Single Malt Whiskey: Old Spirits

Ein Glas Whiskey auf Eis

Limited by the nature of their production, single malts – quite apart from their complexity in taste – are shaping up to be an remarkably stable field of collecting. Investment pays!

Every bottle of whisky is an hourglass. The minimum ageing period, dictated by law, is three years, although traditionalists rarely reach for single malts of under twelve years in age. An entire range of rare whiskies from Scotland exists between this age and the oldest bottling, which is currently set at 81 years. Some Japanese editions do hit four-figure prices, (such as, for example, Chichibu Intergalactic), but, never the less, the measure of all things in whisky investments has always been, and will remain, single malt Scotch whiskies.

High-Proof and Increasing Value

Anyone setting out to scout for rare whisky at auction should be informed as to how the secondary market in whiskey operates, as, unfortunately, there is no globally recognised market index for traded malts comparable to the London Liv-ex for top wines. Despite this, analysts are taking an interest in the world of whisky. In the decade after the global financial crisis in 2008, investors particularly set their sights on Scotland: according to the “Knight Frank Wealth Report”, revenue at auctions between 2008 and 2018 soared by an extraordinary 428 percent. The most recent and comprehensive analysis, carried out in Edinburgh, comparing 500,000 auction results, reveals a rise of 22 percent for the trading year 2022. More detail, and a list of the single malts this particularly applies to, can be found in the “Noble & Co Whisky Intelligence Report”.

Novices would be well advised to look out for brands currently attracting a large group of buyers, such as Macallan, Springbank, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Glendronach, Bruichladdich and Lagavulin. According to “Noble & Co”, this group makes up 88 percent of all transactions on the secondary market. Amongst them, Macallan alone was responsible for 36 percent of all auction sales in 2022, with their “The Reach” hitting the all-time record: the 81-year-old single malt was sold for 340,000 euros.

Revived Lost Distilleries

Paradoxically, it is mainly the current growth in production which is making historic bottles ever more valuable. Analysts particularly recommend buying old bottles from so-called “lost distilleries” – distilleries now closed but from which bottles are still available. Indeed the demand is causing several of them to reopen, as is currently occurring with Bladnoch, Springbank and one of the hottest names amongst lost distilleries, Port Ellen. Meanwhile, trademark owners, are on a quest to purchase old whisky stock either from the reserves of independent bottlers, or in single bottles cherished by private collectors, and, inevitably, the prices increase accordingly.

Of course, distilleries which do not reopen may also thrill to the prospect of higher prices. This even applies to grain distilleries processing grains other than barley to produce “mere” blended Scotch whiskies. For instance, a single grain from the Carsebridge Distillery which closed in 1983, is now selling for 900 euros a bottle. It’s about drinkable history. After all, the “48-year-old” is older than the millennials who represent a substantial group amongst today’s collectors.

Roland Graf is Chief Editor of the “Falstaff Barguide“, a whisky aficionado, and an outstanding Connoisseur of the international spirits market.


Two different Bottles of Macallan Single

The super star amongst the auction results for Scottish single malt in 2022 was the 81 year old “The Reach” by Macallan, which made 340,000 euros at auction. Second place went to the Dalmore distillery: two 62-year-olds – “The Cromarty” and “The Mackenzie” – which were sold for 324,000 euros each. Another Macallan, the “Six Pillars” which is a 50-year-old single malt in a Lalique decanter, made 132,000 euros. “Black Bowmore Aston Martin DB5” was an exemplary representative on the secondary market for the whisky island of Islay. Like the eponymous luxury automobile made famous by James Bond, the whiskey hails from 1964 and was sold for an exceptional 136,800 euros.

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