It has been noticed that perhaps I have a tendency towards the negative.
I’m sure that if you are a regular reader then this will come as no surprise. Being Aberdonian it could be argued that this is a genetic trait, and that’s a hard argument to disagree with. As an example there is an apocryphal story of two Aberdonians talking about their holidays. One is showing the other their holiday snaps. The Aberdonian viewing the snaps sees them all, thinks for a minute and points to one of the photos and says “that’s the worst one.” Every silver lining has a cloud.
But don’t think we’re all gloomy all of the time. It is worth remembering no matter how dour the day is, the sun still rises behind the clouds. Inside I’m a ray of sunshine, though at the moment I’ve got every reason to feel less than delighted. Without revealing too much which could land me in bother, I’m currently sailing in what has been described as a ‘High Risk’ or ‘War-Like’ zone. Research a region called Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and you’ll get the picture, so any bit of good news will easily brighten my mood, even for a short while.
It was one of my fellow crew members on board that supplied the reason (plus some of the material for this article). One of the purposes for starting this blog was because of people at work knowing about my whisky geekery and them wanting to ask questions. Unfortunately I don’t often have the time to continually talk about whisky while at work, though I have the occasional burst. One of the contractors who regularly returns to this ship had mentioned that he had a few older bottles of whisky and was showing me the pictures. I was asked if they were worth anything. It’s often the case in these situations that normally there will be a handful of 1970’s Johnnie Walker Red bottles or some Bells, but the first bottle was a 1980’s Bowmore 12. While there also were a couple of 1980’s blends, my eyes were opened when a 1990’s Macallan 10 y.o popped up. Then a Highland Park 12 in the 1980’s dumpy bottling. I was fully paying attention when a Port Ellen 21 appeared in the photos. There’s a few 1980’s single malts also which may raise a few pounds, yet there are more whisky bottles to be photographed.
You can bet your bottom dollar it was a great feeling to be able to give my colleague the good news. If they chose to sell, they would get a tidy sum for the whisky they may never drink, or alternatively they would have quite an impressive small scale whisky collection to start with. But despite this, thoughts of an overcast nature were gathering on the horizon. I remembered how I started collecting whisky and wondered what I would do differently now. Unlike my colleague, I started from ground zero.
My first collectable bottles were two Glenmorangie 1993 Truffle Oak Reserve bought at the distillery for £150, which are now worth considerably more, but until I developed a focused collection policy I was buying bottles that I felt may realise some value. It turned out that I was buying the same sort of bottles everybody else was. I’m now starting to think that this may not have been the best plan. There are a few of reasons why this may be the case.
If everybody else is collecting them and not drinking them, the bottle will not be truly rare. It’s just not easily available. Unless it’s in the high demand / low production category, the residual demand will not be that great. Even some of the collectible bottles from Macallan are released in the order of tens of thousands.
If supply is not that limited, the bottle will not necessarily increase that much in value from the point you bought it. The bottles such as Springbank local barley aren’t rare, yet the hype surrounding them is what is driving the price. Ditto committee release Ardbeg. The increases in price on the secondary market is just down to us. We do it to ourselves.
It is also likely that should there be an economic event that may persuade people to sell (such as mass unemployment or recession) then everybody is going to be selling the same stuff at the same time. Ergo, the price gets suppressed due to higher availability.
What I’m trying to say is perhaps it is all well and good to buy new releases as they could well earn a bit of money for those of you who have the prime concern of realising a profit Or at least you would hope they hold their value with inflation. But truly, beyond the initial flipper craze there is no saying any of these bottles are a reliable investment. I personally think the best thing to do is look for the older classics, which may have a track record of increasing prices or take a chance on lower key bottles. Who would have thought an investment in a £40 bottle of standard 10 year old Macallan would reach £400+?
To find out what is worth keeping aside, maybe ignore the plethora of new releases that people buy and put straight into a cupboard. They’ll probably never taste them unless one of their dram swap buddies has two bottles and shares one. Instead, look at what is popular, good value and potentially getting discontinued. One example I went for was the Old Pulteneny 17. At one time it was only £70 a bottle. Now if you can find one at retail, expect to pay £100 – £140. One more recent prospect is the Glendronach range, before the decision to remove the Non-Chill Filtered statement.
Often it is said in whisky you often have to speculate to accumulate, but I prefer to paraphrase a verse from the Good Book which says “Do not conform but be transformed”. Don’t follow just because everybody else is buying this and that. Make informed decisions in order to pave your own road on which to continue your whisky journey.
Ostensibly, whisky is for drinking so go forth and make your discoveries. Perhaps keep back something for a rainy day. Don’t just focus on the potential profit, but perhaps look on it as being a whisky custodian. Carve your own path and don’t merely follow the crowd. If you do your research and the whisky is truly great and not just another insipid inaugural release, then it will be just as valuable in the future, if not more. If the whisky doesn’t perhaps meet your financial expectations, you will still have a whisky you enjoyed from yesteryear which can be savoured or shared in decades to come. That will be a moment of untold riches and is probably the most positive thing I can advise you to do. That is exactly why I advise only to buy whisky at a price you would be willing to drink it at. That’s what it may come down to.
Whether or not you want to, it is pretty hard to escape the fact that the world of whisky is expanding beyond all expectations. We don’t even need to stop at whisky, for there is still a lot of expansion in other distilled spirits such as premium rums and craft gins and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. More and more people are getting in on the concept of collecting. I’ve been asked by quite a few people recently about collecting and its enough to make it worthwhile to write another article on it. I’ve already written extensively on this in the past, but I feel now it is appropriate to bring you a more up to date article which encompasses some of the experiences that I have had as well as conversations I have had with various people within the whisky industry.
What is collectible?
This is all down to personal preference. We all have different things that excite us in the whisky world. Some people only collect from one distillery, some people may only collect certain vintages, certain age statements. We’ve all heard of the generous father who gave his son a bottle of 18 year old Macallan for his birthday, allowing his son to sell it and use the profit to help him move onto the property ladder, there really is no limit on what is and isn’t collectable, but you have to look at why you are collecting and this will determine what will be suitable for you to collect.
This is a question I put to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. Andy has been a whisky collector as long as he has been legally allowed to be, as well as being a collector, he is a broker, valuer and consultant to the Scotch Whisky Industry. Andy and I had some very interesting conversations over our joy of whisky collecting and seeing as I was going to have to rebuild my collection slightly, I thought it made sense to ask Andy what would be appropriate to collect in the future.
“There are three properties to collectible whiskies” Andy explained to me over the phone. “which are desirability, collectability and investability.” He went onto explain how every bottle will have different amounts of each property, and where it has good levels of all three, then that is where you have a suitable bottle.
Desirability. Does the bottle have a physical property that makes people want to own it? Is it a whisky with an in demand flavour profile? Does it have attractive packaging?
Collectability Is it a rare release? Is it from an in demand distillery or bottler? Is it part of a set that you already own? Is it discontinued or from a silent distillery?
Investability This can be a product of the desirability and collectability. This is because if a whisky is rare and in demand, then the chances of it being investment grade are high. However, true investment grade whisky is likely to beyond the means of most people reading my blog. We are looking at items like Macallan where some bottles easily reach into five figures. Investability (which isn’t really a word in the English dictionary) is not likely to occur from a bottle that can be bought in your local supermarket. You are looking to source bottles at specialist whisky shops, distilleries or auctions to get a better chance of making a profit.
If you are considering whisky that has all of these attributes then you have a bottle that is likely to be in demand.
What sort of collector am I?
I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of collectors are people who perhaps just collected a bottle here and there, perhaps to drink, perhaps to save for a rainy day. Few might go down the investment route from the beginning. Has it been that people have got the idea that is often fuelled by the media and the producers themselves that whisky is a premium investment option? Just because something appeared on the Knight Frank index does not mean it will continue to do so.
The types of collector fall into a handful of very easy categories. 1/ Drinkers – Those who want to collect to have a good stash of a favourite dram on standby. 2/ Hobbyists. Those who take pride in owning bottles. 3/ Investors. Those who are buying whisky in order to realise profit, expecting their whisky to go up in value. 4/ Flippers. Those who take advantage of new releases to sell quickly after release to those who either can’t wait for a bottle or aren’t able to get a bottle.
Of course there can be blurring of the borders between the four types of collector. I don’t know if a flipper actually counts as a collector as some don’t even touch the bottle they buy, often getting retailers to send straight to the auctioneers. Personally, I’m a bit of the first three types. I have whisky in store that I know I plan to drink, whisky I’ve wanted to own because I like the presentation and whisky I have bought deliberately as an investment.
For those who drink or those who collect just to own bottles they admire, then what they choose to collect is entirely personal and dependent on their own tastes. However if you want to collect to realise a profit, no matter how small, there are guidelines that you would be well advised to stick to.
1. Have a collection policy or an aim.
This might not be particularly obvious, but if you want to maximise profits, then you have to target what you want to collect. In the start of my collecting journey, I initially started collecting bottles from distilleries that could be seen on my journey between home and Aberdeen. As this passes through Speyside, that encompassed many distilleries. I didn’t just collect any bottles, I collected those that were limited edition. Let’s face it, a standard 12 year old Glenfiddich unless its ancient is never going to realise much value.
I moved onto collecting Flora and Fauna bottlings. It’s advisable if you are going to collect a certain type of bottle, then attempt to get the whole collection. When the time comes to sell, you will be able to attract two types of buyers; those who want the whole collection or those who wish to a bottle at a time. Make sure however you are aware of the likely cost of all the collection before you start. For instance, many Flora and Fauna bottles cost around under £200. However, rarer bottles like the white cap first editions often go for over £400. The holy grail of the collection is the Speyburn, which was only made for one batch according to legend. This bottle has started regularly achieving hammer prices of over £2000.
2. Buy bottles that are likely to realise an increase in value
There is absolutely no sense in buying bottles for investment just because they are available. They have to be able to realise an increase in value and realistically you need to be buying bottles that will be in demand in the future. Bottles that would come under this criteria are most normally limited editions with low numbers released. There is a problem with the title ‘Limited Edition’ as in a lot of cases it isn’t really rare at all.
