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Sotheby’s ups spirits focus with new role

Auction house Sotheby’s has hired Jonny Fowle as its first spirits specialist after witnessing “blockbuster demand” for rare whiskies.

Jonny Fowle will work to increase Sotheby’s spirits offering

Based in London, Fowle will be responsible for driving Sotheby’s expansion in spirits, pursuing single-cellar sale opportunities and direct sales of high-value bottles and casks.

Last year, the auction house announced plans to expand its spirits offering after recording “extraordinary growth” in whisky sales.

“Historically, spirits were integrated into our wine auctions and constituted a small part of our business,” said Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Wine. “Over recent years, we have seen increasing sales of both Scotch and Japanese whiskies, as well as Moutai, which now represents about 5% of our business.

“Jonny will focus on developing spirits as a separate category and growing this area of the business through single owner live auctions, online auctions and direct sales of high value bottles and casks.”

Fowle joined Sotheby’s London wine department in April 2019. He started his own business in 2012 providing whisky training to clients and also worked as UK brand ambassador for several Japanese whisky, gin and rum distilleries.

After experiencing “blockbuster demand” for whiskies and other spirits in New York and Hong Kong, Sotheby’s is adding ‘Spirits’ as a separate category within its ‘Fine Wine’ business. Sotheby’s is also expanding its offering of spirits at retail in both its New York and Hong Kong outlets.

The auction house recorded wine and spirits sales of more than US$100 million for the first time in 2018, when it sold a bottle of 60-year-old Macallan 1926 with a label designed by Sir Peter Blake for US$843,200 in New York. In 2017, Macallan sales at Sotheby’s grew by an enormous 4,000%. 

More recently, Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold its largest ever collection of Moutai baijiu, a 50-bottle lot, for US$1.1m.

According to figures from whisky valuation and consultancy Rare Whisky 101, the volume and value of rare Scotch sold through UK auction houses reached record figures last year, with 107,890 bottles sold for a cumulative value of £40.7m (US$53m).

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