A Guide to Starting Your Whisky Collection

A Guide to Starting Your Whisky Collection

The whisky market can be overwhelming for the prospective collector. This whisky guide runs through some of the principles behind informed whisky collecting.
The whisky market can be overwhelming for the prospective collector. This whisky guide runs through some of the principles behind informed whisky collecting.

F rom single malts to blends, Scotch whisky to Bourbon, silent distilleries to independent bottlers, there's a plethora of options on offer, making it difficult to know what to buy. Yet whisky collecting can be one of the most enjoyable – as well as robust – investments one can make. Alongside the sheer pleasure that can be derived from following your tastes and finding your new favourite dram, there are a few fundamental concepts that everyone building their whisky collection should know.

Understand the Basics

The variety of whiskies available today is vast, with Scotch, Japanese whisky, American whiskey and Irish whiskey all viewed as key. In Scotland alone there are currently over 120 whisky Scotch distilleries spread across five different regions; from the islands of the Inner Hebrides like Jura and Islay, up to Highlands, each one with a unique taste. It is important to understand their major stages of whisky production: malting, milling, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. The individual bouquet, colour and taste of each bottling is determined by a multitude of factors, from the yeast types used in fermentation, to the shape and size of the copper stills used for distillation, and ultimately the cask maturation. Whether a grain or a malt whisky, the intricate process of whisky-making used by each distillery will uniquely impact a whisky's character.

The Macallan Distillery

Hone Your Palate

Given the wealth of options, it's important to fine-tune your preferences. If you're building your scotch collection, be sure to start with the correct glass, a Glencairn perhaps, and treat yourself by sampling your way through as many whiskies as you can side by side. While you can trust in the original bottlings from established distilleries, like Glenfiddich single malt scotch, Laphroaig or The Macallan, keep your ear to the ground for newer releases from independent bottlers (who do not have a distillery but buy casks from elsewhere to bottle their own unique expressions) like Gordon & MacPhail. G&M’s bottlings were on many occasions considered to be the only official bottlings from a particular distillery and they are now renowned as the gatekeepers of the largest and most diverse inventory of casks in Scotland.

Featured Distilleries

Young Can Be Good

Keep in mind that when it comes to collecting whisky "old" is not necessarily synonymous with "good" (although age is invariably reflected in price). While an independent bottler like Gordon & MacPhail, a revered name in Scotland's whisky heritage, might boast well-aged single-malt bottlings from the likes of established distillers including Mortlach 75 Year Old and Glenlivet 70 Year Old, they have also released highly collectable bottles that are less than 10 years old. Adelphi, established as an independent bottler in Glasgow in 1825, is now as well known for its aged single malts as for the new make from its young distillery, Ardnamurchan. Alongside historic but evolving organisations, entirely new bottlers like Compass Box, founded in 2000, or Wemyss Malt, founded in 2005, are producing innovative and critically acclaimed single casks and blended malts.

Seek Out Rarities

When seeking rare bottlings, look to buy limited editions where the number of bottles produced has been declared (ideally handwritten onto the label). Learning to interpret the labels is also invaluable, with the information on offer potentially including details such as the cask finish and number, alongside the distillery, bottle size and alcohol content. Once you find one you like, it's wise to buy two bottles – the first to drink and the second as an investment. Remember, the more you drink, the rarer the remaining bottles become. This theory is exemplified by Sotheby's first Single Malt bottling: A 24 year Old Bunnahabhain of which only 12 bottles were released, each auctioned in pairs – one to drink and one to keep.


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