Gentleman’s Handbook, Vol. 10.3: Investing in Booze

This is the Gentleman’s Handbook, a recurring series on all the lemons life will hand you and how to prepare accordingly. This month: being a smarter investor.

Mahesh Patel once bought the world’s most expensive whisky.

More specifically, the entrepreneur/spirits collector spent $150,000 for one of three bottles of a 64-year old Dalmore Trinitas, a malt scotch that had “toppings of Seville oranges and mango, notes of treacle toffee and soft licorice and a gentle caress of truffles and muscovado sugar.”

That was 2010. In 2011, Patel — who was born in Uganda and fled Idi Amin’s regime at an early age to later find success as a construction developer in the U.S. — started The Nth: Ultimate Whisky Experience, an appreciation and tasting of the world’s finest and rarest whiskies, held annually in Las Vegas.

Now in his third decade of collecting, Patel fondly remembers the moment when the collecting bug hit. “This goes back to late ‘80s, when I bought a bottle of Ardbeg Single Cask from a travel retail/duty free store,” he says. “It was bottled by Signatory and there were only 86 bottles produced. This is really when I got serious about it.”

Before this year’s edition of The Nth (which starts March 4th at the Wynn Las Vegas, and features a tasting of the world’s oldest bottled whisky, a 75 year-old Mortlach), we were able to pick Patel’s mind on collecting and selling spirits, as well as offer some of our own practical tips.

On what to look for…

Patel looks to well-known brands, limited-run bottles, drinkability/rating of the product and the condition of bottle. And he sticks to brown spirits. “No white spirit will be worth collecting unless there is a rarity about it,” he says. “And frankly there are very few white spirits like this.” Besides whiskies, Patel thinks vintage rums, cognacs and tequilas have potential. On a personal level, he looks to old Bowmores, Macallans and Prohibition-era bourbons.

On where to buy and sell…

Sadly, you can no longer use eBay or Craigslist to purchase booze — although you can sell empty vintage bottles. If you’re ok with fees, you might want to try auction sites. Several are based overseas, like Scotch Whisky Auctions, which (in spite of its name) also covers brandies, cognacs and vintage beers. For mainland auction help, look to Bonhams (whiskies and wine) and Skinner, which is coincidentally hosting a fine wine, whisky, spirits and ale auction just this week.

Many sales take place between collectors. The LA Whisk(e)y Society might be able to help you get in contact with an interested private party. As their site notes, “In the U.S., there are no ‘rare whiskey dealers’ that operate like antique brokers or pawn shops. That’s not legal. Retail liquor stores may only sell bottles obtained through wholesale liquor distributors.”

On how to find your bottle’s value…

Auction houses will do it for a fee. Patel runs a service called Whisky Concierge that offers a service to appraise bottles, as well as locate rare spirits and help facilitate sales via a private collectors network. Or, for free help, dive into the message board of Drinks Planet for initial appraisals and possibly interested private collectors.

But seriously, how much can a bottle of rare Scotch be worth?

If you’re lucky, up to $50,000.

If you’re just interested in tasting and history, there are places for that.

No need to go out and buy. Vintage hooch joints like The Sixth in Chicago offer a lesson in antique boozing, along with some tasty pours. And a bit of philosophy. As their beverage director Ben Schiller told us last month: ““There’s a huge appreciation [for vintage hooch] beyond scarcity,” Schiller explains. “You’re drinking something you won’t drink again for a lot of reasons. The wood, grain and air is different; these are impossible to replicate. It’s a window in time we’ll never get back.”

Oh, and if you want to try these ridiculously expensive pours at cost (yes, including Pappy), there’s a few bars and movement for that called #drunkensocialism.

And most importantly, know why you’re getting into the spirits world.

“I collect whisky because I enjoy drinking it,” says Patel. “I try to buy two of everything: one to enjoy — which you must do — and the other to collect.”