Collector's Corner: Raise a glass to the power of Scotch whisky

If you've got the bottle, collecting whisky could result in some spirited returns, says Gwyn Jones

Scotch whisky collecting is definitely not on the rocks. This niche market is booming and, whether you like the tipple or not, you might fancy a wee dram of an investment.

"The market is extremely strong at the moment," says Martin Green, a specialist with the UK's leading whisky auctioneer, McTears in Glasgow. At the auction house's last sale in September many lots exceeded their estimates.

"It's becoming really popular - it's such an alternative investment and the collecting bug seems to be spreading worldwide," adds Green. "We're seeing a larger proportion of people buying to invest. If they're prepared to wait 10 years or more, then profits can be several hundred pounds and in some cases they amount to thousands."

Sukhinder Singh, of The Whisky Exchange, thinks much of the growth is down to drinkers. "I don't see any point in investing if you don't like whisky because you need to know your product and there's no fun in it if you don't enjoy it," he says.

"Whisky is a product meant for drinking so in theory it doesn't matter how pretty the bottle is - the best criterion of investment is how good the whisky is."

However, the consumable nature of whisky does make the investment market a little different from that for other collectables. A limited edition of 100 average whiskies, say, will probably not rise in value as much as a limited edition of 500 fabulous whiskies because the latter are likely to be drunk at a much faster rate.

The market started to take off in the early 1990s with the launch of limited-edition single malts, almost by accident. Several companies found the odd casket of whisky that had been overlooked and not used in one of their popular blends. These caskets are all individual, with the wood creating a unique flavour, so they bottled them and presented them smartly. Now these are some of the most collectable bottles around.

"I think the market is still expanding," says Green. "I sold the first whisky at auction with Christie's in 1986 and at that time a 50-year-old Macallan sold for £1,100 - we had a bottle recently that went for £6,000."

This is a market that can fit any pocket, but at the top end The Whisky Exchange last year sold two bottles of 62-year-old Dalmore for £31,000 each, the priciest whisky sold by a retailer.

"Macallan also released a 50-year old whisky in the early 1980s for about £60 a bottle," says Singh. "Today you are looking at £7,000 to £8,000 or more for a bottle, which must be one of the best investments there has been in terms of whisky.

"One that fuelled the limited-edition collectors market was Black Bowmore. Bowmores found some whisky distilled in 1964 that had gone black in the casket and was a great whisky. When it was released in 1993 it was £80 - it now sells at £1,500 to £2,000 or more."

Islay whiskies have a cult status and are very hot at the moment, with Port Ellen distillery, closed in 1984, a particular favourite.

One advantage compared with wine is that whisky does not go off in the bottle and needs only to be kept at standard, constant room temperatures.

That makes checking granddad's cupboards worthwhile. McTears recently had a lady come in with a bottle of 25-year-old Macallan that was bottled in 1989 and given to her husband as a gift. Never opened, it would have been bought for £50 in 1989 but will now sell for a price in excess of £200.

Contacts

The Whisky Exchange. 020-8606 9388, www.thewhiskyexchange.com.

McTears Auction House, Glasgow. 0141-810 2880, www.mctears.co.uk (next sale 6 December).

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