fbpx
£

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Macallan

Why are some whiskies so expensive

You may have noticed that there have been a flurry of fancy whiskies on Master of Malt recently such as the Yamazaki 55 Year Old and The Dalmore Decades. But…

You may have noticed that there have been a flurry of fancy whiskies on Master of Malt recently such as the Yamazaki 55 Year Old and The Dalmore Decades. But what why are they so expensive? Lauren Eads takes a closer look. 

Sometimes it’s obvious why a bottle of whisky costs the earth. A very old or very rare single malt will always carry a high price. That doesn’t mean it will be to your taste, but you can understand its value. The secondary market can dictate price and collectability. Novelty and uniqueness can also play a part. But how can you tell if a bottle is overpriced?

There are some basic factors that affect the price of Scotch, which go a long way in understanding value, no matter the price.

The macallan Fine and Rare 60-year-old

Yours for a cool £1.5 million

The older the better?

Quite often, yes, certainly when it comes to cost. The older the bottle, the higher price it will command. As a general rule, whiskies bottled before 2000 will carry a higher price tag, with this rising higher with those bottled before the 1990 when the 70cl bottle was introduced in Europe. Before then, bottles were labelled as 75cl, 750ml or 26 2/3 fl ozs, making them easy to identify. The same goes for bottles made from limited edition runs, which become rarer the older they get. In general, cask strength whiskies – bottled direct from the cask with no water added – also tend to be more sought after with a higher cost.

But a grand old age does not mean a whisky will taste any different or better to when it was first bottled. Its value will rise because there will be less of it on the market. Whisky doesn’t evolve once bottled (as wine does) – it’s inert with little to no oxygen ingress (unless closed with a cork, but that’s another debate). What you are buying is a drop of liquid history, frozen in time. The bigger factor is the amount of time it spent in cask, which determines a good proportion of flavour. Any bottle can be old, irrespective of its age statement, but a much smaller proportion of whiskies are aged in casks for significant periods of time. These older malts are much rarer.

Add to this the fact that distilleries have been running out of older casks for some time now, increasing the rarity of older malts and making the bottles that do appear on the market even more sought after (and expensive). In 2019 a single bottle The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 60-year-old set a new world record after fetching £1.5 million (US$1.9m) at auction. Great for the distillery, and those that can afford it, but not great for the wider market. With older casks in shorter supply, many distilleries have introduced more no-age statement bottles in a bid to meet demand and help control prices.

Brora Distillery

Brora is open again – what does this mean for the price of old single malts from this distillery?

What makes a whisky collectable?

So, old = expensive. Old + rare = really expensive, got it. Old + rare + collectable? That’s the hat trick.

Some brands are more coveted than others. Auctions play a big part in this, pushing up the price of certain brands. The Macallan still reigns supreme on the secondary market, but other collectable brands include Highland Park, Balvenie, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and The Dalmore, to name a few.

Bottles from silent distilleries, too, are more sought after. Rosebank, Ben Wyvis, Littlemill and Caperdonich are all good examples. As are Diageo’s Port Ellen and Brora, with pre-closure bottles still commanding a premium (Brora reopened in 2021 after a multi-million investment, with Port Ellen to follow).

Sometimes the fervour surrounding a whisky takes the industry by surprise. In 2020 Highland distillery Nc’Nean, founded in 2013, broke world records when bottle number one of its Ainnir single malt sold for £41,004 (US$54,183) during an online auction. Only 1,320 bottles of the no-age-statement whisky were made.

Love them or loathe them, critics can also build a brand’s prestige. Suntory’s Yamazaki achieved rapid growth after its Sherry Cask 2013 won the coveted Best Whisky Award in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015. Since then, prices have skyrocketed.

Oak barrels at Yamazaki

Oak barrels at Yamazaki

What about independent bottlings?

Independent bottlings are whiskies bottled by companies or individuals who are not part of the distillery, for example the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) or The Boutique-y Whisky Company. But there are dozens more. Bottlers source casks and release small batch bottles of rare or unique malts. Historically, these bottles often used to be cheaper, they were considered a distiller’s cast off casks. Today, there is exceptional quality to be found. Many releases are one-off expressions that can be very collectible and command surprisingly high prices, while also adding to the diversity of whisky.

The price of independent bottles is also tied up with a growing appetite for cask whisky investment. Increasing numbers of investors are buying up casks instead of bottles, hampering the ability of smaller bottlers to procure casks and pushing up prices of independent bottles.

Will 2020 be a good year for Scotch?

Then there are unprecedented events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. With many distilleries temporarily closing during 2020 due to restrictions production slowed with fewer casks filled. The Scotch Whisky Association said in May that during the first lockdown 87% of production sites were either “operating at reduced capacity or closed entirely”.

Consequently, some commentators have tipped whiskies produced in 2020 to become some of the rarest and most valuable. It will be some years before that theory is tested, but perhaps 2020 is as good a time as ever to invest in a bottle?

There’s no accounting for taste

The value of a Scotch can really be found at the intersection of its age, rarity and brand. Of course (investment purposes aside), none of these factors mean much at all if a whisky isn’t to your taste, no matter what it costs. If a particular dram sings to your senses, then the cost is merely a practical consideration. The enjoyment you get out of it – that’s where the real value lies.

3 Comments on Why are some whiskies so expensive

Whisky icons – we have a winner!

Whether they’re bourbons, single malts or blended whiskies, some brands are so famous that they’re iconic. But which is the biggest whisky icon? We’re running a poll on social media…

Whether they’re bourbons, single malts or blended whiskies, some brands are so famous that they’re iconic. But which is the biggest whisky icon? We’re running a poll on social media to find out, and this is the page to follow the results.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘icon’ as: “A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

So, what makes a whisky an icon? Well, it has to be a great whisky to start with. One that’s revered across the world. But more than this, it has to have a strong memorable image. Say the name of a particular distillery or brand, and it should instantly resonate. 

Worthy of veneration

Now this could be a globally famous brand like Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniel’s. Many people who have never even drunk whisky will have heard of these brands. Jack Daniel’s for its association with music, and Johnnie Walker because it’s an icon of consumer capitalism (as well as a great whisky). Then there’s Macallan, a symbol of luxury up there with Rolls Royce or Cartier. 

But lesser-known names can be iconic among the whisky cognoscenti. Take Springbank, for example. You have to know a bit about whisky to have heard of it but it’s undoubtedly “worthy of veneration.” We’ve seen grown men and women go all tearful at the thought of a rare bottle of Springbank. 

But your whisky icon might be Lagavulin from Islay, Four Roses from Kentucky or even a newer distillery like Mackmyra from Sweden. So to decide this once and for all, we’re giving Master of Malt customers the opportunity to shout about their favourite brands. 

Vote for your whisky of icon

Social polls will be posted on a @masterofmalt Instagram story Monday to Friday this week (simply view our story and tap on the distillery/brand you wish to vote for). Or alternatively you can vote over on the @MasterOfMalt Twitter page where a poll will be posted to our feed.

The tournament will end on Monday 27 September with the winner announced that day. This is how it will work:

Monday 20 September – first round with 32 whiskies

Tuesday 21 September – second round with 16 whiskies

Wednesday 22 September – quarter finals 

Thursday 23 September – semi finals 

Friday 24 September – finals

Saturday 25 September – voting closes

Monday 27 September – announcement of the winner

Get voting so we can say once and for all what the greatest icon of whisky is! And then we find something else to argue about. 

UPDATE, 27 September:

The winner was… Bunnahabhain with Lagavulin as the runner-up.

No Comments on Whisky icons – we have a winner!

71-year-old Tales of The Macallan Volume I is here!

Something remarkable has happened. No, it’s nothing to do with Pernod Ricard. The Macallan has launched the Tales of The Macallan range, kicking things off with a 71-year-old single malt…

Something remarkable has happened. No, it’s nothing to do with Pernod Ricard. The Macallan has launched the Tales of The Macallan range, kicking things off with a 71-year-old single malt whisky costing £60,000. And whisky maker Sarah Burgess was kind enough to join us to talk all about it.

