Feis Ile Bottles – Collectable or not?

Like a swarm of wasps round a spilled Jack ‘n Coke on a hot day, the coming months are set to see the many whisky-auctioneers of the world flooded by limited bottles from this years Islay Festival. There’s almost an underground competition to see which auctioneer can get the first bottles onto the open market such is demand for these releases.

For those collectors who can’t attend the annual Feis Ile (or maybe just don’t do queues), auctions are a viable means of acquiring these desirable bottles.

But how do they perform as an investment?

Some of the older releases are collectable icons now, the 2008 Feis Ile Port Ellen sold for £100 to the lucky few who secured a bottle on the day. It now sells for around £3,000 at auction, a truly staggering result. Can the more recent, increasingly voluminous bottlings compete as a viable liquid commodity? Over the years I’ve spoken to many Feis-goers who would pay for their annual peat-land-pilgrimage by selling the bottled spoils of their trip after the event.

It’s one thing buying a bottle for £100 upon its release and selling for £3,000, but as an investment are these bottles worth buying on the secondary market? If so, which distilleries are the ones to go for?

The chart below shows the UK auction performance from the start of June 2012 to the end of May 2015 for ALL Feis Ile bottles sold. Such is the impact and value of the Port Ellen release we’ve included a separate line with that bottle removed from the index. Over the three year term measured, all Feis Ile bottles have increased by 45.27%; without the Port Ellen that’s reduced to 37.41%.

All Bottle Feis Ile Index

The current average price of all Feis Ile bottles is £304.40 which is taken back to £262.40 without the Port Ellen. As a full and expansive collection, it has to be said the Feis releases are not the best performing of bottles; however 45% over three years is still impressive and outperforms banks, Gold, wine and a host of other investments.

Feis Ile Bottles by Distillery.

In order to have some element of fairness around this we’ve taken four years releases, 2009 – 2012 inclusive, and measured these separately (noting Kilchoman released their first Feis bottle in 2010 we’re measuring three releases for them). This also gives a reasonably good period of time for measurement, if we took it right up to 2014, we’d only be looking at 12 months performance and as we all know, whisky should be viewed as a long term investment. We also created two separate indices for Bowmore, one measuring the lower priced more voluminous releases and another for the very rare more expensive editions.

We had an opinion about which distillery(ies) would be the best performers. Prior to running the numbers we were very much of the opinion we’d see Lagavulin/Bowmore right at the top and Kilchoman/Bruichladdich at the bottom. The actual numbers are rather less obvious and proved to be something of a surprise.

The chart below indexes the bottom four performing distilleries/bottle groups.

Worst Perfroming Feis Ile by Distillery

Bowmore Rarities = +13.68%

Kilchoman = -2.12%

Caol Ila = -13.31%

Bunnahabhain = -16.95%

Bunnahabhain has seen something of a rapid slide since last years Feis. In May 2014 Bunnahabhain Feis bottles were up some 19.55% (index 119.55). Over the past 12 months values have plummeted by more than 30% to their current level. The trigger point in time is very definite, it’s on-the-nose of last years Feis Ile, so what happened? Were 2014’s bottles just too expensive causing an element of collectors turning away from the brand? Did the quality of the liquid slip significantly? Whatever the reason, Bunnahabhain’s bottles have seen a step change shift into the red.

No Bruichladdich at the bottom then? Recent prices for virtually all bottles of Bruichladdich have slumped, with even the most sought after bottles tumbling in value. A good example is PC5 which used to sell for as much as £460 and now sells for £200 – £220 having lost over 50% from its peak price.

The chart below indexes the top five distilleries/bottle groups.

Top Performing Feil Ile by distillery

Bruichladdich = +53.67%

Laphroaig = +44.75%

Bowmore = +29.37%

Ardbeg = +28.86%

Lagavulin = +26.85%

In a quite unexpected final result, somewhat akin to the recent UK general election, Bruichladdich’s bottles have out-performed the rest by a significant margin.

Average UK Auction Prices.

Average prices per bottle per distillery/bottle group look more or less where expected. The rare Bowmore bottles take top spot with many other distilleries hovering around the £100 price point.

Average Feis Ile bottle price by distillery

The interesting thing this allows is a number of assumptions; the rare Bowmore’s use up a lot of capital for a relatively small return, or they have historically. Conversely Bruichladdich uses far less capital and is apparently making the greatest gains, although I would still urge huge caution here.

In reality, for those with a keen interest in the value of their collections from a keep or drink perspective, I’d be selecting some of the rarities and older single casks while they’re still appearing on the market reasonably frequently. This final chart shows the top 10 performing bottles from the various Feis Ile releases.

Top 10 Feis Ile Release Index

Now the Feis is a relatively large scale event, the volume of collectable bottles increases yearly. Where we might have previously seen a single cask from a distillery, in order to give as many folk as possible the chance to try the liquid, we now see thousands of bottles… which is a good thing.

Despite Diageo’s gift-at-the-Feis Lagavulin pricing, I still suspect these older, rarer releases will be where the future gains are seen.

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