Whiskey auctions explained

whiskey auctions explained

How can I buy whisky in an auction? Whisky auction tips. What are the best whisky auction sites? If these are searches you’ve used on Google recently, then read on.

Love them or hate them, whiskey auctions can be the only source of those rare or hard to get bottles. I’ve bought many bottles at auction. Some I got at a decent (not amazing) price, some I paid roughly what I thought was a fair price and others (not many thankfully!) have parted me with a bit more cash than I planned for.

I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way. Some of these lessons have been through the experience of bidding on auction sites, and others I’ve read, just to make sure I’m not making any newbie mistakes!

Don’t expect to get expensive whiskies for next to nothing

Although it’s not unheard of to get a bottle for slightly less than you’d find it (albeit with effort) in a specialist shop, you shouldn’t go into an auction with the impression that everything is a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

It’s more likely that you’ll find old and rare whiskies or those from overseas, that aren’t readily available in your locale than it is to find an unbelievable price on a bottle of whisky.

Be realistic, if you’re out for 75% discounts then an auction isn’t the place to look.

Know your target bottles intimately

Rather than simply browsing and bidding on bottles that take your fancy, have your target bottle(s) in mind before the auction.

There’s a reason that there are crisps and sweets placed strategically by the tills in a supermarket. They’re there to tempt you into making an impulse purchase. Similarly, bidding on a whim, purely because a certain whiskey is presented to you ‘out of the blue’, is generally costly and probably not a purchase you should make.

By preparing your plan of attack, and searching for specific bottles, you’ll not only have an easier time maintaining a focussed watchlist, but you’ll also avoid the temptation of seeing those bottles that might tempt you to bid unnecessarily.

whiskey bottle with box

Set your budget (and stick to it!)

Another important point to remember is to set yourself a sensible budget and stick to it.

Your budget should consider your circumstances, but also how much the whisky you want to bid for is truly worth.

I have seen easily available, everyday whiskies with bids 200% of the bottles worth (it has been pointed out that these may not be available in the country that a bidder is from, but I have seen this too often for it to be the case every time).

Do some research before the auction to see if you’re able to pick up a bottle form a shop, it’s sometimes the case that the smaller, less well-known stores stock some fairly rare bottles at fair prices.

Remember the fees!

When setting a budget, and bidding, always have the additional fees in the back of your mind and consider them each time you place a bid, they can add a large sum to the initial total.

Fees usually include a buyers fee (commonly about 10% but certain cites charge 15%) and the postage. Again the postage is usually about £10 for a bottle, increases for multiple bottles. There is also usually an optional fee for insuring your bottle in transit, a nominal amount typically.

10% buyers fee may not sound like much, but for the more elusive, and therefore expensive, bottles this can be and additional £50, £100 or even £150.

Most auction sites typically charge an initial small sum, about £5, to ‘join’ and enable you to bid, create a watchlist etc This is a one-off payment, and so does not need to be taken into account once paid.

Play it cool Trigger, play it cool!

As with any auction, the more bids a ‘lot’ gets, the quicker its price increases. If you see your ‘most wanted’ bottle sitting in an auction, during the first day or two’, remember that there are a few days to go and hold off bidding. Instead, add it to your watchlist and wait patiently until the last day to bid.

If the bottle has shot up to way over your budget, then you haven’t wasted your time getting involved in a bidding war. If it’s still within budget then you can try to bag a bargain during the final few hours.

Whiskey to drink or collect?

Take a moment and ask yourself “what are my reasons for using an auction?”

Consider whether you’re bidding on a whiskey to drink or to ‘collect’ (I’m not even going to entertain the notion of ‘flipping’ being a reason!). If you’re looking for investment it may be the case that you’re willing to spend a bit more?

Personally, even the bottles I’ve acquired to add to my ‘collection’, I hope to one day drink, which makes things more confusing when it comes to budgeting!

assorted whiskeies for tasting

Make use of auto-bidding

Most auction sites offer 2 ways of bidding:

  1. Manual bidding – you increase the bid yourself as you go, meaning you have to keep an eye on the bidding frequently if you want to win!
  2. Auto-bidding – you set a maximum budget for a ‘lot’ and the auction site bids on your behalf up to your limit.