Hey, guess what? A 71-year-old single-malt whisky from The Macallan was rolled into our warehouse recently, like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But unlike that particular rarity, which seems pretty meh in the face of whisky from 1950, this beauty will actually be leaving the warehouse to enter somebody’s lucky hands. How is this possible? Let’s start from the beginning.

MAC2021-Tales-of-the-Macallan-Mood-Shot-25-JPEG_LE1024_@72dpi

This book contains all the Tales of Macallan

A legacy worth celebrating

The first in a series of limited-edition single malt whiskies from the distillery, Tales of The Macallan Volume I pays tribute to Captain John Grant. Who? Why, the man who built the manor house on the 485-acre Easter Elchies Estate in 1700, the land that has been home to The Macallan Distillery since 1824, of course.

Born in 1659 in a remote location on the banks of the River Spey, Grant pursued a career in the military and returned from war to the land his family owned since 1543. He transformed the rugged landscape he inherited into the ‘garden of Elchies’, working the land to grow barley and helping to sustain a small farming community that would one day use its crops to distil whisky. By 1700, he had extended and refurbished Easter Elchies House which sits high on a hillside overlooking the River Spey.

“It seems crazy now, when he built the house as a holiday home it was only 20 miles from his actual house, but it started the foundations for the estate and without that decision we would have our spiritual home,” says Sarah Burgess, The Macallan’s whisky maker. “The story itself I find really emotional and moving. I actually cried during some of the filming we did after having an almost Back to the Future moment, because it really hit home how much things would be different without the decisions he made. We wouldn’t be here”. 

Tales of Macallan

Don’t worry, the book comes with whisky

The tale behind the Tales of The Macallan Volume I

Naturally when the brand decided to honour such a significant figure, the decision was made that it had to be a whisky of quality. The result was the Tales of The Macallan Volume I, made from spirit distilled in 1950 and bottled in 2021 at a remarkable 44.6% ABV. There’s just 350 decanters, retailing for £60,000 each. 

Burgess explained the logic behind choosing this particular whisky. “John Grant’s attitude and approach was different and unusual and I wanted that to be reflected in the whisky. What I wanted was a Macallan that isn’t a representation of what Macallan is today, all sherried and rich dried fruit, I wanted to tell a different story”. Adding, “everyone who tasted it can’t believe how delicate, fresh and vibrant it is, with woodsmoke, citrus and lots of tropical fruit being the common notes”.

When I asked how the distillery manages to retain such a remarkable ABV, the answer was that such production secrets can’t be given away. Burgess did say it’s “all part of the secret and special way that The Macallan does things”, adding “That’s just who we are”. She also describes her relentless pursuit of perfection, including an example of not approving one expression until she turned down 27 versions, which seems a more tangible explanation why standards are so high. “I’m my own worst critic and should have more patience, but I believe that in order to tell the story correctly, every part needs to be right,” Burgess explains.

It pays to look the part

As you can probably guess as this is The Macallan we’re talking about, the presentation of this one is top tier swanky. We’re talking hand-crafted Lalique crystal decanters. Antique style leather-bound books decorated with 24ct gold. A collaboration with an illustrious illustrator, in this case Andrew Davidson (the guy who makes traditional print techniques using wood engravings, I hear you ask? The very same). There’s even a short film featuring a selection of Davidson’s illustrations set to an original piece of music composed by Nicola Benedetti. And yes, she is one of the world’s most influential classical artists of today, obviously.

As Burgess says, “Luxury requires more luxury”, adding: “The quality of the packaging has to match the quality of the whisky. A whisky distilled in 1950 and bottled in 2021 simply cannot be presented in a Tetra Pak carton”. And presumably the folks who will tragically never open and taste this remarkable whisky will enjoy all the additional reading materials and films.

Luckily ,Burgess did compile some tasting notes, so we can live vicariously through them. But what would John Grant think of all this? “I think someone who was prepared to build something so significant and distinctive in a time when we were recovering from the Jacobite Rebellion would appreciate what we are,” Burgess says. “Also what we do for the community through the Robertson Trust, he’d be really proud of that. It mirrors his attempts to create something for the community that was also special”.

Tales of the Macallan

Violin not included

Come and get your rare whisky!

So there you have it. If you’ve got £60,000 burning a hole in your pocket, then you can express your interest in purchasing a bottle of Tales of The Macallan Volume I here. A representative from our lovely team should contact you.

Sarah Burgess’ Tales of The Macallan Volume I Tasting Notes:

Nose: Grapefruit zest, antique oak, vanilla, melon, wood smoke, nutmeg, ripe plum and almond.

Palate: Peach and apple, wood spice with ginger and hints of clove, sweet wood smoke and yuzu.

Finish: A medium finish with citrus and sweet oak.

No Comments on 71-year-old Tales of The Macallan Volume I is here!

The Nightcap: 24 September

Lots of big whisky news this week with rare releases from Bowmore, Macallan and Bushmills. Plus a beer so strong that it’s actually illegal (in some states in America.) They’re…

Lots of big whisky news this week with rare releases from Bowmore, Macallan and Bushmills. Plus a beer so strong that it’s actually illegal (in some states in America.) They’re all in the Nightcap: 24 September edition! Oh, and Pernod Ricard has just bought the Whisky Exchange. We told you there was big whisky news this week. 

This week at Master of Malt it was all about whisky icons. No, not elaborate devotional paintings of Bill Lumsden or Rachel Barrie – though they sound amazing – but distilleries and brands that are iconic. So we’ve been asking customers on social media which whiskies are worthy of veneration and, at the time of writing, it’s come down to a four-way all-Scottish dust-up between Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain, Lagavulin and Talisker. All distinctive island whiskies with a particularly strong showing from Islay. MoM customers clearly love a bit of Islay. It’s all taking place on Twitter so get voting. We’ll announce the winner on Monday. There can only be one!

The week got off to an expensive start as we talked to Richard Paterson about the super-fancy Dalmore Decades collection which has just landed at MoM. It was delivered in a special Whyte & Mackay armoured car which the company uses only for it’s most elite whiskies. Good whisky doesn’t have to be expensive though, as Aber Falls has proved with the second release of its Welsh single malt. Then Adam got taste of the first release from Midleton’s micro distillery, the Method & Madness Rye and Malt Irish Whiskey, and we launched our Whisky Icons competition. Lauren Eads returned to show us how to make a Singapore Sling, and Henry tried Waterford Cuvee and pondered the future of whisky *strokes chin*. Right, that’s enough chin stroking, it’s on with the Nightcap: 24 September edition!

Sukhinder Singh

Sukhinder Singh, now very rich indeed

Pernod Ricard buys The Whisky Exchange 

There was no doubt what was the biggest story of the week. On Monday we learned that Pernod Ricard had acquired The Whisky Exchange from its owners Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh. The brothers said in a statement: “The Whisky Exchange and our customers have always felt like a family, and we are looking forward to maintaining this ethos with a partner that shares our values. Our mission remains the same: to offer the finest range of whiskies and spirits from the best producers around the world, educate and engage with consumers, and support the top on-trade establishments around the UK”. Alexandre Ricard, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, added: “We are thrilled to work with industry pioneers such as Sukhinder, Rajbir and the whole team to bring The Whisky Exchange to a new step of its development.” There was no mention of how much Pernod Ricard paid but industry analyst Jefferies on the Business Wire estimated it to be between: £360m and £420m. That’s a lot of Pernod. The deal includes the Whisky Exchange website, shops, Whisky.Auction and trade arm Speciality Drinks. However, it does not include agency Speciality Brands or Elixir distillers. So the brothers are holding onto their Islay distillery. Very canny. 

