Rare & Collectible Bourbon and Scotch
How to Determine Value - Where to Sell Vintage Liquor

Got some old bourbon, scotch, rye -- anything that's whiskey? Wondering what to do with it?
 

 

VALUE OF RARE WHISKEY

1.2  How is value determined for bourbon, scotch, other liquor?

1.3  What if the seal or tax stamp is broken or missing?

1.4  What if the bottle is open?

1.5  Does a low fill level affect value?

1.6  My bottle is super-old, shouldn't it be worth a fortune?

1.7  A store online says my whiskey is worth $$$$$!

1.8  Is bourbon as collectible as single malt scotch?

1.9  How to auction whiskey in the US? Online bourbon auctions?

1.10 What is the value of a whiskey collection?  

1.11 What is the value of Prohibition "medicinal" whiskey? 

1.12 Value of miniature, "airplane" bottles of whiskey? 

1.13 Is whiskey a good investment? Advice? 

1.14 Why must old bottles be removed from the box or crate?

 

HOW TO SELL RARE WHISKEY

2.1  Where to sell vintage liquor online? How to sell a whiskey collection? 

2.2  Do you guys buy rare whiskey, vintage liquor? (Yes!)

2.3  Does the Society sell whiskey? (No, we buy it to drink) 

2.4  Fees and expenses in US whiskey auctions?

2.5  Online businesses and websites that buy rare whiskey -- are those legit?

2.6  What is the Bourbon Secondary Market, or secondary whiskey market?
2.7  
Hey a**holes, I sold my bottle for $1200 but you said...

2.8  About estate sales and the sale of liquor/whiskey bottles.

 

INFORMATION ON FOUND/OLD WHISKEY BOTTLES

3.1  Is old bourbon safe to drink? Is old liquor safely consumable?

3.2  Does whiskey age or change in the bottle?

3.3  My bottle is sealed but it's missing whiskey. Why?

3.4  What's the best way to store whiskey? 

3.5  My cork broke/disintegrated when I opened my bottle.

  3.6  Are empty bottles worth anything?

3.7  How can I tell if a whiskey is fake?

 

ABOUT OUR INFORMATION

4.1  Why do you do this?
4.2  Who is the LA Whiskey Society?

4.3  How do you know all this?  

  

  

VALUE OF RARE WHISKEY

 

1.1  How much is my old bottle of whiskey worth?

Nearly every vintage bottle of whiskey is worth something to someone. The issue is finding the right person at the right price! There are gems that sell for thousands to wealthy collectors at auction, and there are low-quality bottles snapped up for dollars by what we call "garbagemen." Most vintage liquor has a buyer these days, plus vintage rum, Cognac, Armagnac, and especially old bourbon, rye, and single malt scotch.

 
If you have a bottle (or more) you're curious about selling, you can get in touch with whiskey collectors to see what they might offer. Or, see How to Sell Rare Whiskey below.

One big thing to understand is that collectible whiskey is a shifting market -- same as home prices, stocks, or gold. What someone paid for a bottle last year can be less or more than now.


There are few hard and fast rules -- bottles from just
a few years ago can be worth thousands, while some from 50 years ago can be only worth a few dollars, and vice-versa. Timing and venue also matter. For example, selling single malt scotch is much easier and much more profitable in the UK vs the US, and pricing traditionally runs higher before Christmas and Fathers' Day.

There are commonly-traded bottles with established market values, like Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Then there are others whose values can only be vague guesses until they receive bids at a large, well-publicized auction. If this all sounds like a little confusing and frustrating, now you know how collectors feel! 

 

We offer appraisals for "museum quality" bottles only -- if you have a bourbon, rye, or other American whiskey bottled before 1920please click here. (Single malt scotch, bottled before 1970). If your bottle isn't something like that, it could still be very valuable. We answer questions about evaluations and selling here.

