For the record, I have nothing against whisky auction sites; I have bought many, many bottles from them, and have sold a few bottles through them, but what I witnessed at the Islay Festival in June left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.
I’ve long been interested in whisky auction sites, I like the idea, the convenience, the occasional bargains and even toyed with setting one up myself on GreatDrams but the paperwork was too much of a pain in the ass at the time.
At the Islay Festival this year I saw people literally buying bottles from distilleries, then taking them immediately to a black transit van to be sent straight to auction; they did not even look at or Instagram pictures of the precious bottles they had just bought!
Obviously people can do what they want, and yes there is a romance around the Festival where people get to try great whiskies from each distillery that can only be bought if you’re there on the island, but the reality is that is secondary to various motivations of Islay Festival goers nowadays – that that’s totally ok.
The thing I object to is the whisky auction sites black transit parked in the car park of the Ballygrant Inn one day, then behind a warehouse at the Ardbeg Distillery the next day complete with packaging, and what looked like a steady queue of people and a load of previous collections waiting to be listed.
And it is not just the auction sites that need a regroup
Anecdotally, I heard from Chris Miles, a friend of mine who I often share bottles with, that at one Islay Festival open day customers were allowed to buy near enough as many bottles as they could, whereas others militantly allowed only one or two per person, and one was selling drams of the festival bottle for a significant markup on the bottle cost because it was now collectible. How crazy is that?
Contrast that with Ardbeg who sell their bottles – main range and previously limited editions (including the 21 year old this year that I enjoyed thoroughly) – for £3. A significant reduction in retail price of the bottle, let alone auction price nowadays. Something to think about for all the other open days.
It feels like the festival has to regroup and refocus on what makes it special; people and great whisky to be enjoyed in unison.
I asked Chris about this once back from Islay and he agreed with me, noting that he doesn’t “buy into this argument that you just need to accept things the way they are. Companies may not care about what people think as such, but they care about image I think.” – I wonder if the festival will regroup and bring it back to what made it so great in the first place? Time will tell…
Back to the auction sites
Surely there is a more tactful way of doing it? Sure, this cuts out postage and courier fees, but at a time when a lot of whisky brands are being slammed for profiteering and releasing relatively average whiskies for ‘super premium’ prices, I think they should take a look at their practices in this instance.
Especially as one auction I saw, specifically full of Islay Festival 2017 bottles had 281 bottles from this year’s festival, which went live just four working days after the end of the festival concluded.
I’m really interested to hear your thoughts; what do you think about immediate collection? Am I being too much of a ‘whisky romantic’ here in wanting people to at least enjoy being in the presence of the expensive bottle they just bought, not just to move it on for quick cash?
I’m intrigued. Please leave a comment below, let’s discuss this one.