Liquid Gold Rush

As whiskies rise in popularity as an investment, aficionados are facing an increasingly hard choice: Should they savor the contents—or maintain the bottle unopened? Some solve this quandary by purchasing two bottles, one to open and one to retain as an investment.

By far the most expensive whisky ever sold is The Macallan M Imperiale 6-liter Lalique. In 2014, it was auctioned in Hong Kong for a staggering $628,205, a world record confirmed by Guinness World Records. The price exceeded the previous record of at $460,000, also held by The Macallan, for its 64 Years Old in Lalique Cire Perdue.

“To achieve this record for a second time is an outstanding achievement for The Macallan,” says David Cox, director of fine and rare malt whiskies at The Macallan. “M Imperiale is the largest decanter Lalique has ever made and the largest The Macallan has ever filled.” The whisky itself was a combination of three rare vintages, casks filled in 1942, 1945 and 1946.

Other high-priced bottles include the $6.2 million Isabella’s Islay from Scotland, which includes a white-gold bottle encrusted in 8,500 diamonds and 300 rubies; the bottle may, of course, be customized. More-affordable four-figure bottles of whisky include the $2,500 Hibiki from Japan.

Kentucky is very much the center of bourbon production, and prices of premium whiskies from The Bluegrass State easily can top five figures. An online auction in 2014 saw the first bottle of Boundary Oak bourbon produced in Kentucky in 10 years command a final bid of $25,000, said to be the most ever paid for a bottle of American whiskey.

Keeping company with the state’s more expensive bourbons are Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash Whiskey, which has been bringing around $5,455 per bottle. The $2,200 Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Year is part of the Old Rip Van Winkle line, a brand that commands high regard among investors and consumers; prices frequently reach $1,000 or more per bottle. Other premium brands include Angel’s Envy, at $1,000 a bottle, and William Larue Weller, at $5,000.

The Universal Whisky Experience is an annual gathering of whisky collectors who meet each March in Las Vegas. The event was conceived by Mahesh Patel, who says, “I own one of the largest private whisky collections and set up this event because no one did an event I wanted to attend. We have 350 people who now attend, including high rollers and connoisseurs.”

Among the activities on offer is the Universal Whisky Experience, a tasting that allows participants to sample some of the world’s most unique and interesting whiskies. Each pour is valued at $300 or more, with the average bottle costing above $2,000. High rollers may enjoy pours from bottles costing more than $20,000. An unusual bonus is the opportunity to try Whisky Speed Dating with seven whisky celebrities.

Whisky collections can be extensive. The largest collection in the world contains 3,384 bottles and was created by Claive Vidiz of Brazil. One of his first purchases was the Dimple Pinch, for which he paid $1,000 in 1969. Some bottles, such as the centenary Strathmill single malt, of which only 100 bottles were produced, are priceless. No Strathmills were sold but, instead, were presented to members of the staff and some fortunate guests, including Vidiz.

The Scotch Whisky Experience says it is impossible to put a price on the Vidiz collection, due to the rarity of the bottles. Now owned by Diageo PLC, the liquor giant that owns Guinness, Johnnie Walker and Ketel One, the Vidiz collection is on display at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.

Some connoisseurs debate whether the spelling of the savory spirit should be “whisky” or “whiskey.” In Scotland and Japan, it is “whisky,” while most other countries use “whiskey.” But regardless the spelling, the clear gold favorite is fast becoming a major investment asset.

Yet the pleasure of the drink should not be forgotten, as longtime connoisseur and investor Patel notes. “My advice is always to buy two of everything—one to collect and the other to drink.”

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