Realistically speaking, if you can buy it off the shelves of your supermarket, then it is generally not going to be a bottle that will be collectable. There are some exceptions, but you will have to generally keep hold of the bottle for many decades to realise a decent increase in value.
Unfortunately, many bottles increase in value not due to the whisky inside of them, but due to the brand. The whisky inside them may not be the best example of what that distillery can produce, but the demand is there. Distilleries such as Macallan, Ardbeg, Highland Park and Glenmorangie spring to mind. It is pretty hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, but you have to buy the right one. The quality of the whisky in a 1980’s distilled 10 year old is far superior to some of the Double Oak and Triple Oak expressions available now in my opinion so it pays to do your research. Not that any are bad whiskies, it’s all a matter of relativity and personal opinion. And while I did say it was hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, it is possible and I personally know of one person who has lost £100 on a higher value release. It’s not me I hasten to add, although the person in question is quite open about it.
Bottles that are likely to go up in value are those from silent distilleries, bottles that were popular and discontinued, single cask bottles from an in demand distillery. Cask strength editions are quite worthy as well, but you have to keep an eye on how many are produced. Something like Glenfarclas 105 will not go up in value, as it is a core range and many thousands have been produced, however a limited run of a cask strength bottle such as a Glenfarclas family cask will most likely increase in value, or a bottle such as a festival release with limited numbers.
Also popular are the bottles from first releases from new distilleries. However buying these on the secondary market soon after release usually means the price has been distorted by flippers, so it is always better to buy straight from the initial point of sale.
3. Know of the potential value of the bottle before you buy.
Yes, it is nice to get your hands on a rare Glenugie, the Peterhead distillery that was the first distillery to close as part of the 1983 mass cull of distilleries due to a surplus of production. However when buying such a bottle, it is always better to get it straight from a retailer on the primary market. If you buy such bottles on the secondary market, such as from an online auction or whisky broker, then you have to be aware of the going price for the bottles. While you may be happy in paying £400 for the bottle at auction, it’s not really a good investment if the ceiling for that bottle is £450. A closed distillery may not be the best example, as eventually supply will run out at some point, but the same goes for any bottle. Look at those people paying over £2000 for a Macallan Genesis – the market price has seen a lot of these bottles sell now for around £1400 at auction. Yes, given time the price will probably go back up again, but that depends on how demand continues for them. If you overpay, then you have to hold onto the bottle for longer to realise a profit, or stand to make a loss.
It’s worth pointing out that in some cases, original bottlings often are more profitable than independent bottlers, but this is not always the case. Buying a whisky bottled by Signatory, Gordon & Macphail, Cadenhead, Adelphi, James Eadie, That Boutique-y Whisky Company amongst others can realise good prices. Certainly an Invergordon 42 year old whisky from TBWC I’ve been chasing has certainly increased in value, and I know from the bidding action it is very much in demand. I think the original release price for Batch 15 was in the region of £115. I had to pay close to £200 once auction fees were considered. However, I have tasted it in the past and it is a great dram, making a good explanation for why the price has gone up.
4. Know your potential buyer
When buying, think about who is likely to buy what you are selling. This is why gimmicks like the Game Of Thrones whisky wasn’t really a good investment. Apart from those complete sets flipped just after release, it is rare to see a complete set break even. It is unlikely to ever make much of a profit if any at all. Limited editions tied to a TV show are unlikely to make money as they are normally manufactured in large amounts.
‘Limited Edition’ is often a misnomer, as something produced in its hundreds of thousands, but only made available for a 6 months or so is still technically a limited edition. You need to see my article on Game Of Thrones whisky to understand that the only people likely to buy this are fans of the show. And they’ll already have a set or two. With no real auction demand, unfortunately you are stuck with it or will not be able to sell for any profit. Remember most auctioneers take between 5 and 10% on the hammer price which when Game of Thrones has already got a hammer price well under the original RRP makes the blow a little bit harder.
This is why I always advise do not buy anything you are not prepared to drink. Buying bottles like Macallan, Ardbeg and Highland Park may have higher prices, but there is a healthy secondary market for these bottles, as people buy them to drink, especially whisky bars in Asia who’s clientele are demanding rare whisky and are prepared to pay for it.
This is also the risk in single cask bottlings. You need somebody to want the single cask whisky you have as there can be duds going about that haven’t been well received, but this can be mitigated by buying from an in-demand distillery. It’s hard for me to suggest individual distilleries, but I myself have usually restricted myself to single cask bottlings from GlenAllachie, GlenDronach, Invergordon, Glentauchers, Dailuaine, Benrinnes and Tamdhu. I have other single casks, but these for me are the brands I like.
5. Don’t overstretch.
It goes without saying that you should not overstretch. If you are a low grade investor, the best advice I can give you is set a budget for what you are prepared to spend to collect. Perhaps a monthly budget – you don’t have to spend it all in one go, but perhaps roll it over to another month. What ever you do, it is important not to spend more than you are prepared to drink, as there is a possibility that the situation may happen. With that in mind, it is also helpful if you collect stuff that you would enjoy drinking – if you don’t like peaty whisky, then there is no sense in collecting Ardbeg for example. Just in case, you understand! It all depends whether or not you are prepared to take the risk.
6. Speculate to accumulate.
As with any investment, you have to consider what bottles give most value. I’ll put it here that if you are only going to collect bottles at £30ish then the chances of any sort of profit are minimal. They are not extinguished, but from my experience the more you can spend on a bottle, the more it is likely to have a chance in going up in value. I can give three examples to show relative profits.
Aberlour 10 – decent enough whisky. Can be bought for £35-45. I am aware that it is getting discontinued in favour of a 12 year old expression. This whisky is mass produced, and while a decent whisky there will be a lot of this hanging around in people’s drink cabinets. It’s a simple yet pretty good value Speyside whisky. However, it is highly unlikely in the period of 10 years to double in value.
Old Pulteney 17 – Another mass produced whisky, but perhaps not as much as the Aberlour above. This was discontinued in 2018. It was reviewed by American YouTube vBloggers Scotch 4 Dummies as potentially the best Old Pulteney ever. Cost used to be £74ish. I’ve just had a look on Amazon, and the cheapest new one they are advertising is £203. It can be had a lot cheaper elsewhere, but the thing is that editon was a very popular whisky. Just looking at one auction site, the price has peaked at £110, yet averages at £85. It has only been discontinued for two years, so many of the people buying it are likely still to be drinking it. Once supply narrows down, this will be a good whisky from an old era. The price is likely only to do one thing.
Bruichladdich Octomore X4+10 – Now we look at a whisky that was a limited release. £150 on release and only 3000 produced. Sold out instantly. This is a quadruple distilled whisky at 70% and ten years old. However it was only in a 50cl bottle. However just looking at one auction site, this peaked at £281 some three months after release and now sells for anywhere between £210 and £250. Even at the lower value, thats £60 in less than a year on an initial investment of £150. As these get drunk, the value will only go up, but will reach a ceiling value of which I estimate to be in the £300 – £350 range maximum. I own two, and I can guarantee one will be getting cracked open.
Can you see the pattern? The more that gets spent on a whisky, the potential to realise an in value increases also. In my experience if you spend below £100 a bottle as an investment, you are unlikely to see great profits and it may only hold its value. Factor in selling costs and you may only break even. However, if you are collecting as a hobby because owning certain whiskies or brands gives you an amount of pleasure and pride, then profit is not your main motive so you should not expect to make any. Harsh, but fair as you’ve received value in the pride factor and not the monetary factor.
7. Be aware what is getting relabelled.
For those who want to collect a specific whisky, they are more likely to be looking for all variants of it. So when a distillery is rebranding, people will want the new style in their collection. Doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive whisky. Example – GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh were all sold by Billy Walker to Brown Foreman. While there has not been a rebranding of all the whisky (BenRiach recently has undergone a rebrand), there has been subtle changes to the bottles, such as the new Master Blender signature changing to Rachael Barrie instead of Billy Walker. This gives the bottling a distinct ‘marker’ of when it was produced, therefore collectors in the future will easily be able to tell the era the bottle was from.
Another distillery that has rebranded, Glengoyne, recently had it’s 18 yr old expression for sale on Amazon for £20 less than normal retail, possibly in an effort to sell old stock. That is good for drinkers (cheap drink!) but is also good for collectors who have more margin to realise a profit should they ever sell.
This is why with intelligent buying, you don’t have to go for the expensive whisky. It can be enough to buy an affordable bottle and just wait for a rebrand or a recipe change. An example is GlenDronach 15 Revival. The original recipe had to be discontinued for three years due to lack of sufficient stock to make up the malt. Three years later, it reappeared and has since undergone another recipe change according to my sources. The original bottles have increased
8. Be aware what is getting released or discontinued.
First bottlings from any distillery are usually a safe bet, especially if in limited numbers. Be careful if you are buying them on the secondary market as you may be overpaying, Similarly be aware of what is getting discontinued.
It can help being on the mailing lists of distilleries to see when new releases are coming. Often that gives you access to any ballots for limited releases or first chances to purchase. I used to be on the mailing list for a few distilleries, such as Macallan and Ardbeg, but have now decided to cut back as I am no longer really interested in these brands enough to be on their marketing lists.
9.Make sure you have a place to keep your collection
It’s all well and good collecting whisky. But if you are not drinking it, or not drinking it quick enough, then you will have to ensure that you have somewhere to keep it. If you are collecting for investment, then you need to make sure that it is in a place that keeps your bottles in prime condition. I’ve written on this extensively here and here (click on links) but to quickly summarise it needs to be somewhere not exposed to constant light and the temperature has to remain stable and not at extremes – lofts, attics and garages are not good places. I personally have a storage locker, but that comes with its own risks – see here
10.Make sure it is covered.
Again, I have gone into this in detail before here and here, but regardless of where you keep your collection, make sure that it is covered under insurance. Keep an eye on the values of any high value bottles as they may go up and exceed the single item limit on your house insurance. Having large amounts of bottles in your house may also compromise your house insurance too if there was a fire. Best look into specialist insurance. This is a given if you are using a storage facility – get professional whisky insurance and don’t rely on the insurance offered. There are normally limits on alcohol pay outs -my first storage location limited me to £10K.
