Investing in whisky has become one of the safest and most popular forms of alternative investments over the last ten years as values have soared. But that doesn’t mean that you can just buy any old Scotch whisky and come away with a nice investment. As with any kind of investment, you need to do your research and know what will bring a good return – and what won’t.
This is especially important right now with factors like the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the markets. The values of whisky have been less badly affected than many other areas, but there will always be factors that influence the prices people will buy and sell it for. This could be seen in 2019 when new Scotch regulations and a US tariff on single malts, while there’s still uncertainty over what Brexit will bring.
“The tariff will put our competitiveness and Scotch whisky’s market share at risk,” warns Graeme Littlejohn, director of strategy and communications at the Scottish Whisky Association. “We are also concerned that it will disproportionately affect smaller distillers, as for many, single malt is the only Scotch they produce and the US is a vital market for their products.
“While Brexit and tariffs in the US present challenges, there are a number of developing markets where exports of Scotch whisky have the potential to grow. China has seen 22% value growth in the first nine months of this year, and India is up by 25%. Consumers in these major global economies and other developing markets are expanding their knowledge of Scotland’s national drink.”
Knowing about what factors will affect whisky prices is important, but it’s even more crucial to know which brands are likely to provide value in the future. This can be established brands that are reliably popular or it can be up-and-coming smaller distilleries that are quickly building up reputations as whiskies for the discerning collector.
Here are the Scotch whisky brands to watch over the next 12 months:
An independent brand that had built its name as a whisky bottler, but in 2019 it made its play for the big time by buying Perthshire-based single malt Scotch producer Strathearn Distillery under the ownership of The Whisky Garden. Douglas Laing is also building its own £10.7m distillery in Glasgow – Clutha Distillery which will produce a “high-end single malt with a heavy Sherry influence” – and has also reported double-digit growth for the last five years in a row.
A drink everyone, everywhere knows, Johnnie Walker certainly isn’t an up-and-coming whisky, but there’s still plenty of reasons to invest in it. The most widely distributed blended Scotch whisky in the world, it has been celebrating its 200th birthday this year, despite the circumstances. The pandemic and lockdown will have also impacted the big plans for a ‘Johnnie Walker tour of Scotland’ tourism investment by parent company Diageo, including a visitor experience centre in Edinburgh. Whisky tourism will certainly have been hit along with the rest of the tourism industry, but there is no reason to think that the longer-term picture isn’t still a positive one. This is one whisky that is going to rebound strongly when times are more normal.
Another brand that is certainly well-established in the world of Scotch whisky, these could still be big and exciting times for Glen Moray. In late 2019 Dr Kirstie McCallum was named as its new head of whisky creation, having worked there for 12 years and been responsible for single malts like Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory. McCallum said: “There is a great opportunity to experiment with new cask types and to develop new expressions, using the expansive knowledge of other wine and spirit experts within the La Martiniquaise-Bardinet group.” Her plans might have been affected by the disruptions of 2020, but you can bet exciting innovations are coming.
A less familiar name, Kilchoman certainly made a splash in 2005 when it was launched bac, having opened the first new distillery on the isle of Islay ‘whisky island’. With a very traditional production method – they grow their own grain, malts it, mashes it, distills it, bottles it and smokes the barley using peat from nearby ancient bogs – and a family-run ethos, Kilchoman is a brand that is on the up and up. There’s plenty of competition out there, even just on Islay itself, but its quality speaks for itself.
Another whisky bottler-turned-producer, Benromach has been producing its own single malts since 1998 when Gordon & MacPhail reopened the previously dormant distillery they had bought five years earlier. While it’s still a relatively small distillery, it’s perfectly formed and only uses ‘first fill’ casks – ones not previously used to mature whisky – to ensure the maximum flavour. This attention to detail is exactly what collectors and investors look for, making Benromach a brand to keep an eye on.