Whisky (or whiskey when it’s Irish) is the name used to describe spirits made from grain that is mashed, fermented, distilled and aged.

Macallan 1977 single malt Scotch whisky

A bottle of Macallan 1977 single malt Scotch whisky. Aged for 29 years and bottled in 2006, it came with its original wooden box and a certificate of authenticity. It sold for £850 at Glasgow saleroom McTear’s in September 2019.

There is a wide variety of whisky brands many of which are offered for sale at auctions on thesaleroom.com. Based on its quality, price and rarity some whisky is bought to drink whereas other whiskies are bought by collectors or investors.

Buying whisky to drink

Whisky distilled in Scotland (known as Scotch) is rich in history and diversity.

Its different varieties range in taste, aroma and colour based on the type of grain used and how and where it has been distilled.

When choosing which whisky to buy, don’t be overwhelmed by what might seem at first like a complex area with its own terminology and individual particularities.

Simply try to find whiskies that you like by exploring the flavour, smoothness, sweetness and smokiness of the different brands. Beginners can search for information online to compare the taste and specialities of different brands and you can then search for bottles available at auctions on thesaleroom.com.

Whisky is offered at auction both as single bottles and as multiple bottles in a single lot. However, a simple way to test out a number of different whiskies is to purchase a collection of miniatures – a few lots tend to appear in most specialist whisky auctions. This enables you to sample a wide variety without going to the expense of buying whole bottles of each one.

Whisky also makes great presents – for birthdays and Christmas in particular – so why not buy someone a great-tasting bottle or two? Prices at auctions are also normally better value than retail, so opportunities to a grab a great purchase abound.

What to look for

The key to the unique taste of a whisky is the distillery that it has come from and the process by which it has been made. The time it has been aged is also significant.

Each whisky is made using a different combination of raw materials, fermentation techniques, distillation and ageing processes to achieve a unique flavour.

Famous examples include brands like Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Macallan and Highland Park.

1972 Glenfiddich

A bottle of 1972 Glenfiddich which features a label identifying the bottle and cask numbers. It sold for £900 at Tennants’ sale in Leyburn, North Yorkshire in September 2019.

Typically, whisky is made using malted barely and most whiskies are manufactured with malts from multiple distilleries – this is known as ‘blended’ Scotch. However, a ‘single malt’ Scotch is made from barley at only one distillery and then must be aged for at least three years in oak casks.

The fact that single malts often have stronger and individual flavours means they tend to be more desirable, although some drinkers may prefer the greater balance and consistency of flavours from blended whiskies.

Auctions offer the chance to acquire whiskies that are no longer manufactured and can’t be bought in retail outlets. Check the label on the bottle and the lot description to see how long it has been aged and the date of bottling – both will affect the character of the drink.


Buying whisky to collect or invest

Since the 1990s, the whisky industry has been transformed. As well as being bought to be consumed, whisky has also become a highly tradable commodity.

It is now classified as one of the world’s leading alternative investments with rare bottles and cases helping to diversify an owner’s asset portfolio.

With Chinese buyers entering the market, prices rose across the 1990s and 2000s and a report by Rare Whisky 101, published in 2019, showed an increase in value of 582% for 100 of the most desirable bottles of whisky over the previous decade.

Rare and collectable whisky can be bought online at auctions on thesaleroom.com across a wide range of price-levels.

You can search for different brands like Macallan, Bowmore, Springbank, Glenlivet and Glenfarclas, and you can also find bottles made at distilleries now closed – the finite supply of bottles meaning these whiskies often attract more interest. Such names include Port Ellen and Brora.

Glenlivet whisky

One for the whisky investor or collector. This 70-year-old Glenlivet was distilled in 1940 and bottled in 2010. It comes with a wooden box, certificate of authenticity, an outer protective box, and a care pack with gloves, dust cloth and replacement stopper. It sold for £14,000 at Glasgow saleroom McTear’s in November 2019.

As well as the brand, vintage and age, values are affected by the condition of the bottle – especially the capsule, fill level (known as ‘ullage’) and label. Whether a bottle comes with its original box or packaging is also important to a collector.

While historic whiskies remain in demand and highly collectable, many buyers also consider modern whiskies have good investment potential and bottles from pre-2000 can often be a more affordable option.


What to do next

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on thesaleroom.com to find whisky coming up for sale.

You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

You will find a range of specialist sales in which all the lots are whisky, wine or spirits.  Auction houses holding such sales will typically have an in-house expert you can contact if you need further information on a particular lot.

You can also find whisky on offer in other auctions where lots across many different categories are sold such as weekly general sales.

To research recent prices at auction to see how much different types of whisky sold for you can also try out our Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guide to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.

It’s worth checking whether the auction is a live auction or a timed online auction because many wine and spirits auctions are timed rather than live these days. Timed auctions can be good for novices because you have the opportunity to consider your bid for longer than you do during the thrill of the live sale.

And remember to take into account any delivery costs if you are bidding on an auction taking place far from where you live.

John Walker and Sons Odyssey

A bottle of John Walker & Sons’ Odyssey, a triple malt whisky created in the early years of the 20th century by master blender Jim Beveridge. It was bottled in a crystal glass decanter, presented in an ingenious gift box that enables it to swing freely back and forth, yet always remain upright – a design in homage to the ingenious Johnnie Walker ‘swing’ nautical decanter. It sold for £350 at Dreweatts, Newbury, Berkshire in June 2019.

Whisky terms – brief beginner’s guide

Scotch – whisky distilled in Scotland

Whiskey – when distilled in Ireland or America, the drink is spelt with the 'e'

Grain Whisky – this is made from a mixture of grains, typically maize, wheat and malted barley

Single Malt – this Scotch whisky is made from malted barley, from just one single distillery and has not been blended with any other product from elsewhere. It is matured in oak casks in Scotland for a minimum of three years

Blended Malt – this whisky is a combination of single malts from different distilleries blended together

Blended whisky – a whisky containing blended malt and grain whiskies, often about 40% malt and 60% grain. Well-known examples include Bells, Whyte & Mackay and Teachers

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