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

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



1.2  How is the value of rare whiskey determined?

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

1.4  Does it matter 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 is selling my same bottle for $$$$$!

1.8  Why is bourbon not as collectible as single malt scotch?

1.9  Bonhams New York, what's the deal with their whiskey auction and appraisals?

1.10 What is the value of a whiskey collection?  

1.11 What is the value of medicinal whiskey? 

1.12 What is the value of miniature, "airplane" bottles of whiskey? 

1.13 Can you give advice on investing in whiskey? Is whiskey a good investment? 

1.14 Why must old bottles be removed from the box?



2.1  Where do I sell vintage liquor? How do I sell a whiskey collection? 

2.2  Do you guys buy rare whiskey? Are you a rare liquor buyer? 

2.3  Do you guys sell whiskey? 

2.4  What do you mean "be educated" about whiskey auctions?

2.5  What are the online businesses and websites that buy rare whiskey?

2.6  Hey a**holes, I sold my bottle for $1200 but you said...

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



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

3.2  Does whiskey age or change in the bottle?

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

3.4  How should I 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?



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

4.3  How do you know all this?  





1.1  How much is my old bottle of whiskey worth?

Firstly, no matter what you've got, your whiskey probably IS worth something to someone -- so don't throw it away! Nearly all vintage liquor has a buyer these days, including rum, Cognac, Armagnac, and especially bourbon, rye, and single malt scotch. There are "garbagemen" who will buy up the low-quality stuff, and on the other end there are gems that end up at auction and sell for thousands.


The actual value honestly depends on many variables. Some bottles from just a few years ago are now worth thousands, while some from 50 years ago can be only worth a few dollars. And vice-versa. There really is no quick and easy answer, but don't lose hope!


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


We sometimes appraise bottles but they must be extremely rare -- 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 doesn't mean it's not worth something -- in fact, it could still be very valuable. We answer questions about evaluations and selling here.


Rare single malt scotches can be worth thousands or even tens of thousands. American whiskeys (like bourbon and rye) tend to be less collectible; the most valuable sell for around $2k - $3k, with some rare exceptions. Canadian whiskies are of minimal value unless extremely old (there aren't many collectors for it). Blended scotch from about the 1960's on is very common and generally worth around $50 at most if you can find a buyer.


1.2  How is the value of rare whiskey determined?

The way to arrive at an item's value is to find recent sales of the same or comparable item and balance that against what a seller actually profits in those scenarios. This involves being aware of past auction results, retail sales, private sales, the current state of the market, and private collectors' opinions. 


Sellers should also understand that when dealing with any collectible, value can be different than price. At auction, the price might end up at $1,000. But the seller might only go home with $500 after deducting fees and expenses. So the word value is often used to mean what an owner can actually sell a collectible for -- which is not the same as the price that an auctioneer or dealer might get.


Recognize that it's rare for anyone to net the "full price." Dealers have to deduct what they paid for the bottle and cover their overhead. 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 opened? 

Open bottles of whiskey lose their collectible value.


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 (often in the UK) is different from their actual value. Consider this: if they were priced to sell, they wouldn't still be sitting on the shelf! 


Whiskey retailers' profits mainly come from modern, recently-released whiskies. The other "Trophy Bottles" are there to look great in their shops, add overall prestige to their name, and attract web traffic. They don't need to sell those bottles 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. Remember, anyone can ask any price for anything.


This is why even though a whiskey may have an asking price of $1,000 on a whiskey website, it doesn't mean it's "worth" that much. If you were to sell your collectible bottle to those retailers, they usually pay about 30% - 40% of their retail price.


1.8  Why is bourbon not 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. But bourbon doesn't have much of a secondary market, particularly because US laws make it difficult on a practical scale. However, in about 2012, bourbon hit a huge surge in the US. There are now many bourbons that were worth no more than retail value in 2008, but they are now selling for as much as 10x or more original cost. However, bourbon still currently has a much smaller market.


1.9  Bonhams New York, what's the deal with their whiskey auction and appraisals?  

Bonhams has been a premiere venue for selling rare whiskey in the US. Their auctions are twice per year when active. You can contact them for information on how to consign.


