Via Scott Wright
In recent months, life as we know it may have altered beyond recognition, but one thing has remained constant: the appeal of rare and collectible Scotch whisky.
That could be seen extensively at Whisky Hammer, Scotland’s national drink online auction house.
Established in 2016 by brothers Daniel and Craig Milne, the company provides monthly auctions of rare, highly sought-after varieties for daily bottlings. With more than 4,000 lots going under the hammer with a total valuation of more than £ 1,2 million, the November auction was the biggest to date.
“We now have about 10 employees, and we expect that number to continue to grow in 2021 if things continue as they are,” said Daniel Milne at the new purpose-built premises of the company in Udny, Aberdeenshire.
“It’s been a great journey over the last five years, and it’s been exciting.”
In the whisky industry, none of the Milne brothers has a professional background. Daniel, who worked in the oil and gas industry, is a chartered accountant, while Craig is a former skipper of a North Sea trawler. However, they both share a love for Scotch whisky.
“We were born in Macduff, very close to the Speyside region, so [we were]surrounded by whisky from a young age,” Daniel says. “We had our own collections before we started auctioning. We had our own collections before we started the auction,” Daniel says. “Part of the impetus for us to do this was that one day we were evaluating our own collections online and we discovered that other people were doing these auctions, and we just felt we could do it a little better.”
Daniel said the respective abilities and experience of the brothers are well matched at Whisky Hammer. “The two combine,” he explained. “Our experiences complement each other very well because he’s always taking care of the operations and making sure everything runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible, while I’m more involved with the business side and the finances. It’s a pretty good combination.”
Once a month, Whisky Hammer holds live auctions. Every operates over a span of nine days, Friday through Sunday, and allows members to log in and bid around the world.
Lots, whether whisky dealers or individuals inheriting collections, are sold on behalf of private sellers. At its headquarters in Aberdeenshire, where it is assessed, photographed and packaged for sale, the company receives the whisky. After the sale, the spirits are distributed by Whisky Hammer to the winning bidders and the money is transferred to the sellers.
Daniel said the team is relying on a variety of sources, from its “huge” auction price database to its own experience, to inform the valuation process.
“Every day we’re learning more and expanding our database and knowledge, so valuation is certainly something we can do, and we’re pretty much doing it,” Daniel said. “In general, we get very good feedback on our assessment margins.”
Asked if during the pandemic he had observed any shifts in purchasing habits, he said that it was the company’s busiest year yet, considering his initial fears. This is partly because, in general, online business has been successful. It may also be that, during the lockdown, some individuals used the extra time they had at home to assess and sell their whisky collections.
In the last six months, Whisky Hammer has seen some of the highest rates it has ever seen.
Daniel said, “There are a number of reasons why that might be the case,” “Is it because people are sitting at home with nothing else to do but bid on whisky, or is it because traditional investments may be less attractive and money is being shifted from one thing to another?” he said.
“The auction market is very diverse, with bottles on sale ranging from regular, drinkable whiskies to real investment whiskies for £ 20, £ 30, £ 40, £ 50 a bottle. A few months ago, the most expensive bottle we sold was £ 92,500.
A 78-year-old Macallan from a series called the Red Range was the bottle in question. “It was the oldest whisky we’ve ever sold, and also the most valuable bottle we’ve ever sold,” Daniel said.
We sold a cask of Macallan – a 1990 Vintage Hogshead – in terms of the highest amount we sold, and it went for £ 217,500,000