Whisky.Auction Highlights of 2023

2023 at Whisky.Auction. A look back at some of the star lots from the past year.

Whisky.Auction Highlights of 2023

Another year has passed and we have seen plenty of stunning single malts and luxurious Cognacs, iconic wines and weird and wonderful memorabilia. Here is a brief look through just a small selection of our favourite auction lots from Whisky.Auction 2023.

Scotch Whisky

It’s never easy picking the bottles to include in an annual roundup as there were so many highlights to choose from during 2023 at Whisky.Auction, from the flashy and opulent to the rare and unusual, but perhaps the best place to start is our most expensive bottle of the year. That accolade for 2023 went to this Laphroaig 1967 15 Year Old Samaroli with a hammer price of £55,000. Bottled by R.W. Duthie for the iconic indie bottler, this Laphroaig hails from what many regard as a golden age of distilling on Islay and the bottle frequently appears amongst the top whiskies in lists such as the Whiskybase.com top 1000.

Runner up spot went to this Macallan 72 Year Old Lalique – The Genesis Decanter, presented in a stunning Lalique Crystal decanter inspired by the new Macallan distillery and housed in a bespoke presentation case, which sold for £50,000 in November. At the time of it’s release in 2018, this was the oldest Macallan ever bottled, containing malt distilled in the 1940s.

In our October auction we had another 1940s Macallan in the shape of the much sought after Macallan 1940 Handwritten label, that sold for £9,000, as well as the 1950 Handwritten Label, that fetched £5,000. Macallan is always a popular category at auction and we saw almost 2000 bottles of this Speyside favourite pass through the auction this year.

Continuing the theme of mature whiskies, there were plenty of other malts that had reached the half century mark including this Springbank 50 Year Old from the Millennium Series, sold in September for £7,600, a Balvenie 1937 50 Year Old Pure Malt (£20,000), Glenury Royal 1953 50 Year Old (£5,200) and a rarely seen Dalmore 1926 50 Year Old presented in a ceramic decanter with its original wooden box (£17,000). The Dalmore 50 Year Old also appeared in miniature form twice, with the 10cl bottles fetching £2,400-£2,500 each. In October we featured a complete trio of the Bowmore Trilogy with the White Bowmore 43 Year Old just coming out on top with a winning bid of £14,400, pipping the Black Bowmore 42 Year Old at £14,000 and the Gold Bowmore 44 Year Old (£12,800).

While these mature bottles often attract a lot of attention and big prices, the appeal to me has always been the vintage bottles that, when first sold, no one would have possibly thought would reach prices many, many times what they were bought for. These bottles are a bit of a time capsule and showcase the distilling methods of their eras and there is often a beautiful simplicity to the way they are presented. Just a handful of favourites from the many we saw this year would be this Laphroaig 10 Year Old, bottled in the 1960s and the epitome of simplicity when it comes to labelling. This sold for a whopping £8,000, not a bad return on its original retail price. Equally simple but beautiful was this Talisker Pure Malt sold in July for £2,300. Despite not attracting the same high prices (£190), this gorgeous Glen Scotia 5 Year Old deserves a mention because I’m a sucker for pretty old labels.

Speaking of pretty labels, this takes us back to the selection of Samaroli bottles that passed through the auction this year and are renowned for their presentation, often with personal touches from Silvano Samaroli himself, such as this Glen Garioch Coilltean 15 Year Old (£2,800) featuring Samaroli’s exquisite calligraphy on the label as well as the tasting notes on the rear. A personal favourite label is this Macallan 1971 from the Curved Distillery Label series, sold for £3,100 in December. For fans of sherried malts there was a deliciously dark Longmorn-Glenlivet 1974 that fetched £5,400 or this Glenrothes 1969, sold for £3,100.

Japanese Whisky

As ever, Japanese malts have filled plenty of the top spots during 2023 at Whisky.Auction with the usual suspects of Karuizawa, Yamazaki and Hibiki leading the way, but with plenty of interesting bottlings from Chichibu not to be overlooked. We bookended the year with stunning Karuizawa Geishas; January featured a pair of Ruby Geishas with the 38 Year Old old fetching £21,000 and it’s sister 34 Year Old bottle not far behind on £19,000. December saw a Karuizawa 35 Year Old Emerald Geisha fetch £18,000 and in between we saw a 33 Year Old Golden Geisha top our May auction at £19,500.

