While whisky investment has become a fast-growing trade in recent years, there is no lack of different ways to go about it, with various sub-sectors to consider when looking to buy up the amber dew, whether as an already valuable investment or as something that should appreciate in value over the coming years.
Ironically, given the growth of the industry in many parts of the world and the prominence of the most famous Scottish distilleries, one of the options that might be considered is that of whiskies from ‘ghost distilleries’.
This was suggested by Forbes food and travel writer Brad Japhe. He suggested that the best way to find the really rare whiskies was to target something from a distillery that no longer exists, where the same malt with its own distinctive characteristics cannot be recreated.
He named Port Ellen and Brora as being among two of these, but said the prime case in this segment of the market is Ladyburn, a name now being actively promoted by managing director of William Grant & Sons’ Private Clients division, Jonathan Driver.
This, of course, was the parent company that owned and then closed Ladyburn in 1975, just nine years after this Lowland distillery began operating. This small duration of production and the fact that most of its whiskies will be 50 or more years old could be compelling. Indeed, Mr Japhe noted, there are but 200 barrels left, making it one of the greatest rarities in the whisky world.
With that comes some steep prices. A single bottle of 1966 vintage with a portrait of John Lennon on its label sold at auction for £80,000 last December.
That kind of price may raise a question for some investors. Those with very large sums of money available to them to start with might well seek to invest in such a collector’s item, perhaps selling it on for even more in the future as the dwindling supplies of Ladyburn are consumed elsewhere. Others may consider a different approach.
In the latter case, an alternative – which for most would be by far the most affordable way – would be to go for younger casks from existing distilleries with a long-term aim of realising a significant profit many years from now.
Of course, had someone been investing in this way in a Ladywood cask in 1972 rather than 2022, their investment would have automatically soared in value once the closure guaranteed its greater scarcity. Nobody can realistically do that now; buying from a distillery based on a punt that it might close a few years hence would be a guessing game with a low percentage chance of success.
Indeed, many distilleries are working on finding practical ways to preserve their futures. For example, the threat of climate change bringing dry spells that could deprive some distilleries of their water supplies has been anticipated; the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute have worked with the Glenlivet distillery on a solution involving small dams.
These small reservoirs could capture and store extra water to ensure supplies do not dwindle during heatwaves and production can continue, supporting the economic viability of more distilleries.
For this and other reasons, it may be that rare whiskies from long-closed distilleries remain collectors’ items for the few, but not the mainstream of cask whisky investment.