Some single malts offer an opportunity to claim a piece of Scotch history – and can be a worthwhile investment too, writes Johanna Derry Hall
What makes a scotch desirable? Collectable? Investable, even?
Interest in whisky as an asset class has certainly skyrocketed: the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2020 recorded a 564 per cent growth in the value of rare whisky over the past ten years.
Yet, as the release of a new collection from Diageo demonstrates, investing in rare and extraordinary whisky is about more than just economics.
Prima and Ultima is a treasury of unrepeatable single malts – each one either the first or last bottling of its kind. By definition, the liquids are rare, and therefore valuable. They’re also exquisite. But it’s the stories behind each one that give them true worth.
Take the 1979 Port Ellen 40-year-old, for example, one of the eight bottles included in the collection. It’s taken from a single cask made in the distillery’s final days, and its soft peat and sweetness tell of the end of an era.
As fate would have it, this liquid has a story that intersects with my own. The cask was filled on the day I was born, 5 October 1979. That might be the most highly sought-after prize a whisky collector could desire. Left secretly maturing in a silenced and shuttered distillery for the whole of my lifetime, it is, to me at least, priceless. But each bottle in the set has its own tale to tell, and its own significance.
It also contributes to an overarching narrative. The Prima and Ultima collection has been curated by Dr Jim Beveridge OBE, one of the most respected master blenders in the world, who hand-selected individual casks from distilleries across a breadth of styles – from the peaty smoke of Islay to the fruitiness of Speyside. They capture the thread of an illustrious 40- year career straddling a period of great change in the world of Scotch.
‘It was interesting era,’ he recalls. ‘I was working essentially as a flavour chemist, trying to understand what gave each whisky its distinct character. It was the most incredible job, and the whiskies I’ve chosen represent both my journey and the changes at that time.’ His selections chart the recent history of Scotch.
A 48-year-old Cragganmore from 1971 was the last to be made on coal-fired stills. A 30-year-old Singleton of Dufftown from 1988 was taken from the first three casks made using the slow-craft method of extended fermentation. A 1984 cask of Caol Ila – number 5,773, to be precise – was the first of a new style, with its own tale of a decade-long chase for its recovery. The 26-year-old Clynelish represents Beveridge’s endeavour to solve the mystery of its trademark waxiness. The release will appeal to collectors new and old.
In a sense, Diageo has made it easy for them. Each set of eight bottles comes with a beautifully produced coffee-table book that explores the story of each whisky and knits the collection together.
However, only 238 sets will be available, for a price of £20,000. Competition is fierce.
Anyone hoping to lay their hands on one must register their interest or take part in an online Sotheby’s auction. Whether kickstarting a new collection or growing an existing one, this anthology of one-time-only single malts is an opportunity to claim a piece of Scotch history – and to make its story part of your own. Worth an investment, wouldn’t you say?