HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Two bottles of rare 60-year-old Macallan whisky could fetch record prices at a Bonhams Hong Kong auction on Friday (May 18) as Asian buyers show an unslakeable thirst for the drink as an alternative investment.
Offered as separate lots at the sale, each 750mm bottle from 1926 carries an estimate of HK$3.6 million to HK$4.5 million (S$615,326 to S$769,158) excluding a 22.5 per cent buyers premium, which is added to the hammer price.
The auction record, including buyers premium, of HK$4.9 million was set in 2014 for a six-litre bottle of Macallan 60 Year Old in a Lalique decanter. Any hammer price in excess of HK$4 million on Friday would surpass that record once the buyers premium is included.
Prices for whiskies have soared globally in recent years as more and more buyers seek out rare bottles from Scotland including Dalmore and Port Ellen, as well as Japanese distilleries Karuizawa and Yamazaki.
Mr Daniel Lam, head of wine and whisky at auctioneer Bonhams in Hong Kong, said whisky has outperformed even the most coveted French wine from Burgundy, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, which has appreciated about 30 per cent in the past 12 months.
Macallans that are 18 years and older have doubled over the same period, he said.
"Nothing can compare with the performance of whisky, it has proved its status as an alternative investment," Mr Lam said.
Prices at Bonhams auctions have been growing at double digits every quarter thanks to growing demand from buyers in Taiwan, China, Indonesia and Vietnam, he said.
While a wine's vintage is determined by the year in which the grapes were picked - bottling usually takes place within 16 to 24 months after the harvest - the age of a whisky refers to the time spent ageing in a cask.
For example, the Macallan 1926-60 Year Old was not bottled until 1986. Because of continued loss due to evaporation, known as the "angel's share", older whiskies produce fewer bottles, adding to their rarity.
It is difficult to gauge how much the 1926-60 Year Old Macallans will sell for as they have not been offered at auction in more than 20 years, said Mr Aaron Chan, owner of Club Qing whisky bar in Hong Kong. Only 24 bottles exist.
"These are like the Mona Lisa of liquor," he said.
In March, a similar pair of 60 Year Old Macallans from 1926 sold for a combined US$1.2 million (S$1.6 million) at a Dubai duty-free shop, raising expectations for the upcoming sale.
"I think Dubai set a benchmark and the auction price will be even higher," said Mr Rickesh Kishnani, chief executive officer of Hong Kong-based Platinum Whisky Fund.
"When you get a number of collectors in a room bidding you will get even more interest in this particular bottling," he said.
Adding to their allure are the distinctive labels in this limited edition. Twelve bottles bear numbered and signed labels designed by Peter Blake, the British pop artist best known for co-creating the cover for the Beatles Album "Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band".
The other dozen are adorned by a design by Italian artist Valerio Adami.
Other highlights of the sale will include the oldest Karuizawa whisky in the world, a 1960-52 Year Old with an estimate of HK$1.5 million to HK$1.9 million. Only 41 bottles were ever made and each is named after the unique Netsuke that hangs from the neck of the bottle, according to the Bonhams catalogue.
Another lot likely to attract keen bidding is a bottle of Karuizawa 1964-51 Year Old offered at auction for the first time, with an estimate of HK$480,000 to HK$580,000.
The Karuizawa distillery was shuttered in 2001. One of only 43 bottles ever made, the 1964 was released in 2015 by Wealth Solutions, a Polish company which purchased the cask after the distillery closed down.