Ken Grier Rum Whisky

Ken Grier (Photo: Dictador)

It might be worth your while to quit drinking. Apologies, let me rephrase that. It’s worth your while to refrain from opening rare bottles in your handcrafted cellarette. 

Rare whisky, in particular, is a top performing asset that has appreciated 428 per cent in value over the past 10 years, while the value of wine has risen 137 per cent  —  outperforming watches (108%), handbags (78%) and art (75%) as investment vehicles  — the Knight Frank luxury investment index details. It didn’t even come as a big surprise when a bottle of Yamazaki 55 fetched US$600,000 ($831,000) last week.

Also in the last week, a six-bottle set of The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection sold for a record-breaking US$816,748. 

One man who has witnessed whisky’s phenomenal rise is Ken Grier, who over 20 years helped transform single malt brand The Macallan into a blue-chip luxury house and auction darling, first as its director of malts and later as creative director.

But besides whisky and fine wine, what else makes a good liquid investment? For Grier, who stepped down from his role at the Scottish distillery in 2018, the answer is ultra-aged rum.

Ushering a new era of rum collaborations

Like whisky, rum is a rich and complex spirit with deep historical roots (the oldest distillery, Mount Gay, was established in Barbados in 1703). And because it is produced in warmer sugar-producing countries where there tends to be a high evaporation rate, quantities of vintage rum are low and thus prized.

Grier, of course, is partial to the spirit. Currently creative director at The Dictador, he has not only successfully shone a spotlight on third-generation master blender Hernan Parra’s sophisticated artistry, but has ushered the century-old Colombian rum producer into a new era of artistic collaborations and its own NFT-enabled treasury club, ArtHouse Spirits DAO.

The moves have paid off. The Dictador Generations En Lalique The Proof Bottle sold last year at a Sotheby’s auction for £30,000 pounds ($51,000) — the highest value ever achieved for rum at the auction house — while a blend by Parra, selected from vintages between 1966-2006, encased in a hand painted artwork by French sculptor Richard Orlinski retails at €100,000 ($146,660).

(Related: Jigger & Pony’s Sugarhall returns as rum cocktail pub)

Dictador Rum Richard Orlinski
The Dictador X Richard Orlinski 5 Decades collection marks the first time that rum has been encased within an artwork. There are six expressions, including this €100,000 RO Hand-painted, which has notes of caramel, treacle, curry powder, espresso and coffee (Photo: Dictador)

What makes Dictador so special — is it its provenance or the way the rum is made?

It’s a combination. The rum has had family involvement since its founding in 1913 and now, Hernan Parra, third generation, brings his family passion, care and commitment to the role. This measured curation has led us to carefully cherish and safeguard our unrivalled cache of old stocks. 

The virgin sugar cane honey that is the foundation of our rum is unrivalled in quality as is the care we take in pot still and column still distillation before we put these into the finest hand selected ex Bourbon and Sherry casks and allow them to slowly mature in the unique, gentle coastal climate of Cartagena. 

Dictador rum
For its 2 Masters series, Dictador sends barrels of its aged rum to collaborators such as Niepoort and Royal Tokaji to continue the maturing process. (Photo: Lauren Tan)

In wine and spirits, what makes a product investment grade? 

It’s an amalgam of an authentic and compelling story rooted in heritage, and a distinctive, excellent and scarce liquid combined with a compelling aesthetic. 

Why are you convinced that the next big thing in alternative investment is rum? 

Having been at the beginning of the Scotch whisky investment boom and with my team having influenced the Macallan’s role in this, I see parallels. Dark and differentiated spirits have traditionally done well. Brands that carefully marshal their precious stocks in the form of highly limited and compelling offerings win, as do highly visionary and innovative companies. Rum looks like it has all this and Dictador, as the fine and rare thought leader, is the most dynamic brand in its field. 

(Related: The rise of premium rum in Singapore)

Ken Grier rum
Ken Grier (Photo: Dictador)

It seems like every brand across the luxury spectrum has released an NFT. Why are consumers so enamoured by them, you think?

NFTs are seen, particularly by younger, more discerning and affluent consumers in Gen X and Z as aspirational, contemporary and relevant. They fit with their collecting and lifestyle idiom. These consumers are highly creative and find aesthetically pleasing items appealing. As many are crypto investors this is a considered way to crystallise crypto gains. 

For spirits NFTs, once you drink the physical bottle, it’s pulled off the NFT marketplace. Do you see people actually drinking them? 

It’s early days but at the moment we either see buyers holding or selling on the NFT at a profit. There is little evidence of these prized assets being liquidated at this time. 

Spirits are for enjoyment… conviviality, no? 

Of course. All great liquids like Dictador should be capable of being consumed so that they allow extraordinary savouring. However, enjoyment has many forms: pride in an investment well-made or even the joy of possessing and viewing an unprecedented and beautiful collection of arthouse liquid objet d’arts

Dictador M-city
At ArtHouse Spirits Dao every membership NFT is an individual art piece created by M-City. (Photo: Dictador)

Share with us the vision and objective for ArtHouse Spirits Dao.

It is a truly groundbreaking and world leading idea in investment grade spirits. It is the greatest fractional ownership club governed by the members but powered by Dictador. There will be 20,000 members only, with 5,000 from this year. It’s the democratisation of NFT investment. For 1000 dollars, you get a unique digital artwork of a one-off geolocation like a New York Borough or Paris Arrondissement or a city like Cannes in the form of a relief map [on the surface of a Dictador bottle] by the famous street artist M-City. You also get 300 dollars of thought-provoking liquids to savour, access to seminars on crypto, NFT and liquor investing. The best part is you get fractional ownership of a treasury of rare bottlings and casks from Dictador held in a secure warehouse. You can possibly make money from trading the membership or watching the treasury value rise. There are additional benefit layers depending on membership, which goes up to 1 million dollars.

What liquid treats are in your own cellar? Are they for drinking, for memento or investment?

A mixture. I drink Dictador XO, Bowmore 15yo, Laphroaig 10yo, Glenfiddich 18yo, Glenturret 12yo,  Martell Cordon Bleu, Balblair 15yo, Macallan 18yo, Mezcal Amarás Logia, Cotswolds Gin and English Whisky and Bespoken Rye. 

My mementos include all The Macallan Masters of Photography editions. And in terms of investment, I have a few Macallan pieces and the wonderful Dictador Two Masters Editions. I very much hope to become a DAO member.

(Related: Whisky investor Li Hua Tan on gender and opportunity)