In the year the House of Suntory celebrated its 100th anniversary, our top Yamazaki lot was this Yamazaki Junshin, bottled as a tribute to Master Blender Richard Paterson and blended by Suntory’s Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. The blend consists of six whiskies dating back as far as a 1960 62 year old malt. One of only 200 bottles, this fetched £25,000 in September.

Our top Chichibu lot of the year went to this Chichibu 2010 Cask #1000, that sold for £2,600 in our September charity auction. One of the rarest Chichibu releases with an outturn of only 278 bottles, this was generously donated by Japanese Whisky expert Marcin Miller to raise money for The Maclean Foundation.

American Whiskey

American whiskeys included plenty of the ever popular Pappy Van Winkle, Blanton’s and Buffalo Trace Collection and of course Jack Daniel’s, with a particular stand out being this Jack Daniel’s 6 Year Old bottled in the 1940s and sold for £4,000. There were other bottles with plenty of historic interest including a handful of prohibition era whiskeys such as this Old Taylor 100 Proof (£2,600), Bond & Lillard 100 Proof (£1,500) and Old Charter (£875), all distilled over a century ago, for medicinal purposes of course.

Moving towards the mid 20th century there was an Old Timbrook distilled in 1937 and sold for £2,300 and a 1960s Weller’s Antique Reserve 10 Year Old fetching £4,100. If shinier modern bottles are more your style, then this gorgeous Double Eagle Very Rare 20 Year Old featuring an exquisite crystal eagle both on the stopper and inside the bottle was worth a bid.

Irish Whiskey

From Ireland the Midleton Very Rare series has continued in popularity over 2023 and we were fortunate to list a few of the rarer bottles from the series including the inaugural Midleton Very Rare 1984, sold for £1,650 in June. September featured a bottle of the Midleton Very Rare 1988, which despite a low fill level, still reached £10,400 and in the same month the 1991 release sold for £4,600.

As we are very much fans of vintage bottles at Whisky.Auction, three bottles worth a mention are these lovely 1960s Jameson 3 Star (£525) and Jameson 7 Year Old (£650) and a John Jameson & Sons Redbreast 12 Year Old, bottled in the 1940s by W & A Gilbey, that despite its diminutive 35cl stature, sold for £1,400 to a lucky bidder.

Cognac

When it comes to decadent decanters, Cognac is the place to go. Just a few of these that lucky bidders have won to be the centrepiece on their bar during 2023 include this Courvoisier Heritage De Louis Renard Cognac (£3,600), one of only 50 Baccarat decanters made, an Otard Collection Du Roi (£2,400) with its crown-shaped stopper cut from a single piece of crystal, and this Richard Hennessy also in a beautifully engraved Baccarat crystal decanter, that sold for £2,500. One of our most frequently seen decanters is the classic Remy Martin Louis XIII and a particularly special one from our August auction was this 35cl Black Pearl, sold for £10,200, containing Cognac drawn from a single blending cask containing over 1200 different eaux-de-vie, some of which are over 100 years old.

The other thing Cognac frequently provides us with is some of the oldest liquid featured in the auction, with bottles containing distillate dating back as far as 1811 in the case of these two Napoleon Cognacs, sold for £1,400 and £2,500, and one of our top Cognac lots of the year was this A E Dor 1818, bottled in the 1930s-40s that fetched £5,200.

Rum

A dusty old crate of Royal Navy Rum Flagons is a good find when clearing out a garage or attic as some of our sales showed this year, with pairs of flagons fetching up to £5000 and individual, wicker basketed flagons reaching as much as £2,200. Other highlights for me were this 1960s Caroni Navy Rum, sold for £1,650, with many of the more recent releases from this closed distillery also continuing to attract plenty of interest, and this beautifully well-preserved Lemon Hart from the 1940s, a steal at £625 for an avid rum collector.

Liqueurs

A few other worthy mentions from the year come from the liqueurs category. Chartreuse was a big draw for collectors and we had some beautiful vintage bottles over the course of the year including this very rare Chartreuse Yellow ‘La Seisenta’ named ‘The Sixty’ as 1960 was the first year this bottle was produced and the year that the company name changed from L’Union Agricola to Chartreuse SAE. It sold for £4,400 while another earlier Chartreuse Yellow bottled in 1912-1913 sold for £2,600.

