Collecting Whisky

Dealing in Drams – Part One

One of the most popular questions I get when people discover that I have a collection of Scottish whisky is “what bottles are worth collecting?” There is no easy answer to this, and when thinking what I would have to write to cover this, it was just too big a subject to blog about in one go, so my collecting advice is going to be given out over a few weeks.

This series will contain over the next month

  • Why Collect?
  • Good initial rules of collection
  • What is and isn’t collectable
  • Advice on how to collect
  • Advice on maintaining your collection
  • Advice of how to store your collection
  • Advice on how to sell your collection

While I mention certain bottles, it is not an explicit recommendation that you have to buy them.

Any advice is only based on my own experience. Be aware the value of bottles can go up or down.

Reasons for collecting vary from person, and what I would find worth collecting may not be so good for others. As I keep on saying, the past 10 years or so have seen a massive increase in the popularity in single malts, and this has seen many different bottles emerge, and also many disappear. Collectors are a group of people which many of the big corporate drink companies are starting to target, although not all the offerings are actually good quality or value.

So, why do people collect whisky? Having thought it over, I think it can be summarised as these reasons:-

Fun

There is no mistaking that collecting whisky can be fun. It all depends on your outlook. Perhaps you like the thrill of the chase by adding at auction for unusual bottles. Maybe you like the research of the distilleries to see what bottles are collectable, and in turn learning something about the character of that distillery.

There’s also no disputing that if you are planning to drink what you collect, that decision can fall into the category of fun. To be able to revel in the kudos of having a specialist selection in your drinks cabinet could also be a large source of satisfaction from having collected it through one means or another.

To store tastes and memories

As the whisky industry expands at such a rapid rate, the older casks become fewer and fewer. Perhaps you remember a whisky that is now discontinued that you really enjoyed, or there is a dram that resonates with a special personal memory. It could be an idea that if you want to preserve this, you might wish to maybe buy a few bottles.

As the older casks dwindle, ‘recipes’ of blends and malts will change. Case in point that comes to mind is the 15 year old Glendronach. Its production had to be stopped in 2015, as the casks necessary to make the malt were exhausted. After a three year break, it’s back, now known as Glendronach Revival. However similar it is to the original 15 year old, it isn’t the same, and an original 15 will always be worth more than the Revival. I’m not saying it will make a lot of money, but it will be one to consider looking at as a low cost option.

To invest

This is an entirely a subject in its own right. Before going down this path, you need to have goals, knowledge, patience and somewhere to secure your investment. In following this aim, you may still have fun in building a collection, but may never taste it.

To trade

I’m not meaning to sell in a commercial sense, but perhaps a bottle is collected on the knowledge that you never will open it, but you appreciate that it may hold some value in the future and can be sold or traded to get something you want to drink that has become more scarce.

Whatever your reason for collecting, there are some very basic rules that you need to abide by, and these don’t seem to get mentioned anywhere else. They are common sense, but worth repeating anyway.

1/ DO NOT SPEND MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD.

This is the most important rule, and this is why the font was made bold. Speaking from a UK perspective, a decent bottle of single malt can vary from £40 to £150 in a supermarket. You may be £70 – £100 for an 18 y.o, and £120+ for a 21 year old. In specialist retailers some will be up to £500+ for the older or more unusual. You might be able to afford it at the time, but the amount you can spend over a year may not be sustainable. You will need to set a budget, and stick to it. Trust me, it is easy to get out of control.

2/ Make sure you have somewhere to keep your collection

No point in building a collection if you have nowhere to keep it. And in an investment scenario, you will need somewhere with little temperature variation, and depending on its value, somewhere secure.

It is worth bearing in mind that a large spirit collection is a fire hazard. Many home insurers limit how much you can keep at home. Check your small print. Plus, if collecting as an investment, nearly all home insurance policies have a maximum insurance value for individual items. You may need to consider a secure storage unit and specialist insurance.

3/ Collect quality and not quantity.

Especially true for investment whisky. Some things will not make money as there is no demand for it (Bells Decanter anybody?) or a bottle of Famous Grouse. Mass produced bottlings will not make anything or very little unless they are discontinued or there is a recipe or packaging change. Even then, it may be very little profit.

Better to buy a good quality whisky over a couple of mediocre ones. Sure, for the price of a decent malt you can buy two bottles of Famous Grouse, but the decent malt will form memories, will give you an experience. Grouse is just a generic blended whisky.

Even if you don’t want to invest and prefer to drink your collection, quality always wins over quantity. Is it not better to have the finer things than always going for the ordinary and blend? By experiencing the finer things, you will expand your whisky experience and gain knowledge of different flavour profiles; in doing this you may unlock the door to the treasure that can be gained by a good whisky. Going generic means you’ll never experience much different, unless collecting the boxes it comes in is your thing.

4/ Do not expect to make money

Whisky is not designed to be collected. Or at least that used to be true. Brands like Macallan are making editions that are specifically for collectors in mind. However, if you are collecting for investment, there is a possibility that brands fall out of favour. What might be the brand of the moment may not be in 10 years. Whilst with Macallan, Highland Park, Talisker, Lagavuilin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig this may not be so much of a risk, it depends on the bottling.

To be fair, you should, with careful choices, be able at the very minimum to maintain the value in pace with inflation. But one example that springs to mind is Convalmore. I’m a fan of Convalmore, the Dufftown distillery that closed in 1985. I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog so I’ll keep it brief. The 1977 vintage of the 28 year old and 36 year old as part of a Diageo special release have done relatively well. The latest 32 year old from 1984 hasn’t. From a £1200 retail price, it can be found for around £1000 retail, and as low as £500 at auction. I’ll deal with this more in a future blog. People buying for investment either got a big shock, a bargain, or a whisky they are now going to drink.

And if it all goes horribly wrong with whisky collecting, at least with intelligent choices, you’re going to have a decent drinks cabinet to drown your sorrows!

Slainte Mhath!

Next article focus – How do I define what is and isn’t collectable?

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