Colum Egan

Colum Egan from Bushmills stroking a cask

Bushmills releases its second rare ‘Causeway Collection’

It’s been a big week on the blog for Irish whiskey with Method and Madness Malt and Rye, and Waterford Cuvee. Now it’s Bushmills turn with three rare releases called ‘the Causeway Collection.’ It’s the second such offering from Northern Ireland’s most famous distiller. The 2021 release consists of three bottlings: a 2011 finished in Banyuls casks (a Port-style wine from the South of France); a 1995 finished in Marsala casks; and a 32 year old matured in a Port cask. The latter is one of the oldest ever whiskeys from Bushmills. Master distiller Colum Egan commented: “All the whiskeys used in The Causeway Collection have been expertly created and cared for by craftsmen steeped in a unique whiskey-making tradition passed from generation to generation for more than 400 years here at The Old Bushmills Distillery. The Causeway Collection celebrates our extremely rare and unique cask finishes, our passion for single malts and honours our rich heritage. It’s a privilege to work with such rare liquid, these special cask-finished whiskeys really are our greatest treasures. We were delighted with how the Bushmills Causeway Collection was received globally in 2020, with some even selling out in minutes – and we can’t wait to share this year’s collection with the world.” Prices start at 55 for the 2011, great value for such a distinctive whiskey, up to a punchy 950 for the 32 year old. We’ll have some in soon, but as Egan warns, they’re unlikely to hang about. 

Glenmorangie 18 YO x Azuma Makoto 1.jpg

It’s flower power time over at Glenmorangie

Glenmorangie goes floral with limited edition 18 year old

Glenmorangie has partnered with Japanese flower sculptor Azuma Makoto to create a fabulously floral limited edition design for its 18 Year Old. We skipped up to the Saatchi gallery this week to check it out and were treated to a private view of the RHS Botanical Art and Photography Show. The Glenmorangie team served up some fabulous cocktails, cleverly named using anagrams of Glenmorangie. First up we had A Ginger Lemon – a Glenmorangie Original highball with lemon bitters and a splash of ginger ale, most refreshing whilst we wandered the botanical illustration rooms. Secondly we were treated to a Gleaming Reno, shaking up passion fruit and pineapple – a tremendously tropical treat whilst we took in the photography finalists and winners. Special mention from us goes to Faye Bridgwater, with some super colourful artwork in the show, and some serious alliteration skills. We loved the name of this painting: A Bloody Great Big, Ballsy and Bountiful Buncha Bodacious, Buoyant and Bewitching Blooms. Well said Faye! 

Bowmore 30 YO Vaults

Super fancy Bowmore incoming!

Bowmore goes big with ultimate rare collection for 2022

Over on Islay, the Bowmore Distillery has got something big planned for 2022. Earlier this week it announced that it’ll be launching a collection of extraordinarily rare expressions at the start of next year, with a 50-year-old 1969 vintage single malt in the spotlight. The final release in Bowmore’s 50-year-old vaults series, following on from a brace of other vintages from the ’60s, it was matured in a combination of American oak ex-bourbon barrels and hogsheads for half a century before being bottled up. It’s set to retail at £35,000, so start digging through your sofa cushions now. Clearly not content with one with just the one well-aged whisky, the collection will also feature the 2021 releases of Bowmore 30 Year Old and Bowmore 40 Year Old, priced respectively at £2,000 and £6,750. Again, prepare to ransack those sofa cushions.

Macallan 30

Macallan Double cask 30, great with honey and radishes

The Macallan unveils Double Cask 30 Year Old 

The Macallan’s Double Cask range grows once more, this time with the addition of a particularly impressive 30 year old. Its three decades have been spent in sherry-seasoned new American and European oak casks, the former sourced from Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky, and the latter sourced from northern Spain and southern France. Both wood types are toasted in Jerez, filled with sherry and seasoned for up to 18 months before finally holding the whisky. “The Macallan Double Cask 30 Years Old is a modern take on our classic 30-year-old and is an exceptional aged single malt,” says Kirsteen Campbell, master whisky maker. “With a rich combination and depth of flavour and a complex character, it is a whisky to be savoured, exhibiting notes of cinder toffee, fresh honeycomb, rich vanilla and red apples.” As you’d probably expect, the RRP is by no means small, clocking in at $4,000 – though it does come presented in a solid oak presentation box for that price tag. Who doesn’t love a solid oak presentation box?

Craft Distilling Expo

Craft Distilling Expo – pink hair and flat caps encouraged

Craft Distilling Expo is back, Back, BACK!

Are you a craft distiller or are you craft distilling curious? Then you need to get a ticket to the Craft Distilling Expo which runs from 30 September to 1 October at the Old Truman Brewery in East London. Yes, in real life. None of this Zoom nonsense. Co-founder David T Smith commented: “As with the whole industry the last 18 months have been a challenge, despite the success of our online offerings. We are really looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues, both old and new in-person this year; we’ve put on an exciting range of talk with an increasing focus on sustainability.” Highlights include Ian Wisniewski on tasting, Peter Holland with a guide to botanical and spiced rum and Julia Nourney looking at barrel finishes. We’re also intrigued by ‘ultrasonic spirits’ with Ben Marston of Puddingstone Distillery – does that mean they move really fast? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Go to the website for more information.

Sam Adams Utopias

Sam Adams Utopias, it’s beer but not as we know it

And finally… a beer so strong it’s illegal

What do you think is strong for a beer? 6% ABV? 8% ABV? Well, how about 28% ABV? No, that’s not a typo. The latest release of Sam Adams Utopias from the Boston Beer Co. is stronger than Port and getting on for whisky territory. It’s so strong that it’s illegal in 15 states in America. Apparently, it’s made with special ‘Ninja yeasts’ which can work at very high alcohol levels. The release is made up of aged beers dating back decades and aged like whisky in old bourbon, Port, Madeira and sherry barrels. It’s released every two years and for the first time this latest batch contains beer from Sauternes casks. All this magnificence doesn’t come cheap, around $240 retail, but if you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, or West Virginia, you’re out of luck.

1 Comment on The Nightcap: 24 September

How to win at whisky auctions

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what…

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what newcomers should be bearing in mind.

There are only 14 bottles of the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 year old in existence – one of which was bought for approximately £1.3m at Sotheby’s in London in 2019, the most expensive single bottle of whisky ever sold at auction. Other bottles and collections to join Macallan at the top of the pile are Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series (£1.1m), The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60yo (£765,000), and The Macallan Red Series which raised a whopping £756,400 for charity.

Auctions are, unsurprisingly, big business (it’s small business too with a recent rare collection of 400 miniatures selling for a total of £56,732.95 via Whisky.Auction). But there are bargains to be had. So, how does the auction world work? And how can first-time bidders navigate the (virtual or live) auction room?

Springbank

Miniatures can be big business. This Springbank 5cl went for £5600 via Whisky.Auction

The auctioneers

“I actually come from an art background,” Georgia Porteous of Bonhams in Edinburgh tells me of how she got into the auction game. “I’ve worked for Bonhams since leaving university, so 10 years ago now. I always had a passion for whisky so when I moved up to Edinburgh, a job finally came up in the department.” Now, she’s the junior whisky specialist at the auctioneer, working alongside Martin Green (head of whisky) and Diego Lanza (whisky specialist) valuing bottles, cataloguing them ahead of quarterly auctions, and consigning items for sale.

As first sales go, Porteous’ – a Macallan Peter Blake 1926 which fetch upwards of £700,000 – wasn’t a disappointment: “What I love about working at an auction house is that it so varied: you can be handling a lot of five bottles that are worth £300 and then you can go on to a £350,000 bottle of whisky – it’s a real privilege.”

Sam Hellyer, wine and spirits specialist at Chiswick Auctions unknowingly began his career in drinks when he got himself a job at a Bottoms Up wine shop at 18, before heading to university, getting his foot in the door at Oddbins after graduating, a couple of nights a week and finally embarking on a decade-long job with the retailer. After a time working for small importers, Brexit hit and Hellyer decided a move into the world of auctions was the more disaster-proof option.

Georgia Porteous of Bonhams

Death, downsizing and divorce

“We operate on the three ‘d’s: Death, downsizing, and divorce,” he explains matter-of-factly. “It’s a miserable way to look at things but the pandemic has actually particularly seen a lot of downsizing… so we’ve picked up quite a few cellars.” One recent cellar held a 2004 vintage of Bordeaux en primeur on which the seller made a 200% profit.

As well as valuations, visiting cellars, and negotiating listing timings, Hellyer is also a key factor to the live auction, acting as auctioneer for the wine and spirits lots – I say key as the sale rate drops by 20% when he misses one. Why? “Knowing the wines and being able to talk about them and even pronounce them is very important… there is a recognised value in the knowledge when you’re working in the auction side.”

