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Whisky collectors are inflating prices for real drinkers

By Matt MacPherson

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Whisky was made first and foremost for drinking.
Whisky was made first and foremost for drinking.

Whisky collecting has become extremely popular with people who don’t actually like whisky, but why?

Let’s take a look at the most popular distillery for collectors, Macallan. They recently released a whisky with very little useful information: it had no age statement, no indication of how many bottles, and an eye-watering price tag of £750.

I did forget to mention that the bottle is the third collaboration with British artist Sir Peter Blake, so it comes in a big fancy box that obviously greatly improves the whisky's taste.

You’d have to be mad to buy one, right? Wrong.

The demand for that bottle was so high that Macallan has had to create a ballot system where the winners will then have an opportunity to buy a bottle. The majority of those entering the ballot couldn’t even tell you where Macallan distillery is and I’d be even more surprised if they had ever tasted one.

The global demand for collectible whisky is biblical right now and as a result, the bottles that appeared at auction sold for around £3000. That is a financial gain that is hard to resist and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enter the ballot.

So what’s the problem? Macallan is and always will be popular with collectors and I’m totally fine with that – every industry has its own Macallan. My problem is that this flipping bottles culture is filtering down through distilleries that are close to whisky drinkers' hearts.

Fan favourites like Springbank, GlenDronach and Ardbeg are becoming harder and harder to acquire at RRP as flippers sit ravenously refreshing their laptops to buy as many of the limited releases they can get their claws on.

The likes of GlenDronach and Ardbeg are reacting to this by putting their prices up; why should they miss out on what you could argue is the true market price? Others like Springbank are trying to keep their prices reasonable but this just makes them an even bigger catch for the flippers.

The real loser in this situation is actual whisky drinkers who can no longer access drams at a fair price.

You could argue that I’m adding fuel to the fire by entering the Macallan ballot, but my counter is that I’ve drunk enough whisky to start a very large fire! I have no problem with people having a whisky collection as long as they actually like the stuff and open an occasional bottle for its intended purpose.

The investment bubble has to burst, it always does and there will be a lot of upset investors stuck with overpriced average whisky. It would be lovely karma and a win for whisky if, out of frustration, they ended up drinking their devalued collection.

They may even find that they get some pleasure out of something other than money, although I wouldn’t bet on it.

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