Our whisky specialist, Jamie, is back with all the information you need to know before you invest in your favourite drink
Words Jamie Walker
When I started working in bars and restaurants at the age of 18 in Scotland, the whisky I served was often American and mixed with coke. I would not have been able to tell you about the difference between vodka and gin, and I definitely did not know the difference between a single malt and a blend.
There were a few expensive single malts on the back bar, but rarely were they ordered, and on busy nights I barely remembered they were there. Ironically now, one of those bottles, a 30-year-old heavily sherried single malt from Speyside, is now one of the most sought after whiskies in Asia.
I’m sure it used to be 4 pounds a nip, as we used to call it, or 25ml in more generic terms. This bottle will now go for around 10,000 GBP on auction. If I had known then what I know now, I would have picked one up from my student loan and now it would have more than paid it off! Hindsight…
So why is whisky now seen by many as an investment? And should we have seen it coming? Firstly, one of the reasons that anything becomes valuable is a rarity. Please don’t think that if you buy a bottle of $60 blended whisky now, it will be worth lots in 10 years’ time. Many of these whiskies that are going at auction for thousands are from closed, or ‘ghost’ distilleries, or are from single casks that have proven to be of outstanding quality. Many famous single malts that command extremely high value now are from whisky distilleries that were not intended to ever be released as single malts, they were there purely to be part of a recipe for some of the most famous blended whiskies during the ’60s to ’80s.
Port Ellen springs to mind as being integral to Johnnie Walker whiskies in the 1970s, and since the distillery shut down in 1983, the subsequent releases from the dwindling supply of casks leftover as single malts have grown exponentially in value as enthusiasts and now investors compete for some of this liquid treasure.
There were some people that were looking at single casks back then, but even they would have no idea the sums of money that these whiskies would command now. Silvano Samaroli, an Italian whisky and spirits enthusiast started buying single casks of whiskies in the late ’60s and bottled them at cask strength. As these were from hand-selected casks, they were limited to between 150 – 800 bottles, and as such a few are now collector’s items.
At Sotheby’s this year, a Bowmore Bouquet release by Samaroli in 1984 was sold for over 42,000 GBP. This would probably have been sold for around 20 pounds, or the equivalent in Italian Lira at the time. Quite a markup!
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many financial investments have taken a beating, and investors are looking to branch out to alternative ways of putting their capital to good use. Rare Whisky 101, an online website tracking whisky prices and sales on the secondary markets, has shown that whisky during the past 6 months has gone up, let alone held its value.
THE LAST 5 YEARS HAVE SEEN THE MOST EXPENSIVE BOTTLES SELLING FROM TENS OF THOUSANDS TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS, AND NOW OVER A MILLION POUNDS FOR A SINGLE BOTTLE
This, coupled with the increase in wine duplication, most famously by Rudy Kurniawan which is documented in ‘In Vino Duplicitas’ and then made into a Netflix documentary ‘Sour Grapes’, has meant that more people are looking at whisky as an investment. Scotch and Japanese whiskies are most popular, but rare and old American and Irish whiskies are also starting to see big prices at auctions all over the world. The fact that whisky, due to its higher abv % than wine, is less likely to spoil, makes it an increasingly appealing option for investors.
Private individuals are now looking to buy their own casks of whisky, preferably at high age statements, so they can then leave it for 5 to 10 years before bottling and selling at whatever price they wish. The Chinese luxury whisky market is booming, and this is driving demand at auctions and for limited releases from all the top whisky distilleries in Scotland. 10 years ago, it would have been a rare occasion to host VIP guests on distillery tours, now distilleries are building private client tasting rooms and flying people around in helicopters and jetting clients in from all over the world.
Investors buying up casks of single malt may well change the face of whisky globally. Limited release bottles are becoming harder and harder to find, and the prices are skyrocketing. The last 5 years have seen the most expensive bottles selling from tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands, and now over a million pounds for a single bottle. The trend is only going one way, and the whiskies are becoming more and more scarce, thus driving prices in only one direction.
The question for some is not whether to invest. It is whether they can afford not to.