Scotch collectors are not like you and me, F Scott Fitzgerald might have said. They pay crazy prices. The cost of top whisky has rocketed in recent years. Using auction values, an index of the best ones has increased 262 per cent in the past five years.
Over a decade whisky investors would have quintupled their money. That is a far better return than on most assets. Needless to say, global equities are well behind at 2.5 times. Among collectibles, only classic cars have come close — doubling — in the period up to June 2020, says Knight Frank.
Rare Scotch trades thinly, given limited supply. In volume terms it is less than 2 per cent of the fine wine market. Yet any distortions from egregiously expensive transactions matter less. Despite some incredible tipple prices — a 1926 Macallan bottle sold for £1.5m in 2019 — demand for the dearest bottles has waned. An index of the 50 rarest whiskies has stalled over the past year; not so a broader benchmark. The trade in bottles priced over £5,000 fell a quarter last year, while those under £1000 jumped more than 10 per cent.
Crazy prices attract counterfeiters. Provenance has thus become a paramount issue for collectors. Even longtime experts such as Andy Simpson, head of index compilers Rare Whisky 101, have been duped. Indeed, counterfeit empty bottles of top whisky regularly appear on the web, he notes.
Fitzgerald’s tales tend to end in disappointment. Sky-high prices for Scotch will come and go too. But the tipple, given limited supply, is maturing nicely as an alternative investment. Just do not bet your Highland estate on it. And remember that auction fees and storage costs of perhaps 15 per cent create high return hurdles.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Should you invest in whisky? Or just drink it? Please tell us what you think in the comments section below