11.Keep an eye on the value of your collection.
You need to keep an eye on the value of your collection for a few reasons. Firstly and most importantly is for insurance purposes. This will make sure you have adequate cover for your collection.
Keep a regular check on what the more expensive bottles in your collection are doing at auction. These are the bottles that you stand to make the most profit on if bought at the right price, but equally could be the bottles you lose most on. You may find that the price is dropping as a bottle is going out of favour and it may be a good time to sell. However, don’t let one or two auctions be the decider – use a service like Rare Whisky 101 to check every so often to see the average prices. Investment in whisky bottles is best played out over the long term, similar to any investment, so it is sometimes better to hold your nerve.
If collecting to realise profit, then you have to keep an eye on how to sell it. There are limited options as it is illegal to sell alcohol without a licence, therefore you have to use an auctioneer or a broker. These often come with charges or commission, so you have to factor this into your final profit or loss.
Auctions are a risk as you need somebody to want to buy your bottle for it to sell. Ideally you want two or three people to want to buy it, as a bidding war often results in a better price for you. But here’s the hint why you don’t really collect stuff off the supermarket shelves – its been made in its thousands, supply is likely plentiful on the secondary market, therefore people don’t have to have bidding wars.
The other risk in selling is that you have to ensure that you are not selling in quantities regularly enough that could attract the attentions of the authorities. You may be selling in such a way the tax authorities may deem you as a trader. This could have legal as well as tax implications. Advice I have been given in the past is that if not selling everything at once is sell in larger tranches.
You have to be aware that selling bottles of whisky, this can expose you to tax liablity, especially Capital Gains tax if you reside in the UK. This is because unlike casks of whisky, bottles are not seen as a depreciating asset and therefore can be used in any tax liability. Of course, this depends on how you sell it as you will also need to avoid being seen as a trader too if conducting frequent sales. A reputable whisky broker will be able to advise you.
l would like to point out that this is not an exhaustive list. If you decide to collect for profit, then all I can really say is do not spend more money than you can afford to lose or drink. It’s a hobby, do not let it be your downfall. If you want to make bigger levels of profit for less work, I’d consider cask purchase ONLY THROUGH A REPUTABLE DEALER and not through any of these advertised investment schemes. Cask investment also potentially comes with some large tax costs and you need to have a plan on what to do once the cask reaches maturity. Essentially the only way to make profits is to sell in bond.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that collecting in whisky is becoming more and more popular. However I feel in the UK that we are potentially in the path of a perfect storm that may crash bottle auction prices and also affect the industry as a whole. Back in the 1980’s the whisky industry severely constricted due to oversupply. Whisky distilleries were shut wholesale, some never to reopen. The term coined for the period I’ve often seen as the ‘Whisky Loch’. Well, I feel we are reaching a point that we now have a Glass Loch building in the cupboards across the UK. Supply has never been so good, and with many new distilleries coming online, people are seeing bottle collecting as an easy way to make money.
However, I feel the dam holding back the Glass Loch is on shaky foundations. While auction prices are healthy at the moment, the global economy may not be. Without taking the political view but based on fact, the UK economy is in a very precarious position, caused by the Coronavirus and the potential effects of Brexit. Should the economy fail and there is mass unemployment or raised taxes, there will be a pinch on the pockets of the public. People will then see their whisky for what it is – a luxury. Faced with having to make mortgage payments, I predict that a good many people will be selling parts of their collections or even in their entirety. This will have the result of potentially lowering secondary prices.
This has two outcomes for us as collectors and investors. Falling auction prices mean availability of bottles at reasonable prices goes up. Any investment in whisky should always be seen as a long term strategy. Buying cheap now at auction could realise great benefits in the future. But in the second outcome it also potentially means that our collections go down in value too. Hold your nerve as long as possible. Those people who do will benefit, as the lowering of prices will also potentially mean more of those collected bottles get drunk or end up in the hands of those who will drink them. A shortening of supply means when the market swings back the other way, our bottles will be that little bit rarer. And worth more.
Please realise that I am not a professional and am only writing this based on my experience as a collector myself and what I have seen in market performance within the secondary market. I cannot reiterate enough that you must only purchase what you can afford to drink or are comfortable to lose.
Last bits of advice? Collecting for personal enjoyment or profit can give immense levels of satisfaction. You can learn lots about the whisky industry as you research your bottles. Have fun but remember that when the fun stops, stop.
And don’t forget to open a bottle in the stash every now and again. Collecting without tasting is a bit soulless.
We’ve now reached the end of the insurance claim process and I’m at the point of payout. Now seems a good time to wrap up the procedure and the precautions and advice I have about my experience. There are links to the companies I mention in the article at the end. This is not a promotionalpiece but a summary of my experience of the whole process, and I feel it would be remiss of me not to share the details of the companies used and my feelings about the service provided. I’ve included some pictures of the damaged bottles and cartons.
With a quick email it was over just as quick as it started. My insurance underwriters are prepared to pay for the loss in value to my collection. 21 bottles worth just a shade under £6000 and now they assess there has been £1000 loss in value. Realistically this is the best situation I could be in as all the bottles are still drinkable and had they been written off by my insurer I would have maybe not got the chance to purchase the ones I wanted to taste. Now that decision is mine. I’m not so sure that the value now is worth what was determined it to be post flood, but that is the thing with auctions – it could well be more or I get the chance to crack open a bottle I otherwise might not have.
Looking back on the experience from the horror of the first call to inform me there has been a problem to where I am now, the experience has not been as bad as first feared and indeed has been a lot smoother than expected. Let’s look at the reasons for this, for if there is one thing I’ve discovered, planning ahead prevents or limits disasters.
Find a decent storage area or facility
I use a storage facility in Perth. It’s about 70 miles from my house but prevents wee accidents when I maybe fancy cracking into something that I have bought as an investment. Ask the facility about their flooding record, ask about flood prevention. Look at security and the condition of the building. Is it likely to suffer flooding from a watercourse? Is it in good repair – does the roof look likely to leak? It’s always better to get an internal storage unit as it is less impacted by the changes in temperature. Going for a first floor locker prevents accidents like mine. Be aware those close to a metal roof are more likely to suffer variations in temperature and could affect your seals.
Keeping the collection at home? Keep it in a darkened place so the whisky isn’t exposed to direct sunlight or variations in temperature.
If using a storage facility, make you are well insured. Out of around 130 storage units in my facility, only 27 had any sort of insurance. Close to 100 units were flooded (some of the external containers did not get affected), and many of the insured only took the basic level of insurance which was £1000. However, the value of the items damaged was a lot higher and people have been left out of pocket.
I knew my items have high value, so using the facility insurance provision was not economic. So I insured via a specialist broker, Bruce Stevenson insurance brokers. Not only was this a great product, the service provided by them has been exemplary. I felt really guilty having only started my policy in April to making a claim in August, but that’s what insurance is for. I’m impressed by the friendly and efficient service I received, especially from Alexandra Richards, the broker that dealt with my claim.
The process was easy – one phone call and e-mail started the ball rolling. All I had to do was access my locker, record the damage and provide the details to them. They sorted the rest. They arranged a loss adjuster to see the damage who assessed how much damage had been done. I already had an estimate by time my loss adjuster arrived, so was already ahead of the game. That is why it pays to know the value you paid for your bottles and an idea of what they are worth as time goes on.
The loss adjuster reports back to the insurance company about the damage, having taken advice from a valuation expert. Then it is just a case of waiting to see what the insurance company will do. Alistair Spence of Criterion Loss adjusters gave some good advice about my situation and was very reassuring about the whole process.
If you are storing at home, make sure your home insurance will cover you in the event of flood and fire. Just because you only paid £35 for a Speyburn Flora and Fauna in 1991, doesn’t mean that it is still worth that amount. It can be well into the £2000+. If that gets destroyed would your insurance cover you?
Indeed, those with large collections at home may find themselves seriously underinsured as most policies have a limit per item, and above that will require each individual high value item individually listed. Be aware, large collections in the home will be seen as a fire hazard, something pointed out to me by my home insurance company that uses a red telephone on wheels as its logo.
I now know a couple of whisky brokers, and was lucky enough to have one who valued my damaged items for a nominal figure acceptable to any tight Aberdonian. However it is important to have an idea of what your collection is worth. Companies like Rare Whisky 101 monitor the prices at auction of bottles, and will provide a valuation or you can use the Bottle Valuation Index service which you can use to track your high value bottles, but you need to buy credits to use this service. I believe other companies do valuations cheaper, but I’ve used RW101 for a few years now and find the service pretty good and accurate.
You cannot just keep your whisky collection in its carton and expect it to survive. Part of the reason my collection survived mostly intact was due to the fact I professionally packed it in Airsacs. The only bottles damaged were those not in Airsacs on the lower layer of boxes on the pallets. I’ve learnt a lesson from this and now will flat pack cartons and make sure any packing that could be damaged is now at a level that flooding can’t affect it. Of course; the roof could leak, but I’ve put PVC dust sheets over my boxes to limit the chance of damage.
I use silica gel in all Airsacs, as well as polystyrene nuggets. Don’t use the environmentally friendly ones, as they go to a nasty goo when wet. All my packing materials come from Macfarlane Packaging. Airsacs aren’t the cheapest solution, but the alternative isn’t worth thinking about. The Airsacs on the lower layer of the pallets gave rigidity to the sodden cardboard boxes, keeping more expensive whiskies high and dry. Had this not been the case, then we would have been looking at a high 5 figure loss. If you are collecting whisky and storing it, a £200 investment in storage solutions makes sense and preserves the condition and value of your bottles.
And Alexandra from Bruce Stevenson agrees with me. For any asset it is important that good risk management and protection is key, and hopefully my insurance company sees that I made the adequate provisions for the foreseen threats in choosing a unit with flood protection, not exposed to temperature variation and professionally packed. Nobody foreseen the flood coming up from the drains and overcoming the flood prevention measures. And that’s why we insure.
