What to Expect at the Largest Spirits-Only Auction in US History

A veritable rare booze symposium comes to Chicago this weekend

March 12, 2019 9:00 am

When it comes to art auctions, let’s be honest: Chicago can’t hang with New York or London. But if you’re talking treasures in a bottle, it’s a different story: locals Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. topped off 2018 with a December sale that pulled in $11,385,841.

The three-day event, which included six bottles of 2015 La Tâche, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti that fetched $45,410 (against a high estimate of $26,000) brought the firm’s live auction totals to a record $67.9 million, making HDH the largest seller of fine wines at auction in the United States.

Grand Cru Burgundy, first-growth Bordeaux and coveted California Cabs aren’t the only soul-stirring potables on offer at HDH, though. The company has sold more than $5 million in spirits over the years, and on March 14 and 15, it will conduct the largest booze-only auction in U.S. history.

Curious about how, when and why to get involved, we gave co-founder Paul Hart a ring for a little spirited conversation. Find your pre-auction tasting notes below.

InsideHook: Are spirits bidders a different population than wine collectors?

Paul Hart: There is a different bidder population, however we do see crossover with our wine collectors. The difference in population is not necessarily demographic however, it’s more interest based.

IH: Some years ago, Asian buyers began to collect wine aggressively. Who’s big into spirits?

Hart: We’re seeing global demand for spirits. Our U.S. bidder base is strong, however, we are seeing good demand from the Asia and European markets, as well.

IH: Aside from issues of authenticity, does provenance factor as much with spirits as it does with wine?

Hart: Regardless of the makeup of a consignment, whether it be wine or spirits, provenance is a primary concern for us and our bidders. From HDH’s standpoint, if we cannot establish a chain of ownership, then we cannot authenticate the bottle. At the same time, if provenance for a particularly rare lot can be thoroughly documented, then we expect hammer prices to reflect that.

IH: Speaking of provenance, are there any collections/sellers that warrant special mention?

Hart: The sale is comprised of multiple consignments. A few highlights are Lots 924-934, which were part of a set purchased at the Macallan distillery 15 years ago. They’ve been authenticated by the distillery and are big ticket bottles. Lot 714 is the first bottles of the 30 Year NV Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch Whisky Distillery Bottled. Lots 250 and 1590-1592  — NV Hibiki 17 Year Old Blended Japanese Whisky Distillery Bottled — has been discontinued by the distillery, making this whisky more difficult to find.

IH: What is most sought after in the spirits world? Whisky? Cognac? And what are the most desired bottles?

Hart: Bourbon and Japanese Whisky are hot on the market right now, specifically Van Winkle and Willett for Bourbon and Karuizawa and Hibiki for Japanese whisky. Additionally, Macallan, Bowmore, Springbank are sought after in terms of Scotch.

IH: This is a Mobile-Only auction. What is the thinking behind this?

Hart: We hold five Mobile-Only Auctions a year. The only difference between these and our other auctions is that we do not produce a physical catalog, nor do we hold the auction in a public space. The auction is still sold live with an auctioneer, with the exact same online and mobile bidding options as all of our auctions, including the ability to see and hear the auctioneer and bid live if you so choose. It is not an eBay-style auction.

Bidders should register via HDH’s mobile app or online at auction.hdhwine.com to place absentee and live bids. Email bids@hdhwine.com or call 312.445.0100 with any questions about the bidding process or specific lots.


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