I want to posit something for debate. More than that though, I am looking for some insight to help me properly formulate my own views on a subject that gains more traction around here day by day: the issue of valuing bottles that are being bandied about in trade (or…<shudder>…resale). A lot of subjectivity follows that may be stated rather factually. I am relying on years of empirical ‘research’ when I speak out here. Bear with me. Feel free to contest.
I used to live by a hard and fast ‘the value of the bottle stops with what I paid’. I swapped bottles at face value. I gave bottles to friends (sealed and open). I rarely resold, but if I did it was at cost (or less) and most often with the original receipt tucked inside the tube or box. Part of this was simply tied to the ethos that it’s simply a drink and not the commodity that others would have us believe. But a large part of it was a rejection of the system that leads to bottle flippers. Those folks that buy up limited releases by the case lot and immediately fling bottles at the secondary market with an eye to making fast cash. This infuriated me (and still does). You know as well as I do that it serves to take good whisky away from the punters and put it firmly in the hands of collectors. These malts rarely get opened, and if they do, they have to be bought at a premium. The folks that would arguably derive the most enjoyment often end up being cut out of the loop. Frustrating, to say the least.
But times change. Even if my views are less inclined to do so.
The reality is that there are less and less great whiskies being released. No, this is not a cynical statement meant to evoke the ‘decline’ arguments we engage in here so frequently. It’s simply a statement that whiskies from a decade ago were arguably of a consistently higher quality. No finger pointing. Just an acknowledgment that before demand took off through the stratosphere there was a lot more mature whisky on the market. Notice we leave price out of this part of the discussion. At this point it is irrelevant. Case in point…old Springbank 21 versus newer versions. Night and day. Same with the 18s. Same with Highland Park. Etc etc.
Ok…here’s where things get tough. I have a decent little stash of malts. So do many others I know. We’re not opposed to trading and rehoming bottles from time to time. I am a firm believer that a whisky belongs with the person who will most enjoy it. So…we make trades. But how do we do that with others who maybe don’t have access to malts excepting those that have been a part of the new school production? We all come into the game at different times. I know loads of folks who have insane collections, purchased at a time when our malt bucks went sooooo much further. I think we all envy the previous generations to a degree. I know it’s not just me who feels this way, but it has become increasingly difficult to turn over whiskies in trade when I don’t feel I can get something comparable in return. I am speaking mostly to inherent quality of the product itself here, not value. As in…I want something in return that tastes as good or better. A trade has to be equitable, right? Otherwise the concept of trade breaks down.
But let’s even take the value side of things for a moment. A lot of limited releases from brands like Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Springbank have hit exorbitant sums on sites such as The Whisky Exchange or various online auctions. How then do we justify swapping these away, knowing that contemporary expressions are usually larger batches and much less singular than those of the past? And far less likely to achieve the same value, having been bought at the height of the bubble.
A lot of rhetoric, I know. But a daily struggle ’round here as we try to help our mates build their collections in a fair manner. I love helping out my buddies, but I don’t like doing it at a deficit in nearly all transactions.
The simplest answer is, of course, to open them and share them. I do a lot of that. Arguably more than three quarters of any bottle I open gets poured for others. But…that doesn’t help them to put the bottles they covet on their own shelves.
So, friends…how do you value your own bottles?