Rare & Collectible Bourbon and Scotch
How to Determine Value - Where to Sell Vintage Liquor
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 How to auction whiskey in the US? Online bourbon auctions?
1.9 What is the value of a whiskey collection?
1.10 What is the value of Prohibition "medicinal" whiskey?
1.11 Value of miniature, "airplane" bottles of whiskey?
1.12 Is whiskey a good investment? Advice?
1.13 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 old whiskey, rare bourbon, vintage liquor? (Yes!)
2.3 Does the Society sell whiskey?
2.4 Fees and expenses in US whiskey auctions?
2.5 Online whiskey "brokers" and websites that buy rare bourbon -- are those legit?
2.6 What is the Bourbon Secondary Market, or secondary whiskey market?
2.7 About estates 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?
The first 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.
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 and low-quality bottles snapped up for dollars by "garbagemen." Almost all 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.
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.
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 -- rare exceptions are tens of thousands and extremely rarely around $100k. Rare single malt scotches can be worth hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, rarely hundreds of thousands, and extraordinarily rarely over a million dollars. 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. Japanese single malt whisky produced relatively recently can be extremely valuable.
We offer appraisals for "museum quality" bottles only -- if you have a bourbon, rye, or other American whiskey bottled before 1920, please 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.
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 prices have huge commissions and expenses deducted. And private collectors negotiate with this knowledge.
Then there's "replacement cost." This value is usually used for insurance purposes, in case a bottle is damaged or stolen. In that case you need to know what it will actually cost to easily and quickly replace a bottle, which means the insurer might need to cover full retail cost plus expenses like shipping and customs fees.
Keep in mind that the US secondary whiskey market is small and constantly fluctuating, so any 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 spirit may be contaminated or have "turned" in some way.
However, cloudy spirit can also occur from certain components of whiskey precipitiating out of solution -- meaning that stuff that was previously dissolved and well-mixed within the whiskey no longer is now. This can occur due to temperature, and will revert when a higher temperature is reached (which is why we say "room temperature" above).
Low fill bottles with clear whiskey are 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 few ways to publicly sell collectible whiskey in the US, there aren't detailed 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! I want to sell my bottle for the price I see at that store.
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.
At a good, big auction, the most competitive buyer will usually end up paying around 60%-70% of the lowest available retail/dealer price. In that auction, literally no other person would pay more. Only one person would've paid something close to that. And everyone else didn't want to pay anything near that. So that gives you a sense of what a bottle might actually sell for privately.
1.8 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, bungled assesments, and more -- 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. If your bottles don't sell in their auction, the house still makes money from you in fees like storage, insurance, and unsold item penalties.
1.9 What is the value of a whiskey collection? How do I sell a whiskey collection? Are there whiskey collection buyers?
We buy whiskey collections! We know the market very well. If we're not interested ourselves, we'll likely know a big collector in your area who is and we'll be happy to connect you.
1.10 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. Most medicinal whiskey pints sell within the hundreds depending on condition, over $1000 for rarer bottles, and even more for very sought after editions.
1.11 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 traditionally have not been collected for their content, we don't value them.
1.12 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 or even a few thousand dollars selling some old whiskeys they had. But most of those people didn't originally buy those for investment purposes. They had good taste, and then got lucky. Those in the US who actually invest in rare whiskey successfully (meaning successful liquidation too) have fully dedicated themselves to learning how to navigate a difficult, tricky, and sometimes not-quite-legal market.
1.13 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. See 2.5 for a discussion. Many aren't exactly "legit" business but will still pay you like any other -- and some are unlicensed schemes which have been repeatedly tied to criminals dealing in stolen property. Others offer pennies on the dollar. You can 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 and are well-funded.
The US does not have "rare whiskey dealers" that operate like antiques stores or pawn shops, by and large. It's not legal, except for a few exceptions in very few areas. (For instance, a Kentucky law started in 2018 allows vintage liquor dealers in that state under strict rules, but there are very 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. (Again, technically there are minor exceptions to these rules in a very small amount of locations under very specific conditions).
In the US, the top value for collectible whiskeys 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). Sometimes bottles will sneak through the system unnoticed, but it's not something we recommend for buying or selling.
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.
2.3 Does the LA Whiskey Society sell whiskey?
We don't sell our rare whiskeys. However, if you need assistance in tracking down a particularly rare and/or vintage bottle, we may be able to connect you with a seller, collector, or dealer -- but please recognize that means paying collectible market value.
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% - 27.5% Buyers Premium
15% - 25% Sellers Premium (negotiated)
1.5% Loss & Damage Warranty
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 Who are "whiskey brokers?" I've seen websites online 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 nearly all of them operate in a sort of grey area of business. But most are not out to rip you off, either. They're simply people who own liquor stores, or flippers who will indeed pay you for your bottles. The US sites who claim to be "brokers" or to connect you with "brokers" are basically the same thing.
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 at an obscure high-end club. We admit a little bias towards these types, because we like to see good bottles get to real aficionados who can appreciate and drink the stuff! But we also recognize and respect people's right to earn a living.
The problem is that some of these websites and "brokers" have been repeatedly caught dealing in stolen property. Some are run by actual criminals hiding behind pseudonyms or frontmen. Others offer pennies on the dollar.
So even a "real" deal with someone like that will still help fund the "other part" of their business. Where they look the other way, work with criminals, and buy from thieves.
LAWS does the opposite. We know the signs of stolen bottles and collections, and we've worked with law enforcement to see bottles get reunited with their owners and criminals end up in jail.
Be wary of any high-pressure offers or "clocks" on a deal! Real collectors use their actual full names and are patient. Be careful of getting smooth-talked by friendly-sounding, pushy "brokers." The most common negotation trick you'll hear is, "I need to close your deal now/soon, or else I have to allocate my money to a different deal." Another popular one goes, "I'll to be in your area very soon, so if we're going to do a deal, we have to do it now!" Honest collectors know how to manage their money. They are happy to travel when necessary. And they never "lose interest" in whiskeys they're actually interested in!
You can 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. So, it's a “secondary” sale. That can happen at all kinds of places -- it can be prestige auctioneers like Sothebys, online collectors' forums, specialty retailers, or your neighbor’s garage sale.
The “bourbon secondary market” is plural — referring to all of the secondary whiskey marketS. There are tons of places that spirits are resold. It’s a global phenomenon.
These days in the United States, someone saying “Bourbon Secondary Market” is sometimes referring to online groups and social media relationships where rare spirits are traded between collectors and enthusiasts. 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 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 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 probably. 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 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 some liquor. Why?
Evaporation and/or leakage. It can happen even though the bottle is unopened.
3.4 What is the best way to store bourbon/whiskey/liquor?
Upright, away from sunlight, in a cool (or room-temperature), stable environment. Humidity ideally should not drop below about 55% nor exceed 70%. Over time, a dry environment will affect corks and hasten evaporation. Same with a temperature that fluctuates too much too frequently. An excessively humid environment can cause mold and other damage to labels.
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.
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 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.