Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's Just Whiskey

The Donnington Priory location of Dreweatts.
Dreweatts, a London auction house, is holding a rare 'wine, whisky, and select spirits' auction on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 10 AM (London time). The only American whiskey on offer is A. H. Hirsch 16 year old Reserve (gold foil), two bottles. Dreweatts estimates their value at £900-1,000 each ($1,170-$1,300).

It is rare that we get a glimpse of the actual market for such 'unicorns.' In the United States, it is illegal to sell alcohol without a license so virtually the entire secondary market is underground. No one knows how big it is and there is no reliable record of prices paid. Two bottles in a distant auction do not a market make, but it's something.

At this point, the selling price for A. H. Hirsch, Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, and select others has nothing to do with their quality or drinkability. It is based entirely on the economics of scarcity and the willingness of some monied folk to spend outrageous sums to obtain something book writers say they can't have. It is much like the old joke about why dogs lick their own balls.

Because they can.

Speaking as someone who is neither wealthy nor especially limber, but who has tasted most of the rarities, you should not feel too badly if you haven't. All of these extremely desirable whiskeys are good whiskeys, but are they 40-times better than a lot of everyday pops? Not really. It's just whiskey. You're mostly paying for the ego trip.

Incidentally, most of the 80 lots are single malt scotch, many in the £100-120 range ($130-155). Bidding is online but I have no idea if residents of the USA can participate.


Unknown said...

Check out the Hart Davis Hart auction website for what bottles of Hirsch along with several other varieties of bourbon have been going for at recent auctions.

Anonymous said...

Sku from Sku'sRecentEats did a blind tasting of this alongside Elijah craig 12 with a few of his readers. It was split evenly as to which whiskey they thought superior. Most said they would not buy either. Funny that a whiskey that fetches thousands does not stand out against a $25 one.

Richnimrod said...

You are, as usual correct. The ego trip is the reward, not the whiskey. I would never deny anyone that sort of experience or the satisfaction of owning and experiencing some of these rare whiskies; but it seems so unfortunate that the cash needed to obtain this experience and the attendant ego boost aren't going to something more deserving than a 'flipper'... who is very likely laughing (loudly, with a smirk, no doubt) all the way to the bank. Just sayin'......

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Anonymous, it doesn't surprise me at all, there was no clear favorite between an old (ultra expensive) whiskey and Elijah 12. But I wouldn't particularly trust the taste of anyone who doesn't think Elijah is worth buying.

Lucian Lafayette said...

It does not surprise me that distilled spirits, like many other things in life, follows a decreasing return curve: Is a ten dollar bottle of wine twice as good as a five dollar bottle? Almost without a doubt. But, while a one-hundred dollar bottle will be "better" than a ten dollar bottle, will it be ten fold "better"?

I like to look for that point in the curve where it starts to flatten out.

Anonymous said...

I had the great fortune to win a bottle of the Hirsch 16yr a few years back at the Denver Whisky Club's annual fundraiser. Since I am a consumer and not a collector ;-) I decided to open it up to celebrate a recent birthday. And, it was fine. Which is to say, I would have been highly disappointed had I paid market price for the bottle. Perhaps it's my taste preference but there are several whiskies in the $100 - $150 range that are fairly available that are much preferred - some Heaven Hill products, older Willet, OGD 114!

However, having very much enjoyed Chuck's book, 'The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste" about the Hirsch, it was quite rewarding to prove him wrong. I did taste it!

Thanks as always Chuck for the great insights and historical perspectives in the blog. We'd love to host you at the DWC if you ever make it out to the Mile High City.

Sam Komlenic said...

To Brian (AKA The Dean): Thank you for your considered words of wisdom. I salute you!