WORDS IAN BUXTON
Luxury scotch, rum and vodkas with a flavour of history and heritage are catching the eye of the connoisseur collector
These days, it’s good to hear about a booming market sector, especially in the world of luxury spirits. Driven by growing consumer connoisseurship and an interest in traditional, authentic products that have provenance and heritage, super-premium spirits are defying doom merchants with ever more stylish and expensive offerings.
Single malt whisky has set the pace recently, with enthusiastic buyers in the BRIC markets especially thirsty for the best Scotland can offer. Glenfiddich, for example, offers a stunning range of older whiskies, with its most premium a 50-year-old in a hand-blown bottle with a silver label, nestling in its own hand-crafted box and accompanied by a leather-bound notebook. At least 50 are sold a year, at £10,000 each.
Then there’s The Macallan, long renowned as ‘the Rolls- Royce of whiskies’. Its limited-edition extra-aged whiskies in Lalique decanters (priced £12,000 and up) generally sell out within a year of release. Another lesser but still very desirable Macallan is the Masters of Photography edition, launched with a 30-year-old whisky carrying an individual Polaroid print by top fashion photographer Rankin.
Other collectable whiskies include Highland Park (a spy at the distillery tells me there’s a stunning 50-year-old on the way, with a price to match); Glengoyne, whose more modestly priced 40-year-old goes for £3,750; and the recently re-opened Glenglassaugh (winner of the International Wine and Spirit Competition’s trophy for a 40-year-old single malt).
And the whisky that holds the record for the highest-priced bottle ever? In May 2005, in Surrey’s Pennyhill Park Hotel, one of just 12 bottles of Dalmore 62-year-old was sold for £32,000 – after which the buyer promptly consumed it with some friends (being sure to spare a glass for the barman).
You can still find Dalmore’s handsomely packaged Candela for around £7,500, although supplies of its £10,000 stablemate Sirius have long since run out and, according to rumour, have since doubled in value for its buyers.
But whisky doesn’t have this world all to itself. Dark rums have recently built on their new-found fashionability – notably premium expression Havana Club Maximo (£1,000) from Cuba. Rum matures faster than whisky and hasn’t quite yet achieved the collectable nature of single malts, but it’s certainly a category to watch – especially the rarer, single-estate pot-still products.
Other desirable rums include Trois Rivières 1953, a truly legendary spirit and something of a Holy Grail for rum connoisseurs, and also Black Tot, the final bottling of the last consignment of Royal Naval rum, in store since the rum ration was abolished in July 1970.
When it comes to vodka, premiums such as Kauffman Inauguration Blend are now reaching £500 a bottle. But vodka hasn’t yet acquired collectable status and seems, at these stratospheric prices, to be more about conspicuous consumption than connoisseurship.
Investors and canny buyers have developed a taste for fully flavoured products and don’t seem likely to abandon Scotch any time soon. This market may have some way to go.
In September 2009, The Macallan released just 250 bottles of a single malt marking the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’s birth. Sold exclusively through the distillery, at £199 a bottle, all were purchased within days.
Last month, at McTear’s Auctioneers in Glasgow, one of these bottles sold for £1,250 – a return any hedge fund would be proud of.
McTear’s holds four sales a year. Its whisky expert Andrew Bell says, ‘We’ve seen the market take off in the past 12 months, with new collectors and even funds interested in whisky as an investment.’
Andrew nominates his ‘Big Five’ as The Macallan (‘definitely number one’), Springbank, Ardbeg, Bowmore and Highland Park.Dalmore is his dark-horse tip.