Even if annual increases in value of 40% will remain absolute exceptional phenomena, the market for whisky has grown very strongly in recent years. Some collectors have recognised this and are now enjoying the gustatory as well as the financial advantages of this investment.
The interest in Europe, the USA and in focused markets in Asia has grown steadily, but only recently collectors around the world started to deal with whisky as an investment at the highest level. This really helped the market to develop and grow.
"Whisky - where else can you get 40% and more for your money today?"
One of the joys of collecting Scotch Whisky is the variety of styles. The single malts from Scotland range from potent, oily Islay Malts that smell of peat smoke to light, grassy Lowland whiskies with endless styles in between.
American whiskeys are typically softer and sweeter, whether in the form of bourbon or the spicy rye whiskeys that are becoming increasingly popular at auctions. Certain types of whiskey come partly from different grains. Single malt Scotch whiskey is distilled from malted barley, while bourbon is distilled from a corn-based grain and rye whiskey is distilled from rye. Stylistically, American whiskey is less varied than the European or Japanese versions. The peculiarities and nuances of certain distilleries are still what arouses the interest of collectors.
The Macallan has always been a collector's favorite as there are many examples of older bottlings that are of significant value and the prices of which have increased steadily over the past decade. Macallan also publishes the highly valued Fine and Rare series of old stocks from remarkable years such as 1926, 1938 and 1946.
In recent years, older bottles from the famous distilleries - Dalmore, Ardbeg, Springbank, Yamazaki and Karuizawa - have seen good to very good price increases. Distilleries that have reserves of very old whisky and can bring them onto the market have seen enormous growth in value in recent years.
Whiskey from so-called silent stills can also be very attractive for collectors. Distilleries such as Burnside or Dalaruan have been closed for many years and it is extremely difficult to find suitable whiskeys. Others like Port Ellen, which closed in the 1980s, can be found regularly at auction. Before closing, some silent stills sold large quantities of their inventory to independent bottlers. These bottlers are still releasing stocks, so collectors can purchase these bottles from cult stills if they are for sale at auction or through direct offers.
Despite increasing competition, especially from Japan, Scotland is still the key producer of the most renowned and stable value whiskeys.
Strength and balance are typical for the distillers of the highland distilleries, which are scattered in a landscape of towering snow-capped mountains and cliffs over wild, foaming seas. Peat plays a major role in the taste profile: the old, decomposed clods of earth are burned under the malted barley in order to fill the resulting liquid with full-bodied, smoky notes. Glenmorangie offers elegance, while Dalmore is a distillery that presents deep, dark and complex whiskeys. Oban, with a strong coastal influence, has a soothing salty smell and Dalwhinnie, hidden deep in the mountains, is a very forgiving drop.
Light, aperitif-like whiskies dominate the rolling hills and the Lowlands border region. Because of the light, floral notes of their whiskies, the distilleries in this region are known as "Lowland Ladies". Many are now "silent stills" (closed distilleries) such as Rosebank and Linlithgow, whose whiskies are extremely rare and therefore enjoyable to collect. Glenkinchie is a renowned distillery currently producing grassy drops flavored with honeysuckle, while Auchentoshan triple distills its whiskey for a stimulating citrus note.
Islay enjoys a windswept, rugged coastline that includes impenetrable bog. Hot, smoky whiskies with a salty note are produced by well-known distilleries such as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Bowmore. Whiskeys from this region are perfect for fans of heavy, salty malts with peppery, floral, mossy flaxseed notes. Port Ellen is a famous "silent still" whose rare old single malts are hard to find.
Though not recognised as a separate region by the Scotch Whisky Association - they are connected to the Highlands - the volcanic islands of Arran, Mull, Jura, Skye and Orkney offer extremely challenging, full-throated whiskeys full of smoky, peaty aromas and an earthy, pagan and earthy honey composition. Talisker, Tobermory, Arran and Jura are strong whiskeys with oily textures and nutty, peppery palates.
Located on a deserted peninsula 140 miles from Glasgow - sometimes inaccessible in winter due to the only access road - Campbeltown's whiskies have a unique character that is influenced by an inimitable location. Springbank has a large fan base among collectors, with its sweet, floral notes, while Hazelburn and Longrow offer moist wool, toffee, and vanilla notes. The city is also home to Cadenhead's, a famous and very old independent bottler. Known for buying barrels from "silent stills" like Banff, Cadenhead also fills his own malt.
Beneath the Speyside gorges and cliffs are numerous distilleries that produce nutty, fruity whiskies - they combine citrus fruits, apples and pears with complex notes of honey and vanilla. Sherry and Sauternes barrels are often used for maturation, which leads to additional complexity and a silky mouthfeel. Eight cities, including Strathisla, Lossie, Dufftown and Findhorn, are home to some of the most famous Scottish makers: Balvenie, Glen Moray and Glenfiddich are at home here, along with the famous Macallan.
The collection habits of whisky enthusiasts are diverse and complex, making it difficult to decline them according to clear rules. Here's a taste of how a collection can be built. Whisky collectors usually have certain distilleries that they prefer. If a collector has a specific interest in Ardbeg, Ardbeg can address him in all its forms.
Collectors like to compare whisky styles that have been produced in different decades to see how distillation and ageing techniques develop. Just as the eccentricity of the style of a distillery turns out, a collector develops the strongest connection with the whisky. Similarly, many distilleries experiment with the age of their whiskeys in different barrels to influence the taste profile. When a distillery brings an atypical whisky onto the market that differs significantly from its house style, these releases are often very popular.
The main focus for American whiskey collectors are older examples of famous stills and especially "pre-prohibition" whiskeys that were distilled before prohibition began. These bottles, some hidden after being taken back and others bottled, have high premiums in today's market. First and foremost, new collectors should focus on styles of whiskeys that they enjoy or that fascinate them. The variety of styles in particular is very exciting.
Another important characteristic of whiskey is that the individual examples of many styles or whiskey regions can be purchased for relatively low prices, so that a collection can be developed without investing a large amount of funds. New collectors should pay attention to where they shop. As with all types of investments, the origin is the key.
The holding time of bottles varies from collection to collection. Some whisky enthusiasts have been working on their collections for decades, trying to cling to everything they have to create the perfect collection. Other collectors buy bottles in order to quickly sell them off with an increase in value.
Whiskey is much less demanding to store than wine. Moderate temperature fluctuations are generally not a problem. A cool, dark cabinet can be the beginning of a serious collection. In contrast to wine, spirits do not develop further in the bottle. Whiskey takes part of its final taste and aroma profile from the raw ingredients and the distillation process and most of its character from the interaction between the pure (new make) distillate and the wooden barrels in which it is aged. Therefore, once the whiskey is bottled, it remains in an essentially unchanged state.