Monday, June 18, 2012
Whiskey Auctions: Caveat Emptor
The whisky auction market is fairly young in the United States. Reselling spirits is generally illegal here (and yes, that includes ebay), but a handful of states allow spirits auctions, giving way to some pricey, high profile auctions of the type that are common in Europe.
I've never participated in one of these auctions, but I know some people who have and they counsel caution. Before participating, for instance, be sure to find out the fees that the auction house charges, which can be substantial.
Of greater concern is how much you can trust the items in the auction. My colleague Adam from the Los Angeles Whiskey Society recently posted this excellent piece in which he describes why an Ardbeg that is listed for an upcoming auction as "circa 1900" is most likely from the late 1930s. [UPDATE: the bottle has now been withdrawn from the auction.]
Adam was able to figure this out because, as a collector (and one who drinks his collection, I should add), he has a deep knowledge of bottle styles and bottling companies, one that goes way beyond my own dusty hunting knowledge.
It's tempting to trust an official auction house more than you would a random ebay listing, but if you're going to get involved in the auction world, you should do it with a lot of knowledge and a good dose of buyer beware.