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Rare whisky market continues to expand

Whiskies drove some auction houses to report record spirits sales in 2022 and UK-based fine wine merchants have also reported strong consumer demand, as Decanter publishes a new Collector's Guide to this growing market.

Recent figures have provided more evidence of major players in the fine wine trade developing their presence in the rare whisky market.

Auction houses Sotheby’s and Zachys have reported record spirits sales for 2022, while UK-based merchant Bordeaux Index said in January that the secondary market for rare whisky remains ‘exceptionally strong’. Fellow merchant Goedhuis & Co also reported whisky sales up by 20% in value in 2022, led by Scotch.

The reports come as a new Decanter Collector’s Guide on whisky looks at the market’s expansion, including the latest trends and releases, as well as how prospective buyers can approach the sector.

The guide notes a transformation of the rare whisky auction market in recent years, and also the rise of exclusive releases via retail specialists and direct from producers. ‘As the rare whisky scene evolves, the market is gradually becoming more sophisticated, giving collectors several potential routes to purchase,’ it says.

Available now on Decanter Premium: Collector’s Guide to Whisky

Sotheby’s saw record wine and spirits auction sales of $150m in 2022, with spirits sales hitting a new high of $29m – up from $22m in 2021 and having been just $4m in 2017.

‘We definitely would predict the market continuing to rise, and growth throughout 2023,’ said Jamie Ritchie, worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s wine and spirits, in an interview with Decanter’s Market Watch in January.

He also highlighted the strong development of a secondary market for spirits in the US last year.

Matthew O’Connell, CEO of Bordeaux Index’s LiveTrade trading platform, said, ‘The value of top Scotch and Japanese whisky rose by 15-20% during 2022.’

He added, ‘The whisky market has really gathered pace over the last decade, with price rises of around 20% per annum compound growth.’

Given limited supplies and a growing number of wealthy collectors seeking top bottles, he predicted further price gains in 2023.

Bordeaux Index told Decanter magazine in January that Scotch whiskies Springbank and Macallan rose in price by 42% and 20% respectively last year, while Japan’s Karuizawa and Yamazaki increased in price by 29% and 19%.

Auction house Zachys reported record spirits sales of $2.4m in 2022. It’s top-selling lot was a single bottle of Suntory, Yamazaki 55 Year Old Japanese single malt, which fetched $398,400 – level with the price of the group’s best-selling wine auction lot: 12 bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s lauded Romanée-Conti 1990.

Zachys said other top-selling whisky names were Macallan, Karuizawa, Port Ellen and Pappy Van Winkle.

Some industry data has suggested a more mixed picture on price momentum in recent months.

Rare Whisky 101, which compiles data based on UK auction prices, saw its Apex 1000 index rise by more than 425% from its inception at the end of 2012 to the end of November 2022, reported Decanter’s Collector’s Guide. But the index fell by 2.3% in the six months to 26 December.

Decanter’s guide also cites several issues for collectors and potential investors to be aware of, from low levels of liquidity in the market and varying prices for individual bottles at auction to the importance of buying from reputable sources – given general concerns about possible counterfeits.

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