Beyond Wine And Whisky: Investing In Other Spirits

Wine And Whisky

Beyond Wine And Whisky: Investing In Other Spirits

Wine and whisky may take up the lion’s share of the international auction market, but that doesn’t mean other spirits aren’t worth keeping an eye on. From Chartreuse to an extravagantly priced decanter of Louis XIII cognac, we weigh up the possibilities of potential future collectibles.

Published on 11 April 2018

“How much is a piece of string?” responds Stuart Campbell of the online auction specialist Wine Auctioneer in Perth, Scotland, when asked what sort of prices spirits such as Cognac, Armagnac, tequila, rum, vodka, and gin fetch on the auction block. Perhaps that depends on demand, too, which has begun to look like it’s picking up. The director of Whisky Auctioneer’s sister-site notes: “Whisky Auctioneer’s inaugural auction, back in 2013, featured a single bottle of vodka to 161 bottles of whisky.”

“The first real influx of other spirits, we saw trickling in about early 2014, with both volume of consignments from sellers and demand from buyers spiralling upwards quickly thereafter. That figure in itself is some testament to the success of the business, given that our October 2017 auction featured in excess of 4,000 bottles, among which were 295 non-whiskies.”

Which spirits are in demand?

Cognac, Armagnac, Chartreuse, Caroni, Whisky, Wine, Rum

Remy Martin Louis XIII Tres Vieille 1950s / Hammer Price – £4,000 (US$5,422)

The valuation process itself, says Campbell, is exactly the same as with wine and whisky, or what he describes as, “Part scientific, part instinctive.”

“It’s an analysis of current market demand with considerations being retail availability, the performance of the same bottles in recent auctions, and expectations or assumptions made for market changes. Certainly Cognac, Armagnac, and rum lead the field in terms of prices achieved for non-whiskies. Even fairly modest brandies from the 1960s and 1970s are achieving prices approximately triple what their modern-day equivalents sell for in primary retail,” Campbell remarks.

“Limited edition releases, single-cask bottlings, natural cask strength versions, and really old spirits exist in these categories just as they do for whisky, and inflate prices accordingly.” Drawing additional parallels between the wine and whisky auction market, it’s clear that a spirit’s vintage often plays a significant part in its value at auction. “We saw a bottle of Chartreuse dating back to around 1912 sell for £2,500 (US$3,388),” Campbell recalls. “Any spirit that pre-dates the First World War will always perform really well at our auctions. They spark a lot of interest with a niche group of collectors.”

“Dark rum is also gaining a lot of attention right now, with one particular distillery shining above the rest – Caroni. It closed for good in 2003, so their stock has slowly started to gain value over the last decade. We recently saw a bottle hit £2,650 (US$3,592).”

Cognac, Armagnac, Chartreuse, Caroni, Whisky, Wine, Rum

Chartreuse De Tarragona 1912-1913 / Hammer Price – £2,500 (US$3,338)

In fact, dark spirits seem to be ones to look out for, as far as what get collectors ticking, Campbell explains. “Other brown spirits are certainly gaining increases in attention from buyers. Dominant among these, I’d say, are Cognac, Armagnac, golden rums and dark rums – all spirits which have a degree of flavour similarities to whisky. This encourages whisky drinkers to experiment with these other spirits, discovering new favourites and preferences.”

“As these other spirits gain shelf space (and the attention of the media), options for non-whisky drinkers increase, which inevitably drives further growth in their demand. All of this contributes to a further increase in interest. Beyond availability then, there are non-whisky distilleries which have ceased production and similarly to closed Scottish distilleries – Port Ellen, Brora, Rosebank – that have then posthumously become popular among drinkers, collectors, and investors alike. Caroni, from Trinidad, is again a prime example of this.”

Does limited edition packaging or a special edition version carry any extra clout on the spirits auction market – a non-whisky or non-wine equivalent of The Macallan in Lalique collection, for example? “Cognacs such as Hennessy Paradis and Louis XIII by the House of Rémy Martin come in very stylish decanters with unique packaging, and Baccarat are often the manufacturer of the crystal decanters used,” Campbell remarks. “But there aren’t many companies that will trump The Macallan in the packaging department. They are a cut above the rest!”

The future of the market

Cognac, Armagnac, Chartreuse, Caroni, Whisky, Wine, Rum

Caroni 1982 Full Proof 23 Year Old Trinidad Rum / Hammer Price – £2,650 (US$3,592)

Although there does seem to be an interesting future ahead for spirits auctions – especially if you’ve suddenly realised your liquor cabinet happens to be stuffed with bottles of Caroni – there’s very little chance, as Campbell asserts, that they’ll match the might of the whisky auction market just yet: “I definitely predict continued exponential growth in consignment volume, demand and prices in these other brown spirits into the foreseeable future and beyond. However, I believe whisky will remain the king of the collectable spirit world.”

“It’s not mere patriotic bias here, but rather a judgment borne that whisky – in its broadest definition – is produced in so many countries around the world. Versus brandy, with 99% of production being in France; versus rum with 99% produced in the Caribbean and Central America; versus tequila and mezcal with 100% produced in Mexico; versus pisco with 100% produced in Chile and Peru. There really isn’t another collectable spirit which has anywhere near the same reach of production, distribution or popularity as whisky.”

In essence, you’ll still want to keep plenty of rare whiskies in your cabinet, but if you happen to come across a tantalising item that you feel might shine in your collection – one of the 775 decanters of Louis XIII’s Black Pearl Anniversary Edition, perhaps – it might be worth seizing the chance and adding it to your treasure trove of spirits.

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