three expressions of Black Bowmore 1964 were released from 1993 to 1995. Each bottle was numbered on the back. With time, however, the numbers have faded away. Most of the bottles have a low or very low fill level at around the shoulder of the bottle. When they were first released in France, these versions were sold in specialist shops, such as Repairs de Bacchus, at the price of 1500.00 Frcs.
The niche category of “very” Rare Malts includes this version of Brora 22 Year Old 1972.
Launched in 1995, the Rare Malts range was a great showcase for the distillery, which had closed 12 years earlier in 1983. For the year 1995 alone, no less then eight bottlings of Brora were released from the three years 1977, 1975 and 1972.
The 1972 vintage is now the rarest. While the 60.02% bottling is the hardest to find at auction and fetches around €15,000, the other versions generally go for several thousand euros each. Collectors of this range, take note!
Other bottlings of note: