Money a lámh

Mano A Lámh – one in the hand is worth two in the bush.

The top performing investment last year was not gold or wine – it was whisky. As the Guardian reports:

The leading index for scotch whisky, the Rare Whisky Apex 1000, rose by 14% last year, outperforming wine, which fell by 0.4%, gold, which declined by 10%, and many of the world’s leading equity indices. The FTSE 100 index in London lost 4.9% in 2015, while on Wall Street, the S&P 500 edged up 0.7%. In China, the Shanghai Composite gained 9.4%.

The whisky market is booming: the total value of rare whiskies sold at auction in the UK last year was £9.6m, up from £7.6m in 2014, according to consultancy Rare Whisky 101.

So this begs the question, what defines rare? Is Midleton Rare actually rare? As time goes on and people consume more and more of each year’s releases, yes. And the editions signed by former Master Distiller Barry Crockett are now a diminishing number, so that adds to their specific rarity and thus to their value. But generally there is enough of it released each year that it won’t appreciate in value for some time. So when the guys in Midleton decided to release a special edition Redbreast, I was screaming ‘shut up and take my money‘. I bought four bottles, getting around the two-per-customer clause by purchasing two in my wife’s name, which in turn led to a recreation of the closing scenes of Se7en, as I begged her over the phone not to open the box that had just arrived with her name on it. Eventually she did open it, and realised that it wasn’t a lovely gift for her at all, but more fucking whiskey for her (then-unemployed) husband. Gif reaction:

‘It’s not even flavoured, like us ladies allegedly like it’ she sobbed.

I got to sample the new release before I bought it, but haven’t actually opened any of the bottles I bought. I used three of them as gifts, and now have just the one left. There were only 2,000 released, so I waited and waited for them to sell out, as the value would (theoretically) go up. And lo and behold, this email arrives during the week:

Mano a Lámh, gone but not forgotten.

It’s true. We are writing to let you know that all two thousand bottles of our limited edition, all sherry, Redbreast Mano a Lámh are gone. Every last drop. But you can help us to begin a new tradition in its honour and be rewarded for your thoughts.

Did you have an opportunity to taste Mano a Lámh? We are eager to know what you liked most about it. In return, we are giving you the opportunity to win a further addition to your whiskey cabinet. And so, as a thank-you for filling out our quick survey, you will go into our members-only draw to win a bottle of Redbreast 21 Year Old Single Pot Still.

While Mano a Lámh is now gone and officially retired, there are new opportunities on the horizon. Our Master Blender Billy Leighton was truly inspired with your appreciation for this all sherry whiskey. So he is now working on a new project that we will be excited to share with you soon. Which is why your views today may help us to craft a new whiskey in the future and keep the collaborative spirit of Mano a Lámh alive.

Translation: We have sold out, there is now only a finite amount of them available, and none through normal retail outlets; in other words, they are now rare.

My immediate reaction was: Shall we start the bidding at one million billion euro?

And then later, my reaction was: No, we shall not. This is why:

Two auction sites there giving you an idea of the prices it is reaching. Even the 150 is probably a bit optimistic, given that this is a non-age statement whiskey. The whole debate over the NAS movement is akin to the weed droughts of my youth – someone alleges there is a drought, prices go up and product quality and availability goes down. In the whiskey world it simply means that we are being sold younger whiskey at older whiskey prices. The move towards NAS is not necessarily a bad thing, as age statements are often misleading and bear no relation to quality. I won’t bore you again with the tale of the seven-year-old Adelphi bottling of a Glen Rothes that blew my mind, or my opinion that the seven-year-old Glendalough is preferable to the 13, but I assure you I’m no ageist snob. But if you want an investment whiskey, an age statement is sorta important. Or, failing that, for the distillery to be obsolete, which is the case with a present I got this Christmas:

The one on the left is the valuable one. The distillery at Dumbarton is long gone, and the stills sat idle at Bruichladdich for years – with one of them sitting in the front garden with a welly boot sticking out of it. But then Mark Reynier set up down the road from me in the sunny south east, and brought his sense of terroir – exemplified in Bruichladdich’s Islay Barley release, above on right  – and the Inverleven stills to Waterford city, where he is now operating a distilling powerhouse (here’s Mark talking about the Inverleven stills in a recent interview).

The whisky made by the Inverleven stills is finite – their Scottish life ended long ago, and the Cadenhead bottling of their single malt ticks all the boxes for investment; the distillery is silent – not just mothballed, but gone – so no more product; the age statement is a fairly profound 27 years, and it is bottled at a shitkicking 53.9%.  The stills that made this malt are now making Irish whiskey in Waterford, so the value should increase. So much as I would love to crack it open and try to get a glimpse of where Reynier is going with his spirit, I’m not going to. Neither am I going to sell it, as I like the fact that it has a (somewhat obscure) link to a place not that far from me. Perhaps when Waterford’s product matures in fives years we can open it and compare and contrast. Because no matter how rare the whiskey, no matter how expensive it becomes, it was made to be drunk. An undrunk whiskey is an unplayed piano, a car up on blocks, an unloved child. It needs to live and breathe and have somebody talk about it and say ‘this was the best’ or ‘I’ve had better’ or ‘this tastes like photocopier ink’.

I tend not to buy expensive whiskey, as I prefer variety over exclusivity. I like to try as many drams as I can, rather than chuck away 200 bucks plus on something that may or may not be the emperor’s new clothes. Snobbery is the action of the insecure, and to pooh-pooh any malts, blends or grain is to deny yourself some cracking drams. I’m about as far from an expert as it is possible to be – to be honest, I’m not even sure how whiskey is made – but I know what I like. I like something I can obtain again with relative ease, and without remortgaging my home or selling a kidney to pay for it. I don’t want to drink unicorn blood, because what if I like it, where will I get more? Those goofy bastards are almost extinct you know.

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