Whiskey club for the ultra-rich offers collectors VIP access

The new low-key division was formed in April but is only announced now as the family-owned distilleries collection launches a major campaign towards direct sales, specifically targeting its most desirable and wealthy customers. Much like its Distillers Library bar in Singapore, which opened earlier this year, offering $ 50,000 rare whiskey samplers to potential collectors, Williams Grant hopes to import an ultra-exclusive riff on vineyard wine clubs in the world still somewhat starchy. Scotch whiskey could permanently disrupt the way the more expensive malts are sold.

Scotch is a product particularly appreciated by wealthy investors. Rare whiskey has outperformed all other luxury asset classes, including cars, art and wine, according to the Knight Frank 2020 Wealth Report, with values ​​increasing 564% over the past decade. And as the world’s richest have seen their fortunes explode, the luxury industry is eager to spark interest in alternative asset classes.

So far, around 20 whiskey collectors have been invited to become private clients, most often by word of mouth and often personally by the wealthy family members involved in running the business. Private customers are guaranteed to be welcomed by VIPs every time they arrive at the sites where brands such as Balvenie and Glenfiddich are made. Membership is free, but the ultimate goal of granting exclusive access to the staff, products and premises of a distillery is sales.

“We are not asking for an immediate transaction. We have a sense of on-call duty and much longer deadlines, ”explains Jonathan Driver, general manager of the new private clients division. “The goal is really a lasting relationship with the customer.

For the past fifteen years, Driver has been telling Bloomberg, wealthy whiskey lovers have often passed through the distilleries on watered pilgrimages. So why not turn these ad hoc offers into a formalized division? The real appeal of whiskey, after all, is as much, if not more, in the history and emotional appeal than the malt itself.

Driver says that a collector halfway around the world who has yet to visit whiskey country will have in-depth knowledge of the landscape, history and culture.

“You can sit in a bar in Dalian, North China, talk about Scotland, and people talk very clearly about their perception of the country and how we do it, and that’s enough. close to what it is, ”he says.

Edgar Harden, owner and founder of Old Spirits Co., says it is essential to formalize the opportunity to tour the distillery. Once there, William Grant can directly sell the type of stock that exists in-house that collectors might otherwise have to find in the secondary market. Customers can also be offered personalized bottlings of any cask of their choice and be billed accordingly. “And it will work, because people are hungry for something different, unique and Instagrammable,” he says.

Indeed, Driver’s plans include a 1970s cask of Balvenie which will be ready for private sale in early 2022. He is also preparing a bottling for the now defunct Ladyburn Distillery which uses fashion photographs from the Norman Parkinson archives for them. labels, slated for official launch in the spring of next year. The driver refuses to disclose exact prices, but says it will be in the ultra-rare segment, with the Ladyburn Limited Edition Two around $ 200,000 for the race and the Balvenie keg significantly more expensive.

“The market has changed,” says Sukhinder Singh, co-owner and founder of Whiskey Exchange, a London-based specialty retailer known for its ultra-premium malts. “The new type of rich person doesn’t want to buy on the Internet. or enter the store. They want to talk to someone and get VIP service. ”

It’s a tip taken from the world of watchmaking and automotive, he continues, and that other distillers have tested before – Remy Martin in Cognac, for example, as well as piecemeal programs like Diageo’s Casks of Distinction, which periodically offers a full cask hand. -selected by four master whiskey blenders. They have at their disposal millions of aging barrels from 43 different malt distilleries, some still in operation, others no longer.

Singh is skeptical of the idea, warning that an effort focused solely on one brand or portfolio is inherently biased, while a multi-brand retailer like him, made up of experts, may offer broader advice on taste, investment value or both. Still, he concedes that William Grant’s effort could turn out to be a turning point for high-end scotch if it turns out to be successful. “All the other companies will look at it and say, ‘Why don’t we do this? “”

The private customers division will officially make its public debut on December 3 in Scotland at the One of One Distillers auction at Barnbougle Castle on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The best distillers in the country each donated unique pieces, including William Grant & Sons through the new company. (The driver is on the sidelines as a master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, the industry trade association in partnership with Sotheby’s for the auction.)

Over 40 lots are estimated at £ 1,000 ($ 1,345) to over £ 500,000. Every penny of the hammer price will go to good causes, primarily through the Youth Action Fund, a charity run by the distillery industry to support disadvantaged young people, with a particular focus on the people of Scotland.

Among the best lots, Talisker, owned by Diageo, released one of these Casks of Distinction dating from 1978 (Lot 21); whoever buys it must wait five years for it to finish maturing, after which it will be bottled in crystal decanters; the buyer is likely to pay £ 350,000 to £ 500,000 for the lien. Gordon & MacPhail, a small, prestigious family-owned distillery that recently released the world’s oldest single malt, sells the option to come to its warehouse in Elgin, Scotland, and select an old cask under control (lot 37). Two bottles will then be created: one in a decanter and the other in a drinking bottle. This lot is estimated at £ 160,000.

William Grant & Sons donated three lots. There is a Balvenie 1964 Single Bottle Release (Lot 31, high estimate £ 80,000) and a single 1966 Ladyburn bottle, featuring an unseen image of John Lennon photographed by 60s superstar David Bailey (Lot 26, high estimate 30 £ 000). “It’s a conundrum, because it came and happened so quickly, and we don’t have a sample of new manufacturing spirit, so it’s like a kaleidoscope examining the past,” says Brian. Kinsman, Malt Master at Glenfiddich, who helped select the lot for William Grant’s whiskey brands. “It has a lovely, almost mineral, linseed oil character.”

Glenfiddich’s own submission is one of the most anticipated. Four bottles from the 1950s, including a surprisingly light and delicate malt from 1955 (Lot 26, high estimate £ 350,000). “For me, the Glenfiddich batch is definitely the star – it’s wonderful, the right whiskeys in the right vintages,” says Singh of the Whiskey Exchange. “I’ve tried the 1955 before, probably from a sibling keg, and it was absolutely sublime.”

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