Article by Fred Minnick
Through June 27, Skinner Auctioneers has its Fine Wine and Rare Spirits auction, featuring a 72 year old Macallan in Lalique. Produced in 1946, this is the the oldest ever Macallan single malt to be released by the distillery, estimated to sell for between $100,000-125,000. There’s also a lot of bourbon and rye being sold, including a pre-Prohibition Maryland rye that looks scrumptious.
We caught up with Skinner’s Spirits Specialist, Joe Hyman, to find out what makes him and these auctions tick.
How did you find these rare gems?
In many cases, they find me.
How do you find buyers?
When it comes to spirits, especially rare spirits, the enthusiasts will go to the ends of the Earth to find them. To give a little indication, several years ago, a few bottles from the Shackleton Expedition were extricated form the ice in the South Pole and then Master Blender Richard Paterson spent months duplicating the flavor profile. We have buyers from around the world who come to us for rare and interesting bottles.
There are a lot of charities who try to raise money by auctioning bottles. Do you ever assist charities?
We’ve done several charity bottles, some local and some as far away as Seattle, WA. When Buffalo Trace produced 200 decanters of OFC from the vintages of 1980, 1982 & 1983, they were given only to charities for fundraising events. I was approached by a number of smaller charities who did not have the marketing muscle or the deep-pocketed donors to maximize the value of these decanters. We ended up with four of them (waiving the seller’s commission), and got $1000 over the national average.
What are a couple hidden gems in this auction list?
We have a few oddities (or, as I like to call them, ‘obscenities’, since they shouldn’t exist anymore, lol): some bottles of Scotch Whisky 1885, bottled in the 1900s by ME Bellows’ Son, an extremely rare bottle of scotch bottled by Basil Woodd, c. 1900 and a bottle of Overholt 1855!
How do you validate bottles?
In today’s climate, fakes are becoming a problem and a nuisance. Certain modern brands are highly susceptible to this and people selling empties online only adds fuel to the fire. Some of those brands are taking measures to address the problem, even by using tamper-proof seals. These brands have to be inspected thoroughly and I keep in regular contact with the companies’ archivists. When it comes to the old bottles, a lot of detective work is involved, including discussing with the archivists, whiskey historians, old newsprint advertising and other documentation. In the case of the bottle from Basil Woodd, I happen to have a later bottling in my own collection. We discovered that the company was sold around 1904 and moved locations. I was able to find reference to the company in the 1891 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. We also went to the lengths of carbon dating the cork from the Overholt 1855. The glass and the paper are from the right period, but we did not know if the cork and liquid were as well. From speaking to other whiskey historians, the consensus is that the bottle is not and official bottling, but rather bottled by some unknown independent bottler, a practice which was much more common before readily available glass bottles and commercial bottlings became common place. The results of the testing suggests the cork was harvested around 1770-1800 with and estimated age of 220 years +/-26 years.
Do you ever think people are spending way too much money on whiskey?
In many ways, rare whiskey is like any other collectible or antique. What makes a Picasso painting worth $100 million?
Will bourbon ever catch up to Scotch in these rare auctions?
Bourbon and Rye have made huge strides in catching up. However, with the release of ever rarer bottlings of highly prized distilleries like Macallan, it’s becoming harder to keep pace. Also, from a taste perspective, Scotch can age for much longer periods of time in a cool Scottish warehouse, as opposed to hot warehouses of Kentucky which age whiskey faster. Once you get to extreme ages (20+ years for Bourbon) you run the risk of over-aging, when the wood component overwhelms the whiskey, whereas 20-30 years old scotches are fairly commonplace.
Anything you’d like to add?
Bid early and bid often, haha. Cheers/Slainte/L’Chaim!