The perfect conditions for an investment-worthy commodity: high demand, low supply. So, when even the biggest whisky distilleries can’t roll out enough age-specific whiskies to quench worldwide thirst and remove age labels from core expressions, you know you’ve got an asset class to buy into.
Even prior to this shift, bottles of the amber spirit were yielding triple-digit returns for collectors. UK-based consultancy Rare Whisky 101, who indexes the auction prices of rare bottles in that region, reported a 525 per cent growth in the values of the top 100 best-performing single malt scotch from 2010 to late this year. Even looking at the 1,000 best performers, a 259 per cent gain was recorded in the same period. The bulk of these winners are indeed age-labelled, and their numbers are disappearing in both senses of the word, adding even more rarity to already-limited releases.
Whisky wins out over wine, as well. No chilled cellar is required as room temperature works fine – as long as the bottles are stored upright in a dark room. Ultraviolet rays don’t play nice with spirits.
Whisky bottles are also display pieces in their own right. Take The Macallan M, 1824 series. It’s an exquisite prism of a decanter, crafted by renowned French glassmaker Lalique. The six-litre lmperiale version, which took 17 craftsmen 50 hours to make, was auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this year for $870,000, setting a new world record for most expensive whisky.
But above all, investing is a much richer experience when passion is mixed in with the gambit, says HSBC Private Bank’s regional head of investment strategy in Asia, Benjamin Pedley. Of whisky and its collectors, he says: “Having the option of opening that bottle, to share it with friends that know their drink – these are the intangible value-adds of investing.”
At an intimate The Peak Premier Dinner with clients of HSBC Private Bank held at the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars showroom in September, he highlighted that, be it a passion for vintage jewellery, cars or even designer goods, an innate love for the investment itself goes a long way.
However, Howard Lo, owner of American whisky importer and distributor Liberty Spirits Asia, says discernment is essential, as the older age-labelled bottles still run into the thousands and their contents may not taste vastly different.
“The time the whisky has spent in the cask is no guarantee of character or flavour,” says Lo. “Find limited-edition, one-off releases, and those sold only in the travel market. Those are rarer and will likely see higher returns.” So, to invest or no? Do what most collectors do. Buy two bottles: one to savour, another to add to the cabinet. Even if the investment doesn’t pay off , your whisky library will benefit.