Friday, 18 April 2008

Malt Whisky: Investing in an Alternative Asset Class for Pleasure and Profit

A professor stood before his class with a selection of items in front of him. When the lecture began, he took a very large glass, filled it up with large stones. When the glass was full, he asked the students :
"Is the glass filled up now?"
Everyone agreed that it was.
The Professor took some very small stones, and placed them gently into the glass while shaking it very carefully, causing the smaller stones to go in between the larger stones.
When the glass again was filled up to the edge he asked once more :
"Is the glass filled up now?"
Everyone agreed that it was filled up.
When the professor placed a bag with sand on the table the students laughed, because the professor could add sand between the stones, and he filled it to the top.
"Now!" said the professor "Please imagine that this glass is your life!"
The large stones are the meaningful things in your life, family, girlfriend or boyfriend, kids, your health etc. things that are important and will always be a part of your life. The small stones are stuff not that important , like your job, house, car and the sand is everything else.
"Please notice ! If the glass is full of sand there will be no room for small and large stones. It's the same in life, if you use your time and energy on small stuff there will be no room for important and meaningful stuff.
Always focus on which things are important for you, and your life will be great and happy.
Play with your kids, see the doctor, take care of your health. Spend time with your partner, there will always be time to work, clean up the house and the other smaller stones!"
"Fill up your life with large stones that really matter. Check and arrange your large rocks and stones and keep in mind that the rest is only smaller stones and sand."
All the students nodded as they saw the point!
The Professor then looked over the students and took a glass of whisky, which he carefully poured between the sand, the smaller and the larger stones.
He looked up again and said:
"And the moral is - No matter what happens in your life there will always be room for whisky!" (joke taken from the Alternative Whisky Academy Funstuff page)

One of the many gifts that Scotland has given the world along with curling and golf, not to mention legal, intellectual, engineering, educational, literary contributions (for a highly enjoyable and informative book about this, have a go at Arthur Herman's The Scottish Enlightenment) is Scotch whisky, especially the single malts.

I was reminded last weekend while stopping in Inverary (in the attached photo, that's the whole of the tiny town behind one of Her Majesty's warships in Loch Fyne) at the Loch Fyne Whiskies Shop that malt whisky can be an investment as well as a taste delight. There on the shelf behind the counter sat a bottle of 1919 Campbelltown malt, for sale at the modest price of £14,000! He said that it was one of two bottles left in the world and that as soon as it was sold the price would likely go up to £20,000! No one should ever drink it since it would likely not be that good. The imagination and the mystery from the old unopened bottle, like owning a living bit of the past, would give far more pleasure to the owner than the actual taste.

However, if that's the kind of profit that can be made, maybe it's worthwhile to consider as an alternative investment. According to a 2004 FAQ on the price of whisky, the record price was £29,400 for an 1850 bottling of Bowmore.

In answer to my query, the proprietor confirmed that there is an active market for collectors and investors in rare and old single malts. The interest is worldwide. Swedes and Germans are apparently very fond of the "water of life", or uisge beatha in Gaelic, but there are many other lovers of a dram.

The proprietor warned against trying to invest via cask purchases due to the practical difficulties of bottling and storing and marketing (who will want to buy your whisky?). He advised that buying individual bottles is a better method of investing. Bruichladdich (a lighter, less peaty Islay malt) is one distillery that offers to sell casks to individuals. Buying a 2008 cask at £1100 (bourbon) or £1450 (wine) would produce 300 to 380 bottles after ten years. Are you that patient?

Good Investment in Bad Economic Times? - The BBC reports that whisky producers find that sales increase when the economy slows down. Given the current state of the economy, maybe it's now (Sept 2008) a good time to look at whisky, including mainstream drinks companies like Diageo (NYSE: DEO) and Pernod Ricard (shares on Euronext).

Markets and Prices: Thanks to the Internet, there is an active and visible market, in which prices can be researched. These consist of auction sites:
eBay - search for whisky
McTears - live auctions in Glasgow in March, June, September and December; past sale prices are archived and available for reference
Whisky Auction - online auctioneer

General Knowledge and News: There is no shortage of websites for aficionados with plenty of links, descriptions, tasting notes, live events.
DramNation - reviews the above auction sites, has a on-line shop, lists the many distilleries, user discussion forum
VisitScotland - primer on whisky, links to events in Scotland, tours and travel info
Alternative Whisky Academy - lists and comments on shops around the world, index of whiskies, lots of links to whisky related websites

Books: Books are a great way to learn about whisky, the history, the variety of malts and opinions on what tastes best. The longest list of books I've found is at The Whisky Exchange, where they can be ordered online along with malt whiskies and other exotic alcohol.

Single malt whisky has been around for hundreds of years and it is a hugely successful product, whose popularity has not stopped rising. The inherent quality and pleasure of a good malt gets a price boost from a certain snob appeal in certain quarters. Old bottles are getting scarcer and even new supply is constrained by water supplies (of all things in Scotland!) and even barley I was told at one distillery.

Ultimately, the problem for any potential investor is trying to predict what will be popular. Even bottlings that are generally considered to be fine tasting today may go out of style. The one bottle worth a lot in a collection (portfolio?) may be weighed down by a number of others whose value stays the same. The Scotch Whisky Review from Loch Fyne Whiskies recommends collecting for pleasure but not investing. Even if one does try investing and it does not work out, at least there is the means at hand to drown one's sorrows!

Slainte Mhath!

Update Nov.3, 2008 - Signs of supply constraints - the CBC reports that Diageo is withdrawing brands from New Brunswick because it is a low margin sales area, i.e. they can make more money in places like India, China and Russia. This confirms an article in the Guardian from last December that reported rumours of such impending action.


Anonymous said...

Macallan used to compare the increase in value of whiskey to the FTSE 100, and it did better over decades. The best I ever did was a bottle of 18 year old Macallan Gran Reserva which I bought for £80. Within two years it was selling for £250. Of course, I discovered that when I was half-way through the bottle. The best part about investing in whiskey is that it won't go down in value, and if it doesn't go up, you still have a bottle of whiskey to drink.

CanadianInvestor said...

That would be my problem too - drinking the asset!

Wikinvest Wire

Economic Calendar

 Powered by Forex Pros - The Forex Trading Portal.