Best of 2022: Most Sought-After Whiskies at Auction
The single bottles that sold for the most at the historic NYC-based auction house were The Macallan's The Reach 81 Year Old at £300,000, and a Yamazaki 55 Year Old at £497,000. However, the most expensive whisky of 2022 overall was The Intrepid Macallan - the 2021 Guinness World Record holder of the largest bottle of whisky when it was bottled - was sold at Lyon & Turnbull for an equally large amount of £1,105,000.
Here at The Whisky Shop, our in-house auctions reached some respectable amounts, which tells us a lot about the most sought-after whisky brands available for purchase this past year. Here are ten distilleries which fetch the most at auction, on our end, which may give you a hint of what to look out for in 2023.
As ever, hundreds of bottles of The Macallan were sold through The Whisky Shop Auctions. Amongst the most expensive was The Macallan 1988 30 Year Old Single Cask #3892/08 Exceptional Cask 2018 Release, The Macallan 30 Year Old Sherry Oak 1990s edition and a 2021 release of The Macallan 30 Year Old Sherry Oak. However, the bottle that fetched the most was The Macallan Distil Your World - London. A part of a series made in collaboration with the Roca brothers of Celler de Can Roca in Spain, which has been twice named Best Restaurant in the World, they aim to capture the essence of each city in a whisky. For the London edition, they used the perfect combination of six first fill European oak Oloroso seasoned casks to imbue flavours that exemplified the spirit of London: touches of earl grey, anniseed, oak, curry and treacle. Only 2,000 bottles were made, making this an extremely rare Macallan.
Several bottles of Karuizawa were up for auction this year, however, many did not meet their reserve price - showing that many owners of expressions from this historic mothballed distillery are keeping their whisky close to their chests. To give an idea of its standing in the resale market, in 2020 a bottle of 52-year-old Karuizawa was sold at auction for £363,000 - making the bottle the world's most expensive Japanese whisky to be sold at auction. A golden goose for collectors, the whisky is notoriously scarce. The distillery was located high up amongst misty mountains, on the slopes of an active volcano with an astonishingly pure water source and a climate perfect for high-alcohol content maturation. A bottle of Karuizawa 2000 Single Sherry Cask was sold at £3,500 - one of the last batches to be distilled there before its closure in 2001.
As demand for Japanese whisky continues to grow, Suntory's flagship single malt Yamazaki continues to fetch large amounts at auction. Yamazaki was Japan's very first single malt, from the first distillery founded by Shinjiro Torii. The whisky is famed for its excellent flavour, having won numerous awards through the years. The secret is Mizunara oak, which began to be used for maturation when the Second World War prevented importation of casks from elsewhere. Although especially porous and prone to leaking, the wood imparts unique notes of sandalwood, coconut and Japanese incense. At auction, even non-age statement expressions fetched large amounts, with the Yamazaki Tsukuriwake Selection 2022 fetching over £4,000 on numerous occasions.
Highland Park's whisky uses local peat and heather in the distilling process, and completes its maturation in Oloroso sherry casks. The Orkney-based distillery's method has remained unchanged for two hundred years, having been founded in 1798 - but officially licensed in 1826. It is famed for being the northernmost distillery in Scotland, making the premises closer to Oslo than London. This year, a prestigious 40-year-old expression was sold for £2,000, and a 30-year-old released to commemorate the 180th anniversary of The Spectator Magazine sold for just over £1,000.
The defunct distillery of Port Ellen has reached near mythical status - often proclaimed by whisky enthusiasts as one of the great lost distilleries of Scotland. The stocks of Port Ellen whisky are owned by Diageo, who have taken to releasing official expressions each year since 2001. These stocks are likely to be running low and it is expected that the regularity of such releases will slow significantly in coming years. With this decline, the prices have grown steadily at auction. This year, a Port Ellen 40 Year Old 9 Rogue Casks reached £5,000 at auction. A Port Ellen 1978 35 Year Old 14th Annual Release and Port Ellen 1979 22 Year Old 1st Annual Release were also sold at healthy amounts.
A spectacularly rare Johnnie Walker was sold through The Whisky Shop auctions this year: a bottle dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Produced by John Walker & Sons, the Johnnie Walker Old Highland Whisky dates back to the 1906 and is an early incarnation of the White Label expression. The spirit is contained in a hand blown glass bottle, which is an example of Johnnie Walkers distinctive square bottle. Alexander Walker introduced this design for two reasons: cube-shaped bottles are much stronger than cylinders and they slot together efficiently alongside each other during their export journey. This one sold for £5,000.
Several bottles of Ichiro's Malt and Grain Single Cask Bar Ace 10th Anniversary were sold this year, with one fetching a huge £5,600. The brand is produced by Venture Whisky, which was established in 2004 after founder and master blender Ichiro Akuto (for which the brand is named) acquired the remaining unblended stocks of single malt from his grandfather's Hanyu distillery. This expression blends together malt and grain whiskies, maturing the spirit in a single virgin American white oak hogshead for an undisclosed length of time. Decanted into only 285 bottles, this is a much sought-after Japanese blend.
A few rare Ardbeg's were sold through our auctions this year. Two of these raised big money: an Ardbeg 1972 32 Year Old Single Cask #866 and an Ardbeg 1815. The latter was released to celebrate the distilleries' 200th Anniversary. The whisky is a marriage of bourbon casks filled in 1974, and sherry casks laid down in 1975. The spirits were left to mature for around 33 years before only 400 bottles were produced for the 2015 Feis Ile. Since then, it has gained a legendary reputation as an incredibly rare expression that is thought by some to be the most magnificent Ardbeg ever made.
Pappy Van Winkle
Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon is having a moment. The whiskey is notoriously rare, and is extremely difficult to find due to its low production and high demand. In December, a 23-year-old bottle sold for 17 times its estimate at Sotheby's auction house, selling for a massive $52,500. Its popularity may have been further boosted by the Netflix documentary series, Heist, which explored the real-life 2013 'Pappygate' story, in which 65 cases of the bourbon were stolen from Buffalo Trace distillery. This year, many a Pappy Van Winkle were sold at The Whisky Shop Auctions, the most expensive being a Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old Family Reserve which raised £3,400 - a bargain compared to Sotheby's.
Rosebank Distillery excited whisky enthusiasts worldwide by announcing the release of two limited edition, single cask whiskies. These exceptionally rare casks were specially chosen as they were distilled in 1993, the year of the distillery’s closure and the last time the inimitable spirit ran through the original stills. Only 100 bottles of each release were available via ballot making this exceptionally rare and highly sought after. Marked as 'Release One' this was the first in a series of bottlings which will lead up to the new spirit being released from the newly-designed distillery. This was one amongst a handful of expressions by Rosebank that made bank at auction in 2022.
To browse the current selection of whiskies going under the hammer: visit our auctions here.