Under The Hammer

Why you need to be careful with on-line auctions

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.


Don’t get hammered at auction. Stick to your price and don’t overpay

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?


One is fake, the other is genuine

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.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty


Whisky Auctioneer – http://www.whiskyauctioneer.com

Just Whisky – www.just-whisky.co.uk

Whisky Hammer – http://www.whiskyhammer.com

Scotch Whisky Auctions – www.scotchwhiskyauctions.com

The Grand Whisky Auction – http://www.thegrandwhiskyauction.com

Whisky Online Auctions – https://www.whisky-online.com/auctions/

Speyside Whisky Auctions – http://speysidewhiskyauctions.co.uk

Royal Mile Whisky Auctions – http://royalmilewhisky.auction

Robert Graham / Global Whisky Auctions – http://www.globalwhiskyauctions.com

WhiskyAuction.com (Based in Germany) – http://www.whiskyauction.com


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Speculate to Accumulate

Do not be afraid of the not perfect.

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 four drams. Only Coleburn is silent, having closed in 1985. Only one official bottling was released – the 1979 Rare Malts. Most production went into Ushers or Johnny Walker Red. The other distilleries are still producing.

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.

  • Coleburn 1965
  • Dailuaine 1971
  • Speyburn 1971
  • Tomatin 1970

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.


The fill levels

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.


A good way to taste long gone distilleries. Linkwood still going, Glenury Royal closed in 1985 and was demolished soon after. Imperial was silent more often than it was operational, falling silent in 1998 for the last time and was finally demolished in 2013 to be replaced by the Dalmunach distillery.

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.


Banff – bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII didn’t survive the 1983 whisky loch and was closed that year. Convalmore fell two years later but is growing in popularity. Royal Brackla has changed hands since this distillation but is still going.

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!

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

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This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

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Profits and Losses

FOMO should not rule your whisky journey.

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.

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

It’s not about the birds and bees

Flora and Fauna whisky explained.

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 benrinnes flora and fauna label

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.

No chance of a dram here – thefix.com

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.

Classic Malts – Catawiki Auctions

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.

Full collection – whiskyauctioneer.com

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.

Known for his love of young boys, not whisky – google.com

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.

Cask Strength editions – scottishdelight.com

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.

********GEEK FACT********

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).

All the wooden boxes

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. 16 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 16 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.

Most of the rarer white caps.

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.

The rest of the black caps

******** 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.

Glenlossie showing its rear label

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.

Slainte!


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No Rest for the wicked

Collecting whisky- Just when you think you’d reached the end….

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

Now what???

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.

A dream whisky collection?

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??

Slainte Mhath!!


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Gather Here – Storing your collection

Collecting Whisky – Part Four

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 –

Article 1

Article 2

Article 3

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.

Don’t expose your precious collection to sunlight

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.)

Internal Storage Units

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.

Well packed with AirSac Pouches

AirSac was a great solution for me, as I had over 200 bottles to photograph and pack. It certainly cut down on packing time.

Inflatable pouch similar to AirSac

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.

Packaging list for a collection.

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.

Reuse packing. It’s often the best

A packed and labelled box

A well packed store of around 200 bottles

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.

Slainte Mhath!

Next Article – it’s in storage, what now?


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Collecting Whisky – Part 3

An affordable plan is needed!

In my second article, I outlined the things that would and wouldn’t be collectable, and I hope that was helpful. But now we move further down the line and make another big decision – what is the budget for collecting?

For those of you just joining the series, links to the first two articles are at the end of this article.

It can never be underestimated how much you want to spend. Pick a limit and stick to it. You might feel that I am being a bit of a dictator on this, but if you are going to be collecting using online auctions, this can rapidly be addictive and can see you reach your limit.

Don’t overstretch the pennies

It goes without saying that once you have decided what you want to collect, you need to thoroughly research the prices that these items sell for. You will find that the internet is your friend, as you can search if the bottle is available in retail, or how much these go for at auction. The advantage of looking at auction sites (and you have to be smart by looking at more than one), you can also see trends in prices.

An example setting a budget would be saying you’d spend up to a fixed amount every month or any other appropriate period of time. Of course if you don’t spend your budget, you could maybe carry it over to the next period. The important thing is not to over stretch yourself. Don’t assume that you can just sell a bottle if you over stretch yourself. You might not get back what you paid for it.

Another point If collecting a series, make sure you will have the budget to complete the series. This is because if you cannot complete the series, what you have bought may not realise as much value if you come to sell.

