There are so many reasons why collecting whisky is someone’s passion.
For some it starts with learning about the fascinating history behind the spirit, with interesting stories of illicit stills across the Scottish Highlands, thousands of which still lie undiscovered. For many it’s for personal consumption and the enjoyment of the taste. For others it’s purely for investment purposes. With the often beautiful labelling and its golden tones, when properly stored, a whisky collection can also be a work of art.
Whatever the reasons, collecting whisky can be an incredibly fun experience and with auctions soon to fire up in the autumn, now would be a great time to start your research.
Where to start building a whisky collection
Whether it is a particular taste, vintage, or single distillery you are interested in, there are many ways to start your collection.
Whisky specialists with a strong background in the industry, working for well-established auctioneers, reputable online sources and specialist shops, can guide and help you with starting and building up your collection.
Diego Lanza, Senior Whisky Specialist at Bonhams advises ‘whether you want to become a collector, investor, or both, only start if you actually love whisky and you appreciate both savouring it and its history’.
Some notable record-breaking sales have taken place in recent years, raising the profile of this asset as an investment. Here are some recent highlights from the Bonhams’ sales rooms:
Paris – A bottle of Laphroaig 1967 selected by the legendary Italian importer and bottler Silvano Samaroli, was sold for €51k including buyer’s premium. An amazing start for their inaugural whisky sale in France.1
London – A great result was achieved when Bonhams sold a Black Bowmore Aston Martin DB5-1964 for £115k including buyer’s premium. One of the highest prices achieved by this very rare whisky.2
How to grow your whisky knowledge
This is where enjoying whisky becomes important. By falling in love with a particular whisky and tasting it, you can establish your personal preferences and what you will enjoy collecting.
Real, sensorial experience is the best indicator. There are many whisky bars around the world where you can try different styles to familiarise yourself with the spirit.
There are also dedicated tastings and events where fellow collectors share some amazing whiskies. You can also enjoy organised virtual tasting events from the comfort of your own home.
Old/vintage bottles or new releases?
The answer is both. In principle, the immutable crucial factors that deem a whisky collectible are quality and scarcity. Here are some important features which are recurring in rare whisky bottles and play key roles in the value of bottles:
- Single cask bottlings - A single cask bottling can be done by distilleries or independent bottlers. With outturns usually ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred bottles, many of these whiskies are very special indeed and often some of the most coveted amongst collectors.
- Lost/ghost distilleries - These are dismantled distilleries which are no longer in existence, where whisky was bottled in the past. Sometimes these have an incredible quality and are also very valuable.
- Sherry cask, bourbon cask, etc. - The type of cask where the whisky was stored and matured can also move the price dramatically, especially if it’s a sherry cask whisky. Some of the most legendary Scotch and Japanese whiskies ever produced were matured entirely in ex-sherry casks. Bourbon casks produce equally outstanding and iconic whiskies, even if they lack the eye-catching dark colour of the latter.
- Don’t buy with your eyes - For unbiased, sound guidance within the industry, try whiskyfun.com, or whiskynotes.be. They taste several whiskies every week, providing good assessments in terms of quality for old and vintage whiskies along with current releases.
Whisky versus wine collections
Collecting whisky, amongst other spirits such as Cognac, Armagnac and Rum, has gained momentum in recent years as an alternative to wine collecting.
Spirits can mellow out with micro-oxygenation in bottles over the years/decades but they tend not to change too much and certainly don’t go off like wine. Basically, they are almost infinite in terms of shelf-life.
One of the reasons for this is how easy they are to store. Unlike wine, spirits do not require temperature-controlled warehousing. So long as they are stored in a cool, dry place, without direct sunlight and standing upright (never lay your bottles of spirits on their sides like wine).
Protecting your whisky collection
If you’ve spent time and effort building your whisky collection, you’ll want to make sure it’s protected. Insuring your whisky collection is essential, to safeguard against the unforeseen.
Our Private Clients team can arrange a policy that will offer protection for your collection as it grows in size and value. We can also help by giving you direct access to industry specialists that carry out valuations of your whisky collection, to ensure you are adequately protected.
This article was researched and written by Fiona Lance,
A Client Executive based in Edinburgh, Fiona has seen the upward trend in clients investing in whisky and how the values of this investment have increased. Fiona was keen to learn more about the industry to get a deeper understanding of her client’s passions so that she can ensure she provides exactly the right protection.
Fiona adds "this has certainly not been a hardship to research. Although not a whisky connoisseur, I have always been interested in its rich history. Learning about the different styles and tastes I fully appreciate why it can become such a passion for collectors, as well as those who simply like to enjoy a wee dram. As we say in Scotland, ‘Slàinte Mhath".