A Guest Article by Keith Wood of www.whisky-emporium.com
The last time I met my friend Keith I asked him if he wanted to write an article about collecting whisky for my blog. This is a topic that I have dearly wanted to be featured on my site, but I honestly don’t know enough about it myself. With his long expertise on collecting whisky, Keith is the perfect authority to address this issue.
Take it away, Keith!
The human race probably owes its existence or should I say survival to the basic concept of collecting, or in this case gathering, as 2.5 million years ago Homo Habilis, the earliest human species lived by gathering or scavenging for food. As they moved through the lower paleolithic ages (2.5 million to 300,000 years ago) they lived by gathering seafood, nuts, eggs and fruits as well as by scavenging. As human races developed through Homo erectus and Homo sapiens, gathering and eventually hunting was their only form of subsistence until the end of the Mesolithic period around 10,000 years ago.
Interestingly, starting at the transition from the middle to upper Paleolithic period (80,000 to 70,000 years ago), some hunter-gatherers began to specialise by gathering or collecting smaller selections of game and other foodstuff.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Somewhere, deep down, we are all gatherers or collectors, but this trait is more visible in some than in others. Personally, I have always been a bit of a hoarder so when I started to discover the delights of Scotch malt whisky it came as no surprise that I wished to hold on to a bottle of each whisky that I enjoyed, although at the time, my aim was just to save these few bottles for later consumption.
The bottles were put away in a dark cupboard and basically forgotten for some years until I began to realise that some of them were no longer available, or at least not in those particular presentations and, the few that were being sold were commanding significantly higher prices.
Realising what was happening I studied this phenomenon further and even began to ‘tailor’ my few purchases with this in mind until I finally had a solid collection of some bottles which I felt would offer a good return over a period of years on my initial investment.
I can even offer some individual case studies on this:
1. Macallan Private Eye
To celebrate the 35th Anniversary of “Private Eye” magazine in 1996, Macallan released a limited edition, special bottling featuring an enamelled label designed by the famous Private Eye cartoonist Ralph Steadman.
Including Cask No. 1580, Bonded in 1961 and limited to 5000 individually numbered bottles, this commemorative Macallan continues to impress at auction and increase or hold value.
Price quoted by Macallan, Oct. 2004 €360
Price achieved in auction, Dec. 2005 €450
Price quoted by Macallan, Feb. 2006 €520
Price achieved in auction, Mar. 2008 €710
Price achieved in auction, Apr. 2009 €695
2. Springbank 1966 ‘Local Barley’
The Springbank 1966 ‘Local Barley’ is a highly acclaimed distillation made from locally grown barley. Various casks were filled with this spirit and released as single cask bottlings between 1997 and 1999. Some of the cask numbers include 473, 477, 488, 499 & 502. These casks have alcoholic strengths between 52.1% vol. and 55.1% vol.
Highly collectible and superb examples of Springbank whisky, these 1966 Local Barley bottlings have proven to be excellent investments and should continue to do so.
Price achieved in auction, Sept. 2001 €450
Price achieved in auction, Aug. 2004 €516
Price achieved in auction, Feb. 2005 €590
Quoted online dealer price, May 2006 €785
Price achieved in auction, Sept. 2008 €790
Price achieved in auction, Apr. 2010 €695
3. Black Bowmore
Distilled in 1964 this spirit was filled into Oak casks which had previously been used to store and mature a rich sweet Oloroso sherry. The casks were then stored in Bowmore’s own vaults below sea level and allowed to savour this unique atmosphere for the next three decades.
3 Separate issues:
- Distilled 1964, bottled 1993 (29yrs, 2000 bottles) €90
- Distilled 1964, bottled 1994 (30yrs, 2000 bottles) €120
- Distilled 1964, bottled 1995 (31yrs, 1812 bottles) €180
Price achieved in auction, in 2002: €1600
Price achieved in auction, Jan. 2006: €2100
Price today: €2700-€2900
You may ask if any bottle of whisky can just be kept as this kind of investment?
The answer, obviously, is a very big “No!”.
The three examples highlighted above are quite special and show some very specific success stories, but these are in the minority.
Is it possible to know which bottles will prove to be good investments?
As with any type of investment, it is a gamble and whisky in particular is possibly more of a gamble than most, but if you know what to look for it is possible to maximise your chances of success, although there is always the factor of ‘current fashion’ or which distillery is ‘in vogue’ right now and commanding higher prices in the collector’s market and this is the so-called curve-ball which can bring the biggest and unforeseen surprises, either good or bad!
There are three main types of bottling which I have found to offer the best possibilities, but even these aren’t certainties.
1. Special releases and limited editions
Macallan Private Eye, Springbank 1966 Local Barley and Black Bowmore are excellent examples. They were all strictly limited, special editions and also expressions from very well known and well-liked distilleries.
What to look for here: It really helps when special releases are individually numbered bottles and the fewer there are, the better! Individual or single cask numbered bottles also help as do actual distillation and/or bottling dates.
2. Closed distilleries
Here’s the really big guessing game; which of the closed distilleries will become more popular as time passes? Here is where a distillery suddenly becoming ‘in vogue’ really matters. Your guess is as good as mine!
3. Older, superseded presentations or discontinued bottlings
Here’s another difficult area but as distilleries change their bottle shapes, logos and packaging, the older versions may become sought after over time. Also, as distilling processes change it is often said that newer releases aren’t as good as some older ones, so people often go in search of older releases to enjoy ‘the good old days’. Some excellent examples here are Ardbeg 17y, older bottlings of Miltonduff-Glenlivet, Glenmorangie and many others.
So, you have seen various examples of collecting whisky and profiting through doing so, but before I throw this topic open for discussion I would like to point out a couple more things which you may not realise:
The bottlings which have the most chance of proving good investments are almost always OB (Original Distillery Bottlings) editions. That is not to say some Independents can’t also increase in value, as various older ranges from G&M; and Cadenhead have indeed done so, but the chances of IB’s as investments are much more of a gamble. Also, a distillery’s popularity really makes the difference and there’s no guarantee that a distillery which is ‘in vogue’ today won’t suddenly lose popularity and be replaced by another, that’s the ‘fashion’ element.
Now, you’ve witnessed my study, facts and arguments so I’ll open the discussion for comments but before I hear you all scream “whisky is for drinking” I’ll remind you that I’m mainly talking about holding on to some bottles which will eventually become long-lost and hard to find greats which the ‘drinkers’ of tomorrow may also wish to sample.
In addition, any collecting for investment should be considered long-term, in fact a minimum of 10 years and more often around 20 years. I am not interested in people trying to grab the latest Feis Ile bottlings and have them listed on Ebay by the end of the same day for a greedy, quick profit.
Now over to you……..