Thursday, 12 February 2015

Flora, Fauna and Auctions (but not Merryweather)

Rather than a review this is fairly random post about auctions and the Flora & Fauna range.

I was browsing some whisky auction sites the other night. These sites themselves are quite an interesting phenomena and I might write something about them soon (read: months away). Sufficed to say that I find them quite interesting to browse even when I’m not looking for anything - particularly older bottles and old labels.

Anyway, a week or so ago I noticed that a complete set of Flora and Fauna whiskies had been sold for £4,000 on
That’s 26 bottles from different United/Diageo distilleries all released under the Flora and Fauna label. I won’t go into detail about this range here because other people have covered it, but basically these bottles were limited releases from various distilleries under the same ownership, including some from distilleries that don't have an official bottling. They also have rather nice labels featuring, guess what, flora and fauna.

I wasn't aware of the Flora and Fauna range until early last year when the news of the new Mortlach range emerged. Long story short: I heard about this great whisky called Mortlach, then was excited to  hear about a new range being launched, then flabbergasted to hear how much they would cost and then spent a lot of time trying to get hold of a couple of bottles of the highly rated Flora and Fauna 16 year old. And get hold of them I did.

Since then I've seen other F&F bottles popping up on retail and auctions sites. So seeing the whole lot together being sold I wondered if £4,000 represented good value. I knew that Mortlach F&F was more difficult to get hold nowadays but paying an average of £150 per bottle seemed a bit steep. Then again a few months ago another complete collection of F&F went for £4,900 on the same auction site so maybe this person had snagged a bargain.

Being that kind of person I suddenly wanted to look at this in a bit more depth and satisfy my curiosity so I looked through auction data from all the auctions run by Scotch Whisky Auctions  (mainly because I find their site most user-friendly and they have a lot of data). I copied, pasted and tidied up the data and attempted to compare the prices of bottles in the range over the last 4 years. I excluded bottles with wooden boxes and 1st editions – these are more sought after and skew the average price.

What did I find out? Are you still interested?
The first thing say is that pricing across the Flora and Fauna range is not uniform. At all.  The availability, age statements and release dates vary between the distilleries so there are huge differences in the prices paid for the bottles but I'll come on to that.
If you look at the average price paid for each bottle across auctions in the last 4 years and added it together it would come out at £3400 in total. So £4000 might seem a bit over the odds but not outrageous considering you're getting all the bottles at once.
Then again if you took the most paid each bottle at auction (standard versions not boxed remember) you might have ended up paying £6180. 
Then again had you been lucky enough to get them at their cheapest you could have had all the bottles for £2150. 
Perhaps a more useful comparison would be the most recent prices paid for each, which would total £3270 which isn't far off the average.

Looking in more detail at individual whiskies in the range revealed more volatility. The key thing for me was that there wasn't a steady climb of the prices of each whisky over time. The highest prices paid for bottles were rarely in the last few auctions. It can be very erratic. Notable variations for me included;

Balemenach: averaging around £190 with a peak of £320
Craigllachie averaging around £210 with a peak of £410
Dufftown averaging around £60 with a peak of £290
Glen Elgin averaging around £150 with a peak of £520
Royal Brackley with an average £274 with a peak of £500
Finally Speyburn averaging about £1000 (!) with a peak of £1800 (Somewhere Whiskysponge is dying with laughter.)

Flora & Fauna Speyburn 12 Year Old
£1800 - Srsly?
Only one of those (Dufftown) hit their peak in the last 5 auctions with all of them recently falling quite a long way short of their peak. In fact a more sought after boxed version of the Speyburn could be nabbed for less than £1000 around 12 months after the £1800 peak for the non-boxed version. 

Most other whiskies in the range were steady throughout the auctions with smaller peaks and troughs. The brands that rose most steadily were Rosebank, Pittyveach and Mortlach which showed a clear rise over time. Unsurprisingly 2 of those are from silent distilleries and the Mortlach has had greater exposure recently and still represents better value than its latest incarnation. So this tells us more about the value of whiskies from closed distilleries than it does about collecting Flora and Fauna.

I think I'm right in say the range is discontinued now so they are collectible if you're into that kind of thing. And its within reach of the casual collector since most of the range is still available for £40-80. Completing it might prove tricky though - and it might be somewhat galling to eventually shell out £1500 for a 12yo Speyburn to complete the set. Patience would appear to be the key and not getting dragged into a bidding war.
Obviously this is just a snapshot in time, if I'd looked into this 18 months ago I might have been telling you to sell everything and buy Speyburn but I'd say unless you're interested in having this collection for it's own virtues (i.e. drinking, although those labels are pretty) I wouldn't stick bet the farm on it.

Look out for future in depth analysis on obscure mid-range whisky collections.



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    1. Hi John, thanks for your comment. Whisky aged coffee beans sound interesting. I'd certainly be keen to give them a go although I should say that I'm based in the UK so not sure if I'm your target market...
      - WW