A good example is the Flora and Fauna series. 26 bottles. Some are still in production (around 9) and can be bought for under £50. Most of the discontinued ones are available at auction between £120-£450. The Speyburn bottling was only made for one run, and is quite rare – expect to pay £1000 – £2000 per bottle.

Be thorough with your research

Of course, perhaps time is not an issue for you, most collectable bottles will usually come back again at some point. They aren’t always drunk, and they may make a reappearance. Certainly I’ve seen the same bottle of Glenmorangie Swamp Oak Reserve turn up at auction more than once. Don’t look for it now…. it’s going nowhere for a while. – wink wink!

Eventually it may be the case it will be affordable, but leave it too long and the price may well go beyond your reach. This is why you need to consider if you will be able to afford to collect a series.

I can’t advise you on what budget to set, as it all depends on what interests you, and how much disposable income you have.

Lastly, before setting a budget, also factor in storage costs if you want to collect a sizeable collection. This will depend on location, but I pay £65 per month plus another £50 a month for my storage unit. Having said that, mine is not a drinking collection, although I do have a separate drinking stash.

How to make the most of your budget

The only way to maximise the buying power of your budget is to have a plan. And like the character Hannibal from the 80’s TV series ‘The A-Team’, it’s great when a “plan comes together.” And this is why it is a bad idea to just spend your money without careful thought.

If you are on the path of creating a drinking collection, many whiskies have similar tastes, so you need to do the research to find out where they sit within the flavour map. Personally, I don’t like to keep to the one sort of malt whisky. Although I do enjoy a peated whisky, I’ve gone off Ardbeg, so I’d not collect the whiskies that are similar to Ardbeg. I’m more of a Laphroaig fan.

Random doesn’t work….

The thing I’ve been itching to say is that there is very little advantage either to a collector or a person who will drink their whisky to just collecting any bottle. Random doesn’t work efficiently. You certainly will not always get the value that sees that bottle go up in price. If you are drinking it, that isn’t so bad, as you are only 28 drams away from a new purchase. Still, you might have to endure a bottle of blandness or lose face by offering it to guests. The kitchen sink may provide the answer.

What you need to find is focus, and the best thing to do is have a collection policy. Not only will this help you get a good gathering of bottles, but will help protect your wallet.

What is a collection policy?

Quite simply put, a collection policy is a targeted approach to collecting in which you focus on a specific area. Some collectors may only collect bottles from a specific brand or distillery, some concentrate on bottlings from a specific area. I have used this concept to great effect which has meant I am not buying random bottles. Examples of policies I have used are:-

  • a bottle from the three distilleries that were in Inverness.
  • a bottle from each of the distilleries in Dufftown. Only exception was Parkmore which closed in the 1930’s and the remaining barrels were destroyed.
  • a bottle from every distillery I pass through between where I live and Aberdeen. As this requires driving through the heart of Speyside, it was a major undertaking and I still need one or two bottles.
  • Complete the Flora & Fauna collection. I’ve almost completed 2 complete ranges with nearly every first edition, plus all wooden boxes.
  • Will be starting on the distilleries of the Lowlands once I complete a previous policy.

Having a plan helps

It’s worth remembering that in all of this, I have been looking for the limited edition bottles rather than the mass produced products of these distilleries. So far Glenfiddich was the hardest, as I didn’t want to spend an absolute fortune of it, but as Glenfiddich is a popular brand, rarer bottlings are a bit harder to come by. The one I picked was one of the last whisky batches made by the distillery while it still used coal to fire the stills. If I did get a mass produced whisky, I made sure it was discontinued.

Think about what your collection policy would be? What interests you? If smokey and peaty is your thing, consider collecting Islay and other West Coast Malts. Perhaps you want to collect all the malts from a geographical area; in Scotland there are 5 areas – Highlands and Islands, Islay, Speyside, Campbeltown and Lowlands. There are only 9 distilleries on Islay, but Ardnahoe has not released anything yet. There are only 3 distilleries in Campbeltown (Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle) so this can help focus spending and collecting.

Some people only collect from one or two distilleries, although this is usually the ‘premium brands’. Macallan also is a popular choice, but I have a particular opinion on this which many of you may disagree with. The problem with Macallan is that quite a lot of people buy the bottles on release just to sell them straight away to cash in on demand (also known as flipping). It is my opinion that this actually harms the long term value of the whisky, as people are buying on the secondary market at inflated prices. One of the many examples would be the release of Macallan Genesis. Originally retailed at £495, this was released to commemorate the opening of their new distillery. Within a month they were appearing at auction for £4000+. Now you can pick one up at auction for under £2000, which is still a healthy profit for a seller, but not so good for the first buyers on the secondary market who paid double. How would you feel if you paid £4000? That means other bottles will have to do well of you still want to turn a profit.

