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How to start a Whiskey Collection

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Looking to start a Whiskey Collection? A few simple steps on how to start and for people at different levels.

If you know what you are doing, the right bottles purchased at retail will almost always increase in value over time, and increase your whiskey collection. There’s little return on leaving your money in the bank these days, and the stock market is always a risk. If this sounds like you, maybe you should buy a few bottles of old whiskey. But if you can, buy two or more so you can drink it, too.

But building a valuable collection isn’t as easy as going to your off-licence and filling up on random bottles, you need to know your stuff.

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Level One: Getting Started

Start Drinking: Develop your taste in Whiskey, sip as many different whiskies as you can. Find bars with good collections and sample different brands and styles. Chances are you will find yourself sitting next to a fellow whiskey lover, so make friends, talk and learn from each other. Keep an eye out for for whiskey tasting events, such as Celtic Whiskey Club’s Events, where you can pay one price to sample some of the higher-end stuff, eventually you’ll start to develop a feel for what you personally enjoy. Remember, just because something is popular or expensive doesn’t mean you will like it, or it’s any good…

Do Some Research: Learn and read as much as you can about the different whiskies and their styles. Different regions have different focus: Scotch, American(Bourbon), Japanese and Irish. Get to know how each style employs different recipes, distillation techniques and aging strategies. The more educated you are about the product, the better your chances of making good purchasing decisions.

Go Shopping: Now that you are getting to know your stuff, go out and experiment. Your best bet is seeking out limited editions, which almost every major distillery releases. For now, stick to the retail market, off-licences and local supermarket, there are plenty of opportunities to find bottles that are likely to increase in value. Duty free shops in airports are a great resource as most carry limited stuff with no chance of getting ripped off. Also, reputable on-line retailers have made it much easier to find low production bottles as well. Seek out solid retail outlets with good selections and chat up the owners. Sometimes they’ll let you know if something special comes in or add you to a list to have a better shot at scoring low allocation products. Also, many distilleries have fan clubs which offer opportunities to pick up special bottlings such as Teeling’s, Dalmore or Midleton.

Don’t Get Screwed Over: When investing in a whiskey collection, the quality is obviously important, but your best bet is to stick with a brand with good stats and awards. The reputability of established houses have been built over time and their products will always be in demand. Also pay attention to reviews. A well rated whiskey will get buzz, so more of it will get drunk. A larger production limited release that’s in demand can attain a higher resale value than a more exclusive bottling that experts don’t like. And be cautious of buying old bottles. Regardless of its age, it has to be something special to have value.

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Level Two: Getting More Serious

Start Drinking: Getting into the serious part of building your whiskey collection, tastings and networking should go together at this point so you should join or even create local drinking clubs, check out online communities, and hit the festival circuit such as Whiskey Live, Whiskey Fest, or subscribe to Whiskey Magazine. These events give you direct access to whiskey makers and you can connect with fellow collectors to expand your personal network. Not to mention sipping through great whiskies in search of your new favourite.

Do Some Research: Touring distilleries is an important part of whiskey education; they offer an intimate view of the production process from grain to glass. Learning the similarities and differences between the distilleries will give you a leg up in making informed purchases. Bonus: Collector’s are like kids in candy stores in a distillery’s gift shop. It’s the perfect place to score collectibles.

Go Shopping: As you get further into it you will want to track down bottles that are no longer available at retail, and good bottles from closed distilleries like Bailey’s (Yes Bailey’s had a whiskey production, it wasn’t highly recognised, but it’s very rare!). Auctions are an option as well, but stick to bigger, more reputable houses that do hallmarking and proper authentication. But don’t go broke. Set yourself a price point based on what you can afford and stick to it, most collector’s deal in bottles under €4,000. And don’t forget the commission charge on the hammer price.

Don’t Get Screwed Over: It’s possible to find good bottles in online auctions, but can also be a great place to get ripped off. Remember you’ll be making a purchase sight unseen so you can’t examine the bottle or check the condition of the label, which is an important element of its value. E-Bay is also dangerous, there are a ton of fakes out there.

And beware, pricing rare whiskey is tricky business. Avoid online evaluation companies as they rely on auction data compiled over time which is shaky science at best. Instead, check the original retail value against what bottles are trading for through private collections. Those prices are more reflective of the true value of the whiskey.

Level Three: Hitting The Big Time

Go Drinking: To get into the upper tier of a whiskey collection, you must not only possess the interest, but you also need the scratch required to drink with the big boys. Private tours and high-end events is where you’ll find the good stuff, but dipping into the personal stash, preferably surrounded with friends and considerable ceremony, is one of the great joys of life to the serious whiskey geek.

Go Shopping: At this point you are collecting to put money away as an investment, and you are now looking at big bottles Like a Mortlach 75, or 50 Year Old  Balvenies, which are in the €30,000 range. There are always unique pieces that are hitting the market on this level. Meanwhile, you will use your contacts to buy and sell rare stuff and its at this point many collectors explore purchasing whiskey by the cask.

Don’t Get Screwed Over: There is a lot of buzz out there about big money paper fund products, where people buy stocks against whiskies that are not yet aged, but I would thread carefully here. The groups of people out there who are doing this really don’t care about whiskey, to be honest. They just want to create a commodity for its rarity then buy it all out and dump it on the market. I don’t like that kind of so-called investing and I think it’s the wrong way to think about this. Most of the people I know are true collectors and connoisseurs, and I think those two elements need to be together.

Interested in discussing further? Throw a comment in below.

Craig EllisHow to start a Whiskey Collection

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