“The Journey of an Enthusiastic Whiskey Collector”
Whiskey Talk published this article previously in the September 2018 edition of The Irish Whiskey Magazine . The series will continue in the magazine and reprinted in this blog following each publication. It is envisioned that there will be 5 articles in the series.
In this article and within the following series of articles we will be exploring the world of whiskey collecting. The articles will be about whiskey collecting in general. We will discuss the process and challenges of whiskey collecting rather than trying to identify specific whiskeys you should buy.
We will think about what it means to be a collector, how does it start? What is the definition of a serious collector?What are the pitfalls? What are the investment strategies to consider? How should you store your collection? Are Independent bottlings worth collecting? How do you sell your collection? What is the psychological make up of a whiskey collector? If you have hoarding tendencies does that influence what type of collector you will be or should be!?
We hope it will be interesting for both the beginner, who has just begun their journey into the interesting world of whiskey, and the more serious collector who has amassing a room full of whiskey.
We wish to ask questions and initiate discussion. We will share some of our knowledge through a series of questions we have pondered on. We will also share what we consider were the key mistakes we made at the start of our collecting journey.
We will be suggesting 10 Golden Rules that collectors should consider. In this first article we will list 3 of these.
Collecting whiskey is a rewarding and fascinating activity, whether you have 10 or 12 bottles of your favorite whiskey stashed away for that special birthday or you have a collection of 100s of bottle that you amassed in a strategic fashion and your collection is now potentially worth far more than you paid for it.
What is the definition of a whiskey collector? What is the cut-off point? Is it someone who has more bottles purchased than they intend to drink for the next few days? Is it someone who has purchased bottles for drinking in a couple of years’ time or is it someone that alternatively has bought whiskey as a sound investment for future sale?
To be honest I would think that many people reading this article may not have set out to be whiskey collectors, it just kinda happens! We buy a few bottles of whiskey that we really like and keep as our favorite to drink later, we also then see a bottle of two that we buy for keeping for a future special occasion. We also might buy a unique bottle to put away that might be worth something someday. Before you know it you have 15 bottles stuck in the bottom of the wardrobe and are wondering am I now a whiskey collector?
Alternatively you may be an organised,fully focused whiskey collector and you purposely and determinedly develop your collection with a specific plan in mind.
Is there a difference between the accidental and the serial collector? what are the differences? Does it matter, we believe it does. Given the fact that over a period of months or years you can have spent a serious amount of money on whiskey, it is crucial to consider the issues involved. Even if you didn’t consciously decide to be a collector you may end up becoming one!
Buy what you like drinking
One important question is, should you only collect what you personally like? If the bottom falls out of the whiskey market and you can’t sell them, you can always drink the bottles and enjoy them. I remember this advice I received when interested in a previous collectible I had a passion for and that was buy what you like, which is fine advice if you are simply buying for personal pleasure and are not concerned with recouping your money. However if you are buying with an eye on future value and you have poor taste and collect unpopular or out of fashion items, well then you are stuck with them.
GoldenRule #1 If you are consciously deciding to be a collector become as informed as possible on selected targets and collect for the marketplace not simply for your personal pleasure.
A great friend of mine gave me advice and that was to buy only what you are willing to drink and make sure to buy (a few only!) extra bottles of those that you will really enjoy in the future. Great advice and frankly you can save a lot of money and hassle doing just that.
When one finds themselves willing to invest significant time and money it is the time to give the subject the focus it deserves. I have met many people who are undecided collectors and are confused about what to buy and when. It can be very difficult to know what to do next if you don’t have a plan and budget.
Whiskey is meant to be drunk not hoarded by investors for potential future profit.
You may collect a few (or many) bottles for future drinking and have no intention of reselling. You may rebel against the idea of buying a bottle of whiskey with the sole intention of seeing it increase in value for future profit. Many whiskey fans feel strongly that intentionally buying up bottles or even cases of rare whiskey with the sole intention of flipping them for profit is wrong. Where do you sit on this topic?