 

American whiskeys, like bourbon and rye, are extremely collectible especially in the United States, with the most commonly desirable bottles usually falling between $500 and $2500, with exceptions reaching two to four times that amount. (Very rarely, more). Rare single malt scotches can be worth thousands or even tens of thousands (and hundreds of thousands, but extraordinarily rarely). Canadian whiskies are of minimal value unless extremely old, because there aren't many collectors for this niche. Blended scotch from about the 1960's on is very common and often difficult to find a motivated buyer for.

 

1.2  How is the value of rare whiskey determined?

We look for "comps" of recent sales of the same or comparable bottles, and balance that against what a seller actually profits in those scenarios. This involves auction results, retail sales, private sales, the current state of the market, private collectors' opinions, each bottle's individual condition, and other factors.

 

Sellers should understand that with any collectible, value can be different than price. At retail, the price a dealer is asking might be $1,000. But at auctions, collectors might only be paying $600. From that $600, the seller might might go home with less than $400 after deducting fees and expenses. So the value of a bottle of vintage bourbon can be different from what an owner can actually sell it for. And price can be an arbitrary number picked by a retailer, which might be impossible to actually collect (see 1.7).

 

Recognize that in the US, it's often hard for sellers to net the "full price." Auction sellers have large commissions to pay. And private collectors negotiate with this knowledge.

 

Also keep in mind that the US secondary whiskey market is small and constantly fluctuating, so values are hard to say with certainty. Any estimate is just an educated guess. 

 

1.3  Does it matter if the seal or tax stamp is broken or missing? 

The less it appears that the whiskey inside could've been tampered with, the higher the value. A broken tax stamp usually is not as bad as broken/torn foil. A missing seal will arouse suspicion and significantly reduce interest. For extremely old bottles that originally had no seal or stamp, expert authentication is key.

 

1.4  Does it matter if the bottle is open? 

Open bottles of whiskey lose their collectible value. That's not to say that you might find someone who's willing to pay you for whatever remains in the bottle, because there can be (and are) all kinds of person-to-person sales. But at any reputable whiskey auction or collectible whiskey retailer, it's considered laughable to try and sell an open bottle, except in extremely rare instances.

 

1.5  Does a low fill level affect value?

Full bottles in great condition are obviously the most desirable. But it's not unusual for some of the contents to have evaporated, particularly on very old bottles, even if the seal is still intact. If that's the case, and the liquid inside is cloudy at room temperature, the bottle is contaminated. If not, the whiskey is still probably fine to drink, although the extra headspace might have affected the flavor (from oxidation and other factors). Whether that flavor is better or worse than when it was bottled can be a matter of personal taste. Lower-fill bottles are sometimes collected as an historical example or decoration, rather than for the contents.

 

1.6  My bottle is super-old, shouldn't it be worth a fortune?

Old and rare doesn't mean something is very valuable. The value is determined by what others are willing to pay for it and what you can collect for it.

 

Whiskey doesn't age or improve in the bottle like wine does. Whiskey that was bottled decades ago will still taste similar to the day it was bottled. So a bottle being from the 1950's (or whenever) isn't valuable just because it's old. 

 

Additionally, the secondary (resale) market for whiskey is small and shifting. Since there are very few ways to publicly sell collectible whiskey in the US (just some very small auctions each year), there are few records of what things are actually selling for. Consider that versus collectible vintage wines, which are auctioned every day. That means that the "market value" of a bottle is often hard to know.

 

1.7  A store online is selling my same bottle for a huge amount!

The pricing of collectible whiskies on retail websites is different from their market value. Consider this: if they were priced to sell, they wouldn't still be sitting on the shelf!

Wine-Searcher.com does not list values or appraisal estimates of collectible whiskeys. It lists asking prices of online retailers, and anyone can ask any price for anything.