At home, most of us will want to display our bottles. They are our whisky babies, but we need to store them where light will not fade labels or liquid, away from sources of heat and cold, away from children’s hands that might not drink it but accidentally knock it over and break it. Just be careful. It is understandable that you want to display your pride and joys, but consider where carefully. I know many people who have a whisky cupboard in their homes. Consider one yourself.
I’ve considered all these things and still got caught out. Don’t think it can’t happen to you as it can. It’s not the events that you can forsee that catch you, but those you don’t. I’m just very grateful I have had a specialist insurance policy in place which has met each one of my expectations. For around £350 the piece of mind alone has been priceless. I may have been facing a loss over a hundred times the cost of my premium so it is a no-brainer.
And now with payment looming I now have the decision of what to do with the damaged bottles. Part of me says sell them and move on. Part of me says drink them. In the case of the 10 year old Macallan this will be happening as I know the value in that bottle, and it is a superb dram. I’m licking my lips already in anticipation and so should my friends as I will be sharing. Of course I am on the lookout for another one, but we will see what comes up. I think a new change of direction is needed. From every disaster comes new beginnings and that is the way the pragmatist in me is seeing it. There will always be new bottles to buy, perhaps with a new focus altogether. Keep an eye on the blog or my social media feeds to find out.
The one thing that bothers me about items like the Macallan 10 is that I paid £240 after fees for it. Auction prices are now £340 then fees on top of that. Although I’ve been compensated fairly, there is an emotional thing that won’t let go. I’d say that once you sell, write off or open a bottle, you need to detach yourself from it. You need to stop tracking it unless you plan to buy another. For me it’s almost like stalking an old lover to see what she’s up to, which is wrong and creepy. Move on to bigger and better things.
I have a couple of things I wish to say in conclusion. Firstly, to all those who wished me well after my disaster, thanks for your support. It could have been a lot worse, but it was very touching to have your support, even though I’ve never met most of the people on the www (world whisky web). I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through what I’ve just experienced. It’s a fact of life we never expect bad things to happen, something that could be summed up by the fact how few in the storage facility had adequate insurance or any insurance at all.
It’s also been good to have been helped and advised by others in the whisky industry, and a special shout out goes to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. The resultant whisky geek out gave me tons of food for thought.
Lastly, I’ve had great service from my insurance company, Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers. They’ve ensured what needed to happen did at the right time, good communication and always left me with the impression that my situation was important to them. Despite not being a customer of theirs for very long, I felt every bit as valued as a customer who has used them for years.
I apologise if it seems I’m over promoting this company, but it’s with good reason. Other insurance companies are available but I can only speak from my experience with Bruce Stevenson compared to the cost of others I’ve used in the past. Bruce Stevenson has been recommended to me by several people and that spoke volumes. It’s turned out to be a good call.
Insurance can seem like that unnecessary expense that could be dispensed of to buy another bottle, but don’t lose your kingdom for the want of a nail.
It’s better late than never. I didn’t plan to run out of reviews in the summer, but an extended trip offshore of 16 weeks meant that I would have to be going some to have that amount of back dated reviews. I fear that this may happen again in the future, so keep yourselves braced for a period of inactivity here – however just because I may be down, I am most certainly not out.
As you will know from previous articles, my storage locker in Perth got flooded the same day that I came home from my last offshore trip and I sustained a considerable amount of damage. As I write this, I am still none-the-wiser as to what the insurance settlement is likely to be. I had already ordered some whisky online while offshore, and the morning after the flooding I realised I could not pick this up in person, so asked the retailer to ship it to me. When I contacted them they said if I added one more thing to my basket, they would ship the whole lot to me with no extra charge. As I had not seen the damage at my locker, and fearing for my Glenfarclas bottles from BP Magnus Platform 25 and 30 year anniversaries, I decided to order another Glenfarclas – this one the 2005 14 year old that was destined to be released as part of the now cancelled 2020 Spirit of Speyside. The retailer mentioned he had an open bottle, and if there was still some left when I next called by, I would be able to get a sample.
They say bad fortune often happens in threes, and I already had been stuck offshore, flooded whisky and a few days later, my wife had an accident in the car when she hit a small deer, damaging the bumper that had only just been replaced in March from a previous accident. Spirits were low, but the day after the accident I receive an unexpected parcel – a sample of the 14 year old Glenfarclas. It was a certainly well timed boost to morale.
In all, within the whisky community (although I prefer to hover around the edges) I have not experienced such an outpouring of sympathy for my phlight with my storage unit. Even my insurers so far have been brilliant and I await the outcome of my claim. But time waits for nobody and it’s time to look and move forward with the blog and look to the future. So without further ado, let’s move onto the tasting.
Region – Speyside Age – 14 y.o Strength – 58.2% Colour – Brown Sherry Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Figs, rum and raisin ice cream, dark, berry fruits, blackberries, slight leathery nose. There is a note of dark roast coffee powder too. Palate – quite tame without any water considering the abv. A pretty smooth arrival with a gradual rise in heat through the development. Waxy mouthfeel, with dried fruit flavours as is typical with sherried whiskies. This has the Glenfarclas DNA all over it. A hint of stone fruit, perhaps cherries. Finish – quite mellow while neat with a medium to long finish. A slight sulphur note, but this was quite pleasant, a good meaty malt. Water intensified the spicy wooden character for me, and was slightly tannic, giving me bit of a dry mouth.
This bottling left a bit of a sour note. It is / was only available through 2 retailers – The Whisky Shop Dufftown and the Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour. One of these retailers had a bit of a situation where somebody buying a bottle complained about the dispatch and shipping only it was getting sent straight to an auctioneer. That is pretty sharp for a flipper – at least let it reach your hands. It’s only £150 and despite being limited, it’s not sold out so it’s a bit of a risk trying to flip so early. Thankfully, the two I saw at auction only realised £140. Accounting for fees, the flipper only made £123 – a £27 loss minimum as the shipping hasn’t been accounted for.
As an aside, I feel for special releases that specialist retailers and auctioneers could refuse to take such consignments, as this is something that often pushes limited whisky out of reach of the genuinely interested in the liquid. But that’s a conversation for a different day and seeing how specialist retailers have been battered by the effect CV-19 on the economy, who can blame them for taking a sale?
The other sour side was that I had a wee bit of a conversation with somebody on twitter who reckons this bottle at £150 is over priced, as you can buy the 25 year old at Costco for £99. In fact the guy’s post I felt was quite arrogant, suggesting anybody who knew anything about whisky would know the 25 year old is a superior dram. Well, that’s fine if you have a Costco card. Even if I did, by time I drive back and forth to my closest Costco, I’ve lost the savings in the price of diesel getting there.
Plus, the guy made the mistake of assuming I had bought the 2020 release and hadn’t tasted it. Well I had – and while I never proclaim to know everything, I know that the other mistake the guy was making was getting hung up on the idea older is always better. It isn’t. I’ve tasted the 25 also and in my opinion the 14 is better. The higher price reflects the fact the bottling is limited. The 25 year old is freely available. I personally think anybody who knows anything about whisky would also realise the 25 year old is only 43% while this is cask strength at 58.2% and a true whisky lover won’t shop for it in Costco but support their specialist retailers. Touché.
To complete the verbal tennis match, the 25 year old is also available at the same price on Amazon. That would save the young man wasting their time and fuel in driving to Costco, but we all know what I think about shopping for whisky on Amazon. Game, Set, Match.
Moving on, I did really enjoy this whisky. The high abv was very easy to drink neat with very distinct sherried notes. Adding water for me spoilt it as it accentuated the spiciest parts of the profile and killed the fruity notes I had been enjoying. I felt it matched the experience I had last year with a 1973 Family Cask, likely to have been about 40 years old. As I never saw the bottle, I didn’t know what year it had been bottled.
Whether or not it’s over priced, well that’s subjective as it all comes down to the taste and everybody will have an individual opinion. It’s certainly not a bottle for every day drinking, and while I can say you won’t be disappointed £150 is a bit much for many people to drink on a regular drinker. What auction prices do remains to be seen but I doubt that it will go up that much in value unless a few get drunk. Initial low auction values may encourage a few to get cracked open. It’s meant to be drunk really.
The last few bottles are still available from the Speyside Whisky Shop, the Whisky Shop Dufftown having sold out. It should be a good bottle to have in a collection as if bought at £150 or below, should it not go up in value then it’s still an affordable bottle to drink and really enjoy.
I’m grateful to Matteo for the kind gift. The milk of human kindness isn’t dairy – it’s definitely distilled!
For a few years now I have been a regular user of on-line whisky auctions to start boosting my collection, as well as selling some of my bottles that I have no further need to keep. Recently I have spent some time selling around 40 miniatures at auction and was very happy at the price that I received. I also was selling my Macallan Folio 5, which I needed to get rid of on account of the amount released – it didn’t have the rarity value that I desire to enable to keep it. Of course, I then had to contend with the flippers and those also offloading their Macallan purchases that didn’t meet their expectations.
Throughout this article, I am not going to mention any auctioneers by name, however I will give the websites of the auctioneers that I use for buying, selling or both.
While on-line auctions offer a relatively easy way of buying and selling there are a few things that you need to be aware of that can catch you out. This is in particularly true when you are trying to sell something at the same time as a lot of other people. Unfortunately this was the problem that I had when selling my Macallan, and it isn’t just the auction you are taking part in – there are often two or three on-line auctions running at the same time. Of course many of those in the market will often see the way prices are going between the auctions and will bid accordingly – if they get outbid on one auction site, it is no problem just to start bidding on another site.
In my case, I wanted to offload my Macallan as soon as possible, so I had to pick an auctioneer that was going to hold an auction soonest and that I was able to get the bottle submitted in time. One thing you have to consider is that some auctioneers have better exposure than others, but the flip side is that those auctioneers are also more likely to have more submissions of the same article when it comes to trying to offload a sought after release. One thing that counted against me was that one of the biggest auctions was taking place when my auction started, and it had 200 Macallan Folio 5 for sale. It goes without saying that the more there is of something available, this then suppresses the price somewhat, but the good thing is that for Macallan Folio Editions, the demand is there, so you shouldn’t suffer. Perhaps I should have put that in italics, as there are no guarantees.
