Auction Preview: The Timeless Whisky Collection

Sotheby’s New York is set to auction what it says is the highest-value whisky collection ever to be sold in a single auction in the U.S. That’s not to say this is the largest ever: more sizable collections have been broken up and sold in different locations. This collection, built over many years by an anonymous California-based collector, has been valued at $1.55-$2.15 million and includes over 60 bottles aged 50 years old or above. Bidding is open online, and will conclude with a live auction on September 23 at 10 a.m. EDT.

The highlight of the sale is a complete six-bottle set of the Macallan Six Pillars Collection (Est. $400,000–$600,000), including a bespoke burr elm display podium, and a “Lalique experience” consisting of a stay at Villa Rene Lalique in Alsace and dining at its 2 Michelin Star restaurant for the winning bidder and a guest.

The Macallan Six Pillars Collection (Photo by Sotheby’s)

There are plenty of less expensive whiskies to consider; the 497 lots, consisting of 565 bottles, have a median lot estimate of $1,000–$1,300. Single malt scotches from 44 different distilleries are represented among the 512 bottles of scotch whisky. Islay is the most abundant whisky region in this sale with 36% of the bottles, followed by 24% from Speyside and 15% from Campbeltown. Time and age are dominant themes throughout, with the bottles aged 50 years or older originating from 18 single malt scotch distilleries. More than 80 bottles come from 8 closed distilleries in Scotland and Japan. Overall, many of Sotheby’s estimates look rather cautious, so bidders can expect a number of the lots to exceed their high estimates.

A deep dive into the catalog reveals a greater number of independent bottlings than official distillery bottlings of scotch whisky (56% vs 44%). Of the independent bottlings, 37% are from Hunter Laing & Co. Ltd, 19% from Gordon & MacPhail, and 16% from Douglas Laing & Co., although the Gordon & MacPhail bottlings are the most valuable independent bottlings by some margin. This collection shows the former owner’s preferences for particular brands and regions, while other distilleries are completely unrepresented. There are more than 80 bottles of Springbank, for example, but no bottles of Longrow, Hazelburn, Kilkerran, or Glen Scotia from Campbeltown. Nor are there Jura, Kilchoman, or distillery bottlings from Bruichladdich, no grain whisky, no Irish whiskey, and only two blends.

There are over 50 larger bottles on sale (1.5-liter bottles)—large format bottles are popular among wine collectors due to the differences in maturation and scarcity, but those factors are less relevant for whisky collectors, so you simply have twice as much of the same whisky. From Japan, there are a few Karuizawa, Hanyu, and Yamazaki bottlings. From the U.S., there are some Hirsch, Van Winkle, and a reasonable selection of WhistlePig The Boss Hog, a series we’ve covered for What’s it Worth? Closed distillery bottlings make up 15% of the sale, with 44 bottles of Port Ellen and 23 bottles of Littlemill on offer. Admirably, again, the selection is eclectic to the collector—there are bottles of Dallas Dhu, Glen Mhor, Rosebank, and Kinclaith, yet no St. Magdalene, Glenury Royal, or Convalmore bottlings.

Which lots offer the best value? Depending on your budget, look to the Speymalt Macallans at the start of the sale, the Benromach 35 year old is well-priced (est. $500–$600), and consider picking up the Glenfiddich 40 year old (est. $2,400–$3,500) given that the new edition will cost $4,600. There are multiples of many bottles, for example; there are four bottles of Glenrothes John Ramsay for sale (est. $500–$750), which cost $1,000 on release in 2009. There are two Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 70 year olds in the sale; the one distilled in 1940 has a low estimate of $6,000, while it’s $22,000 for the other bottle distilled in 1943. There are Port Ellen bottlings with low estimates below $1,000, and I would snap up the Springbank while you can. Undoubtedly, the Timeless Whisky Collection at Sotheby’s offers both the strategic single malt scotch collector and the discerning drinker plenty of scope to acquire a number of fine bottles and take them home to enjoy.

Sotheby’s continues to bring large valuable single-owner collections to auction. “I will be sad to part with this collection, but it felt like the time was right for it to find a new home,” said the seller through Sotheby’s. “I have still held back some of my favorite bottles to enjoy over the next few years.”

Be Prepared Before You Bid: Sotheby’s buyer’s premiums for this sale are 24% of the hammer price, plus an additional 1% for Sotheby’s overhead premium.

The Timeless Whisky Collection: 10 Most Expensive Lots by Estimate


Low Estimate High Estimate
1 The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection (6 bottles) $400,000 $600,000
2 The Macallan in Lalique 72 year old Genesis Decanter $70,000 $90,000
3 Black Bowmore The Last Cask 50 year old $38,000 $55,000
4 Bowmore 1961 50 year old $32,000 $50,000
5 The Macallan 1949 50 year old Millennium Decanter $30,000 $40,000
6 Karuizawa Budo Collection 1981 (3 bottles) $30,000 $40,000
7 The Macallan Fine & Rare 1938 31 year old $26,000 $35,000
8 Ardbeg Double Barrel 1974 (2 bottles) $22,000 $30,000
9 Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Glenlivet 1943 70 year old $22,000 $30,000
10 The Macallan 40 year old 2017 release $20,000 $30,000

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