What is your name and role within Diageo?
Nicholas Edwards, Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador, Victoria
How did you first get involved in whisky?
I have been in the hospitality industry for over 15 years, and a huge whisky fiend for probably the last 10. It really started with a trip to Scotland, the home of Scotch Whisky, in particular to the Lagavulin Distillery on Islay where I was lucky enough to see the whole process, from raw materials to finished bottle.
What do find most appealing about whisky and the world of whisky?
I think it is the nuance and subtlety of whisky that I enjoy most. To a non-whisky drinker, the flavour of whisky can seem a little daunting and difficult to understand, but with only a little guidance and experience, there is a real treasure trove of flavour to realise. There is a variety of gems in this year’s Special Release collection, the Diageo’s annual release of rare and special whiskies from Diageo, that display all that I love about whisky. From the spice and smoke of an Island Malt such as Talisker 8 year old, to the delicate sweetness of a Highland Whisky such as The Singleton Glen Ord 14 year old there is so much to discover and explore. Whether it is the Scottish region of origin, the type of raw material, the production process or the maturation, every whisky is different, unique and ready to give up its secrets if you know what to look for.
Where is Diageo located?
Based in the UK, Diageo is a global leader in alcoholic beverages, producing over 200 brands, old and new, large and small, with brands being sold in over 180 countries. Diageo owns distilleries all around the world and has the largest footprint in the Scotch Industry with 28 different distilleries, and millions of litres of aging whisky to draw on. With powerhouse Distilleries such as Talisker, Lagavulin and Dalwhinnie you could say that the beating heart of Diageo lies in Scotland.
How did Diageo start?
Diageo, a relatively young company, was formed in 1997, but the building blocks are far older. Our first whisky brand, Haig Club was recorded in 1627, and Johnnie Walker opened his famous grocery in 1820. Many of the Scotch Distilleries that Diageo now operates were established hundreds of years ago and have been producing whisky in the same style ever since. For example, Oban Distillery opened in 1794 and predates the town that grew around it. It is therefore one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, so small that there is no room to grow. The Oban 21 year old release from this year’s Special Release Collection is exceptionally rare with the additional aging from this little gem of a distillery. Every bottle tells a story in the collection, with many holding a piece of Scotch Whisky history.
What is the focus / mission for Diageo?
Our ambition is to be one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer product companies in the world. We are a business built and sustained through innovation and experimenting with flavours and new ideas is important. A great example of this is the Cladach Blended Malt Whisky, released as part of year’s Special Releases collection. This is a first of its kind, and once only release of a master blend of all six distinguished coastal single malt distilleries in Diageo’s portfolio: Caol Ila, Clynelish, Lagavulin, Oban, Inchgower and Talisker. We’re proud to have people like master craftsman Keith Law, who with 30 years’ experience, made the intricate cask selection for this year’s coast-defining Cladach blend, the swan-song of a working life in whisky. You’re going to see much more exciting Whisky releases like this from Diageo!
What sets Diageo apart from the rest?
With over 28 active distilleries and access to numerous closed ones, Diageo truly has a depth of flavour options. The flavours and releases from the Diageo Scotch whisky portfolio vary incredibly from across the length and breadth of Scotland and an impressive array of aging stocks, this is what makes the Diageo Special Release Collection so special. From the award- winning well-known single malts, such as Talisker, The Singleton or Lagavulin to the lesser known but unique and rare distillery releases such as Inchgower and Pittyvaich, the Collection’s release is highly anticipated from Scotch Whisky fans for a good reason!
The Knight Frank’s Luxury Investment Index has recently revealed that rare whisky is now the most lucrative investment in the luxury asset space. Rare whisky has reached a staggering return on investment of nearly 600 percent, it 2018 rare whisky saw a 40 percent jump in value. Why is it that rare whisky appreciates so greatly in value?
One of the key things to remember when thinking about whisky as an investment is the supply of a bottling will diminish over time, as those who own it opt to drink it rather than keeping it locked away – a perfect recipe for sustained price appreciation. Therefore limited releases of already rare bottlings are a great investment, in particular from closed or ‘ghost’ distilleries such as the Pittyvaich 28 year old in this year’s Special Release Collection. Annual and batch releases, similar to vintages are also a great investment as they appeal to collectors. We certainly see this is true of the annual Special Releases range such as the Lagavulin 12 year old cask strength bottling, and the Caol Ila 15 year old in the highland style – a unique expression for this normally peated Islay whisky.
Has rare whisky always been such a high performer in the luxury asset space?
