Confessions of a retailer: Whisky.Auction
Whisky.Auction’s auction director Isabel Graham-Yooll has seen it all – from five-figure spirits sales to uncovering a counterfeit whisky factory.
*This feature was originally published in the September 2017 issue of The Spirits Business
As an auction site, what qualities do you look for in a product?
As Whisky.Auction is a specialist whisky and spirits auction, sellers are free to submit any spirits they would like to sell, but we do look out for great rarities and historically significant bottlings.
What’s your best-selling spirit?
Established brands are particularly in demand with our bidders. Macallan has always been popular and remains increasingly desirable, and closed distilleries are always special. Old blends from the early and mid-20th century are becoming better understood. We’re also finding renewed interest in independent bottlers that have long been overlooked.
How do consumers’ expectations differ when buying from an auction site rather than from a retailer?
Buying at auction is great fun. We’re often told that the transparency of bidding at Whisky.Auction is one of the things that attracts people to it. And the fact that buying at auction can be cheaper than buying in retail is a big pull.
You recently uncovered a fake whisky factory. How do you ensure your products are always the real deal?
Thankfully, as an industry full of experts with keen eyes, and armed with a lot of knowledge, it is rare that large volumes of counterfeit old or rare bottles make their way onto the UK market. However, it is not uncommon, and not a new occurrence, for those experts to identify counterfeit bottles and cease their trade. We are committed to doing all we can to stamp out counterfeit production. While it is upsetting to have discovered this large-scale counterfeit operation, we are pleased that we have prevented the accused from selling potentially thousands of fake bottles at auction. Before an auction, the seller must send us the bottle for inspection. If there is any doubt about the authenticity of an item, the onus is on the seller to prove it. In the event this cannot be done, the item will be returned to the seller.
How do you remain competitive?
Every member of our team is a genuine whisky and spirits enthusiast. A lot of research goes into every lot, and we build auctions that are varied and interesting.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Discovering an amazing collection. We are often contacted by people wanting to dispose of inherited bottles. It’s so pleasing when we’re able to tell someone who was going to pour liquid down the drain that their dad or great aunt had a keen eye and their collection is worth thousands.
Is there a typical buyer or seller?
Many are already whisky and spirits enthusiasts and they are often searching for our rarest finds. Quite a few are highly respected experts and collectors looking for bottles that are rarely seen in retail. Our fastest-growing demographic is emerging enthusiasts enjoying discovering this world they never imagined existed.
How have auctions changed?
We’re moving away from an intimidating environment where a just a few hard-core collectors and traders were bidding against each other. It feels far more welcoming now. We see new auctions launched each year. While some of them look good, others are best avoided and I’d love to see better regulation for spirits auctions.
Do you have a most memorable sale?
Some sales become memorable because the hammer price is so much higher than we expected – the Yamazaki 50 Year Old that went for £62,600 last year understandably received a lot of attention. But there are some things I consider to be priceless for their historical significance: a Hiram Walker Sample Bottle from 1890 for instance, or an early 1900s bottle of Black & White bottled with The House Of Commons label – or a Jameson JJ&S bottled between 1891 and 1906 by Thomas Preston.