And when it comes to valuing the goods, Hellyer has a layman’s explanation: “The most basic explanation is everyone looks over everyone else’s shoulder. I see what it sold for at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams… all of these places because they set the price and once they’re not selling it, I’m setting the price,” he said.

The Nightcap

It’s not just about whisky, this Taylor’s 1977 Port sold through Chiswick Auctions recently

The bidder

Over his time in the drinks industry, Matt Hastings, now blender at Nc’Nean whisky, would acquire bottles of fun liquids that he didn’t want to drink and would sit in a dark cupboard. So, he started selling them in auction to fund the purchase of liquids he did want to drink. “I’ve entered bottles in batches five or six times and never been disappointed – I always get a good or fair price.”

Hastings opts for the platform Whisky Auctioneer which he came across organically and was so impressed with that he used them for Nc’Nean’s inaugural release auction – an auction that saw its first bottle go for £41,004.

But Hastings started buying at auctions before he embarked on selling. “I was just looking for fun things I couldn’t buy in shops anymore… seven or eight years ago you could get some absolute bargains with bottles selling for less than they originally sold.” And although he admits that coming across these bargains is harder nearly a decade later, there are still some specific bottles that get him excited. “Things that pique my interest are bottles like earlier Compass Box releases and old Jack Daniel’s before they changed the ABV, like an early 80s Jack Daniel’s 90 proof which is just amazing. [You’re paying for] a piece of history and to get the chance to taste something in its early [phase] of phenomena.”

Matt Hastings frequents auction sites as a buyer and seller

The industry

Of course, when it comes to selling and buying at auction, there are some variables that have impacted the industry over the years. Most notably, and recently, the EU/ US trade war that saw Scotch whisky hammered by tariffs. “In our February sale barely anything whisky-wise shifted,” explains Hellyer while continuing that there was a huge uptick in brandy, Cognac and Armagnac. “Trump’s final passing shot was putting a tariff on the brandies too, so in February those didn’t shift either, not because people don’t want them, but because a huge chunk of brokers’ clients are in the US, so they all pulled out.”

Now that those tariffs are lifted though, Chiswick Auctions did a big whisky sale, selling over 90% in one go, while 87% of the brandies listed also went. “It would be so much cheaper for the end-user to buy directly from us [rather than through a broker],” he laments, “but you’ve got to know when the auctions are and be available to be there on the day.”

A subtle change Porteous has discovered has been the type of bidder turning up to Bonhams’ auctions. While they’ve been online for years (unlike Chiswick who moved online due to the pandemic), she’s noticed that “over the last 18 months we’ve seen new, keen bidders who are participating for the first time and have more questions.”

So, with that in mind, we asked our experts for some of their top tips for newbies to the world of auctions.

Tips for first-timers to whisky auctions

Ask for a condition report. This is something you can do a few days before the auction – don’t be scared to ask, it’s what I’m paid to do! Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Check the fees before you bid. See what fees the auction house charges and don’t forget about VAT. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

Do some value research. The platforms have their old lots on display so you can look at pricing to see what similar bottles are getting which will help guide your decision. Matthew Hastings, Nc’Nean

Have a maximum budget for everything. Someone outbids you by £10 and then you’re in it and you could spend £100/£200 over – I see it all the time. The increments get bigger the higher you go too (before £100 your bidding in £5 increments, £200 it’s £10 and so on). Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Don’t forget shipping and insurance. The most important thing to do is get a quote before you bid because most people aren’t aware of how much shipping and insurance is. The auction house is not responsible for the bottles once they leave the property, so do your research and get a reputable shipper with insurance. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

No Comments on How to win at whisky auctions

Ken Grier on what makes an investment-grade spirit

After a recent tasting of Dictador’s latest 2 Masters release, MoM caught up with affable marketing mastermind Ken Grier to find out just what makes a spirit ‘investment grade’.   “I help people…

After a recent tasting of Dictador’s latest 2 Masters release, MoM caught up with affable marketing mastermind Ken Grier to find out just what makes a spirit investment grade.  

“I help people do cool stuff,” says Grier, explaining his job. “I did it for Macallan for 20 years and I had a lot of fun. Now I do it for other people. These are not just vanity projects, it’s about connecting with consumers in a highly distinctive manner: telling stories, making people dream, helping people to feel smarter, cooler and giving them more status. A moment of really special enjoyment where you go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’ve opened that’.

Grier helped to put The Macallan on the world stage. After retiring from the Scotch mega brand’s parent company, Edrington in 2018, he set up his own consultancy firm, De-Still, where he helps brands to reach their potential. A potential that often includes becoming an ‘investment grade spirit’. He describes investment-grade spirits as having a particular cocktail of ingredients, including provenance and often some history.

The second thing we can say is that they would normally carry some degree of distinctiveness in terms of liquid. Whether that be a rarity, a complexity within that. These things make something collectible. There is definitely something about scarcity and genuine rarity.

Investment-grade spirits also have a certain aesthetic, Grier explains, whether that’s simple elegance or an activation such as the £50,000-a-bottle Bowmore and Aston Martin collaboration.

You either want something that gives an incredible user experience or something that makes people feel there is some arbitrage there – that they feel they bought smartly, they have the respect of their friends, they feel good about it. And they might make a small return on it.

Ken Grier

Ken Grier in his Macallan days (photo courtesy of Macallan)

Beyond whisky

While whisky is firmly on the investment-grade radar, Grier says there are other categories that are interesting. Though he also suggests it’s often more about the brand than the category.

Rather than rum per se, if we look at Dictador in particular, and the cocktail we talked about, it ticks a lot of the boxes. It has been around since 1913, third-generation master blender and the remarkable cache of very old rum that they’ve carefully curated in good wood is amazing.

He also points to collaborations such as the latest Dictador 2 Masters Niepoort. The ultra-premium limited edition is the work of Port winemaker Dirk van der Niepoort and Dictador’s master blender Hernan Parra. The £800 rum is made from four vintage Columbian rums from 1971, ‘74, ‘78 and ‘80 aged for 12-16 months in Port pipes.

Innovation in 2 Masters has created something unique. This idea of having real friendships, real collaborations in different terroirs, different climates is really exciting,” Grier adds.

Elsewhere, he mentions Mezcal and his client Amores’ Logia project, which makes use of wild agave. “The limit on the production is the amount of agave a donkey can carry,” he says. “It goes into the areas of scarcity and it’s a very different product experience because the agaves are very different.

Both Cognac and baijiu – and the Martell and Moutai brands in particular are on Grier’s investment-grade radar. But baijiu aside, he says it’s a tough area for white spirits. White spirits are more difficult,” he says. Some of them do have some provenance – Beefeater for example – but they don’t have rarity.

Ken Grier investment

It’s not just whisky that makes for a sound spirit investment

Secondary market

Now we know what makes an investment grade spirit, what’s in it for the drinks companies that make them? Well, Grier agrees “100%” that selling spirits on the secondary market is a good PR exercise for the producers and he speculates that The Macallan is now 39% of the entire Scotch whisky market at auction.

“I’m a big, big fan,he says of the secondary market, which can build caché for a brand and establish price points, “which can be helpful”. He also says the secondary market helps to expose brands to a wider category of people and in a different way.

Whether people use auctions to find liquid that will create a special connection with friends or as alternative asset classes, Grier says the secondary market is “very, very useful”. “Places like Sotheby’s do a great job,” he adds. “The way that they actually publicise brands, bring them to more people, tell interesting stories… and very often that raises good money for charity.” He mentions a Macallan that raised $460,000 for Charity: water.

Ken Grier investment

The Macallan Masters of Photography

To drink, collect, or both?

While there are benefits to the secondary market, there are some that believe spirits should be consumed – and not traded.

To me, it’s both,” says Grier. The liquid in the bottle is always at the centre. When I did the stuff at The Macallan, like Masters of Photography, the M Decanter, they were beautiful and interesting objet dart, but the liquid was also superb. It was put together for a specific purpose; it was aligned to the story and part of the whole objet d’art. And I’m proud of that.

“Ultimately, all of these things should be capable of being consumed and enjoyed. Because the purpose of alcoholic beverages is to consume and enjoy them,” he adds.

