Whisky investment: What makes a million pound bottle?  

Whisky poured into a glass

Building a whisky collection is a source of great pride and satisfaction for many whisky lovers. Whisky made global headlines in 2021 when the ‘Perfect Collection’ sold at auction for a hefty £6.6 million, shining a spotlight on the world of whisky investment.

As ever, the true magic of whisky comes as much from the way it’s made to the stories behind it. In 2021’s World Whisky Weekender, our Creative Director Eric Campbell chatted to three whisky experts to determine what really makes a million pound bottle of whisky.

Joe Wilson, Whisky Auctioneer

Whisky Auctioneer’s Head of Auction Content Joe Wilson has the enviable job of organising bottles for auction. He sees from 70 to 1000 bottles every month. “These bottles are not always going to be in people’s price points, but they might still be interested to find out what makes it valuable or interesting”, Joe explains. 

“We get whisky bottles from every corner of the world, with registered buyers and sellers in about 120 different countries… We’ve been working more closely with distilleries through the Pat’s Whisk(e)y Collection, which is one of the biggest private collections of whisky being brought to auction. It’s opened up quite a lot of opportunities for us to work with brands… but generally most of the work for the auctions is done in-house. We have a big job on our hands to make sure the bottles are authentic and presented correctly.”

And what makes whisky investment different from, say, stocks and shares?

“You can visit the distilleries, you can talk to the staff and uncover the stories behind them”, Joe says. “These are all things that will drive your enthusiasm and keep you interested,  as well as being able to enjoy the product itself, whether your end game is to hide them away for 10 or 15 years to see if the money generates, or if you just want to have that one bottle you love available to you for the rest of your life.” 

Gemma Paterson, The Balvenie

Global Ambassador at The Balvenie, Gemma Paterson knows a story or two about whisky – including those found in the Perfect Collection. The Balvenie 1937, bottled in 1987, has an interesting tale to tell.  On a trip to Blavenie in the ’80s, Jack Milroy [a famous Scottish comedian] took an interest in some casks he saw in a corner of the warehouse, and asked if he could purchase them.

“They were duly sold to him”, Gemma says. “He vatted them and sold them. There was around 400 bottles from that 1937 run, but that was the very first 50 year old that we had put out.

“A wonderful detail that we found out was that the very man who had hand filled the casks back in 1937 came back to the distillery and hand bottled every single bottle in 1987, and he was 88 years old at the time.”

Geoff Kirk, Macallan

When it comes to great whiskies, they don’t always come about by design. “So much of how a lot of these whiskies have come about has been circumstantial”, says Geoff, Head of Brand Development at Macallan. “Going back in time, the industry in general, and I think specific distilleries, wouldn’t have had a sense of what they were creating in that moment and what it was going to mean to the brand and the business and to collectors and the wider interest in the Single Malt category. So it’s genuinely fascinating to hear the back stories and how they’ve come about, what they mean in heritage terms for all the brands.

“A lot of that has been facilitated by the likes of Richard Gooding [who curated the Perfect Collection], with a personal passion and the ability to travel to Scotland so frequently… and being able to build up a collection just through personal passion. I think it says a lot that he was interested in retaining the bottles, not necessarily the packaging, for some of those products. So it was all about the whisky and the intense passion for the primary product.”

“Obviously it’s a financial decision, but I know some of the statements were very much about the desire to bring those bottles back to life and to bring them to new consumers, new collectors who have that passion but want to step back in time. “

Back stories and whisky investment 

“The industry, even just within Scots single malt, is so diverse and there’s a lot of new players coming into the mix”, Geoff says. “There’ll be a bit of something for everyone, depending on what people’s tastes are. 

“My sense is that there should be space for every type of collector, depending on how accessible they need the whiskies to be. It just depends on why they’re collecting – is it for investment purposes or for a love of the whisky?”

Gemma agrees. “You’ve got so many different eras of whisky masking.  If you look at what’s happening today in the industry to 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a 50 year old bottle to have a story.

“I think one of the exciting jobs now about putting together whiskies that are collectible and have collectibility is unpicking stories from the past and marrying them with stories from the present.”