Liquid gold — b(u)y the bottle or b(u)y the cask
By the Whisky Couple
To drink or to invest, that is the question. Left, Macallan Private Eye. Right, Black Bowmore, 1964.
If we are to believe various recent luxury reports of distinguished research companies, one of the most interesting investments today is not in real estate, art, watches, vintage cars or jewelry. No, it is Scotch whisky.
Those who are interested in this commodity can choose between buying bottles or even whole casks. For the record, Becky and I do not invest in whisky; we drink it and instead invest in stories and in people, so that we can continue to write for the Mercury and other publications. We do follow the developments around this phenomenon and have seen a recent considerable growth in companies that offer their services to the aspiring whisky investor. When writing this column my mind wandered back to the mid 1990s, when, at Easter Elchies House, home of The Macallan, I purchased a special limited edition for 25 GBP, took it home and downed it with a couple of friends. It’s a wonderful way to create memories. Today, if I had not opened the bottle, it would have rendered me approximately 8,000 euro. I am talking about the Private Eye edition, with a label designed by British illustrator Ralph Steadman, who became a celebrity himself when he teamed up with Hunter S. Thompson (remember Dr. Gonzo?). He also decorated the ceiling in the members room of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s headquarters in Leith, Edinburgh, and wrote/illustrated the hilarious book Still Life with Bottle (1994).
Well, some people managed to keep The Private Eye, flip it, as they say in the trade, and in doing so pocketed serious money.
This is just one of many examples where over time particular bottles increase in (perceived) value tremendously. Another famous one is the Black Bowmore distilled in the 1960s and bottled in the early 1990s. To get an idea what the value of bottles is, check out one of the distinguished online auctions, such as whiskyauctioneer.com or scotchwhiskyauctions.com.
Buying a cask of maturing whisky is a different ball game altogether and often it remains unclear if the buyer is really the owner until the contents are bottled and duty and sales tax are paid by the new owner. You cannot own maturing whiskey or bottles under bond if you do not have a special permit from Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue Services (HMRS), which is only available to UK citizens. So in practice you will need what is called a duty representative. This is a third party that has all the required licenses to own and store duty suspended alcoholic liquids. The HMRC license, also known as WOWGR, stands for Warehousekeepers and Owners of Warehoused Goods Regulations. Using a duty rep is perfectly legal. They will guard your whisky as if it were their own. Still, if you don’t know what you are buying, caution is advised. There are a lot of cowboys over there, notwithstanding the good guys.
Interestingly enough, in The Netherlands one of the very first, if not THE first whisky investment company, was founded by Mr. Michel Kappen, a former investment banker of the RABO Bank. He liked single malt Scotch and noticed the prices were increasing in the liquor store. To cut a long story short, he quit his job and started his own company in the early 2000s, trying to find a way to help clients invest in Scotch single malt, because he decided to focus on one particular type of whisky. In 2014 his company, then known as Scotch Whisky International (SWI), was licensed by the Authority Financial Markets (the official Dutch organization responsible for supervising the financial market since March 1, 2002), recognizing the fact that SWI had a legal investment product in whisky. A year later SWI acquired the famous Zagatti Collection, a private collection of nearly 3,000 bottles, collected during a time span of more than 50 years. That collection is in a bespoke museum now in Sassenheim, close to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and a stone’s throw from that famous Dutch tulip place: De Keukenhof.
Mr. Zagatti passed away in December last year but luckily had witnessed the opening of the museum in 2017, followed two years later by the launch of a set of five books about his former collection. You can read in the Mercury of February 2020 about that event and the museum.
SWI continued to grow and created a product called Asset Management, with Scotch Single Malt as a collateral; the company is now known as Scotch Whisky Investments, with subsidiaries in Montenegro and, of course, Scotland.
SWI employs a dedicated group of certified financial consultants who advise potential investors and jointly develop a whisky portfolio with their customers based on an individual investor’s profile. Analysts with a thorough knowledge and practical experience on a sensory level continually assess the quality of the maturing whisky and keep track of its development over time with the assistance of tailor-made tools and applicable data.
Of course, there are more companies playing the same field and bourbon is slowly becoming an interesting niche in itself. However, if you are playing with the idea of seriously investing in whisky on a larger scale than a few bottles, we can cordially recommend you get in touch with Scotch Whisky Investments. They have a positive track record of nearly 20 years, and they are very good at what they do, combining financial expertise with a true passion for whisky. Last but not least, they are great fun to work with, as we experienced when writing and producing the Zagatti books for SWI.
As far as we know today, SWI is the only company worldwide with an AFM license, giving them true credibility. Check out their website: www.scotchwhiskyinvestments.com/en for more detailed information and getting in touch if you want.
However, do remember that whisky is primarily made for drinking, so don’t forget to whet your whistle now and again, for instance when celebrating a new investment!
The Whisky Couple