From July 2014 through most of 2015, Bonhams NY suspended their whiskey auctions. (As of 2017, they seem to be suspended again). They claimed this was due to reasons of profitability and practicality. However, many in the whiskey community have been highly critical of Bonhams' expertise, including us. We've written about the ignorance of Bonhams whisky department and their shockingly bad estimates and botched identifications in past auctions.


Bonhams' fees, premiums, and taxes are explained in 2.4 below.


Keep in mind that "expert appraisers" are salesmen who represent the auctioneer. Their job is to get you to sell your property in their auction, so that they can make money off your stuff. Considering that higher appraisals/estimates entice people to sell in their auctions -- but that the auction house can't be bound by those estimates -- we feel that's a conflict of interest. Remember, even if your bottles don't sell in their auction (or if they don't meet the mimimum price you've set), they still make money off 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 brands were still available as medicinal whiskey, as well as some new brands specifically for medicinal purposes. Somewhat amazingly, many of these unopened pints of medicinal whiskey have survived into present day. Their value depends on condition, who distilled and bottled the whiskey inside, the brand name itself, and other factors. As of 2017, medicinal whiskey pints can individually sell for hundreds depending on condition, and around $1000 for rare and very sought after editions.


1.12 What is the value of mini bottles of whiskey?

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 helped a lot by the fact the item can't really degrade in the box. A Chewbacca action figure from 1980 doesn't have his arms and legs disappear 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. 




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. Before selling or buying any spirits, parties should independently consult licensed legal counsel in appropriate jurisdictions.


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.


In the US, there are no "rare whiskey dealers" that operate like antiques stores or pawn shops. That's not legal. You will sometimes find U.S. websites advertising that they buy rare bourbon, liquor, etc. Many of these are unlicensed, illegal, "fly-by-night" schemes who offer pennies on the dollar. Some even have ties to criminal syndicates and deal in stolen collections. 


Retail liquor stores may only sell bottles obtained through wholesale liquor distributors. And, any whiskey 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, noticeably in KY as of 2018).


The top-dollar amounts for bottles are usually achieved at auction in New York, where Bonhams in particular will feature a selection of whiskey bottles as a portion of their larger wine auctions. 


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


The LA Whiskey Society does not sell whiskey. Our activities are entirely non-commercial.


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

Yes! Please contact us if you know of an opportunity. We're interested in Bourbon, Rye, Single Malt Scotch, Cognac, Rum, and Chartreuse, and others.


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?



2.4  What do you mean "be educated" about whiskey auctions?

Many sellers at auction end up disappointed. Revew sites like Yelp reveal Bonhams sellers who profited as little as 12% of the final price (yes, twelve percent). If going the auction route, be sure you are aware of all your expenses, fees, premiums, and taxes beforehand.


Fees deducted from the final price include:


20% Buyers Premium 

15% - 25% Sellers Premium (sellers negotiate their own premium)

1% - 1.5% Loss & Damage Warranty

Photography fees

Appraisal fees 

Storage fees 

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 are reassessed 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 Bonhams NY Whisky Auctions. 


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

Places in the UK and EU like The Whisky Exchange are legitimate. But, the bare-bones websites you will sometimes see in the USA offering to buy old whiskey are not. Be careful! Many of these are unlicensed, illegal, "fly-by-night" schemes that offer pennies on the dollar. We receive horrible reports of "expert brokers" in places like Kentucky offering as little as $10 for bottles worth over $500. Others have ties to criminal syndicates and deal in stolen property. If you're dealing with a claimed "reputable businesses" who will get you "instant cash for your bottles," verify their business license and liquor license. If they make excuses, we strongly recommend you walk away.


The money the UK/EU companies will offer for a bottle is typically around 30% - 40% of the retail price for that same bottle. They're not out to rip anyone off, they're just running a business. You will need to get your bottle(s) to them at your own risk and expense, and pay customs/importation fees.


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

Good for you! Like any collectible field, there are always newbies without much experience or knowledge yet. The quickest way for them to get started is to get anything they can find at whatever price it takes. And of course, 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.


2.7  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.




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, if you have an old crystal or old porcelain decanter, this is thought to be risky because the lead can leach into the spirit. Also, many whiskeys prior to and during US Prohibition were adulterated, so caution is required with those. If 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 many 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  How should I 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. 





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 very 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. We taste collectible whiskies in our group meetings. 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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