If you are worried about the price that you may receive back for any sales, the important thing is to place a reserve on it. This usually costs an extra £4 – £7 depending on auctioneer. I cannot stress this enough – perhaps it is better not to sell something that doesn’t make it’s reserve, and gives you the chance to either re-submit it to another auction or perhaps keep to sell another day. It gives me no pleasure to report that one of my friends in the whisky community went to sell his Macallan Easter Elchies Black 2019 and the auctioneers recommended no reserve. To my friends dismay, there was 90 other bottles in the same auction and as a result lost around £100. So, if you need a return – set a reserve.
Setting a reserve is something I think is also being used by some to manipulate the market, especially in the case of new releases. Many auctioneers do not let you set a reserve above Recommended Retail Price (RRP) for 6 months after a new release in an attempt to help stop the flippers setting high reserves to guarantee them a return which in my view is greedy, immoral and detrimental to a whisky release where people see pound signs instead of the liquid in the bottle. Admittedly, the best this can do is just kick the can down the road in limiting the prices, and anybody is free to bid above the RRP, but at least limiting reserves helps others. One auctioneer that I deal with has said they use common sense and don’t limit any reserves but it’s on a case-by-case basis. If it’s not unreasonable, you’ll get a higher than RRP reserve.
Not all auctioneers are the same, and when thinking about the reserves I have seen on other auctions for Macallan Folio 5, one around the same time had a bid on it for £600 and still had not reached the reserve price. In my opinion, the auctioneer is assisting the flippers, and it’s a bit unfair to those who value the whisky over the profit. What was not understandable is that there were several others available in the same auction – so why would somebody bid on one bottle way over the price of others that were available in the same auction that were a lot cheaper. If there is a bottle I want in an auction, and there is more than one available, I bid one, then if I get outbid, I then bid on a cheaper one. I personally think there is more behind the bidding of a bottle that seems to have had more bidding action than others, but we will deal with it later.
Some auctioneers publish reserve prices, and I think that is a good idea, as you know straight away what is expected, and you can tell if somebody has overvalued the whisky. If the reserve is hidden, then you should only bid to a level that you are comfortable with and don’t be tempted to incrementally bid to find out what the reserve is as you may be stuck with a bottle you can’t afford or may be overpaying for.
And this is a really important point. Generally speaking in a conventional auction, you can see who you are bidding against, as there will be an assistant on a phone or at a computer terminal. With an on-line auction you don’t have that facility. Sniping a bid (bidding at the last moment) has been eliminated by on-line auction by any bidding automatically extending the auction, but shill bidding I think is also prevalent as well. While auctioneers say that they are on the lookout, sometimes the bidding patterns don’t make sense, when people are bidding on one item, when there is another one equally as good but a lot cheaper. My whisky auction insider says there is very little that can be done to detect this, as it will only really show up if using the same hub. If your friend or family relative is bidding from another location, there is pretty much no way of telling.
One other hazard of on-line auctions is that you are physically unable to check the merchandise. If you have any doubt at all, make sure that you contact the auctioneer – they will supply extra photos on request, and if it is practicable they may allow an in-person visit to inspect the item. Not so handy for those of us who live in the more remote areas. You need to be sure you understand what you are buying.
I cannot recommend this enough, and be aware of what you are buying. RESEARCH! Know the price for a given condition. I’ve seen many auctioneers optimistically list lots as rare, but they aren’t. A quick look through other auction sites will reveal how often these turn up. I was recently given a wee task to source a bottle with a specific distillation date as a birth date. This wasn’t the easiest to find, and certainly getting harder to source, but does this make it more expensive? No – it doesn’t. If one shows up at auction then you can bet your bottom dollar another one will eventually. Set your price as to what you want to pay and wait.
Deciding your price is crucial. By all means do not bid your maximum price straight away, as often people will keep bidding until they outbid you. Best put a lower maximum in, and as soon as you are outbid, bid again. That way you may be able to pay less than the maximum you were prepared to as some people give up when they see somebody consistently upbidding them.
One thing my auction insider let me know is that they are presented with a large amount of fakes. OK, perhaps not masses, but the percentage is higher than you might expect. I have one bottle that I bought at auction for £35 that was part of my bargain basement hoovering towards the end of an auction to buy a whisky from the 50’s or 60’s. I had to query it, as the volume and strength were not printed on the bottle, and the label felt wrong. While the auctioneer assured me that this bottle was not a fake, I have my doubts, therefore will not be drinking it, but use it as a show piece. Do not assume that the auctioneer has spotted a fake, as it isn’t always apparent, and if they are handling hundreds or thousands of bottles for one auction, there is the chance one may slip through. It is also wrong to assume it is high value bottles that are the ones being faked – those are the ones that are checked more closely. It will be the cheaper ones that may suffer from counterfeiting more often than not.
The archive at Macallan distillery when it opened in 2018 was found to contain suspicious bottles. If they can’t tell, what chance have you got?
My last point is that beware of auction hype. One auctioneer had a superlative auction of a private collection that was to be broken up. Yes, there was some spectacular bottles there, but they were in the minority. A lot of bottles were missing boxes or had low fill levels. Just because it was part of an extensive collection does not make that worth any more. In all it was quite disappointing, Due to the Coronavirus, I am not sure if the second part will go ahead as planned in April 2020, but we will wait and see. Given the quality of the first half, I am a bit underwhelmed. If you have done your research, you will know what it’s worth, and bid accordingly – don’t get carried away and overpay, unless it’s a must-have for your collection, though even then exercise a wee bit of caution.
But for all the pros and cons of on-line auctions, I have bought older bottlings a lot cheaper than I would have got them retail. I have been able to complete collections that would otherwise be impossible, and I have been able to drink some unusual and rarer whiskies. You just have to keep your head when everybody around you in the auction seem to be losing theirs.
There is a list of on-line whisky auction sites I use or regularly browse below.
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The more regular of my readers will appreciate that I do tend to use a lot of miniature bottles for my reviews. This is due to a certain amount of expediency because of my work away from home and being away for more than half the year gives me limited time to drink full bottles. I have to say that I end up giving a lot of it away to my friends (you know who you are!) in order to kill bottles so I can move on to open something different.
The problem with this is that I am an inveterate bottle chaser, and this week was no different. My final sales of miniatures happened this week, and I managed to get some more decorative cask ends for the Strathspey hotel my wife runs. However, for me an online whisky auction is pretty much like doing your shopping at Aldi’s in as much as you can go for milk and bread, yet walk out with a 4″ grinder and a car tool kit as well. I ended up perusing the other miniatures for sale and came across a set of 4 miniatures at a relatively cheap price. The bait was in the trap, and the bottle chaser was sniffing around.
The drams in question were older bottlings from the Gordon & Macphail ‘Connoisseurs Collection’. Gordon & Macphail have had some great bottlings in the past and I already have a few of their miniatures in my collection, though these are unicorn drams that I wish to taste and possibly review the experience for you in the future. The drams I won this time are.
I was after the Coleburn and the Speyburn and in the end with auction fees I paid about £27 for all 4. However there was a big drawback – the fill levels were low. But does this mean I have been foolish or ripped off? I don’t think so, and I’ll spend the next few paragraphs explaining why I feel I haven’t been either of these and why perhaps you should take a chance.
Firstly, a rip off in an auction is not possible. In fact a rip off can only happen if you were sold something and you what you received was something that did not meet defined expectations. An auction house clearly shows the bottles on sale and will provide more on request. If you were prepared to pay the price with as much information as provided, then you have not been ripped off – you’ve just made a mistake.
Have I been foolish? Perhaps, but that is a matter of opinion. These drams could cost hundreds to buy as an individual full size bottles. I am going to be able to taste rarer drams for a fraction of that. If I was to find these drams in a whisky bar, I could imagine to pay £25+ for a dram for each one of these. It is worth saying that each of these drams have at least 25ml in them, some close to full. So potentially I have £100+ worth of drinking whisky.
Of course, with low fill levels, there are some drawbacks to this, and I have to acknowledge this. If the fluid level is low, then this means that whisky has evaporated out. I find that miniatures are particularly susceptible to this, and is one of the reasons I never recommend people collect miniatures unless they are aware of its risks and they are stored properly. Of course some people do collect these, but it’s not my thing. The risk of evaporation for me is too high and I personally feel I’d rather drink the miniatures.
One big problem with evaporation is that our largest concern should be that alcohol evaporates quicker than water, so there is a good chance that these drams which were bottled at 40% will not be at 40% when I try them. But that is a risk that I take, and while I am well aware that I will not get the full flavour that I would have got had it been fresh, I will still get an idea of what it would have been like.
As with any proposition I put to you, this needs some sort of perspective. While I know that my bottles are compromised, what about that £30+ nip you buy in a whisky bar? Once the seal is popped, that bottle is on countdown as oxidisation and evaporation takes place. Certainly the whisky bars I see don’t gas their whiskies once they have been opened. That means in the case of the more premium but less popular whiskies, you’ll never be getting a fresh like new dram. You’ll never know how much of the fill level is due to evaporation. Let’s extrapolate that thought by remembering that the lower the fill level goes, the evaporation rate increases. My gamble with the miniatures doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, does it?
The above thought was one I have had for some time. I remember last year when I visited a bar that sold a 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip. Once opened, the evaporation and oxidisation processes have started. I wouldn’t imagine at that price it will be a quick seller, therefore is the person getting the last dram truly getting the value of such a whisky?
As I have said in my title, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. By taking a chance in spending some money, you can also taste rarer or older drams. By all means, you know they will not be perfect, but neither is that bottle of Macallan somebody has that’s been hiding at the back of the cabinet and was opened in 1983 to celebrate Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup. And has now been saved to drink only at special occasions. As an Aberdonian I can say that perhaps you’ll be waiting another decade to see silverware at Pittodrie….. There’s a good chance your whisky will have gone to the angels by that time.
