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Whisky Auctions Fast Rising in Asia, No Longer Confined To West

Buyer’s remorse is not a thing in world of whisky and fine spirits - at least in recent memory. Mad demand and frustratingly limited supply have made it pretty much impossible for many of us to get our hands on some of the most sought after releases from the retail channel. It has come to a point where winning a ballot to buy a bottle from Dornoch Distillery or insert-your-favourite-craft-distillery feels as providential as winning the lottery.

But the secondary market of re-sellers could be a bit of a wild card. How do we know the liquid inside has not been tampered with? When it comes to old, vintage bottles, you also want to be sure of its authenticity and provenance. 

This is where auction houses come in. There’s a better likelihood you’ll find that rare bottle you’ve been hunting for here. Reputable auction houses also offer a layer of protection for buyers – helping you verify the authenticity, good condition and provenance of the bottles (i.e. that the bottle was not stolen!).

If you’re based in Asia you might want to check out the Singapore-based Liquid Gold Auctioneer (LGA)

Bottles of the highly prized Karuizawa "Cities of Japan" 35 Year Old Series on auction at Singapore-based Liquid Gold Auctioneer.

 

Now, LGA was founded by a group of whisky enthusiasts and collectors who wanted to create a platform closer to home. The platform operates within Singapore’s timezone, so whisky lovers in Asia do not need to stay awake at unearthly hours to bid on Europe-based auction sites. 

An Asia-based platform also helps Asia-based buyers and sellers save on ancillary costs that really add up. Ever felt the irony of having to buy Japanese whisky from a UK-based website and pay £50 for shipping (that’s around $90 AUD or SGD)? Not only does it cost more to ship from UK to Asia, you could also be indirectly paying for the seller’s cost of shipping from Japan to UK in the first place. LGA’s bottles are held in Singapore, and shipping is available to Asia and most other regions.

 

 

The people behind LGA

It isn’t just about tracking down a bottle. Authenticity of bottlings - especially for vintage and rare bottles - is one of the essential value propositions of an auction house. To that end, LGA’s auction platform is managed by a team of experienced local enthusiasts, and internationally renowned experts.

 

LGA's founders - clockwise from top left: Steven Yeoh, James Phang, Leonard Tan and Pawel Morozowicz.

 

The platform's founding team includes well-known local collectors such as  Steven Yeoh and James Phang. Also on the team are Singaporean enthusiast, Leonard Tan, and spirits expert Pawel Morozowicz who has been involved in bottling iconic releases from high-end ghost distillery Karuizawa. 

LGA also has access to the experience of some big names in the Scotch and Japanese whisky world.

 

From left, Emmanuel Dron, Stefan van Eycken and Charles MacLean (Image Sources: Auld Alliance, Whisky Magazine Japan, Forbes)

 

Where high end vintage bottles are involved, the team calls on the support of international experts including Emmanuel Dron, who owns my favourite Singaporean whisky bar, The Auld Alliance, Stefan van Eycken, who authored Whisky Rising (one of the most influential books on Japanese whisky), and Charles MacLean MBE, who has been writing about Scotch for over 36 years and is often regarded as Scotland’s leading whisky writer. This matters because vintage bottlings often have spotty records (by the distilleries they were from even!) and sometimes no more than a dozen eyes have been laid on them and so you call on as many experts as you can.

 

 

Whiskies & rums have been growing in Asia - but they’ve only just began

 

Another prized range of Japanese bottlings is the Karuizawa and Yamanashi "Time Slip" series - a vintage 1970's blend of Karuizawa's malt whisky and grain whisky from the short-lived Yamanashi Distillery. This range first appeared on auction at LGA.  

 

If past auctions are any indication, auctions on LGA would see an array that ranges from minor limited edition bottlings on one end, to high-age statement Japanese whiskies from Hibiki and Yamazaki, highly coveted Chichibus, prized Karuizawa bottlings, rare Samaroli bottlings and various rums. 

 

 

The highest-profile auction conducted recently was put up by Loch Lomond Group (which owns Glen Scotia, Littlemill and Loch Lomond single malt). Last month, one bottle of 45-year-old Littlemill Testament 1976 Special Edition was put up for a charity auction on LGA - the oldest bottle ever released from the ghost Lowland distillery. 37 bids were received with the highest bid at S$35,500. Proceeds were donated to Singaporean charity, The Food Bank.

For comparison, last December, the same expression was also auctioned off by Loch Lomond Group on Sotheby’s UK, with the highest bid at only £16,250 (around S$28,500). 

As the sleeping giant that is Asia arises from its slumber, interest in consuming, collecting, and investing in high-end whiskies and rums is expected to really grow. Demand continues to outstrip supply, and we can all observe how prices of limited edition bottlings have been steadily growing from year to year.

Auction houses appear to be encouraged by this secular trend and expanding their service offering. LGA is currently collaborating with a UK auction house. We also hear of preliminary talks to set up a whisky-related NFT marketplace. 

 

 

Our Take

As whisky lovers, what can we say? Ever-rising prices are proof that the community of whisky lovers in Asia is steadily growing. That’s an unqualified good thing. 

Unfortunately, more drinkers and greater demand also means it is becoming harder and harder to hunt for whisky from retail channels. So if we are unable to win ballots for highly coveted expressions, our next best option is to probably turn to reputable auction houses. 

If you are based in Asia, it could be worth your while to keep an eye on the latest offerings on an Asian auction house that operates within your time zone and ships to you at a much cheaper rate. It’ll most likely arrive faster and obviously the less travelling the bottle has to do, that also means less odds of breakage and less unnecessary costs. Spare the bottle the travelling and do the travelling yourself, am I right?

We suspect Asian whisky auction houses would increasingly grow in importance since whisky creation in the Asia-Pacific region is on the rise. Incredible Japanese craft distilleries the likes of Shizuoka and Kanosuke are springing up left and right. Australian whisky is on the up and up. The independent bottler's scene is also booming. We now have the first-ever Japanese whisky independent bottler T&T Toyama and also some very decent offerings from Singaporean bottlers Malt, Grain & Cane, Interco-MLE and M&E Drinks.

 

 

Of course, prices on the secondary market would not be the same as retail – most of us would likely focus on bidding for the bottles that we truly want. But it also bears remembering that prices for good whisky have reliably been trending up and up since the 2010s. You might not want to hesitate for too long.

 

Follow Liquid Gold Auctioneer's blog for details of their upcoming auctions.

 

@charsiucharlie