 

Whiskey retailers' profits mostly come from modern and new whiskies. Other "Trophy Bottles" are there to look great in their shops, add prestige to their name, and attract web traffic. They don't need to sell those collectibles to support their business. In fact, they don't even want to sell them. So, they put an exorbitant price on them. Occasionally someone with more money than experience will come along and actually pay that, and the dealer is thrilled. But in reality, the retailer doesn't expect to sell those at that price.

To put it another way: no collector will currently pay that retail price. They've already seen that same bottle on that same website, same as you did.

 

1.8  Is bourbon as collectible as single malt scotch?

Single Malt Scotch has a huge following and collectors all over the world, and is viewed by many as an investment. There are many UK and EU auctioneers. Until relatively recently, bourbon didn't have much of a secondary market, particularly because US laws made it difficult on a practical scale. However, in about 2012, bourbon hit a huge surge in the US and continued to grow. That surge has meant a huge explosion of the bourbon "grey market" in the US. The problem is, the US still has few venues to trade collectible bourbon in, so much of that market is private, especially at the higher end.

 

1.9  US whiskey auctions and online bourbon auctions — what’s the deal? 

In the US, while collectible wine is freely traded, bought, and sold throughout much of the country, doing the same thing with vintage whiskey can technically turn connoisseurs into criminals. The reasons for that are mostly archaic and and largely political, and they frustrate whiskey enthusiasts to no end. So when a quiet, private sale isn’t an option, US collectors sometimes turn to the handful of legal stateside auctioneers.

At times we've had issues with US auction houses’ practices, including the ignorance of claimed "experts"bad estimates, and so forth -- but we have also come to know many of the people in the auction industry. We recognize most are trying their best in a very challenging field. Some specialists have become adept at spotting fakes, due in no small part to our past encouragement (and scolding), guidance, and even hands-on training with our own members.

 

Currently the main US whisky auctioneers are in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Their fees, premiums, and taxes are explained in 2.4 below.

 

Keep in mind that auction house reps are not just salesmen, they're selling you on them. Their job is to get you to consign your property so that they can profit off your stuff. We feel that's a conflict of interest, becuase high appraisals/estimates can entice people to sell with them -- yet the auction house isn't bound by those estimates. And if your bottles don't sell in their auction (or don't meet the a mimimum price you've set), the house still makes money from you in fees like storage, insurance, and "unsold item" penalties.

 

1.10 What is the value of a whiskey collection? How do I sell a whiskey collection? Are there whiskey collection buyers?

If the collection is of average personal size and quality (under 200 bottles or $200k value), contact us using this form and we'll be in touch. For a collection of serious size and uniqueness (estates, prestige collectors, industry ties, etc.) we can provide a complete whiskey collection appraisal. Please note the requirements on that page.

 

1.11 What is the value of medicinal whiskey? 

During Prohibition (1920-1933), whiskey was still available with a doctor's prescription. Many popular Pre-Prohibition bourbons were sold as "medicine," as well as new brands created for medicinal purposes. Amazingly, many of these unopened pints of medicinal bourbon have survived into present day. Their value depends on condition, who distilled and bottled the whiskey inside, the brand name itself, and other factors. Medicinal whiskey pints can individually sell for hundreds depending on condition, and over $1000 for rare and very sought after editions.

 

1.12 What is the value of mini bottles of whiskey?

If you've got old single malt whisky minis, or old bourbon or rye minis, those could be worth something. But they're rare to find. Otherwise, miniature whiskey bottles (typically 50ml or 1/10 pint) are collected for their novelty and unique appearance by a different subset of collectors. That creates a special danger for spirits enthusiasts, because many mini collectors will refill empty, old minis to make them look great and "new" in their collection displays. In the world of whiskey enthusiasts, we call that counterfeiting, because we're interested in the bottles' contents. But to many minis collectors, the contents are irrelevant. So it's easy for those collectors to lose track of what are refills and what are originals, which creates a minis market that's polluted with an unknown number of fakes. 

 

Because miniature liquor bottles aren't collected for their content, we don't value them. 