Auto-bidding can take the fun and suspense out of an auction. If you’re in it for the adrenalin then this probably isn’t the default format for you.

Where auto-bidding comes into its own is when you’re unable to take part in the auction because of other commitments or an unsociable auction end time. You can also simply set your max bid and let the auction take care of the rest, this avoids the temptation to overbid. You just wait to hear if you won or lost.

Again remember to take the auction fees into account whenever setting your maximum bid for auto-bidding!

Leave your ego at the door

It’s a given that you’ll be outbid at least a few times for a ‘lot’ before you either win or lose. Should you approach your budget max on a ‘lot’ then have the discipline to call it a day and stop bidding.

Winning because of ego simply means you were willing to pay too much for a whiskey, nothing more. No one cares because it’s all anonymous, so don’t overspend to be the ‘bigger man/woman’!

Auction ‘end times’ aren’t when they actually ‘end’!

One confusing part of an auction for a newcomer is that the ‘end time’ isn’t actually when an auction stops. There’s a very good reason why an auction carries on for some time after it’s ‘end time’: Sniper Software!

As with anything competitive, especially online, some cheats don’t want to play by the rules.

Where auctions are concerned, this means the use of sniper software, which can be used to place an automatic bid, likely to beat any remaining bids, as late as possible in an auction with fixed end time. This practice gives other bidders very little or no time to counter bid.

To combat this, most auction sites will not end at a fixed time, but instead, start to wind down the auction from this time.

This includes extending the auction, or certain categories of the auction, for a certain amount of time every time a bid is made. By doing this, there is no fixed end time for the sniper to target.

Of course, this also means that, for the rest of us that are using the auction fairly, the end time will commonly be in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, this means (as far as I’m aware) that you only have 2 options:

  1. Stay up until the auction does eventually end, bidding as you go to win the ‘lot’
  2. Setting your maximum bid using the auto-bidding functionality on the site and hope it’s enough (while remaining within your budget) to win.

Read the ‘lot’ description

johnny walker black label

Remember to read the ‘lot’ description and not just take the photo at face value. Quite often there will be damage to a bottle, label or box that may (or may not) affect how much you’re willing to pay.

Some sites are better than others with their descriptions of a whiskey. I’ll not name names but one site omits the date that my favourite bourbon, ‘Four Roses 6-Year-Old’, was bottled. This has a huge influence on how much I’m willing to pay as, in my opinion, the bourbon changed form over a period of time and, as the bottles look the same, it’s a gamble I’m not willing to take.

It’s also sometimes the case that batch details won’t be included in the title of a ‘lot’. As we all know, this can have an impact on whether we want it or not!

Be aware of increasing ‘bid increments’

On many auction sites, the bid increments will increase as the price of a ‘lot’ gets higher. Where you’re able to increase the bid by a couple of pounds when the price is relatively low won’t translate as the price increases. As the price goes up, so to will the bid increments that you’ll have to use to remain in the running.

Be sure to keep an eye on these each time you bid to avoid overspending in one click!

It’s all about timing

As well as timing your individual bids, timing your participation in an auction, based on your target bottle(s) is also crucial. If an auction is scheduled a week or so after a new sought after release then use this to sneak in under the radar and all the FOMO bidding for those bottles to snag yours (assuming it’s different from the new release!). I’ve used this technique to snag bottles for RRP that would otherwise be double that price at least. Obviously this requires some research but it’ll be worth it to get that longed for whisky.


It’s easy to get caught up in the exitement of an auction and either over-spend, or come away with a whiskey that you wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. Have a plan, stay calm and keep within budget.

The above should stand you in good stead to get your hands on some hard to find whiskies. Hopefully, you’ll drink them, you might just collect them. Whatever your reasons for bidding in a whiskey auction, do it safely and only spend what you can afford!

Images from Pexels and Unsplash