Spirits Confidential with Max Solano
In Search of Liquid Gold
From my collection (left to right) a bottle produced from every decade beginning in the very early 1900s through the early 2000s. Photo by Joy Solano.
How many times over the years can you recall you or someone else saying “I should have… Could have… Didn’t.” Or, how about “If I only knew then, what I know now…” Personally, I have lost count, but it’s A-LOT! Now, imagine if we could travel back in time to just a mere 20 years ago, and find ourselves at a Liquor Barn or other retail store in let’s say Louisville, Kentucky. And, all of a sudden, we come across a shelf full of 20-year-old Pappy van Winkle bourbon with wax tops… What would you do? Buy each and every single one of them, right? I mean, even if I didn’t have the money to do it, I would find it!! After all, it’s only the most sought after American whiskey in the world, and has been that way for the past decade!!
In the 1950s, the American whiskey industry was still going strong coming straight out of the Korean War, but began to slowly decline entering the 1960s as new trends and many new spirit categories began to cut into whiskey’s limelight. And, approaching the latter part of the 1960s, the country saw various social upheavals and divisions between generations such as the civil rights movement, women’s rights and the infamous Vietnam War—that you had a real divide between older and younger generations. And, let’s face it, my friends… The younger folks did not want to drink like their parents or grandparents.
Slowly but surely the American whiskey industry found itself drowning in its own Great Depression, which lasted for more than three decades. Many well-known and once-thriving brands slipped away into a deep and dark abyss never to be seen again. However, there were some companies like Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, Brown-Forman, Jim Beam (including Maker’s Mark), Ancient Age (now Buffalo Trace), Seagram’s (closed), United Distillers (closed-now Diageo) and several others whose brands helped save the industry from disappearing altogether. But, let’s focus on the present…
Not just whiskey, but almost all aged spirits are experiencing such a major revival—a Renaissance. So much so, that these rare and precious spirits from the days of yore have become very precious and extremely sought-after commodities: Liquid Gold, as I call them! The value and appreciation has skyrocketed to now record-setting levels, and at a consistent basis. The kind of items I am referring to are not easy to find. Sure, you may walk into your favorite retail store and behind a large and beautiful glass display find a healthy selection of rare and old vintage and/or age-stated single malt scotch whiskies along with very old brandies embossed in breathtaking crystal decanters and fancy cases. Notice, if you will, the hefty price tags. For example, a bottle of Macallan 65-year in a Lalique decanter (pictured, below) will go for $65,000 USD retail, or even higher. To many consumers, that price may be outlandish, but to the individuals in the know, that is an investment that will only continue to increase in value over the years based on exceptional quality, but more so, based on extreme scarcity. However, these types of items will be more recent releases.
The other, and even harder to find items, will come from private estate auctions, whether live or online from different parts of the world throughout different times of the year (ackerwines.com, bonhams.com, whiskyauctioneer.com, scotchwhiskyauctions.com, etc.) Typically, this is when one can find many old relics, especially turn of the 20th century items such as Pre-Prohibition era whiskies, very old gins, extinct Cognac brands and other brandies, pre-Castro Cuban rum, etc. I can tell you from my auction experience that many of these items just in the past 2-3 years have almost tripled or quadrupled in sales price. It’s supply and demand, baby! Older American whiskies and scotches are becoming increasingly more scarce causing very aggressive bidding wars. A bottle of Belmont 8-year American whiskey (Max Sellinger & Co.) distilled in 1902/bottled in 1910 that I purchased for $600 three years ago can easily sell for $2,000-$2,500 today. Not too many blue chip stocks can yield a 300-400% ROR in such a short period of time, can they? I will add that Japanese whiskies have demanded much attention through these auctions as well, and have been items that I have been aggressively purchasing at auction, some as old as the 1950s.
Unfortunately, but very necessarily, the government created and imposed the three-tier system immediately after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Essentially, all alcohol is produced by a supplier, then shipped to a distributor of choice to their desired state and sold to retailers (on or off-premise). Personally, I find this system be somewhat obsolete, but if it ain’t broke why fix it? Right? However, beginning on January 1, 2018 Kentucky became the first state to pass a law that allows individuals to be able to sell their personally-owned “vintage spirits” directly to retailers, completely bypassing this system that has been in place for 85 years. So, if you’re on the fence about becoming a collector or just starting off, don’t miss out on the opportunity to stake your claim on some of your very own Liquid Gold before it’s all gone. Cheers!