Auctions are clearly the way to go for rare whiskies in duty-free. Having sold an extremely limited release of Japan’s Yamazaki 55 Year Old for just under $776,000 (€681,000) at the end of October 2021, global travel retailer Heinemann has done it again with a sale at Istanbul Airport for $557,000 (€488,000).
The brand owner Beam Suntory placed just a handful of the precious bottles into the travel retail channel at a recommended retail price of $60,000. Each airport location—of which there were about a dozen—got just one bottle each.
At Amsterdam’s main airport of Schiphol, the luxury liquor store ExQuisite got the higher of the two prices. It is run by Schiphol Airport Retail, a joint venture in which Heinemann is one of the two partners. Within the space of a coupe of months, Heinemann and its joint venture partner Unifree Duty Free got another prize result at Turkey’s Istanbul Airport.
Key to these respective sales of $776,000 and $557,000—a roughly 9-12x multiple of the recommended selling price—was the auction process. It enabled both joint ventures to let the known demand from collectors for this sought-after product dictate the ultimate price that travel shoppers were willing to pay.
One hundred bottles for Japan, another 100 for everywhere else
The House of Suntory played a master stroke with the launch. After releasing 100 bottles in 2020 in Japan through a lottery system, Suntory expanded the release in 2021 by offering another very limited batch of 100 bottles to the rest of the world leading to the sky-high demand that is evident from the recent airport bids.
According to Heinemann the top bid at Istanbul—where the rare Yamazaki 55 Year Old was launched last month—came from a customer from China, with a total of eight interested parties making valid offers.
Ali Şenher, CEO of Unifree Duty Free, said: “This record-breaking sale provides further evidence that special products can help to achieve amazing results for airport retail.” It is also hoped that the sale will gives the Turkish Airlines hub extra credibility as an airport used by rich international travelers.
Ruediger Stelkens, purchasing director for liquor, tobacco and confectionery at Heinemann, said: “Whisky enthusiasts know they can rely on Heinemann and our joint venture partners as a flagship destination for rarities. Our effort going forward will be to continue to focus on premium and exclusive products in all categories and locations.”
That strategy makes sense. According to market expert, Rare Whisky 101, when it comes to Scotch sold at auction there was a slide of 2.6% in the average bottle price in 2020 due to the pandemic (based on the U.K. auction market for high-end whisky). However, a swift recovery followed in the first half of 2021 with the average price set to be a new record once the data is evaluated. The total recorded value of collectible bottles of single malt Scotch sold at auction in Britain is expected to come in at £75 million, an increase of 30% on 2019’s record of £57.7 million.
Rare Whisky 101 stated in its latest report: “After two years of relatively modest growth, our broadest measurement of the market, the Apex 1000 Index, closed the half-year 2021 up 9.1% with a full-year estimate of 17.5% growth in investment values. This is a positive recovery after a turbulent 18 months.”