Down with collectors

Down with collectors

John D Lamond laments the rise of whisky collectors- unnatural creatures who should be forced to drink the stuff, and preferably share it with him.

Collections | 16 Mar 1999 | Issue 2 | By John Lamond

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There is one thing which I find very hard to accept and that is the collecting of full bottles of whisky. Collecting them solely, in other words, in order that they can sit on a shelf and be admired by the collector and other like-minded souls. Or, even worse, collecting them with a view to making a profit on them; trading in them as if they were an essential commodity like oil, wheat, coffee or chocolate. People in the whisky industry make whisky of the finest quality, fine-tuning their expertise of barley, temperature and the reaction between the worts and the yeast to produce the finest possible spirit for drinking. The emphasis here is on the word ‘drinking’. They don’t make spirit for stripping paint off doors, nor for preserving human organs, nor for disinfecting wounds. Whisky is a gregarious spirit, and these alchemists make it for drinking.If whisky was made as a collectible it would not matter what was in the bottle, as long as it looked like the real thing: cold tea, caramelised water, gin and Fisherman’s Friends, whatever. If such were the case, the packaging designers and marketeers would be the most important individuals on a company’s staff, and the distillers and blenders of this world would be inconsequential. In 1986 a friend rang me to inform me of the imminence of a Christie’s auction that contained a large quantity of Scotch whisky. My initial reaction was one of disbelief that anyone would be prepared to pay the prices quoted in the catalogue.Needless to say, I was gobsmacked when I heard what the various lots fetched. Christie’s auctions are now a biannual event, with people jetting in from a’ the airts just to be there, while others bid by telephone from their desks in Tokyo or Washington or Milan. I have attended several of these auctions and have sat with my jaw bouncing off the floor at the bids. Maybe it is just the presbyterian Scot in me (tight-fisted, in other words), but I can only see the point of bidding at auction if one is to capture something at a bargain price.Whisky has now reached the stage where retail prices for rarities are established by prices at Christie’s. Thus occasionally, very occasionally mind you, I come across a retailer who is not aware of the current market value of whatever is sitting on their shelf. But there are few bargains around these days.Although I disapprove wholeheartedly of demand at auction dictating the price (mainly because there are whiskies out there which I want to be able to drink – purely from an academic point of view, you understand – but can never justify the expense of a dram, let alone a full bottle) I must admit that I, too, have bought the odd bottle at Christie’s. Once I bought because the auctioneer was having difficulty eliciting a bid and I felt sorry for him.Nevertheless, I think that we should start a campaign to prohibit dealing in full bottles at auctions. Those collectors who have already stablished collections should be forced to (a) throw parties, to which you and I should be invited to taste every bottle and (b) only collect empty bottles. By doing this we will bring some sanity back to the pricing of rarer bottlings and, in doing so, make the world a much tastier place.
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