Are Whiskey Collectors Respecting the Craft? A Distiller’s PerspectiveBy Matt Strickland
In the modern whiskey world, you’ll come across a multitude of consumer types. There’s the neophyte taking their first steps into this monstrously large category trying not to feel like a fool. There’s the “strictly bourbon” people who would sooner use Bowmore for lighter fluid than let some of that peaty liquid ever touch their glass. Conversely, you’ve got the single malt fanatics who eschew any liquid that even remotely smells of the word “blend.” And there are countless others.
Each one makes up the fantastically varied microcosmic tapestry of grain spirit drinkers. Of increasing interest in today’s whiskey ecosystem is the growing numbers of whiskey collectors.
Now, before anyone gets too nervous about where this is headed, let’s define what we mean by “whiskey collectors.” We’re not talking about the whiskey fanatics who purchase every new release from their favorite brands. What we’re discussing here are the folks who purchase said bottlings and hold onto them while waiting for a prominent increase in value before (un)ceremoniously selling them off onto the secondary market via auction houses, social media forums or other means. For these folks, the liquid is an investment. Indeed they will often approach the appropriation of these fine liquids with an investor’s eye.
In this day and age, none of this should be all that shocking. Trade magazines such as Whisky Advocate regularly host columns pertaining to the latest auctioneering news. The newswires often trumpet headlines of record-shattering prices whiskey collectors are receiving for various bottlings and collections. And while most people would never reasonably believe that they could become wealthy by playing the whiskey investment game, many average Joe’s have taken the plunge to attempt to pull in a little extra scratch.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a little money (so long as it’s done legally, ethically and humanely). However, the tragedy is that many of these bottles exchange hands and are never opened! From a distiller’s point of view, this teeters on the edge of blasphemy. We don’t make whiskey to be traded and bartered over and over like some alcohol-laden version of Beanie Babies. We make whiskey to drink, preferably with a friend or five.
Respect the Craft
Now, as distillers we understand that not all whiskey is created equal when it comes to the drinking occasion. Most people aren’t busting out the nice stuff for everyday consumption. Certainly that 30-year-old bottle of fine Speyside malt or the bottle of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon won’t likely be in your everyday drinking canon. However, drink these drams you most definitely should when the occasion warrants it.
Distillers have been making whiskey for centuries. But it is only within the past 200 years that the practice has reached its apotheosis. Distillers these days are often involved with every step of the whiskey making process. That includes everything from growing and harvesting the grain to cask management and every step in between. It often takes years and sometimes decades to make a truly memorable dram. Admittedly much of this time is spent waiting for the whiskey to mature inside a cask. However, there is still an intense amount of physical labor involved behind the scenes.
This is all to say that good whiskey doesn’t just happen. But when all of the work is done and the dust is settled, you find yourself holding a bottle of liquid beauty that in an increasing number of instances fetches a high shelf price. That price is certainly reflective of what the market is willing to pay, which is a wild and confusing lesson in supply-side economics if there ever was one.
However, much of that price is also indicative of the labor, time and resources that have been put into it. After all that hard work, the last thing most distillers want to see are whiskey collectors snatching up the fruits of their labors only to place them in a locked glass case shelf.
For Drinking, Not Hoarding
Distillers love their work. We have the privilege of crafting concoctions that bring joy and happiness to countless people on many happy occasions in their lives. Our drams also get consumed during the sad times when life has dealt someone a bad hand. A little liquid libation, responsibly and reasonably consumed, can be a serious boon for people on so many varied occasions in their lives. Shoehorning whiskey into the realm of investment opportunity seriously misses the point and love behind its manufacture and existence.
But hey, if spiritus investments are how whiskey collectors get their financial kicks, there’s likely not a distiller out there (including this one) that would stop them. They are well within their rights to enjoy whiskey the way they want to enjoy it. And that means even if they never drink a drop of the stuff. But for most distillers in the world, whiskey is supposed to be tangible and experiential, adding both salve and lubricant to the confusing and often confounding experience of being human.
Simply put: whiskey is meant to be drunk in good spirits with good company. All you have to do is to open the bottle.
What to know what the whiskey collectors see in each bottle?
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