There’s never been a better time to invest in ultra high-end Scotch whisky

Liquid assets.
Liquid assets.
Image: Reuters/David Gray
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For investors with cash to spare, it pays to put liquid assets into a liquid asset. That’s provided the liquid is a rare single malt Scotch whisky, the asset of choice for moneyed buyers with a taste for the smoky stuff.

According to the latest edition of Knight Frank’s Wealth Report, 2018 was a “transformational” year for the spirit, with bottles soaring above the £1 million ($1.3 million) mark at auction for the first time. The record-breaking whisky in question was a Macallan 1926 single malt, in a one-of-a-kind bottle painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon. A month earlier, a bottle of the same whisky set the then-world record price of £700,000. The Knight Frank Rare Whisky 100 Index, which tracks the price of this liquid gold at auction, gained almost 40% over the course of the year, beating out rare coins, wine, art, watches, and other luxury “objects of desire” tracked by the British consulting firm.

These days, the report explains, Asian high-net-worth investors are making use of direct flights between Edinburgh and Beijing to learn about, and invest in, the most exclusive whiskies on the market. They’re snapping up whole casks of the spirit for punchy prices, whether as a savvy investment or a very tasty status symbol. A chain of whisky-themed bars named after Scotch celebrity Charles Maclean is reportedly in the works on the Chinese mainland, for those who can’t justify making the trip when they fancy a dram.

Growing interest in the drink has led to Diageo announcing plans last year to invest £185m ($240m) in Scotch whisky tourist attractions and visitor centers. A further 10 Scottish distilleries were set to open last year, including one in Scotland’s southern Borders region for the first time in nearly two centuries. The attention has also resulted in an increase of whisky fraud: Dunfermline-based whisky investigators last year revealed that a $10,000 dram billed as from 1878, which was served in a Swiss hotel to a Chinese millionaire, was an ordinary tipple likely distilled in the 1970s.

Other whiskeys (it’s spelled with an “e” everywhere but Scotland, Canada, and Japan) have also enjoy a hefty rise in value. Knight Frank notes a particular boost to the price of US, Taiwan, and Japan-distilled bottles, with one Japanese 50-year-old bottle selling for almost $350,000 at auction last year.

For investors planning to drink their store of value, a groundbreaking study released last year concluded that the best way to enjoy a whisky (or whiskey) is with a wee splash of water. But with each 25ml pour of the most expensive whiskies worth tens of thousands of dollars a go, diluting the drink is not a decision to be taken lightly.