As usual, exercise some restraint when looking at bottles that are less than perfect. There will be a point when it will not be worth what the auction value is. Only pay what you can afford to drink, with an eye onto how much liquid is left in the bottle. Research what other similar bottles are selling for. And as usual, my best tip is to keep an eye on the assorted miniature collections in online auctions. Sometimes a unicorn whisky can be hiding in amongst others, as I found with my G&M Royal Brackla. You can always do what I did and sell the remainder of the miniatures again at auction and make enough money back to effectively make the unicorn you’ve hunted free. Fortune favours the brave!
It has been a nailbiting and momentous week here at Scotty’s Drams HQ. I lost my job as the premier hypocrite of the Strathspey and Badenoch area, when my Macallan Folio 5 did sell at auction and I made the grand total of £37.20 after taking auction fees into account. I don’t even have the title of the worst flipper in the world, as at the same auction, some people were taking losses over £230 on their Macallan Easter Elchies Black 2019 release – one of the many Macallan releases that did not have numbers confirmed and turned out to be a lot more than people anticipated.
In other auction action, I submitted a bundle of whisky miniatures to a couple of auctioneers, and the items at Whisky Auctioneer in Perth did a lot better than anticipated. I had the opportunity to buy around 50 nips from a guy locally who was selling them on behalf of his mother, as they belonged to his late father’s estate. I paid £50 for them, as I didn’t really have time to inspect them properly and I had no idea of what they were worth. Imagine my surprise when the total hammer price was £211! With me being me, (and the local area as well as the whisky world being very small), I had told him that if it made much more than £50, I’d give him the profits, so nobody could think I was taking the mickey or taking advantage of people. Believe it or not, I do want Scotty’s Drams to be known to have a smidge of integrity! It has been a great result for myself, but especially to the recipient of the extra cash and I am glad it is going to a good cause.
The final thing that I want to point out for this week was the news that retailers were slashing the prices of the Game of Thrones editions as released by Diageo in collaboration with the HBO series. The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt were offering around 30% discount on the 9 bottles, and I had seen on line that another retailer were said to be offering 40%. You can imagine the response on the social media channels about people who feel conned that they paid significantly more to collect the series. I will remind you that I warned about this in my article I wrote about the Game of Thrones whisky set back in November 2019. Click on the link if you want to be reminded of what I said.
I’ll not go over old ground, as this will make the article unnecessarily long. However, I can understand the angst of people who feel conned, but why did they pay so much in the first place? They believed the hype of a limited release that was never really going to become rare – not in the next 40 years or so anyway……. I bet the person who paid £1400+ for his set at auction feels especially aggrieved, especially for one of two things – a lowering of the retail price will crash the auction price. This is definite for the short term and most likely for the medium to long term. Why do I think this? It is only the truly gullible or those who cannot get it any other way will pay more on an auction site than it costs at retail. Secondly, now the retail price has dropped, potentially many are going be offloading it ASAP if they don’t want to drink it, thus probably ensuring a very easy supply to secondary market at auctions. Additionally, because of such a large price drop, the perception of quality has been damaged and any last vestiges of thought about the range being a collectable commodity that will make healthy profits have been blown away.
We have to also remember that people thinking it was a limited edition were conned into thinking this, or what is much more likely that they chose not to look at the facts. This whisky was released in massive numbers, probably tens of thousands of bottles per each edition. Coronavirus is still rarer than GoT whisky. The only way it was limited was that Diageo has probably set a limit in the time for these products to be marketed. I doubt they consciously limited the production over that period, given the amounts in circulation.
Let us put that into some sort of perspective – in December last year Bruichladdich released 3000 bottles of their Octomore X4 series. This is the quadruple distilled single malt, that is part of a series that has been released as spirit and at 3 years old. When it was placed in their online shop, the website crashed as people tried to get hold of a bottle. I was lucky, and after 4 hours trying I managed to get 2 bottles. Still, when you look around, you can still get hold of it at auction, albeit at substantially more than the £150 release price. I bought 2 as I intend to drink one and put the other alongside my other X4’s as a collection. Even at 3000 bottles, which is only around 10 casks worth of whisky, this is not especially rare. How much less rare is the GoT whisky? I do hope that you have got my point here, as we now have to expand on what probably drove the demand.
I came to this thought based on another article I had read online. Another blog / review site I like reading during my online wondering is The Dramble. Indeed I recommend it. It has a collection of writers, although most of the content is written by its co-founder Matt Mckay. He recently wrote an article about the Talisker Distillery Exclusives, and he raised an interesting point about these distillery exclusives, and how some people feel this is unfair as they are missing out if they can’t get to the distillery. I had to laugh as they certainly missed the point of exclusives. Matt touched briefly on the FOMO fanbase. For those of you who aren’t as hip and down with the kids and street language, I can tell you that FOMO stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’.
Let us face it, some of us do have moments of fear that we are going to miss out on something. I am no different. Back in those dark, dark days when I was on the Macallan mailing list, I entered the ballots and crossed my fingers. I never wanted to flip any bottles – I wanted to own something that would be worth a bit of money in the long term. Of course I was trying to avoid paying the money the secondary market would eventually command. So it comes to pass that I guess in the case of the Folio 5, I have to be honest with you and I took my eye off the ball. The unforced error of not really noticing there was no commitment to limit the numbers to the same level as usual was a mistake many had made. After all, no numbers were officially confirmed for Folio 4, and it was accepted around 2000 bottles were released. Surely Macallan wouldn’t do the dirty and release 20,000 bottles, ensuring 18,000 could not collect the full set? That’s exactly what they did.
The problem I feel with limited releases (and I speak only as an enthusiast with no part in the whisky industry) is that too many people have seen the profits that some people have made and are now only too keen to buy a whisky and hopefully make the same profit. Those with little experience also misunderstand the meaning of limited release. A limited release can still have hundreds of thousands of bottle released as long as it’s only sold for a fixed time. Releases such as Ardbeg’s annual release, coupled with pretty much anything Macallan releases on a limited basis normally initially makes money and drives the flippers and those determined to obtain a bottle to buy and sell in a frenzy similar to that when a lamb is dropped in a pool of piranhas. This has perhaps provoked people who do not normally buy whisky as an investment to perhaps want a piece of the action. It is a very dangerous game to play with no knowledge and people have, and do get financially burnt by it. I’ve been buying and selling whisky for 6 years now at auction, and I know – even I get caught out sometimes, but I accept the swings and roundabouts of what I collect.
The only way such a release of whisky could ever hope to become rare and expensive is if people drink it. And while with GoT this is still theoretically possible, the whisky released was never the best products the distilleries were capable as of and there was just so many bottles released. I’ve tasted a couple of the GoT editions, and they are pretty so-so. Not bad but not good either.
So why have the prices dropped so far? I would guess that now Game of Thrones is completed and no new episodes are to come, the series has dropped out of immediate public consciousness and now they are not buying it in the same amounts. My limited experience with retail in other areas would suggest this creates excess inventory to get rid of and to do this then the easiest way is to drop the price.
Fear Of Missing Out – not having the whisky from your favourite TV show, or not being able to collect it in order to make a profit at a later date is probably what has driven this release. Possibly a bit of intrigue to see how each edition ties into each family in the story. But to be fair, it isn’t just limited to the gimmicky release that GoT obviously was. It is the same with every release from Macallan, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich amongst others. Our admiration for the brand, our desperate desire to have something no other collector has, or at least have it first, or to even just get a couple to flip so those desperate enough can get their hands on it blinds us to some harsh economic realities if we don’t take into consideration the realistic supply an demand in the future.
And here is the crux – FOMO often takes our attention from the most important thing – the whisky itself. Consider that in the whisky world that fully missing out is a rare thing – what’s on the market will eventually come around again, at least in the secondary market, and when it reappears, it may come back cheaper. FOMO is driving a monster in the whisky market which has the risk of eating itself, something those who have felt cheated over Game of Thrones are now realising, but it can be applied to those who overpay for anything. I’ve seen Macallan Folio 5 auction for a hammer price of £900. If that person failed to win the original Macallan ballot, how silly do they feel now when they could have bought mine at auction for £320 rather than overpaying the first flipper that came along? The signs of the greatly increased out-turn were all there when they were appearing on auction sites before the Macallan Ballot was complete, so why would you pay nearly 4 times the RRP?
Marketing is something that we as whisky geeks that we all have to be aware of, as it so often promises something and very often does not meet our full expectations. Fair play to Diageo – they shifted shed loads of non-premium whisky at non-premium prices and those who know very little about whisky or have duller palates are suddenly exposed to nine distilleries in the Diageo stable. Where they will not get people continuing to buy GoT bottles as it is limited, they will then most likely start buying the more profitible (for Diageo) releases from these distilleries after they made GoT fans more aware of their offerings. Diageo really couldn’t lose from this venture.
The important thing to bear in mind is that if we are true whisky geeks, FOMO should never really guide us – our palate should in the first instance, but I have to admit that I can miss this myself, and often become a bottle chaser, which is an unhealthy habit. FOMO and bottle chasing can and does lead to missing out on other things, though you often miss that point as well.How ironic.
For those amongst you reading this who have more experience than me, I hope that you are nodding your head in agreement, for you know the truth that things will eventually come back around. You may have to wait somewhat. I have that feeling with the Dailuaine I lost out on in the week previous to last. We have to move on….
In summary –
Don’t always believe the hype on new releases.
Never plan on making money, and only spend what you can afford to drink. That is what you might be doing if the price crashes
Make sure you know how many are being released
Don’t be afraid to miss out. There are thousands of fantastic whisky expressions out there, and because you don’t have one, this means you have money for another.
Regular readers of my whisky blog would have seen me mention the Flora and Fauna range of whiskies. In fact I refer back to it quite often, but there is good reason to, as it is a range of whiskies that is almost unique.
The range was started in 1991 by DCL, which later became United Distillers, a company formed by the merger of DCL and Arthur Bell, both owed by Guinness. Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 and became known as Diageo. In 1998 United Distillers merged with International Distillers Vinters, and in 2001 became known as Diageo Scotland. Of course, in this tale, there was much dodgy dealings, as there was share trading fraud to enable Guinness to take over DCL, which saw 4 men going to prison.
