Isabel, can you tell us a bit about yourself, when did you join the industry, and why?
My journey to becoming director of a specialist online spirits auction was a little indirect. I started, like many others in the industry today, working at Oddbins before joining Jeroboams, where I became spirits buyer for the famous Milroy’s of Soho shop founded by Jack and Wallace Milroy. I was responsible for a series of whisky bottlings (which now command a high price among collectors at auction!) before moving to Bordeaux Index to set up the spirits department there.
You are now Auction Director at Whisky. Auction. Can you explain what your job entails?
I took up my current role in 2016. Whisky.Auction has grown and expanded its reach to specialise in not only old and rare whiskies and spirits but vintage cocktail ingredients, rare and fine wines, miniatures and drinks memorabilia too.
The secondary market for spirits and wines is booming and that keeps me and my auction team extremely busy advising, valuing and authenticating bottles. I have used my position to champion the interests of the consumer against fraudsters and fakers, making the auction the most trusted specialist online spirits auction in the world.
What do you think are the main reasons for someone buying or selling on an online auction rather than purchasing through a “regular” retailer?
There are bottles in our auctions that just would never be found at a regular retailer. Even a specialist retailer would struggle with the sheer variety we offer at auction because we are sourcing bottles from so many sellers. Each bottle is effectively a one-off. We get offered bottles that have been sitting in collections.
What do you think is the fascinating, and maybe the most exciting, part of being part of an auction?
The thrill of the hunt is what it’s all about. Just imagine you’ve been searching for a particular bottle, you eventually receive an alert that it’s in our auction, you bid, unfortunately, another bidder spots the same bottle, they outbid you, you bid again, then after a battle of nerves, you finally win the bottle and you buy it at below the price you were prepared to pay…that’s exciting.
As a whisky and wine enthusiast myself, I get just as emotional about great bottles; and as an auctioneer, I get the same excitement when someone gets in touch about a special bottle. It’s not uncommon to receive a call from someone mid-clear-out, asking whether the ‘out of date’ bottle they’re about to pour down the drain is worth keeping. The question boils down to “drink, keep or sell?” so a valuation and assessment from my auction team will quickly resolve that dilemma.
What is the most interesting/unusual lot you have ever auctioned?
I have a soft spot for some of the oddities that turn up. Here are some of my personal favourites:
I love this Clynelish 12 Year Old bottled in the 1960s that includes the original purchase receipt in pounds, shillings and pence. It was bottled by the distillers Ainslie & Heilbron Ltd. and the original purchase receipt is from Strachan's of Royal Deeside dated 7 January 1970. This presentation with a white label was discontinued for the orange label in 1977 and it would have been distilled at the original Clynelish distillery, now known as Brora.
The Balvenie Morgan rare four-seater model is an unusual lot for our auction. It was sold by William Grant for charity to raise money for The Drinks Trust during the lockdown. I finally met the winning bidders in real life at our stand at The Whisky Show just the other day, the couple remain as delighted with it as the day they won it.
We get some spectacularly rare old bottles at Whisky.Auction but never one with so much age, history and provenance as Jacques Hardy’s Cognac from 1777. For this bottle we were able to trace its story right back to when it was distilled in 1777 by the Yvon family of Domaine de La Vie, via Jacques Hardy's uncle James’ wedding when he married into the family, it’s bottling in July 1936 and re-corking in 1967 through to its sale to the owner who sold it through our auction.
Whisky. Auction has been supporting The Drinks Trust for years, and now you will host our upcoming “Cream of The Crop” auction that will take place in November. We are sourcing sought-after lots for the auction. Why should companies be part of this auction by donating an exclusive and rare item?
It can be difficult to know how to support people in the drinks industry and it’s such a privilege to be able to donate exclusive and rare items to be auctioned to raise funds for The Drinks Trust to provide individuals with financial and practical support.
The profits from the “Cream of The Crop” will go towards the services of The Drinks Trust, hence supporting the drinks and hospitality workforce. How would you encourage experienced and first-time bidders to take part?
Oh wow, I’d encourage every drinks enthusiast to get involved whether it’s their first time or they’re experienced bidders. This auction is going to be awesome. I’ve been watching the donations come in and there are so many spectacular bottles, as well as money, can’t buy experiences. Registering to bid takes 4½ minutes and bidding is easy. Make an evening of it and bid generously to raise funds for a much-needed charity.
A more personal question: what is your drink of choice?
Coffee. Just kidding. Depends on the occasion and time of day but I’d say a Burgundy Côte de Beaune, specifically 2014 Aloxe-Corton "Les Valozières", a fruity glass 1990 vintage Grande Champagne Cognac from Frapin's Millésime series, or one of the world's great iconic wines like Taylor's Vintage Port. Very conveniently all of these will be available at the upcoming Cream of the Crop Auction of The Drinks Trust.
I do love coffee though.
Anything else you want to say/add in case we have failed to ask about something important!
If you win one of the bottles or experiences we love to hear about it so do keep in touch! Good luck with your bids!