Grier says people chose to keep some products back because they are beautiful and because of the scarcity and intrinsic value.

“People see a value in them which is fine. And if people want to do that, that’s great. It’s when people buy them and flip them very quickly that I get worried for the industry because that means people are trying to make a very quick profit without really understanding.”

He highlights the many approaches to investment grade spirits, including the love, care and knowledge displayed by collectors as well as smart purchasers and those that open and enjoy the liquid.

“I’ve seen all sorts of things,” he says, “but if you specifically have in your mind to buy today and sell tomorrow, I’m not sure what that necessarily does for the industry.

Ken Grier investment

Casks are a tricky market to get right

The potential perils of casks

At this point in our conversation, talk turns to casks. There has been a lot in the press lately about the perils of buying casks as an investment opportunity.

“If you have a wonderful cask from a great make – a Balvenie, a Bowmore, Laphroaig, then that’s to be applauded, bottled carefully, enjoyed, and savoured. I think it’s a lot of the casks from no-name companies – ‘whisky 568% growth! Outstrips any other index!’ That’s when you’ve got to be a bit worried.

Grier reminds us that good wood is the basis of good whisky – and he says that if you’re careful about the type of wood, the type of spirit from a reputable brand, and the way it’s matured, then a cask is something that can be a legacy.

He also reveals his own legacy: “I’ve got a cask of Macallan that I laid down and I prize that.” He says it will be for his own consumption with his friends and family. (Ken, can we be your friend?)

Ken Grier

Ken Grier at the recent launch for Dictador 2 Masters Niepoort

How to get into investment-grade spirits

When it comes to offering advice on buying high-value booze, Grier has some wise words. “The first thing is: be clear on what your budget is, then look at the character of the liquid – it’s got to be something that is interesting. I’d certainly look at the brand – what do you know about it? Its heritage? Then I’d ask myself what character am I looking for from that liquid and over what time horizon? Do I want to enjoy it or keep hold of it and hope for future appreciation? Am I collecting? Be clear with your objectives. If you do that, it’s very difficult to go wrong.

Our chat winds down with a look at Grier’s own investments, which include a bottle of the 1972 Macallan Fine and Rare, which was bottled in 2002.

“I paid £500 for it, there were only 100 bottles in the cask… I saw one come up recently and it was £26,000, so that was decent,” he says.

And we part with one last story, a tale that suggests even the experts aren’t immune to the odd ‘accidentally-opened bottle’.

Grier tells the story of when his mother-in-law came to stay a few years ago, to look after the children while he went away.

“I left her a bottle of Famous Grouse – she was a Famous Grouse drinker. I came back and to my horror, my blue box bottle of 30-year-old Macallan was almost empty. That’s probably three and a half grand,” he says. Though he was happy there was a thimble left to try.

Nevertheless, an expensive babysitter.

No Comments on Ken Grier on what makes an investment-grade spirit

The Nightcap: 9 July

It’s Friday, work is over (or nearly), which means it’s time for another round-up of all the news from the world of booze. We’ve got sustainable cocktails, sustainable Bentleys, and…

It’s Friday, work is over (or nearly), which means it’s time for another round-up of all the news from the world of booze. We’ve got sustainable cocktails, sustainable Bentleys, and a row over Russian Champagne. They’re all in the Nightcap: 9 July edition!

Apparently there’s some sort of sporting jamboree going on this weekend. Something about football coming home?? So we imagine that many of our readers will be glued to the telly on Sunday night. Luckily, there’s still time to order a selection of tasty beverages to heighten your viewing pleasure. For those with no interest in the Euros, there’s always Wimbledon, the Tour de France, and cricket. Or if you don’t like sport, you could go for a walk, read a book, learn a foreign language, or just pour yourself a drink and settle in with another edition of the Nightcap.

On the blog this week

It was another rocking week on the Master of Malt blog. First off, we got very excited about the arrival of a new exclusive whisky from the Lakes Distillery called Miramar. And so did you, seemingly, as it all sold out in under an hour. Whoosh! Then Lucy Britner looked at what you can do with white Port beyond adding tonic water. Ian Buxton gleefully looked at great whisky marketing disasters like the ill-fated launch of Bailey’s whiskey and Cardhu Pure Malt. Meanwhile, Millie Milliken screamed ‘spring break!’ and showed us to make the Sex on the Beach cocktail. We enjoyed a candid chat with Stephen Davies from Penderyn about Jim Swan, Jim Murray, and how everyone laughed when he wanted to make whisky in Wales. They’re not laughing now. And finally, because getting abroad is far from easy at the moment, we rounded up the 10 best drinks to transport you to faraway lands. 

Meanwhile over on Clubhouse

If you’re a fan of Tequila and mezcal, then head over to the Clubhouse app on your portable telephone device at 3pm today, Friday 9 July. Kristy Sherry, Alejandro Aispuro, Richard Legg, and Michael Ballantyne will be discussing whether 2021 is going to be the year of agave. What do you think? Yes? No? A little bit?

Now, it’s on with the Nightcap: 13 July edition!

The Macallan X Bentley Motors - Image 4[13]

Macallan and Bentley team up for some reason which will become clear at some point, probably

Macallan announces “sustainable” partnership with Bentley

First Bowmore teamed up with Aston Martin, and now there’s more whisky/ automotive synergy as this week Macallan announced a new collaboration with Bentley. Because cars and booze go so well together. It’s all a bit vague at the moment but according to the press bumf, the two companies share more than rich histories and even richer customers. Both are, apparently, big on sustainability and are going to help each other become carbon neutral. MD at Macallan Igor Boyadjian explained: “A key focus of the partnership will be our commitment to a more sustainable future. The breath-taking natural landscape at The Macallan Estate provides the perfect platform for us to embark together on this exciting and extraordinary journey.” Bentley’s chairman and chief executive Adrian Hallmark added: “Transforming Bentley into the world’s most sustainable luxury car company is an exciting journey, and I’m delighted to be working with The Macallan with one common goal – to both lead our fields as we work towards a more sustainable future.” We’ll let you know when there are more specifics but from this week’s press release, it’s clear that neither brand is short of wind power. 

Taittinger Cork

The famous Taittinger cork

Taittinger cork sold as NFT for 69 Bitcoin SV, or £6,200 in old money

If you thought the worlds of Taittinger and Bitcoin wouldn’t collide, then you clearly weren’t at the CoinGeek conference in Zurich a few weeks ago. A bottle of the Champagne was popped by Kurt Wuckert Jr, CoinGeek’s chief bitcoin historian (a real job title, we’ll have you know) at the closing of the conference live on CoinGeek TV – rather handily, it was caught on film. The NFT (non-fungible token) version of this cork (which is basically just a photo, as far as we can tell) then sold for 69 Bitcoin SV. Oh, you don’t know what that means in legal tender? Thank goodness, neither did we – it equals around $8,500. That’s also known as around £6,200, which is how we measure things over here at MoM Towers. Yes, that’s a lot of money for a digital file of a photo of a cork, but the net proceeds are being donated to PROPEL, a charity which helps support children’s education. That’s all rather heartwarming, except now the new owner of ‘The Cork’ (as it’s now known) is trying to resell it here for 2,180 Bitcoin SV. We’ll leave you to work out the inflation on that… Alternatively, if you don’t have big money to blow, you could just treat yourself to a bottle of the good stuff right here!

north-point-distillery-banner

You could win a cask of rum from North Point Distillery in Scotland

Win a whole cask of rum with CaskShare

It’s World Rum Day on 10 July. It’s also Piña Colada day and Teddy Bear Picnic Day. Why not combine the three by making Piña Coladas for your teddies and serving them on a blanket al fresco? And soon, if you take part in Caskshare’s new competition, you could have plenty of rum to share with all your bears. The online spirits marketplace has teamed up with Scotland’s North Point Distillery to offer a whole cask of rum for one lucky customer. All you need is purchase a share of rum (prices start from £40) between 7-31 July, and then bang on about it on social media (full details here). You’ll be entered into a draw to win a one year old firkin of rum containing about 72 bottles worth £2,400. Think how many Piña Coladas you could make with that. And if you’ve got any left over, it’s National Mojito Day on 11 July. So much to celebrate!

