In this week’s column, Ian Buxton looks at The Macallan Archival Series on which speculators are making a killing and ask whether the company is doing its duty to shareholders by pricing the releases too low.

A free holiday with every bottle! 2,000 vacations must be won!

Chose from a week for two in Orlando (yours from just £413 per person) or, for under two grand you and a friend could jet off to Turkey and enjoy a fortnight’s all-inclusive stay in the Club Adakoy Marmaris. According to the Thomas Cook website it’s “designed for a new generation of travellers who want fun, lively holidays in hotels that have great design, casual but great quality dining, and a bar to match; surrounded by like-minded people and accompanied by the perfect soundtrack”. Sounds amazing.

And this fabulously generous offer comes courtesy of The Macallan Archival Series. Not familiar with this range? Well, it’s a somewhat self-congratulatory set of releases, which commemorate “the legendary Macallan advertising campaigns of the 1970s, 80s and 90s that took The Macallan name to a wider audience for the first time”.

There are four so far but a remarkable 24 are promised to complete the full set. Essentially, what you get is a slim but admittedly handsome hardback book containing old Macallan adverts; a USB stick (more ads) and a bottle of NAS Macallan, all packaged in a large presentation tin tricked up to look like a book. Almost any other brand (assuming it could bear to look back at its old ads) would produce a suitably lavish coffee-table volume but, being Macallan, they just had to be different.

The Macallan Archival Series

The Macallan The Archival Series – Folio 4

The Archival Series was first launched in 2015 and, according to the ever-reliable Andy Simpson of RareWhisky101, it was sold back then as being “for collectors”. At least, that’s what he says he was told. Each edition is limited to 2,000 bottles and you got one either by turning up at the distillery shop at just the right moment or being lucky in their email ballot. If you ‘won’ you had the right to buy a bottle.

And, at £195 plus shipping for the first three bottles (the fourth release is £250), the punters plunged right in. Those 2,000 bottles were gone before you could recite the sacred Six Pillars. And, big surprise, just as fast, lots of them were immediately flipped on the various whisky auction sites that now service the collector and investor market.

Though at first prices were slow to rise, the market soon cottoned on. If you lucked into a bottle and timed it right, there were big profits to be made – on just one site, for example, more than 650 bottles have been offered, with Folio 1 reaching £2,100 (all prices shown as hammer prices, i.e. before auction commission and charges); Folio 2 a slightly disappointing £1,300 (rather a lot of bottles offered all at once) but Folio 3 bouncing back to a handsome £1,900. That’s a cool £1,705 clear profit – far, far more than Macallan are making. Lanzarote here I come!

The Macallan Archival Series

Folio 3 fetched fees of £1,900 at auction.

Early sales of the current release, Folio 4, seem well set to smash the £1,000 mark – quite enough for a decent short break somewhere agreeable and, at risk of labouring the point, a considerable multiple on the distiller’s profit. Without, let’s not forget, the tedious bother of distilling, ageing and bottling the whisky; producing the book and tin; promoting the whole endeavour; dealing with lucky punters and disappointed fans and the sheer bother of packing and shipping bottles all around the world.

Now, back in 2012, when Diageo had woken up to much the same thing happening with its Port Ellen and Brora Special Releases, they simply hiked the price to something considerably closer to what the market was telling them the whisky was worth. If anyone was going to profit from their work, they reasoned, better it was them than some spivvy speculators. Cue predictable outrage on social media but Diageo stuck to its guns and doubtless, their shareholders were happy.

Now, this is where this gets interesting. What, we might inquire, do Macallan think they are doing? After all, there are 8,000 Archival bottles out there already and if very conservatively, we allow an average after-market bump of just £500 per bottle, that’s a secondary profit of at least £4 million that they seem content to hand over to whisky’s Arthur Daley types.

The Macallan Archival Series

The Macallan made its name through clever ad campaigns, something The Archival Series celebrates.

Macallan is part of the Edrington Group which, ultimately, is owned by a charitable body The Robertson Trust. This owes its existence to the remarkable foresight and altruism of the three last direct family owners, the Misses Robertson who, in 1961, transferred all their shares to a newly-established charitable trust in order that their family legacy would continue and ownership remain in Scotland. Today, The Robertson Trust aims to improve the quality of life and realise the potential of Scotland’s people and communities with a particular focus on health, social and educational inequalities. It’s important work and, with annual disbursements of more than £16 million, The Robertson Trust is Scotland’s largest independent funder.

I pause at this point to offer a self-congratulatory, virtue-signalling disclosure: I got a ballot bottle of Folio 3 which is now in the possession of an impecunious family member, to do with what he will. Charity, in this case, begins at home.

But I can’t ignore the fact that with another £4 million The Robertson Trust could increase their great and noble efforts by a quarter. I’ve emailed Macallan and requested their thoughts on the matter – if they reply, I’ll add to this post.

However, for the moment, ask yourself: would you pay more for an Archival bottle? Should you? Or where, I wonder, do you think the profit should go?

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.