During a tour of the Balvenie distillery about a decade ago, I innocently posed a question to the host about the viscosity of single malt scotch. Fully expecting the standard lecture about the angel’s share, I was taken aback when he directed an associate to go grab the bottle of the brand’s 50 year old product that he had stored…under his desk.
Fast forward to 2016, when the only bottle of Balvenie 50 year old single malt in Canada is being offered at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel — only one of 131 bottles available worldwide. Listed at $45,000 CAD by The BC Liquor Store, the bottle will be available to the hotel’s favored patrons in a one ounce pour for $2,600 CAD (in a collector’s edition specially numbered Baccarat glass)
The world of single malt scotch has been an interesting one in the past few years, as consumer demographics continue to emerge and shift and the market responds accordingly. Although a push towards brown liquors has definitely been prevalent, much of the consumer focus has been centered around bourbon, perhaps due to high profile endorsements of younger chefs for brands such as Pappy Van Winkle. (Such is the mythos around the hard-to-obtain cult bourbon that even the news that bottles that had been stolen and possibly contaminated were to be destroyed was deemed “tragic”.) According to the Kentucky Distiller’s Association, the number of bourbon barrels aging in warehouses hit 5.7 million in 2014, a 40-year high in terms of production.
The rise in popularity of bourbon, especially with younger drinkers, isn’t the only pressure being applied to single malt. With venerable brands such as Macallan replacing age statements with color ranges (amber, gold, sienna and ruby) in Canada in 2013 and some distilleries looking for methods to work around shortages of older liquids through blending, Scotland is also facing competition from other parts of the world. In January, Japan’s Shinshu distillery released the first in a new series of single malts. The 2016 Best Whisky title from Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible went to a Canadian product (Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye), while the 2015 winner was a Japanese single malt, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013.
At the same time, while the decrease in Scotland’s export appears to be levelling off, the demand for rare bottles, such as the Balvenie Fifty, is increasing. “For many in the broader Scotch industry, export and sales figures appear challenging. However the secondary market for rarities shows little of this stress. We view this as a clear future trend, with the value of scarcity increasing demand from connoisseurs, collectors and investors,” analyst Andy Simpson told the Aberdeen Press and Journal.
And to be sure, many of those collectors that win their prized bottles will be unlikely to store their new acquisitions under their desks.
Article originally appeared in Forbes.com