Do you remember the first single malt you ever drank?
Yes, It was a Balvenie 10yo Founders Reserve back in 1995. It’s a gift from my cousin, who just get her Master degree back from UK. At that time Single Malt is totally new to me, I looked the word “Malt” up on the dictionary and just out of curiosity to tasted it. It took me half year to finish that bottle. But I began to read books and when I began to found out the complexity of SM, I really fall in love with it.
When and why did you decide to ‘collect’ whisky?
I think my first collection would be the Macallan 50yo Millennium Edition. I found the information over the Macallan website at the time it was launched. At that time I still don’t have any clue how to source it out in other countries. It took me half a year to get it from a local retailer at a comparing high price back then (About 2,750 Euro, and it comes with a Remy Martine Extra, I honesly don’t know why.) It is reserved for my 7-year-old girl’s wedding party.(That’s how I get the approval from my wife for the first collection.) I think it’s worth much more right now.(50%up?) For me, collection is not to make money, but I quite enjoyed to have something unique. This bottle was not a rare bottle back then. At that time Macallan was already the best selling single malt in Taiwan. When I found no one have heard the bottle, I decided I need to have one. So, I guess it some kind of vanity.
Are there many collectors or aficionados in Taiwan? Why?
Not many! I think the major reason is the comparing short history of the open alcohol market. Before 1991, only the government can sell(and of course import) alcohol product. Old generation collect some special local edition spirit. I’ve heard some collectors, but normally refers as “he got a full basement of Macallan 30yo or something”, it has something to do with the drinking culture here, many people “collect” because they want to keep it for future drinking (in business occasion). But I do found some people like me begin to “real” collecting bottles. There is a friend of my specialized in Ardbeg OB, I think he has over 50 different bottles right now, even some antique ones.
Everybody talks about the emerging Asian markets and how it changes the Scots’ marketing (new ex
Yes, it is very true, not only marketing but also pricing. Asian market is growing very fast. Before 10 years ago, people only know about Jonnie Walker or Chivas, now Ballantine’s is doing very well, not to mention all sort of Single Malt. Think about it, I don’t know if it’s true, but I heard back to 5 years ago, when Macallan had the glory of being the best selling single malt in Taiwan, it is said that about 1/4 of 12yo and almost 90% of the 30yo comes here. And our population is only 22 million. Think about China and India Even back to 5 years ago when I was in a famous night club in Shanghai, almost 90% of the “deposit bottle” was Macallan. (It’s common practice that we can keep the un-finished bottle in the club for future drinking.) I think it’s make the industry player in a very hard position, I observed that no one can dare promote single malt in China, they do work hard there, but only for the blends. Even William Grants and Sons is more focus on Grants right now. One thing particular is that there tend s to be some special versions from time to time especially for the Asia market. I don’t think any particular one get huge success.
How do you get your bottles?
Normally still buy from local specialist, but sometimes from mail order. We can easily get most of the OB core range for the famous ones. IB like Douglous Liang, Signatory,G&M, Murray McDavid, Blackadder all have quite some bottles import to Taiwan. For mail order: whiskyexchange is the one we use the most. I recently also buy some old bottles from personally collectors.
How many bottles do you own?
Not sure, I think between 400 to 500, most of them are not rare ones. I recently just build stacks in the basement and plan to classified the bottles by distillery. I think I’ll have better idea later.
Are you specialized in certain distilleries?
When I realize I’d really like to collect bottles, my first target was Balvenie due to the fact it’s my first Single Malt. I do have many Balvenie bottles but right now I am not that serious because their Vintage Cask series always release several casks with the same alcohol volume. I’ve request the information about the detail cask numbers in each year but never get it. Before I get the information, I won’t put too much effort on it.
Do you specialize in other themes (and which)?
I used to be a real fan in bird-watching and mountain-trekking.(I was a bird-watching guide back in college). But after we have the kids, just stopped it.(I prefer to have more sleep during the weekend and can’t leave the family alone in the mountains.) Still do some photographing for the kids, not the birds and mountains anymore. I used to ski a lot when I was in US for my MBA degree, but not able to keep the hobby as my travel plan is all linked with Whisky, no time for ski. So I think Johannes idea to have maniacal meeting in some ski resort is excellent. But I am only at medium level, and mainly at groomed runs, never ski in Europe before.
What’s the rarest bottle you own?
Balvenie Vintage Cask 1951. It was distilled in 1951 and bottled in 1998, Cask No. 1236/1, only 6 bottles released with 46.7% aol. .
The most expensive?
The Balvenie Cask 191, cost me around 8000 euro. And the price seems just stay there and never increased. But this one was sign by Malt Master David Stewart special to me!
What’s the bottle you really miss and why?
Glenfiddich 1937. I got a chance to buy it at around 9,800euro around 2 years ago. I withdrawed because Glenfiddich is never my target. But I think I am too greedy. I kept thinking why not take it and resell later, the market price has at least doubled right now. However, I think I would probably did the same if I had the chance again.
‘Whisky’ takes a lot of time. How do you manage to compose with your family life? With work?