The best whiskies such as releases from ghost distillery, Port Ellen, have always had incredible value, but never more so than today. We are faced with a situation of both increasing scarcity and increased demand. There has always been a demand for particular popular distilleries, in a certain style – an example of this was the recent release of Talisker 40 year old finished in Bodega casks. But we’re seeing a lot more exploration of lesser known craft distilleries such as Inchgower. The 27year old cask strength release has been very popular with Whisky fans globally.
Diageo just released ten impeccable, meticulously crafted, limited-edition Scotch Whiskies in strictly limited quantities. The collection has been curated by a masterful blending team ensuring that each bottle reflects the stories of the people, places and craftsmanship that make these whiskies so special. In regard to investing, which are you top 3 picks among the collection and why?
Firstly, I would have to choose the Carsebridge 48-year-old, a single grain cask strength whisky from a ghost distillery. As one of only 1000 bottles globally, this whisky incredibly old and rare, but it is it’s unique and sophisticated flavour profile that will continue to drive excitement.
Second, I would choose the Caol Ila 35-year-old. Not only is the oldest ever release from this uniquely elegant Islay distillery, as one of only 3,300 bottles, the rarity of this product is already very high.
Finally, the Pittyvaich 28-year-old will prove to be an excellent investment. This 28-year-old whisky is actually older than the duration for which the distillery was in operation! During its 18-year life, Pittyvaich produced a relatively small amount of prized single malt, which has become incredibly rare, and when it is releases, it doesn’t last long.
What boxes need ticking when looking for the greatest return on investment?
There are many different things to look for, but the main ones are rarity, how much of the product is available and how easy is it to get. And demand, is this a unique release from a well-known distillery that will capture potential buyers interest? You really can’t go wrong with any of the bottlings from the annual Diageo Special Releases Collection, all whiskies in the collection are impeccably crafted, cask strength whiskies that are unique, rare and often very old from ghost distilleries, lesser known distilleries or well-known distinguished distilleries.
Do the less expensive rare whiskies appreciate at the same rate as the more expensive?
Absolutely! During the ‘90s there was a growing demand for distinctive, unrepeatable cask strength bottlings the first Diageo Special Releases Collection was released 2001 to meet this demand. A mere 100 bottles of Talisker 28-year-old at 43.3% – priced at £495 – sold-out instantly. A 22-year-old Port Ellen and a 25-year-old Talisker soon followed that same year and sold out as quickly too.
That first special release of Port Ellen – a 22-year-old was sold for £110 and today, were you to look at the website The Whisky Exchange, you can pick it up for £4500.
And the rest as they say is history
If I was to purchase rare whisky as an investment, how long should I hold onto a bottle before deciding to sell?
As long as you can go without drinking it! Unlike wine, whisky flavour doesn’t change once it’s bottled so you should hold one to it until you are comfortable with the appreciation.
Where would I then be able to sell the whisky?
International auctions are the easiest, but then there are some amazing Australian Whisky shops and bars that have a great range of rare whiskies. You never know if they might be interested in purchasing but walking out without another to add to your collection may be difficult!
What is the best way to store a rare whisky?
The best way to store whisky is in a dark, humidity-controlled environment. And store the whisky upright so that the cork doesn’t damage.
In what direction do you see the future of whisky, in Australia and the rest of the world?
The answer to both is up. Australian’s are becoming more and more familiar and intrigued by whisky, and the category has never been more vibrant in Australia. For the first time we have many bottlings produced for Scotland only reaching our shores, and there has never been more amazing whisky retailers and bars to discover them in! The Australian whisky industry is still incredibly young but is already causing waves around the whisky world. Many new producers are finding flavour in new and exciting ways, and the direct effect is that well-established producers, like Scotland, are evolving and innovating as well. A great example of this is the unique five casking process used in The Singleton Glen Ord 14 year old. It’s a great indication that there is a whole new world of delicious things for consumers to enjoy, and maybe even invest in for the future.
What does Diageo have planned for 2019?
All sorts of incredible new releases! From this year’s collection of the Diageo Special Releases, ten of the finest cask strength, impeccably crafted whiskies. Available in whisky specialists from April. And there is the scotch whisky collaboration with HBO, Game of Thrones where we will see famous Single Malt Scotch Whisky Distilleries, such as Cardhu, matched to the Houses of Westeros. The perfect companion to the upcoming series release in April!
This is just a sample of the amazing things in store this year!
Favourite food and whisky of all time?
If we’re talking about food and whisky pairing, then hands down, it’s oysters and Talisker Single Malt, from the Isle of Skye. Try it with the latest limited-edition Special Release, Talisker 8 year old for something really special. Both so bright, fresh and intrinsically connected to the ocean. An absolute winner.