At the time, we questioned whether the bubble was about to burst....
Well, we've just returned from Bonhams' latest whisky auction tonight, and whilst it wasn't a disaster by any means, prices (in almost all cases) definitely seem to have come down from their peak in August last year.
Right from the outset, it was clear that bidding activity wasn't going to be on par with August. Lots were selling...but in many cases, at the very bottom of their estimate range, if not even lower. A 1986 Macallan 18 couldn't fetch $6,000HKD ($1,097AUD), and lots that would typically command bidding frenzies seemed to finish in the middle of their estimate range (like this 32yo Macallan Fine & Rare 1970, which went for $67,375HKD inc premium, compared to this younger 1976 which fetched $88,200HKD last time around).
When we moved onto the Japanese whiskies (always a favourite in Hong Kong), it was a similar story. Whereas last August, 1981 Karuizawas were fetching in the $30k HKD range, and some as high as $58k, this time most barely managed to reach $25k, with one going for $19k.
As we'd speculated before though, the super, ultra rare whiskies (i.e. not your average ~30yo Karuizawa of which there seems to be a LOT) fared well, with this 1960 50yo Karuizawa selling for $490,000HKD ($89,800AUD) - double its highest estimate. It must be quite a rare bottle, because we couldn't find any information on it outside of this auction. It looks a lot like this 1960 Karuizawa (a 47yo), and is even bottled at the same ABV, but is clearly from a different cask. We'd love to know more...
This 42yo Karuizawa also fared well, smashing its estimate to take in $232,750HKD inc. premium. Clearly the ultra rare Japanese whiskies are still in demand.
Last August we made specific mention of how Glenfiddich didn't garner a lot of interest in that auction, and how it often doesn't fare well on the auction circuit in general (hey, more for us to drink!) Interestingly, one of two bottles on offer at tonight's auction actually exceeded it's $18-$22k HKD range, selling for $25k HKD ($30,625HKD inc premium). Sometimes you just can't tell...
Other lots of note included:
- 1950 52yo Macallan Fine and Rare $170k HKD (before premium) on a $160-190k estimate
- Yamazaki "Age Unknown" only reaching $45k HKD (before premium) on a $50-65k estimate (and apparently not selling)
- A lot of 4 Van Winkles (not including a 23yo) failing to sell, only reaching $25k HKD (before premium) on a $30-38k estimate
- This Highland Park, from 1902, which went for $85,750HKD (inc premium).
Springbanks fared reasonably well, with some exceeding their estimates, and some Hanyus also did well, especially this Ace of Spades which went for $85k HKD (before premium) on a $60-80k estimate.
Now of course, it's important to keep a level head here. The prices attained for most of the whiskies are still huge amounts of money. Even $19k HKD (almost $3,500AUD) for a "common" Karuizawa is a significant amount of money, and still well ahead of what it sold for just 2-3 years ago...
...but I can't help but feel we're on a downward slope, and we might see this "cooling off" continue throughout 2016. Only time will tell of course, but if it means more whiskies will be opened and enjoyed, and more people will be buying whiskies to drink, then we're all for it!
(As a final note - huge thumbs up to Bonhams for their fantastic range of drams served to attendees tonight. Amongst the 13 whiskies on offer were TWO Port Ellens, a 1960's Henry McKenna Bourbon, a Cask Strength Macallan and a 10yo Old Rip Van Winkle. Tasty drams indeed.)