Friday, October 12, 2012
After the Whisky Bust
As everyone knows, the early years of the decade were heady times for whisky collectors. Despite some curmudgeons who were never on board, distillers regularly auctioned whiskies for four, five and even six figures. People crowded into auction houses for the latest 50 or 70 year old whisky in a jewel encrusted bottle. Aged whiskies from Dalmore, Bowmore, Macallan and Glenlivet became the liquid equivalent of Rolls Royce and Bentley.
The high water mark was in 2013 when an anonymous collector paid $1.8 million for a 180 year old Macallan. As everyone now knows, it was later discovered that, through a clerical error, an extra zero had been added to the age and it was actually an 18 year old. When the anonymous purchaser asked for his money back, the auction house responded with a three word tweet: "Caveat emptor sucker!"
Many people credit the Macallan 18 incident with causing the Great Whisky Crash of 2014 when the bottom dropped out of the market. People simply weren't willing to pay that level of money anymore, and an entire industry of collectors and speculators was left high and dry. Many remember the low point of that bust cycle, when bottles of Port Ellen and Brora littered liquor store discount racks and clearance bins, and the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery began their three-for-the-price-of-one Pappy Van Winkle giveaway. Bonham's Auction House, which was one of the major centers of whisky auctions during the boom, disbanded its spirits division in early 2016 and transferred its spirits staff to the rare Beanie Babies division.
I recently visited one of the major collectors from that time, Jose Bolsa de Dinero, who lived through the boom and bust.
"None of us saw it coming," Dinero says of the crash, "I mean, here I had invested most of my life savings into these whiskies, assuming I would be the first whisky billionaire once I flipped them all, but then it just all went to hell. Now I can't give the stuff away. I mean, I try to tell people, hey, this is a 50 year old Bowmore, and they're like 'dude, it's just booze.' The bottles are quite lovely though, I managed to sell a bunch of the empty ones on ebay. Apparently, they make a perfect vase for Dutch tulips."
As many whisky lovers said at the time, the bright side about having a whisky collection, however worthless, is you can always drink it, but on that point, Dinero demurs, "Sure I drank some of it, but all those Dalmores? Who would want to drink all that stuff?"