Status spirits—that is, drinks brands retailing at $100 or more—are truly living up to their name. This category of the spirits market grew almost four times faster than the market as a whole between 2014 and 2018, according to alcohol industry data provider I.W.S.R. And it’s providing ample opportunities for those looking at collecting this category, according to Ken Grier, creative director of rum brand Dictador.
“It’s a really interesting investment category,” he says. “Macallan achieved a record price [at auction] recently—£756,400 ($975,756) for its six-bottle Red Collection.” Indeed, the Rare Whisky Icon 100 Index, which measures prices of collectible bottles, has risen by around 400 percent in the last decade.
A particularly interesting example is Japanese whisky. Once fairly inexpensive, this is now in such demand that even if you’re prepared to pay for it, you can’t find it. A bottle of Karuizawa “Aqua of Life” 50 Year Old—one of only 248 ever released—sold for HK$525,000 ($67,434) at Christie’s in 2019.
This reveals an issue with many investment-grade drinks. If they’re vintage or blended they will need to age, which means what’s on sale now was probably produced a decade ago. So, there is no fast way of responding to high demand. You have what was made, all those years ago, quite possibly when there was little call for it.
Rum has everything you need for an investment spirit: limited availability, often a real story of provenance, and many of the characteristics of single malt—Ken Grier
On top of this, you have a growing wealthy collector class, particularly from countries like China. Thus, many collectors are asking “What next?” and the answer may well be collecting rum, with houses such as Dictador leading the charge.
Compared to collecting high-end whiskies or wines like Bordeaux, rum is not expensive and the market is relatively small. But it’s growing fast—and so are prices. According to the I.W.S.R., status spirits within the category have grown 10 percent a year in the last few years, as opposed to 7 percent for the status spirits market. Moreover, this growth is expected to accelerate to around 15 percent.
“Rum has all the characteristics you need for an investment spirit,” explains Grier. “There’s limited availability, often a real story of provenance from distilleries that are a century or more old, and the liquid itself has many of the characteristics of single malt. It’s interesting and rich and complex.”
Rum has some unique characteristics too. Because it is produced in hot countries, there tends to be a high evaporation rate and this also helps to keep quantities of vintage rum down. It is notable how many high-end rums there are these days. No longer the preserve of pirates and members of the navy, lifestyle magazines regularly run rum guides, where bottles start at about $50 but go up to hundreds of dollars.
In a roundup of the world’s most expensive rums, style website The Manual included Black Tot British Royal Naval Rum at a modest $850, Trois Rivières Millésime 1980 Carafe Baccarat for $2,620, and Goslings Auld Trophy Rum, pick of the bunch, at $10,000.
Late last year marked the relaunch of the Appleton Estate in Jamaica, which is owned by Campari. Notable is that its new labels focus on provenance and purity. Master blender Joy Spence says, “We are unveiling a fresh look for both our permanent collection of rums and our limited editions, while maintaining our commitment to exceptional liquid.”
Brands such as Foursquare have some of the feel of cognac houses, while Don Papa is perhaps the best non-Caribbean rum. It comes from Negros in the Philippines and its small batch 10-year-old rums, which are aged in the shadow of the Kanlaon volcano, start at about $65.
Dawn Davies, head buyer at the London-based Whisky Exchange, says that there are a number of interesting parallels between collecting rum and other investment spirits. One of these is Caroni, which Davies describes as “a lost distillery.”
It closed in 2002 when the Trinidadian sugar industry collapsed and the remaining barrels were bought by Italian company Velier after its CEO, Luca Gargano, came across the shuttered building on a research trip in 2004. Bottles that formerly cost $30 now go for more than $1,000. “Because people know there’s only a finite number of them, they’re doing very well,” says Davies.
However, she cautions that, as a category, rum is still much less well known than fine French wines or cognacs. There’s still less of the big branding, the mystique—and lower general knowledge and appreciation. And for this reason it can be a bit intimidating. “If people, particularly drinks writers, can help create understanding, that will make more people confident in rum as a category.” She points to wine writer Robert Parker—whose ratings have a huge effect on prices, especially those of Bordeaux.
Therefore rum investors need to work a bit harder at the moment. But on the plus side, there are still real bargains to be had—and if they don’t pan out, you probably haven’t spent that much. “There’s definitely a bright future for rum and prices aren’t stupid at the moment,” says Davies. “But the liquid itself is awesome, too. So buy two bottles—one to drink and one as an investment to pay for the next two bottles you’re going to buy.”