 

1.13 Can you give me some whiskey investment advice?

We don't recommend investing in whiskey if you live in the U.S. A large reason is because most would-be "Whiskey Investors" haven't really thought out how they're going to sell their collections. Stocks and bonds are easily liquidated, and other collectibles like jewelry and art can be sold without much effort. Whiskey is not anything like that. There are very few venues to resell whiskey, it's extremely difficult to sell in quantity, expensive and risky to transport, subject to huge commissions from middlemen/auctioneers, and then Uncle Sam's collectibles tax takes a 28% bite out of whatever's left. 

 

You'll hear stories of friends who made a few hundred dollars (or even a few thousand) selling some old whiskeys they had. But it's unlikely they originally obtained those for investment purposes. They had good taste, and then got lucky. 

 

1.14 Why must old bottles be removed from the box and packaging? Aren't they worth more if nobody's opened the box before?

People often get confused about whiskeys that are still in their original box/packaging. With other types of collectibles -- like vintage toys, for instance -- having an item still in its original container can make it worth a whole lot more. That's because the item can't really degrade in the box. A Chewbacca action figure from 1980 doesn't have his head vanish after 4 decades in plastic.

 

But with whiskey, that actually happens in a way. Over very long periods of time, most bottles will suffer some amount of evaporation. The seals on these bottles were not meant to last more than a few years -- and certainly not decades. There are microscopic imperfections in the corks and caps, and microscopic amounts of evaporation each week can add up to ounces over time. See the answer above regarding evaporation and fill level to understand why that's important.

 

Since no smart collector will buy something sight unseen (or at least, they won't pay much for it), you'll probably need to open up that box/wrapping if you're looking to part with your whiskey. 

 

 

HOW TO SELL RARE WHISKEY

Keep in mind that laws concerning liquor sales vary from country to country and state to state. L.A.W.S. is not a law firm; we are not offering any legal advice or advocating any particular course of action.

 

2.1  How do I sell whiskey? Can I sell whiskey online?

Most sales take place privately between collectors who find each other online. You can go to this page for help with selling vintage liquor. (For estates and prestige collections, see this page). We may be able to put you in touch with a collector or auctioneer, depending on your location and circumstances. Note that we can't take any responsibility for any transactions that might occur afterwards. We don't make a buck off this, we're just here to be helpful.

 

You will sometimes find U.S. websites advertising that they buy rare bourbon, liquor, etc. Some of these are unlicensed schemes which have been repeatedly tied to criminals dealing in stolen property. Others offer mere pennies on the dollar. You can always check with us if you're unsure about a website or sale. Be wary of any high-pressure offers or "clocks" on a deal! Real collectors don't lose interest.

I
n the US, there are not "rare whiskey dealers" that operate like antiques stores or pawn shops. It's not legal throughout nearly the entire US. (A Kentucky law started in 2018 allows vintage liquor dealers in that state under strict rules, thus far there are extremely few). 

 

By and large, retail liquor stores must sell bottles obtained through wholesale liquor distributors. Any liquor sold in a bar must also have been obtained through a wholesale liquor distributor. (Technically there are some minor exceptions to these rules in a very small amount of locations under very specific conditions and licenses).

 

The top-dollar amounts for bottles in the US are usually achieved at auction in New York, Chicago, or Boston.

 

Ebay does not permit the sale of collectible liquor (they used to, until September 2012).

 

The LA Whiskey Society does not sell whiskey. We do buy it, obviously!

 

2.2 Do you guys buy rare, collectible whiskey? Other liquors?

Yes! Please contact us if you have an opportunity. We love Bourbon, Rye, Single Malt Scotch, Armagnac, Rum, and Chartreuse, and most other brown spirits.

 

Please note that we are not a business. We're a group of friends brought together by our love of whiskey -- it's literally the same thing that would happen if you and your friends started meeting regularly and all chipped in to buy and taste your favorite beverages. We just have a whole lot of experience and expertise in doing so.

