Not all whiskies are made equal. At Diageo, owner of 50 Scotch whisky distilleries, only a select few liquids are deemed worthy to be part of its Rare & Exceptional portfolio. Adam Brewer, head of private client sales at Diageo South-East Asia, gives us the lowdown on what makes these whiskies truly remarkable.
What makes a whisky Rare & Exceptional and what are the qualities it should have?
Our portfolio contains whiskies that are limited in availability due to the scarcity of their supply. This may be because some of these precious liquids originate from “ghost” distilleries that have closed or not made whisky for more than three decades — and some that never will again.
Apart from scarcity, these whiskies are exceptional due to the balance between their distillery character and the influence imparted from the oak they are matured in. Typically, the whiskies in our portfolio also come with high-age statements, some of which have been in their casks as early as the 1950s. This lends to their flavour profiles — affirmed by our team of 12 Master Blenders who identify and handpick these liquids — to be labelled as rare and exceptional. A combination of these qualities and factors contribute to the high demand from collectors and connoisseurs.
How many types of Rare & Exceptional whiskies does Diageo release a year and how limited are the quantities?
On average we see fewer than 10 Rare & Exceptional releases a year. There are usually fewer than 2,000 bottles per release, made on a global level, but it can be as few as 90 bottles. Once the bottles are sold out, the only opportunity to own one of these is if a collector chooses to make his or her own bottle available on the secondary market.
Can you tell me about one or two of your favourite Rare & Exceptional whiskies, and why?
The Brora whiskies are definitely among our favourites because of their unique flavour profile and interesting history. The distillery was founded in 1819 and closed in 1983. During its final 14 years of operations, the distillers experimented and created a smoky malt using heavily-peated Northern Highland barley. Used primarily in blends at that time, the few remaining casks matured remarkably well and what emerged is a multi-layered and complex single malt of astonishing quality. It is regarded as one of the most collectible whiskies in the world and we are looking forward to the distillery re-opening in 2020.
Another one of our favourites is Lagavulin. This iconic Islay whisky has a one-of-a-kind flavour profile; its smoky taste is rich in character but has delicate herbal notes, along with a maritime character that showcases the atmosphere of the coastal bay the distillery sits by. A small distillery with limited supply, this whisky is so highly sought after that it has attained cult status.
How popular are Rare & Exceptional whiskies in Singapore?
We’ve seen an exponential increase in private whisky collectors and many of these collectors are based in Singapore due to the availability of both Rare & Exceptional whiskies, as well as world-class storage solutions to protect the collections they have curated. Singapore is definitely becoming an important hub for these whiskies, similar to how Hong Kong is regarded as a hub for world-class wine.
What are some trends in Rare & Exceptional whiskies now?
Collecting lineal sets of whiskies is becoming a trend among collectors, like the Talisker Bodega series, which is a sequential series of Talisker 40 (2018), 41 (2019) and a yet-to-be-announced third release.
We also see more whisky-based auctions from houses like Bonhams, which hold whisky-only auctions several times a year in Hong Kong and the UK. Sotheby’s also held its first ever whisky auction last month. In whisky auction trends, 2018 marked the first time that a single bottle of whisky was sold for over £1 million (S$1.75 million), a vast increase from 2017’s highest priced bottle of £95,000. The same year also saw more than 100,000 individual bottles going under the hammer in the UK.
Another trend is an increasing number of private clients seeking to buy whole casks of their favourite whiskies. Diageo Rare & Exceptional Singapore is one of just three sources in the world to obtain a rare cask from Diageo’s renowned distilleries.
What is the percentage of clients who buy the Rare & Exceptional whiskies as an investment compared to those buying for consumption?
It is hard to ignore the available data that shows the price appreciation of whisky in the secondary market. According to Rare Whisky 101, an independent collator of secondary market data, the number of bottles sold at auction in the UK for a hammer price of equal to or greater than £10,000 has seen a 1,295 percent increase over the past five years. The value of collectable bottles of single malt Scotch whisky sold at auction in the UK in 2018 also rose by 62 percent to a record high of £40,772,550.
Some clients do initially purchase our whiskies with the intention of re- selling a portion of their collection. But ultimately, all of them build their collections to enjoy these whiskies. They can be drinking with friends or giving them out as gifts to lucky individuals.
How does one try a Rare & Exceptional whisky before deciding on going ahead with a purchase?
Due to the scarce and limited nature of these whiskies, it is unusual and difficult to have a sampling opportunity before purchasing. However, there are some specialist whisky bars that may offer rare and exceptional whiskies by the glass. Full bottles, however, are only available in our Diageo Rare & Exceptional portfolio. For a consultation, the Private Client team can be contacted via email.
Diageo Rare & Exceptional Singapore. Email: PrestigeClientSG@Diageo.com