Collecting Whisky

Dealing in Drams – Part Two

In the first part of this series of articles, we looked at the reasons for why people want to collect and the basic rules of collection. In this article, we step it up a notch and look at one subject in more detail.

  • What is and isn’t collectable

I’ve decided I want to collect whisky – so what do I have to do now?

Congratulations on your choice in wanting to collect whisky. You are in for such a great experience. Despite only having 3 ingredients (as long as it doesn’t get colour added) it is amazing how tastes can differ depending on things like cask selection, age, bottling strength, still shape, fermentation time, how the barley is malted or even where the warehouses for maturing the whisky are located. All of these play a part in bringing together a flavour sensation to your palate if you choose to drink what you have collected.

In my last blog post about collecting, I mentioned a few key points. These are now going to have to be seriously considered. The primary one is budget – you will have to set one, as it is not going to be fun to collect if you run out of pennies to pay for things like rent, food, petrol and other bills

What is collectable?

If you are collecting to drink or just for fun – anything is collectable, but keep reading on in this article, as it may help you focus, and to attain a truly great collection.

If you are collecting to make money, then there are far more things to look into. Just buying any bottle will be a waste of money. You need to research and to see what is in demand and short in supply. Some people concentrate on what can be argued as ‘premium’ malts such as Macallan, Highland Park, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg and Bowmore, others concentrate geographical areas, some only collect limited editions.

While I say anything is collectable, not everything is worthwhile collecting, especially if making money is your end goal.

Things that are not generally worth collecting in the world of whisky:-

1/ Miniatures

I’m going to get this one out of the way quickly. There is a collectors market for miniature bottles, but it’s limited. The range of miniature bottles that are worth collecting are typically very small, generally Connoisseurs Choice from Gordon & MacPhail. Bottles are typically tin screw caps and do not seal as well. There are issues is that the whisky within can be contaminated by the waxed cardboard seal inside the cap, as the whisky was never meant to be collected – it was meant to be drunk. And that’s what I do with my collection of miniatures – I buy them if there is a bottling I have in my collection and want to taste. I also buy them to do taste tests for you, as it saves me having to buy the full bottle.

Recent chat with somebody in the Whisky Retail trade suggested that it is harder and harder to get miniatures, as firms discontinue doing them, as most of the cost is down to the glass bottle.

2/ Anything involving a ceramic bottle or jug.

There is a massive inherent problem with ceramics. In fact there are a few. The obvious one is that ceramic isn’t see through. There is no way of verifying the condition or the level of the whisky within. It may be filled with tea. If you crack the seal open to look and find it’s all fine, you have just destroyed your investment.

Ceramic is also porous. Any problems in the glaze, and you will notice spots on the outside as whisky filters through.

Lastly, ceramic is more fragile than glass. Any sort of chip or scratch, and the limited value falls massively.

I’ve only really seen one ceramic release that has tempted me but I’ve resisted – there is a Glenfiddich in a Wedgewood container. But regardless of the whisky or the reputation of the ceramics, do your self a favour and leave the ceramics for the Antique Roadshow or your Grandmother’s sideboard.

3/ Anything from a supermarket shelf

If obtaining a collection for drinking is your goal, then there isn’t really anything wrong with buying from a supermarket, as you are drinking to consume. However don’t expect much in the way of premium or collectable whisky to be there. This is because supermarkets won’t stock the whisky you need to make a great collection – the amount of people willing to spend £120 on a 21 year old whisky in Asda is very low.

The offerings in a supermarket are going to be mass produced and not particularly worth anything unless they are really popular and get discontinued. You will rarely make much money off a whisky under £100 unless this is the situation. There are exceptions, but I will cover these later.

4/ Low quality whisky

Why would anybody want to collect low quality whisky? If you are intending to drink it, you’d be wanting to impress those you share it with, or you’d prefer hopefully to enjoy the finer things in life. There is no point in having a cabinet or collection full of whisky from a supermarket, unless that is what you like to drink.

While there is nothing really wrong with cheaper whisky, it has obviously been made to a price point. The time taken to make it and mature it will have been less. It will have been made in large batches which DOES affect the quality. And without any doubt, it will be lower strength, chill filtered and have colouring added to appeal to the mass market. This is not the finer end of the scale, and unless there is a demand after it gets discontinued, it will never make money. The chances of there being demand is low, as consumers move on to the next bottle of gut rot.

Anything from Aldi and Lidl is generally a no-no, but on the odd occasion they have released a good whisky that has impressed both the critics and the general public. The 40 year whiskies released by Aldi hit public and industry acclaim, and regularly hit auction prices over £200. Not bad for a bargain malt that cost £38.

5/ Collections being pushed by their producers.

I left this one until last, but it’s something that is bit of a personal rant, and I feel leads those just starting to collect whisky down a garden path littered with ‘dog eggs.’ My recent visit to Oban Distillery showed the distillery shop crammed full of the Diageo Game of Thrones series. Plus it was pushed by the guide at the end of the tour. While this is collectable, let me tell you why I wouldn’t bother.

⁃ the bottles are all Non-Age Statement. There could be a good whack of young, cheap whisky in there.

⁃ The price per bottle is in the £38 – £65 range – reinforces the point above.

⁃ The whisky will probably be a mix of editions that already exist but will you open it to try it? Will it be any good? The primary reason for buying should always be the quality of the spirit. While I’m sure it won’t be trash whisky, it won’t be the finest.

⁃ It is mass produced, unnumbered bottles. There will be thousands of them going about.

