F rom single malts to blends, Scotch to Bourbon, silent distilleries to independent bottlers, there's a plethora of options on offer, making it difficult to know what to buy. Yet collecting whisky 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 every collector should know.
Investing in whisky has become incredibly popular in recent years – but how do you go about starting a collection? In this episode of Expert Voices, get top tips from Sotheby’s Spirits Specialist Jonny Fowle as he explains the things you need to consider, from age statement and rarity to storage and design.
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Understand the Basics
The variety of whiskies available today is vast, with Scotland, Japan, America and Ireland all viewed as key producers. In Scotland alone there are currently over 120 whisky distilleries spread across five different regions, 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.
Hone Your Palate
Given the wealth of options, it's important to fine-tune your preferences. 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, 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.
Young Can Be Good
Keep in mind that "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.
Preview Distilled | Whisky + Moutai + More
2083Lot輕井澤 Karuizawa 52 Year Old Cask #8852 Streams of Time 63.1 ABV 1965 (1 BT70)輕井澤 karuizawa 52 year old cask #8852 streams of time 63.1 abv 1965 (1 bt70)5 May 2020 | Sale Price 471,200 HKDEstimate 400,000 – 600,000 HKD5 May 2020 | Sale Price 471,200 HKDDistilled | Whisky + Moutai + More21 April–5 May 2020 | 12:00 PM HKT | Hong Kong
2007LotThe Macallan 25 Year Old Anniversary Malt 43.0 abv 1968 (1 BT70)the macallan 25 year old anniversary malt 43.0 abv 1968 (1 bt70)5 May 2020 | Sale Price 49,600 HKDEstimate 40,000 – 60,000 HKD5 May 2020 | Sale Price 49,600 HKDDistilled | Whisky + Moutai + More21 April–5 May 2020 | 12:00 PM HKT | Hong Kong
2038LotThe Macallan Duncan Taylor The Rarest Collection 42 Year Old 41.6 ABV 1969 (1 BT70)the macallan duncan taylor the rarest collection 42 year old 41.6 abv 1969 (1 bt70)Estimate 170,000 – 220,000 HKDEstimate 170,000 – 220,000 HKDDistilled | Whisky + Moutai + More21 April–5 May 2020 | 12:00 PM HKT | Hong Kong
2044LotMortlach 75 Year Old Gordon & Macphail Generations NV (1 BT70)mortlach 75 year old gordon & macphail generations nv (1 bt70)5 May 2020 | Sale Price 173,600 HKDEstimate 130,000 – 180,000 HKD5 May 2020 | Sale Price 173,600 HKDDistilled | Whisky + Moutai + More21 April–5 May 2020 | 12:00 PM HKT | Hong Kong
2069LotThe Last Drop Finest Aged Blended Scotch Whisky 52 abv 1960 (1 BT70)the last drop finest aged blended scotch whisky 52 abv 1960 (1 bt70)5 May 2020 | Sale Price 22,320 HKDEstimate 20,000 – 28,000 HKD5 May 2020 | Sale Price 22,320 HKDDistilled | Whisky + Moutai + More21 April–5 May 2020 | 12:00 PM HKT | Hong Kong
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.