The Beaufort Bar (Bar) Lewis Wilkinson.jpg RS

Swanky

The Savoy launches eco-friendly Co-Naissance cocktail

Drinks are often shouting about which far-flung corners of the world their ingredients are from, but the newest cocktail from The Savoy does the opposite. The Co-Naissance cocktail, developed by senior mixologist Cristian Silenzi, is all about local flavours and ingredients, and we were lucky enough to give it a taste at the Beaufort Bar (above). A combination of Portobello Road Gin, and locally-foraged elderflower from Little Venice and fig leaves from Embankment Gardens, is topped off with re-carbonated Champagne that would otherwise have gone down the drain. These local ingredients don’t just show off London’s flora – the cocktail eliminates packaging and waste, and removes single use glass, thus eliminating more than 1.8kg of C02 emissions per cocktail through both waste reduction and reforestation. The Savoy is also planting one native tree in the endangered Kalimantan rainforests of Borneo for each Co-Naissance cocktail served. Needless to say there’s no garnish, though the sublime glassware hardly needs it. As you’d expect from The Savoy, the cocktail itself is a delight, and much more herbaceous than we expected it to be, carried on waves of light florals. If you find yourself on the Strand and fancy doing some good while enjoying a delicious drink, you know where to head.

BBR-SPIRITS-SUMMER_Label_BBR-Small-Batch-Linkwood-2.jpg RS

Snazzy

Berry Bros. & Rudd unveils its first ever bespoke spirits bottle 

London-based Berry Bros. & Rudd, Britain’s oldest family-owned wine and spirits merchant, has launched its summer 2021 spirit range, revealing its first ever bespoke bottle in its 323 years! Designed by Stranger & Stranger, the new bottle will be used across the entire range moving forward. Indeed, some new bottles have already landed at Master of Malt. So, what’s new? The shop windows at its home in No.3 St. James’s Street are the inspiration for the label design – easy enough to recognise if you’ve been lucky enough to visit the charming shop. What’s more, each label boasts different levels of detail as customers move through (well, up) the price range. Lizzy Rudd, Berry Bros & Rudd chairperson commented “I’m delighted that after over 300 years, we are opening another new chapter for our prestigious spirits range. The new packaging and advertising draws upon and respects our heritage, whilst celebrating who we are and what we stand for today.” A snazzy new campaign full of lifestyle films and images accompany the launch as the brand looks towards world domination expanding its appeal in the China, Germany, USA, and UK markets.

The Churchill Arms, Notting Hill

Churchill Arms in Notting Hill, hopefully there will be some free nibbles on 18 September

Inaugural National Hospitality Day to run on 18 September 

Here’s a good idea to help Britain’s pubs, bars and, restaurants which have been having a hell of time recently: A National Hospitality Day. Rather like Record Store Day but with more booze. It’s taking place on 18 September and those taking part will put on special events, menus, entertainment and even free nibbles. Free nibbles? We are there. Hospitality Action is the force behind this new initiative. Chief executive of the charity, Mark Lewis explained: “On one amazing day, we’re going to spark the mother of all parties – and all to help the businesses that have been thrown to their knees by Covid-19, and the people who work in them.” Go to the National Hospitality Day website for more information. By supporting, you’ll not only be helping your local, but also raising money for four charities: The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, The Licensed Trade Charity, and The Springboard Charity. Let’s hope some of Britain’s brewers get behind this worthwhile initiative and, most importantly, it gets people back down their local. Though remember, a pub isn’t just for National Hospitality Day, it’s for life, so make sure you keep going back, even when there aren’t any free nibbles. 

sovetskoje-shampanskoje-polusladkoje-soviet-champagne-semi-sweet

Proper Russian Champagne, none of that French muck

And finally… Real Champagne comes from Russia 

You might think Champagne (the wine) comes only from Champagne (the place in France) but the Russians have other ideas. A new law passed by Vladamir Putin’s government says only Russian producers can label their products ‘shampanskoye’ (worth reading this explainer on the background to the story). Makers of the original French stuff can keep the word ‘Champagne’ on the front label but on the back can only call their product ‘sparkling wine.’ As you can imagine, the French are not happy with protests from French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie and, at one point Moët Hennessy, announced it was suspending exports to Russia. However, someone high up in the company, probably, pointed out how lucrative the Russian market is because the (French) Champagne giant changed its mind and announced: “The Moët Hennessy Champagne houses have always respected the law in place wherever they operate and will restart deliveries.” Money talks, that’s one thing they can agree on in Moscow and Paris. 

No Comments on The Nightcap: 9 July

Does very old whisky taste better?

There’s been a spate of very old whiskies released recently such as a 54 year old Singleton of Dufftown, and from Gordon & MacPhail, an 80 year old Glenlivet,  but does…

There’s been a spate of very old whiskies released recently such as a 54 year old Singleton of Dufftown, and from Gordon & MacPhail, an 80 year old Glenlivet,  but does old necessarily mean better, asks Ian Buxton.

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,

“And your hair has become very white;

And yet you incessantly stand on your head –

Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

Lewis Carroll’s verse came to mind when reading a recent press release from renowned independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. The company has plundered is Elgin warehouses and will shortly release what’s claimed to be the “world’s oldest single malt Scotch” – an 80 year old Glenlivet if you’re interested. Don’t bother to ask the price because, even though it hasn’t been revealed, it’s safe to assume you can’t afford it.

Whisky Advent 2020 Day #21: The Dalmore Cigar Malt

The nose behind Dalmore Trinitas, master blender Richard Paterson

Old and expensive

Now, not to be unduly pedantic, but I seem to recall that the October 2010 release of Dalmore’s Trinitas featured spirit from 1868 but as this had been vatted with other whiskies, some dating from as *recently* as 1939 it could *only* be marketed as a 64 year old. At the time, this seemed an incredible age and the launch price – a mere £100,000 – raised more than a few eyebrows.

However, like the infamous taxis in the rain, it seems that hardly a week passes without some exceptionally old whisky being launched, often at prices less than the cost of a three bedroom house in Grimsby – which, if you can’t be bothered to look it up, is around £55,000.

You’d actually have to sell two properties from Grimsby to enjoy something like the Glenfarclas Family Trunk, though there are 50 (albeit small) bottles of whisky from every year between 1954 and 2003. At 20cl each, that’s just over 14 full bottles, making this Speyside beauty something of a bargain at the 70cl equivalent of £7,000 each. Mind you, with just a couple of minutes on any decent property website it’s possible to find a selection of one and even the occasional two bed flats or terraced houses for less than that.

Back in October last year, a complete set of Macallan Red sold for more than three-quarter of a million pounds, albeit in a charity auction and today, assuming you could find one, just one bottle of Macallan Red 78 years old would set you back around a cool £100,000.  Alternatively, a 54 years old Singleton could be yours for £28,850 or perhaps three half litre bottles (a 1972, 1977 and a 1982) from the Brora Triptych at £30,000 would appeal. Or £50,000 for a Black Bowmore DB5. Unfortunately you’ve missed the chance of the Black Bowmore Archive Cabinet which auctioned in April for a cool £405,000. Not bad for a whisky which proved slow to sell at the original launch price of around £100 a bottle.

Brora Triptych

Brora Triptych, note fancy packaging

The investment boom

Right, that’s enough silly whisky prices. Like old Father William the whisky business seems to be standing on its head because it wasn’t so very long ago that whisky more than 25 years old was thought next to undrinkable (we’ll come back to this), and warehouse managers would have been chastised for letting any cask reach this excessive age.

What, you might well ask, is going on? Well, we can lay some of the blame at the door of the whisky ‘investment’ boom which I’ve been banging on about for some while. The claims just get bigger and wilder, all fueled by the cheap money that’s washing around the world, inflating asset prices and helping the rich get richer. You can thank the world’s central banks’ various quantitative easing (aka ‘helicopter money’) programmes for that but, understandably, if a distillery can see the chance of a windfall profit from one last venerable cask they can hardly be blamed for taking the money. They’re businesses after all.

