Establishing a Whisky Collection

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There was a time when if you had six bottles of whisky in your cupboard that constituted a collection.

Now with so many more whiskies world wide and so much information on what is available, many more people are looking to build a collection.  How to achieve that was something I had to think about and develop myself.

Jim Murray in his book the whisky Bible reviews something like 3500 different whiskies.  On a few occasions I have found whiskies not covered in this book, so we can safely assume there are more than 6000 separate whiskies you could collect if you had the time and money.  The Malt Whisky Experience in Edinburgh houses the Claive Vidiz collection of 3384 whiskies.   Few of us could even aspire to own such a collection.

To build any sort of comprehensive collection one specialisation might be required.  A lesser developed whisky nation – Sweden, France or Germany, a Scottish Whisky region like Islay or even a single distillery.  A major Distillery like Macallan, Ardbeg or Glenfarclas with many year of dated whisky and many series might still amount to hundreds of bottles potentially and given the rarity of some bottles to tens of thousands of pounds.  There are dozens of other Distilleries with  fewer varieties or in the process of launching their first bottlings.

 Purpose

To arrive at a practical collection step one is to determine your Purpose.  Why do you want to collect whisky?

It might be to drink and appreciate, to invest and make money or to have interesting whisky to share with your friends.   It may be a combination of several reasons.  I personally want to experience and enjoy a broad range of different whisky. I enjoy drinking with my buddies and occasionally buy a more expensive investment bottle, to flip and fund bottles to drink that I cant otherwise afford.

So start by writing your Purposes clearly.  Now we move to Categories.  Let me explain further.   I have six categories in my collection.

Firstly, Drinking.   I keep a number of bottles which I regularly drink.  When I finish one of these I immediately replace it. This includes Talisker 10 y.o, Highland Park 12, Glenfarclas 12 and 105, Laphroig 10, Johnny Walker Black Label and more. All great whisky but at a good quality to price ratio.

Secondly, I have two related categories – Indulge, more expensive whiskies ‘I drink alone’ (like George Thorogood) or sitting in front of the fire just savouring.  These tend to be my more expensive bottles, Dalmore 18, Glenfarclas 21, I am sure you can easily assemble your own list.  The other subcategory is Share, I have some more quality interesting whiskies which along with my indulge bottles I keep to share with my whisky loving friends and family. I include Deanston 18, Springbank 10, Talisker 57 North, various Ardbeg expressions, developing your list in each category takes tasting and effort but is what collecting is all about IMHO.

Thirdly, I have Stock whiskies which are whiskies I have enjoyed and keep drinking when I fancy them.  These are kept for ages and related in time when I can afford them either with the same whisky or with another I qualify as Stock worthy.  My stock list is the largest list.  I will leave you to develop your own.

Fourthly, I have whisky I am currently Appraising to decide which category they fit in if any.   Although this includes 30ml samples, it is mainly the last 4 bottles I bought as I rarely come to a conclusion on a whisky on only one tasting.   You never know when mood, health or something you have eaten masks the quality of a whisky.

My fifth category is Don’t Replace a subcategory of Stock.  This is a whisky which once empty will not be replaced and will exit my collection.

Sixth and finally I have Investment bottles… After many years of successful wine investment   I am moving my investment budget to whisky but gradually.  In wine the magic number was 15 years.  At that time quality wine was more rare as the bulk of it had been consumed.  I expect it is broadly similar with Whisky but don’t yet know. 

Now look at your Purpose and work out what your categories might be.

Target

I struggled to make the next move until I created a target.  let me explain.  All to often I made purchase decisions I regretted because I had no basis to  make them.  Initially I though that a 100 bottle collection might be about what I wanted to achieve but on what basis.

At this stage I owned 30 bottles which fitted in different categories.  I wrote down a list of whisky I was interested to try but this only came to 30 more bottles.  So I altered my target to 60.    Coincidently this just about matched sensible storage space without creating mayhem with my wife.

I divided 60 between my different categories. 12 to drink, 8 to indulge, 8 to share, 30 in stock, 2 invest and 8 on the way out.  Those on the way out did not count in the target.

Budget

To create and maintain this collection I had to arrive at what my spend would be.  I am budget limited.  I buy a whisky a month at a current average of £40, plus I have a £300 budget at Christmas and Birthdays.

Now I could put my existing whisky into its categories.  I could categorise my wish list and by reviewing the prices of the Wish List assess when I could buy these to supplement the collection.

Finally

New whiskies bought would be appraised then moved into a category. with others moved to accommodate the new whisky inclusion.

Of course I had hardly completed this exercise based on Scottish single malt and NAS whisky when I became more interested in Independent Bottlings, Japanese whisky and Bourbon.  Realising this risked blowing my plan Indy bottling had to fit my Scottish collection plan as indulgent whiskies.   Japanese and Bourbon became categories in their own right each limited to 8 bottles.  My collection now aspired to be; 60 Malts, 4 in appraisal, 6 on the exit, 8 bourbons and 8 Japanese.  so 60 had become 80, still to be built over time so within my 2 year budget plans.  I expect including grains My original 100 is not widely wrong and it may well creep up by 10 or so bottles a year.  It is important to recognise an aspiration for collecting to rapidly become hoarding.  The ruling principle must be “Know Thyself”  and keep directed by your Purpose.  Unfortunately I know myself all too well.  I must negotiate more shelf space from my wife.

My original bottles come from a couple of significant birthdays and from my brother in law an industry professional.   Others were in the cupboard some for a few years.

If you start young you could have a collection of several hundred bottles.  Whisky tends to keep ok but not always as slight oxidation occurs over time although I have never noticed this to any extent despite keeping some open bottles for three years or so.  Now you  may have greater ambition or a much larger budget than me, so adjust your Purpose and enjoy.  Even a small collection can provide an enjoyable hobby.  `so, I wish you good luck in achieving your whisky ambitions. 

Slainte!

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