Recently (June 2018) the online release of 816 bottles of rare Redbreast 32 Year old by IDL sparked a passionate debate on social media about the fairness of individuals buying whole cases of this special whiskey which limited the opportunity for individual whiskey drinkers to also experience this exceptional release. Every year in late May on the island of Islay in Scotland a whisky festival is held where whisky hunters buy Feis Ile releases and then sell them on the same day to auction houses who have a presence on the island for resale in the next auction. There has been much debate about how Island distilleries should try and control this issue as it is seen by many as a negative for those that wish to purchase and enjoy the yearly releases at distillery prices.
Is this just a natural marketplace phenomenon? Are whiskey collectors driving up prices on the primary market making it difficult for whiskey connoisseurs who simply wish to buy great whiskey at fair distillery or retail prices for their personal drinking pleasure?
With the risk of alienating at least some of the readers of this article I would make a couple of comments. I personally do not agree with flipping or scalping. I do believe, however, that the secondary market such as auction houses or private selling arenas are the appropriate areas for investors to operate and the market will dictate the prices. This is the way the world works.
However for the primary market, as I will call it, where distilleries release bottles online or through selected retail outlets it needs to control the number of bottles sold to individual buyers. This gives the opportunity for more people to enjoy individual bottles at launch prices.
In addition recommended retail prices are appropriate for shops where the physical purchase of multiple cases by bulk buying investors is far more difficult. We already know that the vast majority of responsible retailers limit the purchase to one or two bottles which is absolutely the fairest way of doing things. If the bottles are dispersed widely at the point of release, as they as they would be in this way, it gives a sense of fairness in terms of price point and gives purchase opportunity to everyone.
Golden rule #2 Do your research.
The second single most important lesson in buying whiskey is to put time into research. Be fully informed. The golden rule in buying property, as everyone knows, is to focus on location, location,location. The equivalent in whiskey buying is research, research, research.
Spending time on auction sites, speaking to other whiskey people, whiskey retailers, distillery staff, reading whiskey magazines and looking at whiskey review sites. Join whiskey associations and learn about the history of your particular area of whiskey focus. Being better informed in the market that you are focusing on will ensure that you are in the best position to be able to find the best bottle at the best price at the right time. In addition it will also ensure that you sell at the right time and the right price.
There are a number of whiskey associations in Ireland that you can join., The Irish Whiskey Society and The Aviators whiskey Society host regular whiskey evenings at Dublin locations.They organise day trips to distilleries to meet the teams behind the whiskeys.The Irish Whiskey Society has a very active chapter in Dingle as well. On their website you will find a link to the Irish whiskey Society of America. The Cork Whiskey society runs regular very successful events in Cork. There are a few other clubs and groups run by specialist whiskey shops, whiskey pubs and commercial organisations /individuals.
I will say that the majority of what the clubs focus on is whiskey tasting rather than on discussing whiskey collecting. However it is a great way of broadening your tasting experience of different and rarer whiskeys. Some of the tasting evenings feature older whisky and those presenting will be able to give you the history on those particular whiskeys. You will also have opportunity to meet many other members that may have knowledge of a particular distillery and whiskey that you are researching. It’s also a good place to meet new whiskey friends.
Above all you get to meet like minded individuals who are there to have fun and share the passion for whiskey.
Golden rule #3 Document diligently
One of the great ways to improve your collecting success is to document everything about your collection and its current value. It is essential to add all your notes on the day you add a bottle to your collection. Start a spreadsheet noting the bottle details, when you bought it, where you bought it and the price you paid. Note any auction cost, shipping cost etc. Track three or four recognised reviewers and note their scoring for that whiskey. Then on a regular basis update current retail and auction prices bottle by bottle to track changes.
Highlight which bottles are purchased for drinking and those that are strictly for adding to your collection. This spreadsheet will track your total spend and overall budget, It can be quite informative (or frightening!) to see how it mounts up!
From a research point of view document the historical price changes and other facts about the focus area you have selected as the target collection area.
This is a crucial exercise for stock control as well(and to see if your collection has been raided for that party your son had while you were away on holidays!)
Set up another tracking sheet on bottles that you are interested in but have not yet bought. Track auction and retail price to see the trend on these bottles and do a media alert for those bottles that you can also track market updates.
In the next blog in this series we will publish more of the 10 Golden Rules. We will ask questions such should you invest in one distillery only? What are the best collection strategies? We will also share some of our mistakes that we made as novice collectors. Until then happy hunting!