When it comes to whiskey sales making headlines, Scotch is the only category that matters for decades. Household names like The Macallan, The Dalmore and Port Ellen regularly hit six figures at international auction houses these days. It’s only recently that we’ve seen select Japanese whiskeys rise to comparable valuations. Could Irish whiskey be the next darling of wealthy collectors?
Irish Whiskey Merchant is certainly betting on it. Northern Ireland’s first online whiskey auction house held its first online auction in early March and achieved substantial revenues. Among the liquids brought under the hammer were three so-called “unicorn bottles”—whiskeys you just won’t see on the shelves of your local liquor store. They included: Bushmills Causeway 18 Year Old Grand Cru Chinese Exclusive, an Old Comber 25 Year Old and The Brollach from The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
Of the three, The Brollach received the highest bid, with one lucky connoisseur taking home the bottle for £6,100 (just over US$8,000). After being named the highest rated Irish whiskey of 2021 by The spirits business, this particular version has become increasingly coveted in secondary markets. In total, only 661 bottles were marketed by the Craft Irish Whiskey Company last June.
Sure, $8,000 still pales in comparison to the home price of those aforementioned Scotch behemoths, but let’s put it into perspective. The Brollach is a whiskey without mention of age coming from a non-distilling producer. You don’t have to go too far back – just a few years, in fact – to remember a time when even the most coveted Irish whiskey house couldn’t expect to see more than $1,000. for a rare release. A handful of notable native brands have seismically changed the needle in the meantime.
Teeling is at the top of this list. In 2019, the Dublin-based distillery won the World’s Best Single Malt award at the prestigious World Whiskeys Awards for a 24-year-old expression finished in ex-Sauterne wine barrels. It was the first time that an Irish whiskey had been awarded this prize. Today you can find it online for $1500 a bottle.
Again, for perspective, remember that a bottle of The Macallan 25 could be had for a few hundred dollars as recently as the early 2000s. Now that’s a challenge to find at $2500. A bottle of Yamazaki 25 that you’d be hard-pressed to see on the shelf for $20,000 was a tough sell at $500 just a decade ago. What we see in the birth of the high-bid Irish whiskey auction suggests a similar outcome. And the investment class is certainly taking notice.
Incidentally, this week could prove to be a watershed moment in the ultra premium Irishman’s journey, as The Craft Irish Whiskey Company and Teeling are nominated for the World Whiskeys Awards in the World’s Best Single Malt category. The first for its Devil’s Keep, a 30-year-old expression finished in virgin Hungarian oak; and the latter for its 30th anniversary, finished in Burgundy white oak. These results will be announced at 10:30 p.m. on March 24. But the potential impact would ripple through secondary markets for years.
With every award racked up, the luxury Irish whiskey shows collectors it’s worthy to stand on stage alongside its Scotch and Japanese counterparts. And as it becomes a bigger and bigger player in auction houses around the world, don’t be surprised to see prices increasingly reflect that reality.