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Rare whisky auction market is ‘softening’, says new report

Rare whisky auction sales have fallen in value at the higher end of the market, despite an increase in volumes sold, says a new report that suggests collectors and investors are treading more cautiously with their spending.

Years of strong growth have given way to a more mixed picture on the fine and rare whisky auction market in 2023, according to the latest annual report from Scottish corporate finance boutique Noble & Co in partnership with data intelligence group Brainnwave.

Figures show auction sales of whisky priced at more than £1,000 per bottle fell by 7% in value in the year to 30 September 2023, versus the previous 12 months, despite a 10% increase in volumes sold.

Findings, which are largely based on UK auction sales of single malt Scotch, add to evidence of greater uncertainty in the market this year.

New investors and enthusiasts are still coming into the fine and rare whisky auction market, but there is a shift towards lower-priced bottles, said the report’s authors. They noted a difficult macroeconomic backdrop, including high inflation. 

Data showed auction sales of whisky above £100-a-bottle rose by 17% in volume terms over the 12-month period, yet the total value of sales was flat on the previous year.

‘It has been a difficult year for fine and rare whisky investors,’ said Duncan McFadzean, head of food and drink at Noble & Co.

Fine and rare whiskies have enjoyed an almost unblemished reputation for being one of the best performing alternative investments available. What we now see is a mixed picture, where a growing volume of transactions is accompanied by weakening value per transaction.’ 

Ultra-rare whiskies are still capable of commanding stratospheric prices. 

Sotheby’s recently reported a new world record price for whisky at auction after it sold a bottle of The Macallan 1926 single malt Scotch for almost £2.2 million ($2.7m), including the buyer’s premium.

McFadzean added, While there will always be stand-out moments, such as the recent 1926 The Macallan sale, the broad picture suggests the market is softening.’ 

Price sensitivity at both the top and lower ends of the whisky auction market looks set to continue into 2024, due to weak economic conditions, said McFadzean. 

Noble & Co’s report said The Macallan remains the most popular distillery in the secondary market, with more than 26,500 bottles being traded at auction in the last 12 months.

The fastest-growing whisky brands by volume in the secondary market were:

  • Tamdhu
  • The Dalmore
  • The Glenturret

Earlier this year, a whisky sub-index published within the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index dropped by 4% in the year to 30 June.

UK merchant Bordeaux Index recently reported a slowdown in rare whisky price growth, although it didn’t see prices declining.

Recent signs of turbulence also follow strong growth for the market.

Knight Frank’s whisky sub-index, compiled by Rare Whisky 101 and tracking UK auction prices, was still up by 322% in 10 years. It far outpaced other luxury ‘passion investments’, including wine, jewellery, art, handbags and cars.

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