Whisky: Price and Age

Is Whisky Getting More Expensive?

The standard bottlings of Scottish Malt Whisky distilleries have remained very stable price-wise over the decades. If you consider inflation, the price has even decreased. However, independent bottlings' and rare Whiskies' prices are increasing.

Quite regularly, we are asked for the best Whisky available. Mostly this is done by inexperienced people who want to give a Whisky as a present and who want to splash out.

What is the answer to this question? Macallan 25 years or Johnnie Walker Blue Label? Why not Chivas Royal Salute 21 or Bowmore 30 years? Would you rather recommend the older or the more expensive?

Let's answer this question with a metaphor: a reasonably famous politician was asked by a radio reporter at the opening of a Mercedes branch office, what the best car in the world was. Without thinking much about it he answered Rolls Royce. He made a typical beginner's mistake: He transferred his personal wishes and preferences to a question for which there is no generally valid answer.

If one attaches great importance to an environmentally friendly car, the correct answer would probably be a small electric car. On the other hand, if you want a fast car, the answer could be Porsche or Ferrari. But the real problem is already apparent here: in addition to these two great brands, there are also extremely fast vehicles from Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen. As a rule, when buying a car, a compromise is made between emotional wishes, practical considerations and, of course, the money available.

It's the same with Whisky: The answer to the question about the best Whisky depends on so many basic conditions that no reasonable solution can be found without asking the customer a number of questions.

Quality, reputation of the distillery and age of a Single Malt Whisky are the most important factors influencing its price.

If you are looking for a representative present for a non-Whisky connoisseur, a high-quality and widely known Blended Whisky bottle like the Johnnie Walker Blue Label containing Whiskies up to 50 years of age certainly would not be bad. Almost everyone knows Johnnie Walker and an unusual bottling in royal blue is ''quite something''. Also, the price is so high that the presentee would be pleasantly surprised if he asked for it by chance. You would not believe how many calls we receive from presentees asking about prices of bottles.

The 'poor' student, who wants to open a very good bottle with friends at the weekend, might only think of a Single Malt from a well-known Scottish distillery at the age of 10 or 12. In comparison to discount Whisky, these relatively young bottles already offer great taste experiences.

Let's have a look at the chart: The red dots represent the 60 best-selling Single Malt Whisky bottles with 0.7 litre capacity and 40 to 46% ABV. The green line connects the cheapest bottles of one age group; the blue one the maximum prices. Of course there are more expensive and also cheaper bottles in every age group, but in this chart we have limited ourselves to the best-selling ones.

Surprisingly, there is no extreme (disproportionate) increase with rising age, as is usually the case with luxury goods. In the age range from 12 to 25 years, the price per year of maturation time increases by about 3.70 EUR. This also applies to the most expensive representatives of the respective age group. Only in the age range of 10 to 12 years a horizontal trend can be seen. It makes no sense to buy a younger Malt Whisky with the feeling that you could save money. The basic cost of a bottle of Single Malt is constant, whether it is 10 or 12 years old.

If you look at the black average curve you will notice that the average 12 year old Malts sold are cheaper than the 10 year old. On the one hand, this has to do with special bottles like the top-selling Ardbeg TEN and Edradour 10. But it also has to do with the larger supply of 12-year-old Malts, which leads to increased price competition at this age and puts pressure on the prices of 12-year-olds.

A fineness can still be seen in the black average curve. If you, as a customer, are still holding back on prices when buying 15-year-old bottles, you are quite prepared to dig disproportionately deep into your pockets when buying 18-year-old bottles. But this trend is reversed for 21-year-old Malts. Here again, customers are more price-conscious before deciding to spend considerably more on 25-year-old bottles.

Vintage Whisky

Malt Whiskies are often bottled like wine according to vintage and are therefore also called Vintage Whiskies. So the label does not state the age, but 'Vintage + the year of distillation'. This can be seen very well in the bottlings of the Highland distillery Balblair. For a very long time, their range was limited to vintage bottlings with no age indication, but in 2019 they switched their core range to age indications. When making your selection, please note that these Whiskies were often bottled years ago, at the peak of their maturation. The age of a Whisky from 1970 is therefore usually less than 50 years (status 2019).

When evaluating a Whisky, detach yourself from the age as the only factor. We human beings also become wiser and better with age. However, at some point we too have passed our peak and would have liked to remain in this state ourselves.

The question about the best Whisky cannot be answered conclusively. But the two diagrams will help you to assess whether a Whisky belongs to the expensive or inexpensive group of Scottish Malts. High prices do not always mean better quality. In the first picture you can see that Glenfiddich represents both the cheapest 18-year-old and the most expensive 21-year-old.

With these old Whiskies, as with all rare luxury goods, the disproportionate price increase with older vintage is clearly visible. Interesting is the rise around 1950. While there are still a few thousand bottles of these vintages worldwide, older vintages have become really rare. There is already nothing left from the time of the Second World War.

Classify your favourite Whiskies in the chart - you will be surprised how scattered they are.