Drop the Bottle: The Biggest Thing in Whiskey Auctions Is Now Buying an Entire Cask

A Macallan-1991 Cask just sold for a world record price at the Bonhams Fine and Rare Whisky Sale

A cask of Macallan-1991, which just sold for HK$4,464,000
A cask of Macallan-1991, which just sold for HK$4,464,000

Why buy one bottle of rare whiskey when you could have 202?

At the recent Bonhams Fine and Rare Whisky Sale, it was a Macallan-1991 Cask that caught the eyes of auction attendees, selling for a world-record HK$4,464,000 (that’s a bit over $573,000). As described by the auction house, the Macallan-1991 was distilled in December 1991 and re-racked in 2017 with sherry. The 51.5% ABV hooch will yield around 202 bottles.

“Cask collecting is fast growing as a trend and one which has become a Bonhams speciality,” says Daniel Lam, Bonhams Director of Wine and Spirits, Asia. “In 2019, we set a world record when we sold a Macallan 1989 cask for a per-bottle price of HK$17,103. The cask in this sale has achieved a per-bottle price of HK$22,099 — and a new world record — a very strong increase in just two years.”

Besides casks, Japanese whisky was a hot commodity; the Yamazaki and Karuizawa lots were 100% sold (overall, the auction had an 88% sell-through rate). The Karuizawa distillery has been closed since 2001; the final editions of their whisky will be released later this year and are fueling demand, according to Lam.

Whisky auctions don’t seem to be hitting a peak: Bonhams claims their 2021 sales have already surpassed their 2019 numbers by about HK$13.5 million.

While Bonhams calls whisky cask auctions a “specialty” of theirs, it’s not an uncommon concept: there are sites like Cask88 that focus on rare casks, albeit not at the same price range. And Rare Whisky 101, a data/insight service for whisky investors, has been offering a bespoke cask brokerage service since 2017 “to meet an increased demand we were experiencing from our current client base seeking rare whisky still held in wood.”

Besides developing a new market for whisky investors — albeit with greater risk due to the immense amount of maturation time and “angel’s share” loss of liquid involved — casks offer one huge advantage over individual bottles … as in, you’re getting 202 times the whisky to do with what you want.


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