Balvenie announced the release of the David Charles Stewart Compendium of whiskies. Five chapters, each with five single cask selections from five decades honouring David’s 50 years in the whisky business. That’s a total of 25 whiskies, and they’re priced at over £125,000 for the set. Individual bottles range from £400 to £19,000. At these prices, the question to ask is, what is the whisky worth?
These whiskies were rated by Dave Broom, and the results are mixed with enthusiasm. That’s especially true for the £400 cask-strength 9 year old Balvenie. Oliver Klimek notes, when it comes to luxury pricing, whisky is not in the same category as cars:
There is a big difference between classic luxury brands and Scotch whisky distilleries that is often overlooked. For example Bentley cars, while being substantially more expensive than say simple Hyundais, do indeed offer objectively more in terms of equipment or driving experience. But in whisky you may well find Hyundai quality for Bentley prices. The price tag alone is no indicator of quality. You may be paying for a nice story, a nice presentation and the expenses of many people involved, but you could just as well pick up a better bottle for a fraction of the price, if you look around a bit.
I’m not as pessimistic. For me, this release is about collectability. In that respect, I’m not the target audience. I don’t collect whisky. However, I also don’t understand stamp collecting. Whether someone pays $9.5 million for a stamp or six-figures for a collection of whisky, collectors with high net-worth do exist. They're being catered to.
I do get it, though. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days with David Stewart as part of a media tour. At one point, David Steward selected a barrel and poured whisky into small bottles for the group. While I don’t collect whisky, I saved this bottle. I wrote about my experiences at Balvenie in my book (page 11+), and in truth, those experiences brought me down the path to write The Whisky Cabinet. It’s worth to me is far greater then its dollar value.
What’s whisky worth? Whatever someone is willing to pay for it. First, the luxury of whisky drove prices higher. Now, it's collectibility. So long as there's a market, there will be products for that market.