Auction Preview: Bonhams, Hong Kong, August 21, 2020

Hong Kong has an enviable reputation as the global capital of live whisky auctions, even if not every sale at every auction house can deliver record-breaking prices. All eyes are currently on Bonhams, where rare whisky valued at $1.6 million–$2.1 million goes under the hammer in the Fine & Rare Wine and Whisky sale on August 21. On the block are 326 lots of whisky, comprising 444 bottles split between Japanese and scotch whisky (plus two lots of Van Winkle bourbon). What makes this auction so compelling is the wide range of offerings from closed distilleries, some rarely seen early-20th century bottlings, and the first opportunity for international whisky collectors to acquire the oldest Japanese whisky ever released.

bottle of 40 year old karuizawa "noh" at bonhams, hong kong, august 2020

1971 Karuizawa 41 year old Noh bottling (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)

High-Value Whiskies From Closed Distilleries

One-third of the whiskies on sale, nearly 150 bottles, comes from 10 distilleries that closed during economic downturns over the past 40 years. While not all closed distilleries command high prices or hold equal potential as collectibles, it’s hard to resist the enduring appeal of historic bottlings that cannot be replaced. Bottlings from closed Japanese distilleries command much higher prices than scotch, but their prices have stabilized. The right selection of single malt scotch, however, may still deliver a proportionally greater long-term appreciation in value.

Closed Distillery High-Value Picks

Closed Distillery Year Closed Lots with Highest Estimate
Brora 1983 1978 Brora 40 year old 200th Anniversary (Est. $4,300–$5,200)
Glenlochy 1983 1980 Signatory (distilled at Glenlochy) 32 year old (Est. $520–$650)
Glen Mhor 1983 1972 Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Glen Mhor) 15 year old Sestante Import (Five bottle mixed lot of Sestante Import bottlings; est. $8,800–$10,000)
Port Ellen 1983 1981 Port Ellen 33 year old (Est. $6,500–$9,000)
Glenury Royal 1985 1970 Glenury Royal Rare Malts Selection 29 year old (Est. $520–$650)
Hillside 1985 1971 Hillside Rare Malts Selection 25 year old (Est. $520–$650)
Millburn 1985 1970 R.W. Duthie & Co. (distilled at Millburn) 11 year old Samaroli Import (Est. $3,100–$3,900)
Rosebank 1993 1967 Signatory (distilled at Rosebank) 25 year old (Est. $2,600–$3,400)
Hanyu 2000 Ichiro’s Malt (distilled at Hanyu) 5 of Hearts (Est. $12,000–$17,000)
Karuizawa 2001 1974 Karuizawa 40 year old Blue Geisha and Gold Geisha (2 bottles; est. $26,000–$39,000)

glenfiddich 50 year old lot at bonhams, hong kong, august 2020

Glenfiddich 50 year old (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)

Rarities From the Early 20th Century

It is becoming increasingly rare to find scotch whisky from the first half of the 20th century, but Daniel Lam, whisky specialist at Bonhams, has succeeded in gathering an eclectic selection of single malts from the era. Look out for the 1926 Ben Nevis 63 year old (est. $15,000–$21,000), one of only 98 bottles and the oldest-ever release from the distillery; another of these bottles secured a hammer price of $22,932 at Bonhams, Hong Kong two years ago. From the 1930s, there is Glenfiddich and Macallan, and from the 1940s, there is Glen Grant and more Macallan. It’s worth following the Glenfiddich 50 year old (est. $34,000–$41,000), one of 500 bottles released in 1991 from casks laid down in 1937 and 1939, as Bonhams achieved a hammer price of $28,027 last year, and in 2018, one fetched $38,214.

Japan’s Oldest Whisky

The star of the show, however, is the first appearance at international auction for Yamazaki 55 year old. Before the onset of the Million Dollar Macallan age, Yamazaki 50 year old twice held the record for the most expensive bottle of whisky sold at auction. This new bottling from Beam Suntory, at 55 years old, was a limited release of 100 bottles, intended to coincide with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The bottles were only recently made available to residents of Japan through a lottery system, and each bottle was engraved with the name of the original owner. As well as personalizing the experience for the lucky buyer, the engraving also serves to discourage the appearance of bottles on the secondary market; however, to the chagrin of the producers, Bonhams has chosen to retouch the bottle image in this auction in order to protect the seller’s identity. After setting this precedent, other auction houses are likely to follow suit given the opportunity. No matter how high the bidding reaches, that original buyer’s name will be a secret shared only between the winning bidder and the auctioneer.

Top 10 Auctioneer Estimates for Single Bottle Lots at Bonhams, Hong Kong, August 2020

Bottling Estimate
Macallan in Lalique 55 year old $90,000–$120,000
Yamazaki 55 year old $75,000–$100,000
1949 Macallan Millennium Decanter 50 year old $39,000–$46,000
Glenfiddich 50 year old (bottled 1991) $34,000–$41,000
1950 Macallan Fine & Rare 52 year old $28,000–$36,000
1971 Karuizawa Noh bottling 41 year old $21,000–$28,000
1955 Bowmore 40 year old $19,000–$26,000
Karuizawa Vintage Aged 45 years $18,000–$26,000
1984 Karuizawa 30 year old $18,000–$23,000
1976 Macallan Fine & Rare 29 year old $18,000–$23,000

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