And we have to face the uncomfortable fact that a large part of the price is accounted for by the increasingly lavish trappings that dress these whiskies – that Gordon & MacPhail 80 year old Glenlivet will come in a decanter and oak case designed by leading architect Sir David Adjaye OBE. No pictures yet but I’m betting it won’t feature a tall round bottle with a screw-top closure. Elsewhere, we see one-off custom-made cabinets, hand-blown crystal decanters, leather-bound tasting ledgers and other exquisitely crafted but frankly increasingly vulgar packaging designed to conceal the elephant in the room.

Taylor's Single Harvest 1896

Compared with some whiskies, this £4k Port is a steal, And it’s delicious

Does very old whisky taste better?

Which is that the vast majority of these whiskies are for display not drinking. Which, as it happens, I find something of a relief. And now I’m going to let you into a curious secret: that’s because they’re often not very nice. Those that I have sampled are simply over the hill – over-woody or bitter, lifeless and one-dimensional.

Perhaps it’s a grape vs. grain thing. I don’t have the science to back this up but give me a dignified and stately Madeira or vintage port, or even a very old brandy, be it Armagnac or Cognac and the liquid seems vibrant and even fresh tasting by comparison. Not to mention that prices seem a relative bargain – Louis XIII at under £3,000 for example or an 1870 Tawny Port (with companion 1970 bottle for comparison) at £4,000.

I fear the whisky industry has a bad case of the Emperor’s New Clothes though, note to PR industry, do keep sending those tiny little samples. One day I’ll find one that I like.

5 Comments on Does very old whisky taste better?

A warning about whisky investment

Ian Buxton returns to one of his favourite topics this week, the rapidly-expanding whisky investment market. It can’t keep going up forever, he warns, and there are signs that the…

Ian Buxton returns to one of his favourite topics this week, the rapidly-expanding whisky investment market. It can’t keep going up forever, he warns, and there are signs that the bust is coming soon. You have been warned!

There’s an old story, probably apocryphal but containing a great truth, about the Great Depression of the 1930s which was triggered by the crash of the New York Stock Exchange.  Offered advice by a shoeshine boy on a share to buy Joe Kennedy began selling his portfolio. “You know it’s time to sell when shoeshine boys give you stock tips,” he’s said to have observed.

A stuck record?

Now I realise that I’m in danger of sounding like a stuck record, having criticised the whisky ‘investment’ craze for a number of years now. And it’s certainly true that, even relatively recently, had I bought some whiskies for future sale that I preferred to drink I would be sitting on some handsome capital gains. The recent appreciation in the prices of the most sought-after bottles have been truly spectacular. Undoubtedly some people have made a great deal of money.

But if you’re expecting a mea culpa or tearful confessional, please look away now. As far as I can see the inflationary trend in whisky collecting and investment is silly and getting sillier, egged on by a group of advisers, auctioneers and, sadly, even distillers who have a clear vested interest in seeing the whole mad circus continue indefinitely. Call me cynical if you will but I fear that what are seeing are prices driven ever upwards by the Greater Fool theory of investment.

On The Nightcap this week we've got fancy Macallan!

Elaborate packing on the latest release from Macallan

Whisky is for drinking

Three points then:

Firstly, whisky is for drinking, not locking away in a vault. That’s not to say that a very special or rare whisky shouldn’t be reserved for a suitably special occasion but, eventually, all whiskies should be drunk. That is why they were made and to hoard them in the pursuit of monetary gain disrespects the people who made it and the convivial spirit of whisky itself.

Secondly, all that glisters is not gold. Great whisky does not need lavish packaging. It’s expensive and wasteful. Consider for a moment some of the most expensive wines in the world – the Burgundy grand cru Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Château Cheval-Blanc from Bordeaux for example. They’re packed in essentially the same style as their everyday supermarket own-label equivalent – slightly nicer label, much better cork and heavier glass to be sure – but the bottles will be visually identical and the differences are marginal when the relative retail prices are considered. They don’t need a crystal decanter, silver stopper, hand-crafted oak box or leather-bound journal because the wine speaks for itself. The informed buyer has no need of the superfluous trappings that increasingly surround high-priced whiskies.

And finally, I maintain that this will end in tears. Rather like Joe Kennedy’s shoeshine boy the boom in prices is drawing in all kinds of speculators and ‘investment’ funds promising advice for a fee on what whisky to buy. I’ve been around this industry for longer than I care to mention yet almost every week now I’m seeing new firms that I’ve never heard of fronted up by slick ‘Loadsamoney’ City types offering alluring returns on whisky. They, of course, make money whether you win or lose. Beware of people contacting you out of the blue with apparently generous offers. If it seems too good to be true it almost certainly is. Question their motives in offering to cut you in – if it was that easy they’d certainly keep it to themselves.

On The Nightcap this week we learn the youths are investing in casks!

Pssst, wanna buy a cask of whisky?

What goes up, must come down

Whisky is now a traded commodity on the London International Vintners Exchange (Liv-ex). The purchase of single casks is once again booming but prices bear increasingly little resemblance to trade filling prices, suggesting that should the private buyer wish to liquidate their investment by selling into the blending market an unpleasant surprise awaits.

Having no wish to be sued I name no names but suggest you proceed with caution. There have been scandals and short-lived booms before. History teaches us to beware whenever whisky and investment occur in the same sentence. Be it the distillery investment boom of the 1880s and 90s, the Pattison scandal or, more recently, the Cavendish Hamilton Spirit Management cask sales fiasco, the end is the same – the unlucky small investor limps away nursing a substantial loss.

Don’t let it be you!

6 Comments on A warning about whisky investment

The Nightcap: 19 February

This week we tried to keep up with fancy new booze from Midleton, Macallan, and Kendall Jenner. It’s The Nightcap! Man, where is the time going? Before you know it…

This week we tried to keep up with fancy new booze from Midleton, Macallan, and Kendall Jenner. It’s The Nightcap!

Man, where is the time going? Before you know it we’ll be in March and the clocks will be going forward and we might even start to live a life that resembles the Before Times. The only thing that’s really helping us keep track of things at the moment is the weekly familiarity of The Nightcap. Especially because our calendar has pictures of kittens on it. How are you supposed to know what day it is when there’s something distracting right next to the key information? It’s a design flaw. Fortunately, there’s no such issue with The Nightcap. All you’ll find here is the biggest boozy news from this week. Speaking of which, let’s get on with the Nightcap: 19 February edition. 

It was full-on blog-maggedon this week as the news flooded in and the features rolled out. First, we learned that the standards you need to meet to call your product Japanese whisky was becoming tighter than simply bottling booze from elsewhere and singing The Vapors classic tune at your product. Then a peer-reviewed paper (no need to ask who funded it) claimed there’s definitely terroir in whisky. So much was happening you could be forgiven for not realising tomorrow is World Pangolin Day, but luckily we have a new competition to jog your memory. We also launched a bottle lottery for Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky and told you what to expect, made ourselves a royally good drink, wished That Boutique-y Gin Company a happy fourth birthday, marked the return of one of the grand old names of Scotch whisky, looked into the history of a gin giant and got the lowdown on why absinthe is a category is on the rise. And we did all that while doing the public service of reminding you that Mother’s Day is in a few weeks and suggesting some ideal pressies. Phew! Now, onto The Nightcap!

On The Nightcap this week we've got fancy Macallan!

An Estate, A Community and A Distillery will arrive at MoM Towers soon…

Macallan launches The Anecdotes of Ages collection

If there’s one thing The Macallan does exceptionally well, it’s put together fancy collections featuring incredible sounding whiskies we know deep down we’ll never taste. Still, it’s nice to look at them and dream, and in this case, they make for particularly good viewing. The latest series, The Anecdotes of Ages, is the Macallan’s third collaboration with iconic pop artist Sir Peter Blake and each individual bottle features an original Blake collage art on the label. Blake, as we are sure you know, created the artwork for Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and that should be enough for anyone, frankly. Back to the whisky, there are 13 one-of-a-kind bottles in total, each from 1967, and every label tells a different story. It could be about The Macallan’s history, community, estate or that advert. Ok, so we made the last one up. Jokes aside, collectors will be pleased to know the bottles have been signed by Blake and come in a European oak case with photography that shows Blake’s journey with The Macallan, along with a leather-bound book and a certificate of authenticity. Price is likely to be in the region of £50,000. For those who don’t think they’ll get their hands on a bottle, you can always check out this  360-degree virtual art exhibit. The brand has also revealed that one of the bottles will be auctioned next month by Sotheby’s to raise funds to benefit the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Additionally, The Macallan will soon be releasing a new more affordable whisky, a snip at £750, called An Estate, A Community and A Distillery, to commemorate Blake’s visit to the distillery. This reminds us of our favourite palindrome: a man, a plan, a canal, Panama. Anyway, this more affordable expression, will be displayed in a custom box inspired by Blake’s art and available from Master of Malt soon. Yep, you read that right. So keep those eyes peeled…

On The Nightcap this week we've got Kendall Jenner!

