Investing in Rare Whisky

Investing in Rare Whisky

The events that followed the Credit Crunch lead many people to realise that obscure investments in complicated financial instruments were too risky or not properly understood. Many people turned to precious metals, weapons and others discovered that they were sitting on goldmines: they had very valuable bottles of rare whisky. Some people realised that the bottle of whisky they purchased 5  or 10 years prior to the financial crisis were worth up to 30 times their original price!

Since 2008-2009 many people decided to start buying rare, old and collectable bottles. Many people bought ageing stocks of single malt. Lots of people ended up disappointed when they realised that their purchases did not go up in value as quickly as they thought it would or when they bought something that was neither old nor rare. Very often friends and clients ask us: which whiskies are the most likely to hold their value and increase in value over time?

We will be talking exclusively about bottled whiskies and not whiskies in bond or in casks. 

The obvious things first

The less there is of something desirable, the more valuable it becomes over time. This applies not only to whisky but to many items including art pieces, other spirits, cars, etc. When it comes to whisky remember one thing: whiskies from closed distilleries become more and more rare (and almost always more expensive) as times passes. This does not mean that whiskies released by distilleries in operation are less worthy or won't go up in value. More on these whiskies later. 

Think about it, Brora distillery shut its doors in 1983 after it produced malt whisky for the Johnnie Walker blends for 14 years. In the words of Dr. Nick Morgan (Diageo's head of Whisky Outreach): 'When we started bottling Port Ellen and Brora in the Special Releases 15 or 16 years ago, there were many people in Diageo who thought we wouldn’t be able to sell those bottles for £100'. Dr. Morgan made these comments in 2017

Again, when distilleries shut down the remaining liquid did not shoot up in price immediately after.  A bottle of Brora distilled in 1972 and bottled in 1994 is now going for almost 50 times its release price. For this to happen, 25 years went by. 

Many visionary or lucky buyers of Brora 18 years ago or so might have been wondering what they were doing spending £100 pounds or a bit more on a single bottle of whisky. Today they can safely say that they made a sound decision. 

So far, it might seem obvious that single malt whisky from closed distilleries will almost certainly go up in value. 

What about whisky from distilleries still in operation?

Let's divide these whiskies into two categories. Standard releases that become discontinued for a variety of reasons and Special/Limited releases. 

Sometimes distilleries will discontinue one of their core releases. Relatively recent examples that come to mind are The Glendronach 15 year old and Scapa 16 year old. In the case of Glendronach distillery, the stocks needed for this release were simply not there. Once news spread, bottles of Glendronach 15 year old were selling for up to £200 at some auctions sites. Prior to it being discontinued a bottle typically sold for £45-£50. 

If we were to take many other similar cases as example one immediately notices a pattern:

- when a standard release whisky is discontinued, those on the know will stock up first. 

-Those who find out a bit later find it hard to secure bottles of the discontinued release(s)

-Those who get the news late pay up to 4-5 times the value of the bottles when they see them at auction. Many hope to make a quick return within months. 

A quick search on popular auction sites shows that both whiskies mentioned above have more or less retained their post-discontinuation value. The Glendronach has gone down slightly (Glendronach distillery has re-released the 15 year old expression) while the Scapa 16 has gone up slightly too (this latter whisky has not been re-released). Our take is, if you find out that a whisky will be discontinued, stock up!

Special or Limited release whiskies from distilleries in operation.

Where to start? We will obviously talk about Macallan given that it's the best performing 'investment whisky'. 

Many of us heard about the record breaking price that a bottle of Macallan distilled in 1926 achieved last year (1.5 Million GBP). That bottle was part of a series released by the famous Speyside distillery and included selected whiskies distilled between 1926 and 1991 (178 bottles in total). When it comes to other distilleries, we see similar patterns specially if the liquid is old and was bottled by the distillery and not by the myriad independent bottlers out there. That is not to say that independent bottled Macallan wont incur returns they are however somewhat slower. If you want to buy Macallan for investment be ready to fork out some serious money on a couple of bottles regardless of the bottler. 

As for many other distilleries there are things to pay attention to: age, rarity and availability. Bottles of rare and old Dalmore, Bowmore, Highland Park and others often sell at auction for twice their original price. Timescales vary but it takes these whiskies between 2 and 6 years to double in value. Those willing to spend 12-15k in a bottle will be rewarded in less time than those wanting to spend significantly less. 

Warning!

Keep in mind that distilleries in operation might release whiskies one day and release a very similar whisky shortly after. Also, certain special bottlings might appear on mass at auctions and their expected value might not be realised. Certain bottles from famous Speyside and Highland distilleries have climbed in price over the years and when people expect them to reach the highest possible value their price plummets as a result of over provision.

Conclusion

If you want to play it safe, go for releases from closed distilleries, very often, Independent bottlings go up in value (think about St. Magdalene) and be patient, very patient. If you hang out with people in the know or have friends working for distilleries, use their insight to stock up on soon to be discontinued releases and try to shift them as soon as possible. If you have thousands to spend on individual bottles, expect decent returns with a bit of patience. 

Best of luck finding that next 'unicorn whisky'!
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