The Whisky Lady gives us her top tips for the wannabe whisky collector
As members of the Flavourly community, you’re probably already familiar with what I like to refer to as the ‘craft craze,’ this consumer-led movement in the beverage industry that, over this past decade, has allowed more local, authentic and, above all, meaningful products to spread throughout the market. Those products that we like to celebrate and help you discover!
Craft brewers have indeed been standing at the forefront of this innovative, creative path taken by the whole drinks industry, but did you know that you could also find inspiring producers pushing the boundaries of their field within the spirit industry?
While setting up new trends and highlighting key issues such as transparency and terroir, craft distillers, like craft brewers, definitely stand at the vanguard of their respective domains.
And this new wave of whisky distilleries has also seen the rise of a whole new generation of whisky consumers and collectors of all genders and ages. The ‘old man’s drink’ is now becoming more trendy than ever, so we thought it would be high time to give you a few handy tips on how to start your whisky collection!
“And this new wave of whisky distilleries has also seen the rise of a whole new generation of whisky consumers and collectors of all genders and ages”
First of all, why would people collect whisky, I mean, I thought it was meant to be drunk?
There are plenty of very good reasons to collect whisky. Here are a few of those
First of all, if you appreciate the amber nectar, chances are that you would appreciate having a nice selection on hand should you be overcome with the desire for a dram! On your own, with your partner or with friends, just to relax or celebrate your boyfriend’s new job, your brother’s newborn arrival or the season premiere of Game Of Thrones (We all have our priorities in life…) – I believe there is a whisky for every occasion and hence for me, as a whisky amateur, having a choice is indispensable.
I’m not necessarily into the ‘accumulation’ thing and simply having a lot of bottles isn’t my end goal, I’m much more interested in being able to choose from a finely balanced selection: single malts, blends, single grains, bourbons, world whiskies… diversity in flavour profiles is what I’m after, so that I can go for a smoky beast or a light floral dram whenever I feel like it!
For some of us, the thrill of the chase is a strong motivator to start a collection. Every collector knows the feeling all too well and goes chasing auction sites for that one bottle that he still needs to complete his collection. Care must be taken so that it does not become addictive though.
Collecting, for many, remains a hobby… But it can also be an investment for some.
Some figures first: did you know that whisky has largely surpassed other popular investments such as wine or gold? The ‘Rare Whisky Apex 100’, the reference index for Scotch whisky, has seen an increase in value of 14% in 2015, while the index for gold dropped 10% in the same period.
Booming in Europe and on a global scale, whisky auctions bring in unprecedented revenues with “record breaking” stories flooding all over the press almost every 2 months. In the UK alone, more than €10 million in transactions were registered in 2015, an increase of 25% compared to 2014.
Last but not least, let’s not forget the eye candy. Distilleries clearly understand that the design of their bottles and packaging are becoming increasingly important, turning a consumer product into a real work of art. Art is collectible, you get my point?
Beware though, many whisky purists still have troubles with the notion of collecting whisky in order to make a profit, arguing that whisky was made for drinking. They are entirely right. But one does not necessarily exclude the other! Does ‘two birds with one stone’ ring a bell? One can always buy two bottles (if possible, of course): one to enjoy and one to keep!
What bottles are ‘collectible?’ Is the price always a trustworthy indicator? There are two approaches to this issue. If you collect for consumption (and you’re so right!), start by buying what you like and, as you go, refine your choices as your palate develops. Venture to new flavors. This discovery journey will help educate your taste buds. What I would suggest if you’re only starting your whisky adventure is to attend nearby whisky tastings and festivals which will allow you to discover plenty of different styles of whisky without breaking the bank while meeting brand ambassadors who are here to guide you through their range.
“What I would suggest if you’re only starting your whisky adventure is to attend nearby whisky tastings and festivals which will allow you to discover plenty of different styles of whisky without breaking the bank”
If you collect as an investment, it is important to remember that scarcity makes the value. This is a golden rule to remember when choosing bottles in which to invest.
It is also important to remember that, as with any material investment, trends evolve and change: no investment is risk-free. For instance, an official distillery release is considered of higher added value than an independent bottling, even if the nectar is the same: same distillery, same year of distillation/ bottling…
Bottles from closed distilleries, AKA ‘silent distilleries’, are particularly popular among investors, such as those from Port Ellen, Rosebank and Hanyu to name but a few. Special editions or single casks*, which are often limited to a few hundred bottles, are also in very high demand. For instance, during the very popular annual Islay Whisky festival Feis Ile, the 8 distilleries on the island release some special limited editions and it’s not unusual to see people queuing hours before the opening of certain distilleries during their open day; they know those bottles are gold and if they want their share, they’d better be early – or wealthy. Those bottles may be priced under £100 when launched but, if they are very limited and sought-after by collectors, there is a good chance you’ll find them for triple their initial price on auction websites a few weeks later (even days for some expressions).
While the price often reflects the collectibility and scarcity of a whisky, one should not always rely on this. I cannot stress this enough: ask advice around you, whether from a connoisseur you trust, on collectors Facebook groups/forums or at your local spirit shop.
Where can you find ‘collectible’ bottles?
There are two main solutions. First, you can of course check with your favourite shop owner or a trusted dealer.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise, though, that auction websites are still the best place to find those old/ rare/collectible nectars and make a good deal in my opinion, for both buyer and seller (even famous whisky retailers buy some of their stock at auctions… Think about it).
While whisky investment is becoming more and more ‘a thing’, different auction houses have recently unveiled cases of high-scale forgery so BEWARE not to buy a conterfeit, always ask for an expert eye before buying an old/rare whisky and avoid any disappointment!
How to store your bottles?
Unlike wine, bottled whisky no longer ages (for instance a 12-year-old whisky bottled in 1997 is still a 12-year-old whisky today). But that doesn’t mean that the liquid will remain the same if you open the bottle in 50 years from now, especially if it hasn’t been stored in good conditions.
To avoid oxidation, try not to open and close the bottle repeatedly and store it at room temperature (avoiding significant temperature variations). And try your best to hide it from direct sunlight. Unlike wine, that is stored lying down, keep your whisky bottles vertical in order to avoid contact between the liquid and the cork as it may react negatively due to the high alcohol content.
You’ll also want to keep your bottles intact as long as possible, don’t forget the phenomenon of long-term evaporation. The best way to protect your whisky is to wrap the bottle cap with an additional protective layer, for example with Parafilm (used in laboratories).
As far as open bottles are concerned, the average lifetime is about one year after opening if they are stored in the conditions explained above. But beware, if you collect for investment purposes, you must realize that once opened, the value of your bottle drastically decreases and many auction houses will refuse to sell them. Happy hunting!
Originally published in Issue 2 of our Flavourly magazine. Written by Anne-Sophie Bigot.