There was a time when if you had six bottles of whiskey in your cupboard that constituted a collection.
Now with so many more whiskies worldwide 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. Let me share my experience.
Jim Murray in the Whisky Bible reviews 4000 different whiskies. We can safely assume there are more than 6000 separate whiskies you could collect if you had the time and money. The Malt Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh houses the Claive Vidiz collection of 3384 whiskies. Few of us could even aspire to own such a collection.
To build a comprehensive collection specialisation is required. A lesser developed country, a Scottish Whiskey region like Islay or even a single distillery. A major Distillery like Macallan, Ardbeg or Glenfarclas with many year dated whiskey and many series might still amount to hundreds of bottles potentially and tens of thousands of dollars.
Collecting Bourbon has the great advantage of being a more closely defined range. There are 7 ‘major’ distillers; Beam Suntory, HeavenHill, BuffaloTrace, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Diageo, Brown Foreman. Each of these has around 10 brands and up to 30 expressions. These numbers vary annually and exclude experimental barrels, which might run into thousands but only some reach the retail market. There are a further 10 or so larger distillers like Michters, Hudson, High West, Willets, Balcones and Barton to name a few of the larger of them. Apologies to those I have omitted.
Now there are many Craft Distilleries, around 1500 and growing.
Step 1 – Define Your Purpose
To arrive at a practical collection, first determine your Purpose. Why do you want to collect whiskey?
I personally want to:
Experience a broad range of whiskeys
Have good value whiskey to drink daily.
Interesting whiskeys to share with friends
Write your Purposes clearly.
Step 2 – Define your Categories
I have six categories in my collection which together achieve my Purpose.
Drinking bottles which I regularly drink. When I finish one. I immediately replace it, my so called ‘grocery’ whisky.
Indulge/Share are more expensive whiskies ‘I drink alone’ (like George Thorogood) or sitting in front of the fire just savouring and I have some more quality interesting whiskies which along with my indulgwhiskey-lovingep to share with my whiskey loving friends and family.
Stock is whiskies I have enjoyed and keep drinking when I fancy them. These are kept for ages and replaced in time when I can afford them or they are on offer. I replace them either with the same whiskey or with another I appraise as better Stock worthy.
Appraising to decide which category they fit in if any. This includes 30ml samples, but is mainly the last 4 bottles I bought. I rarely come to a conclusion on a whiskey on only one tasting.
Don’t Replace is a whiskey which once empty will not be replaced.
Investment I currently have 4 which in time I will sell to buy a bottle I might otherwise be unable to afford. I don’t approve of flipping but I have always used alcohol as my alternative investment with great success. My philosophy is that if it doesn’t make money over 5 years I can always drink and enjoy it.
Now look at your Purpose and work out what your categories might be.
Step 3 – Create a Target
I struggled to make the next move until I created a target. I often made purchase decisions I regretted because I had no basis to make them against. 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 whiskey 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, 16 to indulge and share, 30 in stock, 1 invest (at the time) and 8 on the way out. (Those on the way out did not count in the target). Yup 59 I know.
Step 4 – Make a Budget
To create and improve this collection I had to arrive at what my spend would be. I am budget constrained, for marital harmony reasons. I buy a whiskey a month at a current average of $50/£40, plus I have a $500/£400 budget at Christmas and Birthdays.
Now I could put my existing whiskey 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.
Step 5 – Appraise (ongoing)
New whiskies bought would be appraised then moved into a category. I keep my target number so have to remove some to accommodate new ones.
I had hardly completed this exercise based on Scottish single malt when I became more interested in Bourbon. My target was 20 – 5 Drink, 5 Indulge 10 Stock.Notice I use fewer categories in Bourbon just to keep things simple. I already know that over time this is likely to equal Scotch.
A collection of 120 bottles.
Recognise the tendency for collecting to become hoarding. The ruling principle is “Know Thyself” , keep directed by Purpose and Budget. I know myself too well. I must negotiate more shelf space.
My original bottles come from a couple of significant birthdays. Others were in the cupboard some for a few years.
Start young you could have a collection of several hundred bottles. You may have greater ambition or budget than me, adjust your Purpose and enjoy. A small collection can provide an enjoyable, sociable hobby. I wish you good luck.