To make the next bit of history easier to understand, we’ll just refer the distiller as Diageo.
During the 1980’s, scores of distilleries were mothballed, some never to re-open again. Diageo closed 11 distilleries in 1983 alone. But come the 90’s things were starting to change, and single malts became more prominent. What was noticed was that although brown spirits, including blended whisky was declining, single malts were starting to perform strongly. This led to the formation of the Classic Malts, a series that still exists today, but is expanded. The original Classic Malts were Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Talisker, Oban, Cragganmore and Dalwhinnie. These used to sit behind bars on a small plinth, and this brought the concept of regionality of single malts, and their different styles.
There was a problem however – most of the distilleries Diageo now owned didn’t have their own bottling. If you were lucky, you may have seen an independent release, but for the overwhelming majority of whiskies, their output went straight into blended whiskies. This is something that continues, as 90% of malt production is for blends. This meant there was a niche available to showcase the malt distilleries in the Diageo portfolio, and this saw the start of a range from distilleries very few knew about, some of which perhaps still are only in the knowledge of whisky buffs.
The range started out with 22 whiskies, which weren’t mass marketed, but only sold at their visitor centres or limited distribution. Initially these were – Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Benrinnes, Bladnoch, Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Clynelish, Craigellachie, Dailuaine, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenlossie, Inchgower, Linkwood, Mannochmore, Mortlach, Pittyvaich, Rosebank, Royal Brackla, Speyburn and Teaninich. All of these were initially released with a wooden box, but this eventually changed to a carton in some cases, and nothing at all in others. All were bottled at 43% abv.
This was unheard of in the industry, but in one fell swoop, each Diageo malt whisky distillery had a bottling which its workers could taste and show off to their friends and family. The communities around the distilleries could sample some of the produce. People became aware of individual distillery characters. It was certainly a step forward.
The range never originally had a name. Flora and Fauna was actually coined by Michael Jackson (The late whisky writer and not the musical child abuser) who noted that each bottle in the range had a picture of either a plant or animal which could be found near to the distillery in question. It has stuck, even to the point that people within Diageo still refer as this as Flora and Fauna.
In 1997, there were 9 of the range released as cask strength bottles. These were Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Clynelish, Dailuaine, Linkwood, Mortlach and Rosebank. These were numbered bottles and some are now extremely rare.
Fast forward to 2001. By this time, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla and Speyburn distilleries had been sold. In fact, the story goes that Speyburn only produced a single run of Flora and Fauna whisky, and this is why it is the rarest of the lot. Pittyvaich was closed and demolished in 1993, and in the same year Rosebank ceased production. Bottlings continued until the stock ran out, apart from Speyburn and Balmenach, where the stock was part of the sale. 4 more malts were added to the range – Auchroisk, Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill. These never had boxes or cartons.
Over time, some of the remaining bottlings in the series were discontinued in favour of a proper distillery release. Caol Ila, Clynelish, Glen Elgin, Dufftown, Mortlach and Glendullan now have their own distinct brand. Of the remaining 11 that are produced, Flora and Fauna is the only official release, with the exception of occasional Manager Drams or Special Releases. Only Blair Athol has a visitor centre and the remaining releases remain obscure distilleries in their own right.
While this is a great range, it isn’t without its drawbacks. At 43%, although is isn’t stated, you can bet your bottom dollar, each one of these whiskies has been chill filtered, the process which sees the impurities removed from the spirit that makes it go temporarily cloudy when water or ice is added. Unfortunately I believe this also removes the full depth of flavour.
The other downside is the likelihood that E150a (caramel colouring) has been added. This is to give colour consistency, but when one looks at the Dailuaine and Benrinnes, it has to be wondered if it has been added to emphasise the sherried casks used for maturation.
What else should be know about Flora and Fauna? Although 11 bottles are still supported by Diageo, it remains to be seen how long it will last in its current format. Benrinnes was originally distilled using a partial triple distillation up to 2007. As this is a 15 year old whisky, I’d suggest that we may see the Benrinnes discontinued in 2022, or at least a change in flavour. I do hope it continues, as Benrinnes is one of my favourites in the range. I’ve also tasted independent releases of Benrinnes, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Another problem with this range is its availability. It is harder to find unless you visit a Diageo distillery, or a specialist whisky shop. Dailuaine is getting harder to find, which is also a great whisky – its my second favourite whisky in the range, but its a close neighbour of Benrinnes.
Dailuaine was the first distillery to have the pagoda style roof on the kiln roof (correctly known as a Doig Ventilator, named after the architect Charles C, Doig).
As a small batch release, and not aggressively marketed, it isn’t always easy to get a hold of, but if you see one, try it. It almost has the status of a cult whisky collection, and certainly has a great visual appeal with the understated labels. Even the wooden boxes look good, and they are something you don’t see often on releases unless you pay for a premium malt. It is easy to see how this was ditched in favour of the cardboard box, then onto nothing at all.
The collection is highly collectable, but you need to be careful, as bottles start to get harder to get, the price will go up. All of the currently available bottles currently retail in the UK at under £65, with the majority of them under £50. The Dailuaine is the most expensive one, but remember it is the oldest one available at 16 year old.
If you go for a collection, try to remember my previous advice on collecting a series – if you can’t complete it, the price will be affected. The Royal Brackla, Craigellachie, Aultmore, Aberfeldy and Rosebank often trade above £250 a bottle. If they have the wooden box, expect to pay more. 17 of the bottles in the range have a cream / white capsule, and this denotes a first edition, which will increase the price more. Some of the rarer white caps trade between £300 – £800.
And here it gets complicated. If you choose to go for the white caps, you may end up with a secondary collection. I’ve 14 of the 17 white caps available, and when I get a white cap bottle, the black cap gets moved to my secondary collection. My secondary collection also includes a few white caps I picked up at a good price, although I am missing a Rosebank to have the 26 bottles in my secondary collection. Certainly this takes up a large portion of my storage unit.
The Speyburn is the holy grail, and will cost on average between £1000 and £1800. At the time of writing in Sept 2019, the Speyburn set a new Flora and Fauna record by breaking the £2000 barrier, being sold at a Whisky Hammer auction for £2050. Some lucky punter has just paid after auction fees £2300 for a bottle that cost less than £40 on release.
******** Important note ********
If you have a box that has bottle with a label on the back that includes the UK duty paid image, then that bottle is not original to the box, and is from a later batch. This is not correct for collectors and could affect price.
A white cap bottle should have a wooden box with it, but depending on the bottle, this will not vary price too much.
And what for the future? I have contacted Diageo, asking if the Benrinnes F&F will be discontinued, whether the rumours of Dailuaine being discontinued are true, and what the future of the Flora and Fauna range is likely to be. Diageo were very good in their communication, but sadly declined to make any comment, as any information would be commercially sensitive. I can understand this, though reading between the lines, you can sort of imagine it may be coming to an end. The collection has been on the go for almost thirty years, and that alone is a quite an accolade. Very few brands nowadays last as long unchanged in the world of single malts. I suppose the whisky that is still available in the shops now will probably be slightly different to those first released, but it has been a great run although the end is probably a matter of time. And then this is where the prices will increase further.
In the meantime, although the remaining whiskies aren’t the best whiskies in the world, they are still a good dram, despite only being 43%, coloured and chill filtered. As I say so often, get them while you can, and certainly if you don’t want to collect them, certainly try the 11 that are still available in the shops. Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Auchroisk and Inchgower would be my go-to in the range, with Strathmill and Blair Athol next. I’ll review them as I get a chance, as I have a few samples left.
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Collecting whisky- Just when you think you’d reached theend….
Briefly now to recap
⁃ We know why we want to collect
⁃ We know what to collect
⁃ We know what not to collect
⁃ We know how to budget
⁃ We know how to store
If you are collecting for the purposes of drinking, then you are now on the simple path to enjoying your collection in the way that the distillery intended, enjoying the aromas, the taste and mouth feel, ending in a great finish coupled with a nice warm glow. Keep it up, as you have attained the situation of enjoying your collection. All you have to do is keep following my advice which is :-
⁃ Keep your whisky you aren’t drinking appropriately stored until you are ready to consume.
⁃ Make sure you don’t open more bottles than you can finish within a couple of months to ensure peak taste.
⁃ Remember the rate of evaporation increases as the bottle empties.
For the drinkers, this is where we wish them a bon voyage, as they have no need to continue to worry about their whisky.
For those who are storing it for investment or collecting purposes, our path has only begun. We still need to walk through a metaphorical ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ to ensure we can meet our goals.
What are our goals? If collecting whisky for investment or enjoyment, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the prize. This means we have to keep aware of the availability and prices. We need to know about availability, regardless of why we are gathering whisky, as availability will have a large influence on price, especially if it is no longer available in the primary retail market.
For the same reason, we need to know the prices, especially for buying within the auction or secondary retail market as we need to know if we are over paying. Being aware of price trends will make you knowledgeable if a bottle is at its top price. If you buy a bottle at this point for collecting or investment, it is not going to make much money, as it probably has risen as much as it’s availability dictates and will probably only rise in value slightly as the relative rarity rises.
For the same reason, we need to be aware when the trends are going back down, and when may be a good time to sell. I have a few bottles in my collection I know will probably not go up in value much more and therefore I have to be ready to sell. Although this isn’t a race, we need to be aware that other people will be doing the same thing and a whisky that becomes more available at auction will see a subdued price compared to one that is less common. Timing is everything.
Most value can probably be realised by buying a good quality whisky that isn’t too common that is getting discontinued. One that had a low run (ie one season) will give you lower potential numbers in the secondary market, especially if people continue to drink theirs, thus creating a demand and shrinking availability. Old Pulteney 17 might become such a whisky. Early editions of GlenDronach 18 Allardice may see a good rise. Although not discontinued yet, bottles produced at the start in 2013 would have whisky on average a lot older than 18 years old as the distillery was closed between 1996 and 2001. Bottles released now with a younger date code may not be quite so valuable.