I guess I have to thanks to my wife for understanding this hobby. It took time and also money! I still try to have dinner with the family every day and goes out with the kids every weekend. I can’t have all the vacation in Scotland but , so far, the kids seems quite enjoy the visit to the distilleries. Another important thing is that my wife and I both like fine dining. My enjoyment in single malt seems lead me to know some people in that area, we actually quite enjoy the life we have. About work: well my business has nothing to do with whisky, the only thing in common is they are both in the agriculture sector, buy mine is in the feed industry. My major supplier is a French company called Adisseo, who specialize in nutritional feed additive. My success in business allowed me to have the money to buy some expensive bottles.
Do you make a difference between a ‘drinking’ stock and ‘collecting’ stock?
Yes and No! Yes, I know some of the bottles has better appreciation future and is too expensive to open just for daily consumption. Obviously, I’d only put it inside the windows for future occasion. No, for me all the bottles are for drinking purpose. I don’t mind to resell it if I can benefit from it. But I won’t keep it just because I want to sell it. Especially for those real unique bottles, I want to be the one to open it myself.
Do you think whisky was better in the old days?
I wouldn’t say better but different. I do like some old bottles indeed.
Do you think some of the current bottlings are collectable and why?
Like the PC5 from Port Charlotte would be something really valuable in the future. We have see similar bottles like Ardbeg Still Young, which has doubled for just one year. Young age bottles tends to have better margin if you want to say that. You can still easily find the Macallan Fine and Rare series Vintage bottles. Although some people regard them as over priced, I actually believe these bottles would appreciate in the near future. Check out the 1964 in that series, it is an unusual heavily peated Macallan with only 135 bottles equivalent. It would much better than you spend almost triple price to buy the new Macallan 50yo in the beautiful Lalique decanter.
Which aren’t and why?
Many people collect Port Ellen, but I don’t really see why it’s so expensive right now. I do get some bottles, but mainly keep for future drinking purpose. Diageo obviously has lots of stocks in hand. Maybe only the first annual release really worth to keep, not only it’s the first batch but also it actually taste a little bit better. I’ve also give up on Bruichladdich, as they just have too many versions. I just talked with Jim McEwan, he referred the distillery as design house, always give something new to the consumers. I still like their whisky a lot, but for drinking purpose only, don’t think it will appreciate too much. Many people probably know even the core range has several edition, which would make collection very difficult and ends with little collectors.
What’s more important to make for a ‘collectable’ bottle? Quality or rarity?
That’s something I’ve be thinking about all the time. Very rare bottles can not have very high market price as it’s rare seen in the market and collectors don’t even know they need to source it out. You need to have some quantity, but it best they have been consumed most before people begin to seek for it. Quality is the basic, but not that important. People do seek for certain very qood quality bottles like Springbank 100 proof, or Lagavulin white horse edition. But that’s only among some anoraks like us. I would say the general quality of the distillery is much more important. In other words, special bottles from famous distillery has better chance to become collectable bottles.
What are your favourite distilleries and why? (on the gustatory POV)
It changed frequently, currently, it’s Ardbeg. Major reason is that our club had hold a tasting for bottles distilled in the 70s. I found it very enjoyable and very complex. One is so powerful and shin but feint out very quickly, one is simple but keep at the peak for a very long time, One is very complex and kept changing no stop. One just need time to open up. And it’s true I like peat. And my long time favorite is Laphroaig 10yo CS.
Which piece of advice would you give to a beginning whisky collector?
Always look at your available cash first. Many people only look at how much potential revenue you can get, but never thought the liquidation problem. Once you bought it, you may never being able to re-sell it. So, only put the money you don’t need on your collections. Don’t look for something famous, it would already very expensive. And most important, only keep the bottles you like, don’t spend your money on something you hate, even you can benefit from it.
Do you think collectors should get worried about fake bottles?
Yes, of course, you certainly don’t want to get fake bottles. I think the only way to avoid it is to buy from reliable source. Always use your common sense, if you feel something not right, then stop immediately.
Do you think eBay (or any other auctions website) is a good thing?
I don’t trust eBay. But things may change. Whiskyauction at the other hand has better knowledge to help prevent fake bottles. But I think price there is way too high, the only positive thing is you can really find some famous rare bottles.
Did you ever regret having started a collection?
Yes, thinking all the time that I’ve put too much money on it. Honestly. Just can’t help.
Can you add a few words about each of the 6 ‘special’ bottles you chose:
- Bruichladdich Academy bottle: only students attend it can get one.
- Smoking Islay for Taiwan SMWA, our first club bottling from a very medical Islay distillery, bottled direct from the cask at 59.7%.
- Balvenie Cask 191, Bottle No. 7, specially signed by David Stewart for me.
- Port Ellen Maltings 21yo, for staff only bottle to celebrate 25 year anniversary of the PE Malting, signed by Charles MacLean.
- Hazelwood 105, first OB release of Kininvie, a gift from my friend Kevin Fong.
- Balvenie Vintage Cask 1951, only 6 bottles released.
Please don’t hesitate to add anything you feel is important, I can always write the questions later ;-)…
Always take a look at any unfamiliar whisky shops(especially old and dirty ones), maybe you’ll come across some rare bottles just by chance.