How To Start a Whisk(e)y Collection
Building a collection of whiskies for drinking and/or investment can initially seem like a daunting task.
If you are new to the types, brands, and methods of whisk(e)y production, or tackling this kind of project for the first time, figuring out the best way to go about it can feel like an impossibility.
It need not be that way, however. Learning your preferred style of collecting bottles, gathering knowledge, and utilizing the whiskies themselves to increase your skills are sure-fire ways to help you build your portfolio of quality liquor quickly and easily.
Below you’ll find important qualifying information, some hints and tips, along with quality bottles to help you start a whiskey collection.
Why Are You Collecting Whisk(e)y?
There are two ways to look at collecting whisk(e)y. Some individuals prefer to collect and sit their whiskies without ever tasting them – especially the rare and premium expressions – while others collect primarily in order to drink the warm spirit.
Generally, the whisk(e)y drinker likes to collect bottles that align most with their own palate and what attracts them to the spirit, while the sit and collect crowd is more aligned to rarity, production, and increasing value over time.
While you find people who like to do both, if you can identify which side of the line you lean too quickly, (I’m very much a drinker rather than a collector) then your collecting experience becomes very different.
Whiskey, Whisky, and Your Collection
While mostly a matter of marketing and semantics (you can read our extended version here), knowing the difference between whiskey and whisky is a key factor when starting your collection.
A good way to remember the difference: whisky with no “e” means the booze is from Scotland, Japan, or Canada, while the United States and Irish Whiskey is spelled with an “e.”
If you are looking to create a valuable collection, then Scotch and Japanese whisky are likely to be worth more in the long run.
Bourbon and rare whiskey can be valuable, such as the famed Pappy Van Winkle bourbon or rare expressions from Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill distilleries, but in comparison to rare whisky from Scotland or Japan, its pricing pales into insignificance.
Read this article to get a guideline on the world’s most expensive bottles of whisk(e)y and discover where they come from, what makes them valuable, and how much you’ll need to fork out for them.
It’s extremely unlikely your collection will start with the most expensive bottles, however, it’s an important way to learn about the best spirits on offer. Who knows, one day you might be able to afford a bottle?
You Don’t Have to Be Specific
While some collectors like to build their whisk(e)y investment by type – ie only Scotch and Japanese whisky, or only Irish Whiskey – most with an interest in the spirit like to collect a range of different bottles, either from famous distilleries or craft whisk(e)y producers.
Collecting in this fashion works for everyone, by increasing your knowledge and broadening your palate as a drinker, or widening the net for possible value increases due to rarity, quality, or infamy,
They say knowledge is power, and that’s also true when it comes to whisk(e)y. The more you know the better equipped you are when it comes to buying.
First, learn about the bottles you try through reviews, bottling notes, awards, and tastings. Try to soak up as much knowledge along with the booze.
Visit and participate in online whisk(e)y auctions. Navigating this environment will help you learn and grow as a collector almost immediately.
For example, Whisky Auctioneer hosted Pat’s Whiskey Collection, the largest private collection of whiskies sold at auction online. Just from the news story alone, there’s plenty of valuable information you can put to use in crafting your own collection.
Whisk(e)y Subscription Boxes
A surefire way to improve your whisk(e)y knowledge and begin collecting wisely is to join a subscription service or tasting club.
Whisk(e)y subs are a great method of figuring out the brands and styles you like while also introducing you to more rare expressions without the need to spend a fortune on entire bottles. The other important consideration is the information you can glean on different bottles based on tasting notes, feedback, and your own analysis.
A whisk(e)y subscription service offers those who sign up regular deliveries of their preferred spirit, while also exposing them to new, interesting, and/or rare offerings curated by industry experts.
You can find the seven best subscriptions here, however, the ones I recommend for those with an eye to collecting are below.
Flaviar membership offers a premium full-sized bottle and a themed tasting box of your choice each quarter. You can also access rare, exclusive, and craft whisk(e)y, as well as recommendations tailored to your tastes (which you provide when signing up).
Each themed tasting box comes “with a carefully selected array of drinks that showcase the flavor range of each category and make it even easier for you to find your next favorite.”
If you go down the premium whisk(e)y route, you’ll be paying a lot for a small sample or full bottle. But if you are collecting to build value down the line, this is likely the best way to go!
2. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society focuses exclusively on the spirits of Scotland, featuring a catalog of whisky from over 100 different Scotch distilleries.
If you are a peat whisky purist, looking to build a collection, or trying to find a community of other single malt purists, you’ll find SMWS will be the whisky subscription service for you.
Signing up via an annual fee grants access to their single malt single cask Scotch whiskies bottled each month exclusively for members and available for purchase on their site.
You also get a subscription to their magazine Unfiltered, expert help on purchases, and the Society puts you in touch with the like-minded single malt scotch whisky connoisseur through whisky tasting events and member rooms online.
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Whisk(e)y Sample Sets
If you want to strike out on your own or prefer to avoid a subscription, purchasing sample packs of different whiskies is another sound way to build a quality profile.
Whether it’s Kentucky Bourbon and American whiskey, rare blended whisky from Japan, or the smoky single malts of Islay in Scotland, there are solid options for you to try.
The following samplers are all ones I’d recommend that can help you build up your knowledge and make sound future decisions regarding your collection.
1. 20 Whiskies That Changed the World Tasting Set
If you are looking for a (comparatively) inexpensive way to start your, purchasing this snapshot of influential samples from The Whisky Exchange is a brilliant whisky investment.
Not only will you get to taste rare whisk(e)y, but you’ll also get valuable education that aids in putting your collection together as well.
