What defines collectable whisky? Why do some bottles increase in value while others retain a constant price? This is a small beginner’s guideline to the secondary whisky market and how to identify collectable whisky.
Collecting whisky can be a fascinating hobby or profession. Exploring different flavor profiles, observing the own preferences change over time and displaying these memories in an eye-catching shelf lies at the heart of this fascination. Pair this with an ever growing secondary market which sees many of these collections increase in value significantly and you probably found the reason why you are reading this article.
Before we can try to identify collectable whisky, we first need to define what “collectable” means. For an individual there are many reasons why a good can be worth collecting. May it be the memories attached to it or simply a weird habit. We here work with a more objective and extrinsic definition: potential gain in value!
Increasing prices signal an increasingly desirable good. This article will list several factors which indicate a higher probability for a bottle of whisky to retain or gain desirability in the future.
Gold Standard Whisky
If you are new to any market it is good advice to orient yourself at the epicenter of the action. For collectable whiskies this is Scotch and Japanese Single Malts. Yes there are many other whisky types like Bourbons, Blends or Single Grains. And yes, we observed exceptional prices for many releases of e.g. Compass Box Blends or Van Winkle Bourbons. But no market segment shows such an overall high potential for future value gains like single malts from established distilleries located in Scotland and Japan.
A “Single Malt” was made from malt and comes from one single distillery. Over centuries all aspects of whisky, from distillation to marketing, reached world leading standards in Scotland. This knowledge was exported to Japan by Masataka Taketsuru. Sophisticated production standards and perfect natural resources led to high quality Japanese Single Malts. Since the Japanese Whisky Boom these whiskies gained huge worldwide attention and catapulted themselves into the premium whisky league.
Top Tier Whisky Brands
To keep things simple: every original Japanese whisky with an age-statement on the label is highly collectable nowadays! The worldwide demand caught Japanese distilleries on the wrong foot and well-aged casks are rare. So for Japan every established distillery is a top tier collectable whisky brand at the moment.
In Scotland, we currently count around 120 whisky distilleries. All of them produce high quality whisky, but only some stand out as the top collectable whisky brands on the secondary market. To identify these distilleries (which may change over time), we want to give you two guidelines for orientation.
First off is the Whiskyfun Distillery Ranking published by Serge Valentine, the number one “Whisky Influencer”. This ranking is based on his personal taste but also his unquestionable deep insights into what defines high quality whisky.
On the other side the Whiskystats Distillery Ranking summarizes the price movements on the whisky auction market. These distillery indices depict the historic performance on the secondary market and are thereby not influenced by any subjective metrics of taste or quality, just hammer prices.
Together these two rankings form a great symbiosis to identify the top tier collectable whisky brands. For the start you will also want to stick to original bottlings, i.e. whisky that was released by the distillery itself and not by some independent bottler. In most cases original bottlings raise more attention among collectors.
On a free market it is supply and demand that define the price. For a whisky to be collectable, limitation is a necessary, but not sufficient criteria. A whisky that can be reproduced at will is hardly ever gaining any value. The natural example are single cask releases. All released bottles come from one cask and one cask only. A single cask of whisky will usually give out a couple of hundred bottles.
Very common are also batch releases. A batch is a group of casks and can comprise a couple of hundreds or thousands bottles. And then there are other limited releases for which sometimes the total number of bottles is unknown to the public.
In the whisky world limitation somehow looses its purpose when we get to a range of ten-thousand bottles or above. The thing with such “unlimited limited releases” is that if someone is able to produce such many identical bottles, nothing would stop them to just produce more. Recreating the flavor profile of a single cask or batch is a whole other story though.
Another reason of natural limitation could be the dismantling of the distillery. If the staff and machinery that once produced the whisky are no longer available, that whisky is very limited of course. Such distilleries are often called silent distilleries.
Liquidity sounds like and obvious thing for a whisky. But we are not talking about the physical state of the spirit, we are talking about the prominence of the whisky on the collectors market. You want to lookout for releases or bottling series that gain a reasonable amount of attention and are traded on auctions frequently. If your plans are to resell your bottle later, you will need a market of potential buyers.
Hence, you need insights into the market and this is where our whisky database can be of great help. You can watchout for the latest market movements and track the prices of your collections. This will keep you up-to-date and supports you in making profound data driven decisions.
Last but for sure not least go for the whisky that matches your personal taste. Do not buy a bottle just because you expect prices to increase. Instead buy one bottle that you want to enjoy now, another one to savour later and then you can opt for even more bottles, may it be for your future self or reselling.