Jenner’s brand has attracted a lot of attention already, but not all of it is positive

Kendall Jenner creates Tequila brand 818

Keeping up with the Kardashians star and model Kendall Jenner has revealed on Instagram that her latest project is a Tequila brand called ‘818’, and quickly found out this particular boozy bandwagon isn’t always pleasant. “For almost four years I’ve been on a journey to create the best tasting Tequila. After dozens of blind taste tests, trips to our distillery, entering into world tasting competitions anonymously and WINNING (🥳). 3.5 years later I think we’ve done it”, the post’s caption read. “This is all we’ve been drinking for the last year and I can’t wait for everyone else to get their hands on this to enjoy it as much as we do! @drinks818 coming soon 🥃🤤.” But the reality star has faced backlash after being accused of cultural appropriation and “exploiting Mexican culture”, the former of which is not a new concern for her family. Although, oddly the same charges were not levelled at other celebrity Tequila hawkers like George Clooney or The Rock. Nothing to read into there. It’s fair to say we’re not exactly cheerily raising a glass to another famous person helping themselves to a bundle of precious agave and as we were writing this story we learned that American comedian Kevin Hart is doing the same thing (other spirits do exist, people). But it’s also worth noting that it’s fairly common for a Tequila distillery to sell its booze to various brands and few can honestly claim to truly represent Mexico in any deep or meaningful way. In fact, you can look up the product’s NOM number (Norma Oficial Mexicana) and it will tell you where the Tequila is made and assure you that production meets the required certification standards of the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT). You’ll find that the distillery (which 818 hasn’t disclosed, so we won’t either) makes booze for a number of brands is made so 818 really isn’t doing anything new. For anyone who actually cares about the Tequila, the range features a blanco, a reposado and an añejo made from 100% Agave Azul in Jalisco, Mexico and bottled at 40% ABV.

On The Nightcap this week we've got fancy Midleton!

Keep your eyes peeled for more reaction to this beauty on this MoM blog

Kevin O’ Gorman blends his first Midleton Very Rare

In the past, only two master distillers have blended Midleton Very Rare, Barry Crockett and Brian Nation. Now, there’s a new signature on the bottle: Kevin O’Gorman stepped into Nation’s enormous shoes last year and has now released the 38th edition of possibly Ireland’s greatest whisky. We have to be honest, it’s a belter. As usual, it’s a blend of long-aged pot still and grain whiskies aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks. We spoke with O’ Gorman at a press conference last night and he told us that he narrowed the blend down to two samples and then spent a night agonising over them. The one he chose is heavier on the grain than last year’s pot still-dominated blend. It’s more like the Very Rare from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, he said. It majors on the sweet chocolate, caramel and vanilla notes but still with plenty of pot still spice. O’ Gorman revealed that the Very Rare 2021 contains a cask of pot still laid down by Barry Crockett in 1984. He was on ebullient form describing it as “the pinnacle of my career presenting the pinnacle of Irish whiskey.” We’ll have the full story including a closer look at the component parts when we get stock in a couple of weeks.

Tim Ashley VCL

VCL director Tim Ashley says invest in cask whisky… or else

Whisky investors getting younger says cask broker

Business is booming for whisky cask broker VCL Vintners. Apparently, sales are up 300% in January 2021 compared to the previous year. Not only that, but its customers are getting younger. No, this isn’t because of the magical age-defying properties of whisky, what the company means is that the average age of whisky investors is decreasing. The PR team sent us some figures that showed that the largest category, 26% of business, is people between the ages of 25 and 34. While well over half their investors are under 44. Casks start from around £5,000 but most of the trade is in the £10-30,000 range so some young people are clearly doing well despite the panny (as we’re calling the pandemic). Stuart Thom, director at VCL Vintners, commented: “It’s encouraging that the demographic is becoming a smarter, younger City audience with longer investment horizons.” He went on to explain exactly why there is so much interest, something we have reported on before: “With the markets going sideways for now and a tech bubble being rumoured in the States, whisky is being seen more and more as a stable long-term investment.” The great thing about investing in whisky is even if you don’t make any money, and there’s no guarantee the market will keep going up, at the end of the day, you have a barrel of single malt.

On The Nightcap this week we've got a big clock!

This story has everything: history, romance, and an enormous clock.

Johnnie Walker restores romantic Edinburgh landmark clock

Since 1960, Edinburgh’s lovers, young and old, have been meeting under a colourful clock on the corner of Hope Street and Princes Street. Known as the Binns Clock after the now disappeared department store that installed it. In its prime, the clock would play ‘Caller Herrin’ and ‘Scotland the Brave’ at seven and 37 minutes past the hour as kilted Highland figures would jig about. Sadly, in recent years the clock had fallen into disrepair and the Highlanders danced no more. Now, as part of Diageo’s plans for a swanky Johnnie Walker HQ which is due to open this year in Scotland’s capital, it was restored by the Cumbria Clock Company which has also worked on some pretty impressive clocks such as the Royal Liver Building and the big one, Big Ben. Bong! Restorer Mark Crangle described the laborious process: “We had to delicately strip back worn paintwork to source and match the clock’s original colours and gold trimmings, and we spent a great amount of time on the speed and timings of the bells, tunes and pipers to ensure it all matched perfectly.” Happily, Crangle and the team managed to get it all done for Valentine’s Day last Sunday, just in time for Edinburgh’s lovers to meet. 

On The Nightcap this week we've even more cask investment news!

Casks are all the rage this week it seems

Caskshare unveils new cask-buying platform

It must be the week of casks, as we have even more oak-scented news for you. Last Friday, we joined David Nicol, co-founder of the new venture, Alasdair Day from Isle of Raasay Distillery, plus Thom Solberg of Little Bat for a bit of a Zoom-based whisky extravaganza. The celebrations were to mark the launch of Caskshare, an initiative to make single cask whisky, and by extension buying shares in casks, more accessible. For mature whisky, customers can simply snap up a share (which equates to a bottle), and once all those shares have been snapped up, everyone gets their booze! For spirit yet to come of age, whisky fans can buy a share and the bottles will be sent when its ready. To demonstrate some of the whiskies available, Day shared samples from Raasay, and talked us through Tullibardine single malt and Cambus expressions. And, as it was Valentine’s Day Eve-Eve, Solberg treated us to a demo of a 14 February-appropriate serve. We all made Glen Moray-based (from Caskshare, natch) Roffignacs: the whisky, plus pomegranate syrup, cider vinegar, and ginger ale all built in a glass with ice. Delish! For more Caskshare deets, check out Caskshare.com – and what an evening of whisky love!

And finally… we need a G&T emoji now

Whether you’re fluent in emoji language like Kendall Jenner or the sort of person who gets in trouble for misjudged aubergines in the company Slack channels, here’s an emoji that we can all use without embarrassment, especially on a Friday at 6pm: a G&T emoji. Sadly, amazingly, it doesn’t exist yet! And so tonic water and mixer business Lixir Drinks has launched a petition to persuade Unicode to create an emoji for one of Britain’s favourite drinks. Yes, it’s a PR stunt, but a useful one. The company is hoping to get 10,000 signatures, so what are you waiting for, sign here and you’ll never have to write out the words Gin & Tonic again. Which reminds us, it’s getting on for 6pm now, G&T anyone? See wouldn’t that have been so much easier with an emoji?

No Comments on The Nightcap: 19 February

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search