The 20 whiskies in this sampler cover everything, from blended scotch, single malt, and grain whisky, to the flavor influence of maturation in oak barrels, sherry cask, or even barrels used to make wine.
Some of the samples include The Yamazaki Japanese Whisky, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, boutique Blended Scotch distiller Compass Box, a taste of legendary Speyside distillery Macallan, and great American whiskey samples from Blanton’s and Michter’s.
2. For the Love of Islay Whisky Sampler Pack
The different whisky-making regions of Scotland create a range of flavors and tastes for tipplers around the world. Getting to know your regions and the keys to what makes them fine whisky is an important part of creating a priceless collection.
Arguably the most polarizing region is Islay, where each dram comes smokey and rich with peat. The Scotch of the region can often be love it or hate it, but you will form an opinion.
This six-shot sampler demonstrates the idiosyncrasies of the great Islay distilleries: Bowmore, Lagavulin, Port Charlotte, Port Askaig, Bunnahabhain, and Laphroig.
3. Michter’s: The Art of American Whiskey Tasting Set
While Pappy Van Winkle gets the publicity (and the hefty price tag), if you’re looking for the best drinking bourbon to start whiskey collecting, try Michter’s.
It’s some of the best American whiskeys you can sip! This sampler features the brand’s retail collection, which includes:
- Michter’s Number 1 Bourbon
- Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon
- Michter’s Number 1 Straight Rye Whiskey
- Michter’s US*1 Barrel Strength Toasted Rye Whiskey
- Michter’s 10-Year-Old Bourbon
I’m almost willing to guarantee that at least one of these expressions will make your collection!
A Good Place To Start
Below you’ll find some bottles of whisk(e)y that will be useful to start your collection, whether you want to drink and enjoy or make them part of your list to keep.
While not currently in the rare and valuable category, these whiskies are quality expressions that demonstrate the best aspects of the whisk(e)y type, distillery, or area that they come from. They also taste bloody great.
Best Buy Islay distillery Ardberg took out top honors at the International Whisky Awards with their Uigeadail Single Malt expression. Uigeadail (‘Oog-a-dal’) is “a special vatting that marries Ardbeg’s traditional deep, smoky notes with luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry cask maturation.”
1. Ardberg Scotch Uigeadail
Islay distillery Ardberg took out top honors at the International Whisky Awards with their Uigeadail Single Malt expression.
Uigeadail (‘Oog-a-dal’) is “a special vatting that marries Ardbeg’s traditional deep, smoky notes with luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry cask maturation.”
Due to the scarcity of production for mid-century single malts, collecting Japanese whisky is always a good idea. Their blended whisky tastes brilliant, but from a value perspective, hoarding single malt is the way to go. This top-quality Japanese single malt peated whisky comes from Suntory’s Hakushu distillery, which can be found in the forests adjacent to Mt. Kaikomagatake in the central region of Honshu.
2. Suntory Hakushu 12 Year Old
Due to the scarcity of production for mid-century single malts, collecting Japanese whisky is always a good idea. Their blended whisky tastes brilliant, but from a value perspective, hoarding single malt is the way to go.
This top-quality Japanese single malt peated whisky comes from Suntory’s Hakushu distillery, which can be found in the forests adjacent to Mt. Kaikomagatake in the central region of Honshu.
\ This triple distilled whiskey is made by blending unmalted and malted barley. It is then aged for a minimum of nine to 12 years in Spanish oak Oloroso sherry butts and American oak bourbon barrels.
3. Redbreast 15 Year Irish Whiskey
This triple distilled whiskey is made by blending unmalted and malted barley. It is then aged for a minimum of nine to 12 years in Spanish oak Oloroso sherry butts and American oak bourbon barrels.
The Master’s Keep Series (there are six versions in all) is Wild Turkey’s decadent celebration of the brand’s best whiskey and commitment to excellence. Being both a limited release and an aged expression from a leading distiller like Wild Turkey makes bottles like this one well worth keeping around.
4. Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17 Year
The Master’s Keep Series (there are six versions in all) is Wild Turkey’s decadent celebration of the brand’s best whiskey and commitment to excellence.
Being both a limited release and an aged expression from a leading distiller like Wild Turkey makes bottles like this one well worth keeping around.
A relative newcomer to American whiskey production, Uncle Nearest produces a high-quality craft whiskey that will appreciate in value over time. This bottle is great for drinking and for keeping – it topped our best Tennessee whiskies list – and I’m certain Uncle Nearest will begin releasing some premium variations as the label grows in stature.
5. Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey
A relative newcomer to American whiskey production, Uncle Nearest produces a high-quality craft whiskey that will appreciate in value over time.
This bottle is great for drinking and for keeping – it topped our best Tennessee whiskies list – and I’m certain Uncle Nearest will begin releasing some premium variations as the label grows in stature.
Hints and Tips on How to Start a Whiskey Collection
- There’s no one right way to collect whisk(e)y. You may like to drink them, or hoard them like gold, or do both – find what best fits you and put thought into doing it, you can’t go wrong.
- For my own collection, if I liked a bottle enough the first time, I’ll buy more in the future and make sure to grab an extra bottle to put away and keep unopened, likely until I can’t help myself.
- Keep a diary or journal of information about the bottles you collect. It may be useful if you move your collection on later, or help you figure out what to drink and when.
- Price is always important when collecting, but finding the right kind of value for your style of collecting is more important than splashing the cash.
- Don’t ignore craft whisk(ey). Sure, the best stuff may be in Scotland right now, but times change, and so do people’s palates. That cheeky single malt from Oregon may one day grow up to be mega-famous.
- And finally, have fun doing it. Treat collecting whisk(e)y like enjoying art, sports cards, or stamps. The value created along the way is just a means of keeping score!
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