 

2.3  Does the LA Whiskey Society sell whiskey?

No. We just buy it to taste and appreciate.

 

2.4  Fees and expenses in US whiskey auctions, what should I know?

Many sellers at auction end up disappointed. Revew sites like Yelp reveal sellers who profited as little as 12% of the final price (yes, twelve percent). If you're considering selling your bourbon or other whiskey via auction, be aware of your expenses, fees, premiums, and taxes beforehand.

 

Fees and expenses to deduct from the final price usually include:

 

19.5% - 23% Buyers Premium 

15% - 25% Sellers Premium (negotiated)

1% - 1.5% Loss & Damage Warranty

Photography fees
Storage fees

Appraisal expenses

Shipping at seller's expense and risk

 

Fees are also assessed on unsold items (or items that don't meet the seller's minimum designated price), like "unsold lot" penalties, and storage fees that accrue until the item is retrieved by the seller. Those expenses plus the logistical problems of reclaiming the item can result in the seller "rolling" their bottles to the next auction, where the same fees are assessed again, etc. etc.

  

See 1.9 above for more information on United States bourbon, scotch, and spirits auctions. 

 

2.5  I've seen websites that buy rare whiskey, are they legitimate? What businesses help sell your old liquor?

Places in the UK and EU like The Whisky Exchange are legitimate, although very difficult for US collectors to sell with due to their location, international law, customs, VAT, etc.

As for the flashy websites you'll see in the US offering "instant cash for your bottles," the truth is that almost all of them are not "legitimate highly professional businesses" or whatever they claim -- but most are not out to rip you off, either. They're simply people who own liquor stores, or pure flippers who will indeed pay you for your bottles. They will usually ship your whiskey overseas through special channels to be sold at auction in Europe, Asia, or the UK. Or, the bottles will end up on the wall at an obscure high-end club. We admit a little bias towards these flippers, because we like to see good bottles get to real aficionados who actually know how to appreciate and drink the stuff!

Very importantly, some of the small websites you'll see that buy your old whiskey have been repeatedly caught dealing in stolen property. Some are run by literal criminals hiding behind pseudonyms or frontmen. Others pay pennies on the dollar.

Be wary of any high-pressure offers or "clocks" on a deal! Real collectors don't lose interest. They use their real, full names, and are patient. Don't be intimidated, whiskey is supposed to be fun.

You can always check with us if you're unsure about a website or sale. 


2.6  What is the Bourbon Secondary Market, or secondary whiskey market? How do I find it?

 A “secondary market” is any way that any item is resold after its initial, first retail sale (a “secondary” sale). That means anything from prestige auctioneers like Sothebys to your neighbor’s garage sale.

 

The “bourbon secondary market” is plural — referring to all of the secondary whiskey marketS — because there are tons of places that spirits are resold. It’s a global phenomenon. These days in the US, someone saying “Bourbon Secondary Market” is sometimes referring to online groups and social media relationships where rare spirits are traded between collectors and enthusiasts in the United States. These groups are generally secret, and their memberships limited, because they operate in a grey area of the law. That's because even though most of the US has very liberal wine collecting laws, our collectible spirits regulations mostly date from the early 1930s and are still bizarrely restrictive. But trading collectible whiskey is perfectly legal throughout most of the rest of the world, particularly in the UK and throughout Europe, where buying and selling is conducted regularly and openly.

 

So, the “Whiskey Secondary Market” or "Bourbon Secondary Market" is in truth a worldwide phenomenon, completely legal throughout much of the world, legal under very specific circumstances and venues in the US, and a “grey market” everywhere else. 

 

The number of people who participate in the secondary markets is impossible to know. We estimate 100,000 to maybe 400,000 active spirits enthusiasts and collectors, and vastly more single-time buyers/sellers.

