As collecting whisky becomes ever more popular around the world and with so much choice currently available, you might be wondering how best to go about starting a whisky collection in 2020. As I have recently (almost a year I suppose) begun collecting myself I thought it would be worthwhile to share what I’ve learned so far.
If you are collecting and plan to enjoy the whisky in the future then your collection should include a wide variety of whisky but if you are looking for a long term investment then you will need to be more selective. Investing in rare and collectable limited edition bottlings or collecting exclusively from one top-end distillery such as The Macallan, would be the best way to go based on historic price trends.
Whisky collecting for investment
I have a mixed collection, some for enjoyment and some for the future as a small investment. One of the best things about collecting whisky is that if I can’t realise a decent profit in the future I can always drink it. The same can’t be said for stamp collectors!
Certain whisky has tended to appreciate historically, but the market has changed a fair amount in recent years. As more people enter the market the stocks of aged whisky have not always been sufficient to accommodate demand. Considering the youngest age statement whisky people generally buy is 12-year-old, then it stands to reason it will take at least that long to increase production volume and meet demand. The solution from distilleries has been the ‘NAS’ whisky that is becoming increasingly common today.
NAS simply stands for No Age Statement which means the distillery is not labelling the whisky with a certain age, so we don’t know how long it has had in the barrel. All we do know is that whisky needs to be a minimum of 3 years old in Scotland to be classed as a single malt whisky so it could all be 3 years old or a mixture of ages. Many of these NAS whiskies are released with clever marketing, limited or released in a series to encourage collectors to keep purchasing as limited edition series often build value as a full series.
There are plenty of exciting opportunities for top-end collectors as well, with many bottlings costing well into the 6 figures. This article is honestly aimed at the novice who is more likely looking at investments in the 3 or low 4 figure range. Many of the same principles and advice apply to both!
Whisky collecting for pleasure
Whisky was created and intended to be enjoyed, I’d like to think all distilleries would prefer people to enjoy their spirit rather than converting their spare rooms into a hoard of hundreds of bottles! I guess I’m in between the two, some of my whisky is for investment and some to enjoy either along with some good music or to share with friends when they come over and visit.
Some collectors buy 2 of every bottle, one to store and one to drink. I have found this to be a good balance if budget allows, although it can be tempting to crack open the second bottle if you really enjoyed the first – of course, this is the exception but it has happened, especially after a few drams when you get a bit carried away!
I have met collectors who simply enjoy the thrill of the chase and building the collection. The pleasure for them is derived from admiring their collection and perhaps a splash of nostalgia as they remember where they bought each bottle and the circumstances and stories behind it. Quite often, these special bottles are purchased on holidays, in duty-free travel retail shops or from the distilleries whilst taking tours. Many of these outlets are the only place you are able to find these bottlings. The majority of my whisky has been sourced from auctions, if you want to learn more about whisky auctions then I have a more in-depth article you can read.
Practical whisky collecting tips
There are some practical considerations with collecting whisky no matter what your end game is, and that’s storage. Whisky takes up space and no matter how many bottles you might think you will end up with, it will probably be more. I have a small collection of around 20 bottles which are currently stored on a shelf in my wardrobe. The shelf is now full and it looks like some more clothes might need to go in order to free up another shelf 🙂
Most modern whisky, especially limited edition bottlings, come in colourful and artistically designed packaging that doesn’t really deserve to be hidden away. It seemed a shame to keep all of this colour and beauty locked away in a cupboard so I set about looking for a nice display cabinet. There are plenty to choose from on the many online furniture retailers and I would love to be able to display my full collection, but the reality is, whisky can be damaged if it’s exposed to light or even worse, direct heat from the sun. Not only can the whisky be damaged with over-exposure to light, but there is a chance the packaging will fade as well. Any changes to the fill level or damage to the packaging will reduce the value fairly significantly.
It’s a toss-up between admiring your collection or preserving it!
There is another option in making use of professional storage companies catering to whisky collectors. These facilities are usually temperature and light controlled and fully covered with insurance against damage or loss. This is a serious option if you are collecting older and more expensive whisky.
Aside from actually storing your whisky collection, there will come a point in time when you look and think, ‘I have quite a lot of money here’ and consider the prospect of being burgled. Of course, storing litres and litres of high strength alcohol in your home could also be considered a fire risk which may well need to be considered. Most normal (and affordable) home polices are not going to cut it – there is specialist insurance available but the premiums involved would likely be several times higher than you are currently used to paying. There is a balance and when a collection reaches high-value then insurance must be considered.
Whisky to collect now in 2020
Let’s take a look at my personal favourite distilleries right now and the bottlings that I’m keen on collecting.
I must confess to having more Macallan whisky than anything and I believe that is probably the case for many other collectors. Not only is The Macallan a prestige brand, but they have nailed their marketing so well which has enabled them to sell NAS whiskies at premium prices. The Macallan often launch special editions and these are often sold out by way of a ballot on their website; you will very often find the winners flip the bottles for a quick profit on the auction sites. The one area that consistently sells well is series like Edition and Concept – these are launched annually in a numbered series and tend to appreciate very fast, especially at the auction sites.
Ardbeg is another favourite of mine, especially if you enjoy peated whisky. If you haven’t ever tried it then it’s something I recommend you go and do. Ardbeg’s special releases are always popular and often sell out within the day. The committee releases are also very popular and I’m trying to collect the full set over time – you can see all the previous Ardbeg Committee releases here.
Glendronach has become increasingly popular recently for their excellent sherried whisky. The 15 and 18-year-old standard range are probably top of my list right now in terms of enjoyment but I think this distillery will continue to grow in popularity. As their stocks start to dwindle we may well see their standard ranges become far more valuable.
There are so many additional opportunities for you to get started on building a whisky collection, here are some ideas
- Limited collectable releases
- Special editions to commemorate events such as a distillery turning 100
- First releases from new distilleries
- Whisky from lost distilleries
- Collecting all of your whisky from a single favourite distillery
- Collecting all Scotch, Irish, American or Japanese whiskies
I hope this has helped with a few tips in getting started with a whisky collection. Collecting whisky can be exciting and rewarding and is a thoroughly enjoyable hobby. If you’re really lucky you might just turn a profit on one or two bottles in a few years time!