How did you begin collecting Scotch?
I didn't choose to start collecting Scotch whisky - I was chosen. I worked as a manager of a pharmaceutical company and in those days it wasn't easy to get whisky into Brazil. I would ask people who were flying in if they could bring me a couple of bottles from duty free. I would do this for socialising, so people could come and have a drink with me after work and talk about the day over a glass of whisky.
One day I got a visit from another staff member who heard I was buying bottles from duty free. He brought me six bottles and explained that they were not just any old bottle of whisky, these bottles were special. He was Scottish so he was able to explain to me what they meant and how to pronounce the names of the whiskies. I took these six bottles and didn't open them, they just sat in my bar. But then I started thinking that 'I could put a Johnny Walker beside this one', or 'I could put a Buchanan's beside that one' and my collection grew and grew.
Back in those early days, did you have specific criteria for a 'collectible' bottle?
For me there are no specific criteria for a collectible bottle - the collection grew very organically. From the six bottles I had in the beginning I added another and another. The more I collected, the more interested I became in Scotch whisky and I never stopped being interested!
Today's whisky collectors utilise websites, auction results and other sources of information to judge if a bottle is 'collectible'. Some argue that this makes their collection less about pleasure, and more about resale value. How do you feel about this?
Collecting for resale value is a very different type of collecting to what I am interested in. If I could suggest one thing to that type of collector, I would say stop collecting today. Without the spirit and passion for Scotch whisky you might as well forget it, in my opinion. If you think in terms of money and selling, not just in terms of Scotch whisky, it is not a good way to be.
Did you ever collect anything other than Scotch whisky? If not, is there anything else you would be tempted to collect?
The only other thing I collected in life was years of marriage - I was married for 61 years! Unfortunately my wife passed away, otherwise it would be more. She loved coming to Scotland and The Scotch Whisky Experience.
How has the reputation of Scotch whisky changed in Brazil during the past 40 years?
These days there is a little bit more knowledge about Scotch whisky. Over the years I have delivered more than 200 lectures on the subject in Brazil and some of them were extremely well attended. One hosted by Diageo had more than 500 people in attendance! There has also been an investment from whisky companies in their hospitality staff, so those serving Scotch whisky in Brazilian bars and restaurants can pass on knowledge to their customers.
In building your collection you have witnessed the evolution of Scotch whisky packaging. How do you feel about the move toward 'premium' packaging? Great for the industry or more style than substance?
Any company in the world that sells a well-known product needs to improve its appearance as much as it can to beat the competition. For example, Ferrari makes cars, and every year they have a different car with something which has improved its look or performance, perhaps a new engine or new steering. Car manufacturers update the equipment because that is within their control.
The Scotch whisky industry can't change the product. It can't change or improve the spirit that was made years ago. Also, Scotch whisky always has and always will be Scotch whisky. It is impossible to change the formula but you can use imagery and marketing to change the appearance and change people's perception and create desire for the product.
Among others, your collection includes the 1969 Dimple Pinch. Priced at $1,500, at the time it was the most expensive limited-edition Scotch whisky available. However, accounting for inflation, that bottle today would 'only' have retailed at $6,800. With that in mind, what do you think about today's prices for special edition bottlings?
I stopped collecting a few years back. Then there weren't that many special editions. For a real collector (someone who isn't just collecting for money) he will pay the amount being asked!
You can see Claive's collection for yourself at The Scotch Whisky Experience, which is open year round.