The current cocktail renaissance has caused prices of some historic ingredients to rise sharply but at the same time collectors can still track down vintage bottles that have shown little appreciation in value at auctions.
Top bars turn to collectors and traders to track down rare bottles while no home bar is complete without a well-thought-out selection of vintage cocktail ingredients.
Isabel Graham-Yooll, Auction Director at Whisky.Auction, advises:
The word cocktail emerged in print in the late 1700s, or early 1800s. It was described as a ‘stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters’ by a paper entitled The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806. In 1862 Jerry Thomas, also known as the ‘father of American mixology’, printed The Bartenders Guide, the first known cocktail book.
The original ‘cocktail bible’, The Savoy Cocktail Book, was published in London in 1930. First editions today fetch hundreds, if not thousands of pounds. It was packed full of classic serves from the glamorous hotel bars and speakeasies of the day.
Fortunately, these books have been reprinted and their recipes are essential reading for every aspiring bartender or vintage spirits collector.
Keep an eye out for vintage gin at auction, which can date back to the 1940s and 1950s, such as Gordon’s with its impressive spring cap closure. They look spectacular in a bar cabinet and are delicious served in a vintage martini.
When buying, look for pre-1992 Gordon’s for the UK market in a green glass bottle with a white label. These are the ones bottled at 40% ABV, before it was reduced to 37.5% ABV. Smart bidders on a tighter budget should also watch out for Gordon’s in a clear bottle with a yellow label for export markets.
When choosing bottles to collect, look for bar trends. A 1950 negroni for example would need a bottle of 1950s Campari, 1950s gin and 1950s red vermouth so track them down at a specialist auction site such as www.whisky.Auction.
Liqueurs for investment
Stunningly beautiful vintage Camparis don’t just look great, they transport you to another time (and by the way they taste delicious).
Camparis from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s
Alessandro Palazzi, Head Bartender at world famous Dukes Bar in Mayfair, London often seeks out vintage bottles: ” These vintage products are completely different from today. Something has changed. They were family owned, not by big companies. “Look at Campari now, it used to be a family company making one product, now it’s a global drinks multi-national”
The prices of vintage Campari may be on the rise, but serious collectors are already spending thousands of pounds on Chartreuse. In the December of 2022, Whisky.Auction sold a bottle of Green Chartreuse bottled between 1941 and 1951 for a record £1,950. Older bottles have fetched well over £10,000. Just like old Campari, Chartreuse is a liqueur that gets better with age, but it’s also its history that captivates collectors and spirits enthusiasts.
(Top image: Photo by M.S. Meeuwesen on Unsplash)