⁃ To make money, you have to sell it. If there are thousands of bottles, once Game Of Thrones (or whatever theme is current) leaves the current consciousness, there will be less of a demand for it. Who will you sell to? Probably every whisky drinking Game of Thrones fan will have one. Any self respecting whisky drinker won’t drink stuff made for TV programme geeks as they know it’s just a marketing ploy to sell more whisky.

Game Of Thrones. All coloured and Chill Filtered

Collections themselves can be worth collecting. I have a couple of complete series of different ranges, but none of which have been pushed as a specific collectable item. Plus, my collections are worth a lot more than the original price, and once fully out of production should realise a good investment.

With all this in mind, we need to think about what will be worth collecting.

What should I want to collect?

1/ Aged or Vintage Whisky

While we know that just because a whisky doesn’t have an age statement or vintage on it mean that it is inferior, it is worth noting that any age reference on a whisky seals the deal. People will then know what they are getting.

2/ Limited Editions

Not all ‘Limited Editions’ are really that limited. See my rant about Game Of Thrones, which actually just means they are limiting how much they will market it while there is demand. Also, just because something is labelled as rare, doesn’t mean to say it is. Take a look on an auction website to see how many whiskies with ‘rare’ or ‘limited’ there are – my point will be instantly proven.

The truly rare whiskies cost thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, and are worth that much not just because of age, but perhaps their bottle. Whenever Macallan release something new and limited, the value only spikes due to those flipping their bottles. One example is the Folio releases. Folio 4 has just been released, it cost £250, so the whisky in it isn’t rare or old. But by people flipping them as soon as they were released, prices hit well over £1000. Yet they aren’t that rare. It’s all just hype. A truly rare whisky in my opinion has less than 50 bottles.

Worthwhile, yet affordable limited editions don’t have to be that rare but they do have to be in demand. One such collection would be the Rare Malts series of Diageo, which is now discontinued, having been replaced by annual Special Releases in 2005, but the Rare Malts collection is usually under 6000 bottles, the range contains some cracking whiskies, many of which have disappeared forever due to the distilleries closing and being demolished. There is a steady demand for these bottles, as it seems some people still drink them, but nowadays you’ll only find them on the secondary market in specialist shops or auctions.

One of 9000.

Try to buy whisky which had less than a run of 10000 bottles and you may stand a chance.

3/ Silent Whisky

This is generally a good buy. However, you need to be smart. Silent whisky is from a distillery that has been closed. It’s even better if it has been demolished – you then know that only the barrels in existence are all that remains to be bottled. I’ve a few bottles like that – Imperial, St Magdalene, Millburn, Glen Mhor, Glen Albyn. Even if the distillery still exists and is possibly able to be reopened, the older whisky will still be valuable. We will soon see when the original Clynelish distillery (known as Brora), Port Ellen and Rosebank become re-activated.

Whisky like this is always in some sort of demand and will perform adequately in regards to value improvements.

The Holy Grail is a limited bottle from a silent distillery.

4/ Good Quality Whisky

Finding quality whisky isn’t hard. You need to see what is popular, what is selling well, what gets talked about in the forums, whisky magazines, Facebook etc. Just collect at least a bottle or two. Get recommendations in specialist stores, such as a whisky shop or a quality off-licence. Odds on are that it will eventually be discontinued. If you have a wee supply, you’ll be in prime position to sell for profit at auction.

5/ Discontinued Whisky

Keep a watch for quality whisky that has, or will be discontinued. It has to be popular, as you need to hope people will drink what is on secondary market. Once they do, the limited availability will drive prices up on the secondary market.

I’ve bought a couple of bottles this way, and am realising good potential returns. I got the heads up about Bunnahabhain Moine Oloroso 2017 being a decent dram and not available to get in the shops. However, careful scouting online saw me buy 2 of the last available bottles I could find in retail. What I paid for two of them, some people are bidding the same amount for a single bottle at auction. Happy days for me.

6/ First / Last Bottles

When the first produce of a distillery is bottled, this can be a widely anticipated event. There are quite a few smaller distilleries that have opened in Scotland recently, and these are proving to be popular. First bottles are a good bet – if the distillery proves it has a good whisky, your bottle will increase. On the flip side, if the whisky isn’t so great and the distillery folds, you will have a rare bottle (although distillery failures are not that common nowadays). Similarly, last bottles are good too, but are much harder to obtain. I’ve a bottle from the last cask filled at the Dallas Dhu distillery, but it won’t be the absolute last bottle, as nobody is fully aware if independent bottlers still have casks in storage.

7/ Whisky Series

Allied Distillers special editions 2005

There is a lot to be said for collecting whisky series. There are one or two that are worth while collecting, need not cost the earth, and need not be too rare. Some of them may not make much in profit, some may be expensive, and some you need not collect all the available bottles in the series, but for the cheaper ones, it is advisable. If you are looking for an expensive series, try looking at things like the Glenfarclas Family Casks – the older the vintage, the more expensive it is to buy. The headline picture of Scotty’s Drams FB page is the Allied Distillers range released in 2005 from 6 of their distilleries. All are 15 yr old, and includes the only official bottling from Imperial Distillery, unless the owners have some older casks still in stock. Bottles are in the £50 – £120 range. Tomatin had the 5 Virtues of Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Metal. Of course, there is the Flora and Fauna range, but it is getting harder to find all of the 26 bottles that were released.

Conclusion

What we have learnt from this article is that there are definitely some things you should collect, and others you definitely shouldn’t collect. But even with the guidance that I’ve provided, there are still many ways not to be focused. Resist your temptation to just buy bottles randomly. You could end up with some duds. What you choose to collect will primarily be set by what budget you set, and how much you wish to spend on individual purchases.

Slainte!

Next article

  • Setting a budget
  • Collection Policies

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