Collectible whisky is a thing, just as how collectible wine is a thing. Quite a few investors are looking at various limited releases as an additional way to diversify their assets. In principle, it's a commodity that doesn't go bad and can only increase in value.
Recently we had a bit of a fun discussion following my friend Adam's purchase of a fourth edition of Compass Box's “Flaming Heart” whisky, and I think it's one that you're bound to fall into assuming that you continue drinking some of the good stuff: when something's expensive and collectible, do you save it or do you drink it?
Option 1: you drink the bottle.
The benefit here is that you get to enjoy and evaluate the worth of what you purchased on the criteria of taste rather than the rarity of the release or the quality of the packaging. In the case of the most recent release of Flaming Heart, the list of whiskeys included a few Caol Ilas that were more than 20 years old mixed in with some very old Clynelish! Who wouldn't want to taste that? Certainly that seems worth $140 a bottle to me.
The immediate drawback, of course, is clear. As soon as you pull the foil and pop the cork, it becomes worth absolutely nothing. Depending on how fast you consume your investment-grade hooch, you will invariably turn valuable whisky into pee.
Option 2: you save the bottle.
In so doing, you prove yourself a master of impulse control. Instead of filling yourself up with brown liquid, you fill yourself with the knowledge that you possess something others cannot. They will never produce what you have again, which adds to the bottle's intrinsic value. And, if it is indeed an investment, we can assume that we have the ability to sell it at a later date for more than we paid.
In Adam's limitless depths of cynicism, he also offers another reason for never opening the bottle: you'll never know if you got taken for a ride if you keep the bottle for posterity. And he's not wrong. The truth about a lot of alcohol products branded at “collectors” is that there's some kind of implicit understanding that you're not supposed to drink it. Sometimes whiskeys flat-out suck if you keep them around for 40 years, rare and old though the whiskey itself might be. (See our knowledge base on aging for more on this.)
Suppose I made a snap decision to sell everything I owned and buy some rare bottle of Macallan worth $13,000. Not drinking my purchase allows me to hold onto the plausible assumption that what's in that bottle is going to be better than anything I've ever tasted. I can convince myself that what's inside my bottle is manna from heaven. Perhaps if I drink it, it would be so good that it would drive me insane or spoil me on everything else. I can hold onto this fiction if I never take that first sip.
Where do I stand?
As someone with a moderate level of personal experience when it comes to buying and selling durable goods, I've learned that something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. Rarity only works to your benefit if someone knows about what you have and how rare it actually is. Otherwise, it's just another bottle of booze.
Second, if you are going to sell your bottle one day, who are you going to sell it to? Where are your buyers? How many of them do you think there are in your area? How will you reach them, and how much time are you going to spend as a regular dude merchandising or marketing your investment?
Lastly—and probably the most sobering aspect about this whole experience of “investment whiskey”— is that there is always someone out there willing to tell you that something will be worth more than it is one day.
As a kid, I remember spending $25 in 1995 money to buy the first issue of a new comic book (Spawn #1, if you were curious). I was almost sure that the very first issue of such a huge comic franchise would be worth something one day. Well, I just checked eBay, and I can buy that exact same issue for a dollar, which means that what I was so sure would be an “investment” actually depreciated by 96% in my 20 years of ownership. More, in fact, if you account for inflation.
Which is to be expected! I knew nothing about that market, didn't want to research comic book values, and in my case, I was taking my investment advice from the same dude selling me the investment. Think about your grandmother's house. How many commemorative plates, limited edition coins, or numbered lithographs of Thomas Kincade paintings does she have lying around? How much do you think you'd get for those if you had to sell them for her right at this very moment?
Long story short, I say drink the bottle. Enjoy the spirit on its own merits and celebrate a special moment with friends and family. The value of that memory is probably more than you'll ever realistically get for the bottle at some imagined point down the road.