Interest in vintage Campari has continued to rise and a 1950s bottle of Campari Bitter in our October auction fetched £360. Another auction staple is Benedictine, which typically does not fetch large hammer prices, but a rarely seen 450cl bottle dating from the 1950s appeared in our June auction and sold for £600.

Wine

Big bottles were a theme starting in January with the biggest of all in the towering form of this Nebuchadnezzar (at 1500cl, that’s the equivalent of 20 bottles!) of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial, sold for £1,400. At a slightly more manageable 300cl, November saw a jeroboam of 1999 Dom Perignon sell for £1,150, while a 2006 Chateau Lafite Rothschild fetched £2,500 in June. In magnum format, there were plenty of great bottles throughout the year, but a particular highlight was a 2001 Grands Echezeaux from the legendary Domaine De La Romanee Conti that fetched a winning bid of £4,500.

There was also a clutch of bottles throughout the year that have attained that vinous holy grail of becoming a coveted 100 pointer. The November Fine & Rare Wine auction included no less than 10 of these ranging from a 1945 Vieux Chateau Certan (£600) and 1989 Chateau Haut Brion (£1,100) to a 2009 Chateau D’Yquem (£290) for those with a sweeter tooth. We sold two bottles of rarely seen 1997 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon from only 6000 bottles produced by the revered Napa Valley winery, that received the accolade from Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker Jr. They sold for an impressive £3,400 and £3,000 a piece. From the Old World, was a bottle of 2009 Chateau Petrus, described as ‘a wine of great intensity, a multidimensional mouthfeel, and full-bodied, stunning concentration’. Other featured 100 pointers harked back to some now legendary vintages, with bottles such as this magnum of 1982 Mouton Rothschild (£,2000), 1989 Chateau Haut Brion (£1,100),  1982 Chateau Latour (£1,200) and 1961 Chateau Latour (£1,200)

Charity Auctions

Each year we like to help worthy causes through hosting charity auctions or selling lots to raise money and 2023 was no different. In September we partnered with the Trustees of the Maclean Family Foundation, set up to aid the provision of clean water around the world, starting with the island of  Madagascar. The auction featured a variety of unique lots but the standout bottle was this Karuizawa Omoiyari, fittingly named after the Japanese custom of being caring, considerate and compassionate towards others. One of only six bottles in existence, it sold for £26,00, helping the auction reach a grand total of almost £68,000 for the charity.

Another special bottle raising money, this time for The Drinks Trust, was a truly unique bottle of Beefeater Crown Jewel Gin, bottled to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III. Handcrafted with a 9 carat solid gold label and embellished with a ruby, it was designed and created by London based goldsmiths and silversmiths and Royal Warrant holder, Thomas Lyte. It was the only bottle of its kind available at auction and raised £2000.

Miniatures & Memorabilia

Mini bottles can fetch big prices too and this year was no different with some impressive amounts being bid for tiny bottles. This Karuizawa 1964 48 Year Old Sherry Cask 3603 bottled by Wealth Solutions sold for £2,700 in April, while a Macallan 1958 43 Year Old from the Fine & Rare series fetched £1,650. A mini black Ceramic decanter containing Glenfiddich 50 Year Old sold for £1,300 in October

The memorabilia auctions always throw up some of the more interesting finds that appear at auction and often some of the more unusual as well. Providing talking points for your bar or whisky shelf is easy with the addition of a Port Ellen Distillery Model Pot Still (£675), a gorgeous limited edition Alfred Daniel’s Distillery Print or a Glenmorangie Presentation Putter (£340). Some vintage distillery gadgets such as this Sikes’s Hydrometer from the late 19th Century (£650), a Vintage Collapsible Whisky Gauging Rod (£320) or Customs & Excise Stamped Valinch (£130) are also likely to get a conversation going.

Whisky.Auction is also a great place to add to your drinks library with gems such as this first edition copy of Whisky by Aeneas MacDonald, published in 1930 appearing in our October auction where it sold for £650.

We hope you have enjoyed selling and bidding in our auctions over the year and it goes without saying, we are very much looking forward to seeing what liquid treasures we will come across in 2024.

See all of our past auction roundups here.