Another way to guarantee a good return is to ‘flip’ bottles upon release. This is most common to do with whisky where it is in high demand. Some distilleries release editions specifically with collectors in mind, and this can often see prices initially way higher than the whisky is actually worth. Also, prices do often collapse down again, with those buying from flippers straight away can often overpay.
Macallan and Ardbeg seem to suffer the most from this phenomenon and it is damaging to the price. It is for this reason I do not focus on these brands. Flipping is also a subject for a future article.
No matter how good your storage, you’ll also need to tip the bottles every now and again to ensure the cork doesn’t fully dry out. A quick turn upside down is sufficient.
When you sell your collection, you should be aware of the legal implications. In the UK you legally cannot sell alcohol without a premises and personal licence. While the law may turn a blind eye to you selling a single item privately, repeated sales will risk prosecution. The only safe way to sell is to a dealer, broker or through an auction. All have their own risks, but you will get a smooth sale without the risk of not getting paid.
This is why you need to keep on top of prices, as selling to a broker or auction house may not have a guaranteed top price and will be subject to commission, which needs to be factored in when assessing potential profit.
Also, be aware that sales of some assets over £6000 in the UK are subject to capital gains tax. As I am not a financial advisor, you will need to check this out, but whisky IS such a taxable item.
Collecting whisky for investment isn’t as easy as people think, and can easily generate a lot of issues, but in summary these can be limited by
1/ Being aware of current and future availability
2/ Being aware of price trends
3/ Being aware of how to purchase at the right price
4/ Keeping records and receipts to maintain
provenance of your collection, and help preserve value.
5/ Being aware of how to correctly store your collection
6/ Being aware of how ancillary costs such as storage and packing can affect return.
Well, this is it. My ‘Magnum Opus’ completed. I do realise that I may have mentioned a few items more than once, but this is because they are important. I’ll certainly be republishing this series again in the future for newer followers of my blog, but will also attempt to update the advice as needed.
Thanks for reading, and I hope it was enjoyable and informative. After drafting the entire series on my iPhone using the Notes App, I need a drink – anybody buying one for me??
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If you have gotten this far, then congratulations for bearing with me. I hope that it all makes sense so far – there is certainly a lot to take onboard. And this article has a lot of detail, so sit up, look sharp and pay attention! For those of you who have just joined in or for regular readers who need a recap, links to the first three articles are here –
I’m going to take a break from thinking about what whiskies are good or bad to collect and their relative values, and concentrate on something that any serious collector whether an investor, hoarder or drinker has to consider – storage.
Whisky isn’t an ornament. It’s supposed to be drunk, a fact as a hoarder and investor I accept, but also as a drinker. There is little fun in collecting if you don’t get to taste a little, and it is often the case for the less expensive or rare bottles I own that I will often buy two. One for investment, one for tasting. However this doubles my headache, as I then have to consider two lots of storage.
Let’s deal with the drinkers storage first. We need to think what conditions the spirit likes to be in. Whisky, like any other alcohol is a volatile liquid, and since it can range up to around 65%, it needs to be taken care of.
First, keep those bottles upright! Do not treat it as a bottle of wine, which does need to be kept horizontal in order to keep the cork moist. Wine is generally no more than 15% abv. Whisky has to be a minimum of 40% abv. The spirit will dissolve the cork, so not only will you have a leaky seal, you’ll have corked your whisky.
Secondly, we need to keep it relatively cool. Being next to heat sources isn’t so much of a fire hazard, but will help that alcohol evaporate that little bit faster. Don’t assume that because it is unopened that it can’t evaporate – the seal of the bottle can fail. This can be caused by the liquid inside the bottle expanding, thus increasing the pressure of the air in the neck. This can accelerate seal / cork failure.
Thirdly, keep your bottles in the shade, and certainly out of direct sunlight. Sunlight can fade labels and cause the liquid in your whisky bottle to change colour. Furthermore, it’s a heat source so will also cause your spirits to evaporate faster.
I’ve seen a few people post pictures in the comments of my Facebook page with display cabinets, but while these may be great to look at, and I’m sure the owners have a rightly deserved sense of pride about them, I’d suggest you put the more expensive ones in a cool dark cupboard to keep your whisky better for longer. Just don’t forget to drink it or look at it from time to time.
You will also need to pay close attention to your house insurance. Many insurance companies limit the amount you can claim for one item, and may only cover a limited amount in the case of spirits. Some insurers may also be unwilling to pay out if there is a fire and they didn’t know about large amounts of spirits being kept at the property. Don’t forget, if you have a large collection, whisky will be seen as a fire risk, and your insurance company will do anything to get out of paying.
Take photos of your collection and keep receipts just in case you need to make a claim or prove provenance.
Whisky doesn’t go ‘off,’ right?
Well, right and wrong. Assuming your bottle is unopened, the seal is good and it is kept in the right conditions, your whisky should remain as good as the day it was bottled.
However, the moment you open that bottle, the clock is ticking. Whisky will not go bad as quick as a bottle of milk, but over a period of a couple of months, you may start to notice a difference in taste. This is because the air in your bottle is starting to have an effect. Also, spirit is starting to evaporate. This can make a difference, as it is the spirit that carries all that whisky flavours and helps develop the nose, mouth feel, the palate and the finish. Once this evaporates off, the change is going to be noticed.
There are ways to help prevent this from being a problem. The easiest way is to not leave it too long to drink the bottle. This way you’ll have drunk your whisky before any degradation is noticed. Of course, you maybe don’t want to drink the same dram until the bottle is finished, but don’t open any more bottles than you can finish in say a 2 month period to keep it fresh
If this is not something you can do, there are a couple more techniques that will help you, but these are more specialised. The first one is a technique called ‘gassing’ which means putting an inert gas into your bottle to displace the air, and prevent the whisky from oxidising. Argon is a common gas to use, and there are retailers that sell this as a way of preserving wine, which also suffers from oxidation.
The other (and more risky) method of preserving whisky is to remove the oxygen from a bottle by placing a lit barbecue lighter flame into the bottle. The burning butane will remove oxygen from the bottle, but there are two hazards. 1/ it’s a bit of a fire risk. Best not to do it with a bottle that is more than half empty, as there are more flammable vapours present. 2/- if the flame goes out before you switch off the gas, you will have contaminated your bottle with butane. Best avoided.
Storage for Collectors / Investment
This is where things get heavy. Failure to be careful here could have massive effects to the value of your investment or completely wipe it out altogether.
Don’t even think about keeping investment grade whisky anywhere near heat or sunlight. It needs to be as cool and consistent as possible. A cool room or cupboard is ideal for those with smaller collections. For those with larger collections, this may not be possible so we move onto the next tier of collection – a storage unit.
Storage units and insurance
This will need to have similar temperature and humidity as your home, or as close as possible. Try to obtain an internal storage unit, as these are often ventilated and will not be affected by the sun beating down on them, and are generally less susceptible to damp. But remember storage units cost money – one with storage about the size of a small van will be around the £70 level. Metal containers, especially steel shipping containers will get quite hot during summer (unless you are in Scotland, where summer only usually lasts one day, and people take their tops off once the temperature exceeds 8 centigrade.)
Plus you will need to factor in the cost of insurance. It is usually more expensive to take the storage company insurance; you are often better using one of the specialist storage insurance companies. As a guide, I pay £540 a year for £30k of Insurance.
Don’t think you can insure it for what it’s worth, but only what you paid for it. Even then, you may only be insured for the value of a new item. Double check as to what you are covered for.
Packaging for storage.
If like me you have chosen to use a storage facility, you will be leaving your collection for some time, so it needs to be stored correctly. This can be a major undertaking but managed correctly should be little hassle.
You need to have strong cardboard boxes, and plenty of packing materials. Bubble wrap, styrofoam nuggets, or what I use is inflatable pouches called ‘Air Sac’. These are inflatable pouches that come as single, dual or triple pouches, and use a hand pump or compressor to inflate, cocooning your bottle or tin. For those of you living in the UK, I use Macfarlane Packaging who can supply Air Sac as well as other packaging materials. You can buy kits that match the amount of boxes required with the type and quantity of pouches bought.
AirSac was a great solution for me, as I had over 200 bottles to photograph and pack. It certainly cut down on packing time.
A good idea is to use Silica gel packs inside the pouches and/or in the tins to keep corrosion at bay. This can be induced if packing in a humid atmosphere and the bottles are then kept in cool place. Silica Gel will help mitigate this, but bear in mind you still need to change it every now and again.
You need to photograph each bottle as a demonstration of proof how it was before storage, in case of ever needing to make an insurance claim. I use a point and shoot semi- automatic camera with a light tent to photograph. This ensures a decent record of each bottle.
When taking photographs, have a bit of paper in front of it, giving the details of the bottle. This is handy if you have multiples of a particular bottle.
And of course, keep a list of what is in each box. I have given each bottle a code, based on the distillery name, and that helps me keep track of individual bottles.
Here is a photograph of my photography packing and storage and set up
1/ Bubble wrap. 50cm wide
2/ AirSac Pouches
3/ AirSac Hand Pump
4/ Tape Dispensing gun (I have 2, one with clear tape not shown.)
5/ Silica Gel Packs
6/ Camera. I use Nikon Coolpix P7100 as it has pretty good auto function but I can also go manual if a label is proving difficult to capture. You can use a smart phone, but make sure your photos are backed up at least in one other place and perhaps also on a memory stick at another address.
7/ Styrofoam nuggets. Help fill out packing box voids
8/ Sellotape / Scissors / Pens / Post Its for labelling bottles.
9/ Photo tent.
Not shown – Laptop running Spreadsheet program to record Bottles, What box they are in, ABV, etc…. Also cardboard boxes and fragile labels.
A handy tip is to keep packaging that you receive if you buy bottles at online auctions or online stores. This helps pad out the boxes. Also consider putting ‘This Way Up’ labels on your boxes so your whisky doesn’t destroy your cork by being on its side or upside down.
I hope this hasn’t put you off. It is a big effort, but if you have chosen wisely, packed carefully and have patience, big effort can bring big rewards.
Next Article – it’s in storage, what now?
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