Start your own whisky collection with these expert tips
Sipping on a nice, smooth whisky is one way to ease the pain after a hard day, but before you drain every drop of every bottle you get your hands on, consider the option of collecting your tipple as a long-term investment.
To give us more insight, we went to the whisky motherland, Scotland, to chat to Stewart Buchanan, global brand ambassador for The GlenDronach. Buchanan, who has 25 years of experience in the industry, shared some of his intel to get you well on your way to becoming a whisky investor.
There are five categories of Scotch whisky, including single malt. Which category is most popular when it comes to collecting?
The most popular category of whisky would be Speyside, single-malt Scotch whiskies produced in Strathspey, the area around the River Spey in north-eastern Scotland. Strathspey has the greatest number of distilleries of any of the whisky-producing areas of Scotland. Dufftown alone has six working distilleries with an annual capacity of 40.4-million litres of spirit. The whiskies from the area offer a multitude of characters, from sweet and fruity to rich sherry and even some delicious smoky peat.
How much does it cost to start a collection?
If you find the right whisky at the right time, it doesn’t have to be expensive. The fun should be in the search, and even in the whisky friends you meet along the way, as there really is a great social aspect to collecting. You can be in touch with people from all over the world at the touch of a key or the sip of a dram.
What should one look out for when buying now to sell on auction later?
They should remember it’s not all about age. I would recommend first editions from some of the fantastic new distilleries that are now in production, as well as distillery-only bottlings, festival bottlings, single casks, and small-batch expressions. Building sets of expressions is a good way to think about building a sellable collection.
How can one spot a forged whisky bottle?
If you have a doubt about anything, study the label. Normally a label will reveal the fake — embossing, font, or foiling. Knowledge is the key; do your research and know your stuff.
How many bottles make up a good collection, and should they come from different distilleries?
When you reach around 30 or so bottles, a collection would be taking shape. I don’t think there is any one direction for a collection or how many bottles make up a collection. There are many different types of collections — I know people who only collect their birth year, or concentrate on only one distillery, or only collect one cask style. It’s a big whisky world out there, so having a theme to your collection is a good idea. I think it gives you focus and other whisky people will possibly get to know you and your theme, and may even reach out if they find something interesting that would fit your collection.
How should the whisky be stored?
One thing whisky hates is direct sunlight, so don’t be tempted to keep your collection on show. If the sun falls on it during the warmest parts of the day, not only will the heat change the condition of the whisky but it will also fade the packaging, which will affect sale value. A cool, dark area would be best with a stable temperature of no more than 15-18°C.
Does the rarity of a whisky make it more appealing — for example, are whiskies from silent distilleries more popular than limited editions from known brands?
Silent distillery expressions are great to collect, but known brands have the market history, kudos, and appeal to any buyer. I think a known brand would be a more comfortable purchase for the new collector.
Are there any specific GlenDronach variants that a new collector should look out for?
At The GlenDronach, we are one of the few single-malt distilleries that offer a single cask collection. Twice a year, our master blender will select some of her favourite vintages and they will be individually numbered cask bottlings at cask strength. This gives a rare chance to taste a single malt going from cask directly to bottle. These are somewhat limited due to the volume of each cask and we are careful to try to allocate these fine and rare expressions across the globe.
What are some of the risks involved with investing in whisky?
In these turbulent times we never know what is around the corner, but I always say if you are worrying about risk you shouldn’t be doing it. Collecting whisky should be about the enjoyment and the passion.
Where would a collector buy their whiskies from?
There is a big collector’s world out there; it’s often about who you know and being in the right place at the right time. There are also many auction sites, but usually the big collectors will use a private whisky consultant or broker who has their ear to the ground, and knows what’s available on the market and where to find it.
This article first appeared in print in the Sowetan S Mag September 2019 edition.