However, it only takes a distillery to fall out of favour and you’re investment may be at risk. Those with high value bottles will be trying to sell on, and the market will become saturated, dropping the price even further. I’ll be writing an article about Macallan and my thoughts in the future, but the point I want to make is that perhaps it is best not to put all your eggs in one basket.

Whatever you decide to have as a collection policy, I’d recommend as far as possible to purchase numbered or less common bottles, but still in demand. There is no point in collecting something anybody can buy easily, as there will be no scope for an increase in value.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading this far. I appreciate that there is a lot to go over but this will focus your mind, you’ll have a targeted and coherent collection, and your bank account will be at less risk of being prematurely and needlessly emptied.

To summarise

⁃ set a budget and do not exceed it

⁃ Consider a collection policy

⁃ Only collect worthwhile bottles

⁃ Try to diversify your collection

In the next article I’ll be looking at how to keep your collection

Slainte Mhath!

for those catching up….

Article 1 Beginning a collection.

Article 2 What is and isn’t collectable

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Kintyre without Macartney

Taste Review # 13 – Glen Scotia 15

Glen Scotia 15

When I first started the idea of Scotty’s Drams, it was initially to do something a little more positive on the internet. The UK was getting smothered with news on Brexit, and this had spilled onto Facebook, and it was a bit depressing. It could turn you to drink, and in my case it has! The other thing was, that despite being a long time whisky drinker, and a collector since 2006, I thought it was my turn to add to the masses of other people writing a blog on whisky. If nothing else, it would push me out of my comfort zone and get me to try different things.

So for this taste test, I am trying something new – a Campbeltown whisky that isn’t Springbank. This one is one of only three distilleries left on the Kintyre peninsula, the others being Springbank and Glengyle (which releases whisky under the Kilkerran brand to avoid confusion with Glengyle blended malt). There’s thankfully nothing to reference Paul Macartney’s 1977 Christmas No.1 hit “Mull of Kintyre”, although he has owned High Park Farm there since 1966.

Glen Scotia is available in 2 NAS bottlings (double cask and Victoriana) plus 15, 18, 25 y.o expressions. Victoriana is made to represent the whisky that was being made at Glen Scotia during that period.

Was not sure what to expect, but this was a nice whisky, and here is what I found.

The nip and bottle

Region

Campbeltown

Age

15 y.o

Strength

46% a.b.v

Colour

Deep Golden / light copper

Nose

Brine, hint of smoke, burnt caramel, sweetness, ginger biscuits.

Palate

Vanilla, no real spirit burn. On first sip opens out to sweetness, possibly the influence of a sherry cask. Hues of Apricot. Wood, but not necessarily oak. Lemongrass.

Finish

Dry and robust. medium to long.

Conclusion

Yes. Not bad as 15 year old whiskies go. I’d not call it my favourite, but well worth a further look. I’m a big fan of ginger, and the tingle of spice was a bonus for me. The use of bourbon cask has given great vanilla notes, and the use of a sherry cask for the last two months of maturation has given a subtle sweetness.

However, you might experience something different. I’d certainly consider putting this in my drinking collection.

Slainte Mhath!

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Collecting Whisky

Dealing in Drams – Part Two

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

  • What is and isn’t collectable

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

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

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

What is collectable?

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

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

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

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

1/ Miniatures

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

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

2/ Anything involving a ceramic bottle or jug.

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

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

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

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

3/ Anything from a supermarket shelf

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

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

4/ Low quality whisky

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

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

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

5/ Collections being pushed by their producers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Of Thrones. All coloured and Chill Filtered

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

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

What should I want to collect?

1/ Aged or Vintage Whisky

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

2/ Limited Editions

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

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

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

One of 9000.

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

3/ Silent Whisky

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

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

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

4/ Good Quality Whisky

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

5/ Discontinued Whisky

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

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

6/ First / Last Bottles

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

7/ Whisky Series

Allied Distillers special editions 2005

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

Conclusion

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

Slainte!

Next article

  • Setting a budget
  • Collection Policies

This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or liking sharing this article by clicking on icons below.

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Collecting Whisky

Dealing in Drams – Part One

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

This series will contain over the next month

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

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

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

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

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

Fun

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

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

To store tastes and memories

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

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

To invest

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

To trade

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

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

1/ DO NOT SPEND MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD.

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

2/ Make sure you have somewhere to keep your collection

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

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

3/ Collect quality and not quantity.

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

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

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

4/ Do not expect to make money

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

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

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

Slainte Mhath!

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

This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or liking sharing this article by clicking on icons below.

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