When it comes to headline-grabbing whisky sales, scotch had been the only category that mattered for decades. Familiar names like The Macallan, The Dalmore and Port Ellen regularly fetch six figures at international auction houses these days. Only recently have we seen select Japanese whiskies step up to command comparable valuations. Could Irish whiskey be the next darling for well-heeled collectors?
Irish Whiskey Merchant is certainly banking on it. Northern Ireland’s first online whiskey auction house held its inaugural online auction earlier in March, and it boasted substantial revenues. Among the liquids brought under the hammer were three so-called “unicorn bottles”—whiskies that you just won’t see on shelf at your local liquor store. They included: Bushmills Causeway 18-Year-Old Grand Cru Chinese Exclusive, an Old Comber 25-year-old, and The Brollach from The Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
Of the three, The Brollach received the highest bid, with one lucky connoisseur taking the bottle home for £6,100 (just over $8,000 USD). After being named the highest-scoring Irish whiskey of 2021 by The Spirits Business, this particular release has become increasingly coveted on secondary markets. In total, only 661 bottles were released by the Craft Irish Whiskey Company last June.
Of course, $8000 still pales in comparison to the take-home price of those aforementioned scotch behemoths, but let’s put things in perspective. The Brollach is a non-age-statement whiskey coming from a non-distilling producer. You don’t have to go too far back—just a couple of years, in fact—to remember a time when even the most coveted Irish whiskey house couldn’t expect to see more than a $1000 for a rare release. A handful of notable native brands have shifted the needle seismically in the interim.
Teeling is high on that list. In 2019, the Dublin-based distillery took home the World’s Best Single Malt at the prestigious World Whiskies Awards for a 24-year-old expression finished in ex-Sauterne wine casks. It marked the first time that an Irish whiskey was recognized for the award. Today you can find it online for $1500 a bottle.
Again, for perspective, remember that a bottle of The Macallan 25 could be secured for a few hundred dollars as recently as the early 2000s. Now it’s a challenge to find at $2500. A bottle of Yamazaki 25 that you’d struggle to see on shelf for $20,000 was a tough sell at $500 just a decade ago. What we’re seeing in the nascency of big-bid Irish whiskey auctioneering suggests a similar outcome. And the investment class is certainly taking note.
Incidentally, this week might prove a pivotal moment in the journey for ultra premium Irish, as both The Craft Irish Whiskey Company and Teeling are nominated for World Whiskies Awards in the World’s Best Single Malt category. The former for its Devil’s Keep—a 30-year-old expression finished in virgin Hungarian oak; and the latter for its 30-year-old, finished in white burgundy oak. Those results will be announced at 10:30pm on March 24th. But the potential impact would reverberate for years to come across the secondary markets.
With each accolade accrued, luxury Irish whiskey is showing collectors that its worthy to stand on stage with its scotch and Japanese counterparts. And as it becomes a more prominent player in auction houses across the globe, don’t be surprised when you see prices increasingly reflective of this reality.