 

2.7  Hey a**holes, I sold my bottle for $1200 and you said it was worth $500. (Actual email).

It's very important to understand that collectible whiskey is a market. Like houses, stocks, or gold. Bottle values go up and down, sometimes abruptly and unexpectedly.

And, like any collectible field, there are always newbies without much experience or knowledge yet. Plus, there are also buyers out there who are simply price insensitive. When they throw money, we applaud you if you're there to catch it.

 

2.8  I work with Estate Sales in California (or elsewhere) and we have some old liquor bottles. How do you sell estate liquor? Can estate whiskey collections be sold?

Yes. We can probably help you, and the specific answer depends where you're located. You do not have to destroy the bottles. If you're in California, the resale of estate liquor is 100% legal under certain conditions, despite what you may have been told. Shoot us an email with your credentials if you'd like some info.

 

If you are working with an estate containing a serious, elite collection, you may contact us for a complete whiskey collection appraisal. Please note the requirements on that page.

 

Vintage whiskey can often have great value. Destroying it is no different than destroying jewelry or art! Please think twice before throwing important historic relics in the trash. We're here to help you find viable alternatives.


 

INFORMATION ON FOUND/OLD WHISKEY BOTTLES

 

3.1  Is the whiskey inside an old bottle still safe to drink?

If the bottle is still safely and verifiably sealed with the original closure, from a known brand, and the liquid inside is clear at room temperature, then probably yes. However, there can be exceptions, so we stress probablyIf for any reason you feel your whiskey is not safe to drink, don't drink it! If it tastes odd, stop drinking it! We cannot tell you if any bottle is definitely safe to drink, the end decision is up to you!

 

3.2  Does whiskey change or age in the bottle?

Basically, no. (But technically yes, in small ways over long periods of time). Even after decades, it will taste similar to the day it was bottled. The age statement on a whiskey bottle (like "18 Years Old") refers to the time that whiskey spent aging in an oak barrel before it was bottled. An 8-year-old bourbon bottled in 1958 is still referred to as an 8-year-old bourbon.

 

3.3  My bottle is sealed but it's missing whiskey. Why?

Evaporation and/or leakage. It can happen even though the bottle is unopened.

 

3.4  What is the best way to store whiskey?

Upright, away from sunlight, in a cool (or room-temperature), stable environment.

 

3.5  My cork broke/disintegrated when I opened my bottle.

That's typical for old bottles. There is no great solution to prevent this. 

 

3.6  Are empty bottles worth anything?

Some, but that's outside our focus. Try Pre-pro.com for empties that seem to date from before Prohibition.

 

3.7  How do I know if a bottle of bourbon, rye, or single malt is fake?

Counterfeit whiskey is a reality of the collectibles market, but with proper vigilance you can stay safe. For more information, see Rare Whiskey Authentication. Please note that we do not assist with the verification of modern bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle. 

 

 

ABOUT OUR INFORMATION

 

4.1  Why do you do appraisals, and how do I get one?

We know it's rare these days to provide free information and services, but it's fun for us, and sometimes we get to feel like the Indiana Jones of Whiskey. Prohibition-era and Pre-Prohibition bottles can be especially fascinating. Appraisals are on this page, please note that few bottles qualify for a full evaluation.

 

4.2  Who is the LA Whiskey Society?

We're a small group of whiskey aficionados in Los Angeles, but with extensive experience and deep connections throughout the worldwide whisky community. The Society makes no money and we are not a business.

 

Since 2006, we've become what's perhaps the best-known and most-respected whiskey club in the US. We're also known in the worldwide whiskey community for our expertise in dating old and collectible bottles, particularly anything once sold in the US. We've been asked by major auction houses to consult for them, as well as having had to correct their published "expert" analyses many times. More about the LA Whiskey Society

 

4.3  How did you gain all this knowledge?

Years of experience, enthusiasm, networking, and endless research. See about the Los Angeles Whiskey Society.

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